It was a text I received at 10:30 p.m. from my brother’s girlfriend. It was an unusual time for me to receive a text. Most people who are close to me give up on text messages by 9 p.m.. Knowing that I have a baby and I go to bed early leaves little in the way of having meaningful conversations past 9 p.m. But I was up on this Sunday night for some reason, and it struck me as odd. Sweet, but a little strange.
I said that I loved her too and then I texted back, “Are you okay?”
She responded, “A friend that I used to party with just killed herself.”
“Love you” meant, “I know you’ve been struggling with depression and just in case you ever feel sad or depressed, I want you to know that you’re loved, by me.” She didn’t say that long drawn out phrase because she is not overbearing. Maybe it’s time to be overbearing sometimes with our loved ones.
I had a friend in high school — let’s call him Anthony — who died by suicide. It wasn’t a cry for help. It wasn’t a “maybe I want to die today.” It was a deliberate, thought-out, and painful way to leave this Earth. Every day, he would make everyone laugh in Spanish class by pronouncing words like “fire extinguisher” with the funniest and incorrect pronunciation (ex-stingy-door).
Anthony was an African-American who was also enrolled in the ROTC in a predominantly white school. He was friendly to everyone. He always smiled. He was academically and socially competitive and had a bright future. I’ll never forget that at his funeral, they dressed him in his military attire which fully covered his neck. It was painful seeing his family and his friends crying in deep confusion and sadness. I always cringed when I heard, “Suicide is selfish. They never think of everyone they’re hurting.”
Anthony wasn’t selfish, he had a mental illness. He was suffering in silence. Just as he smiled and laughed and led a successful life, so many women laugh and smile and suffer in silence.
There’s a dark secret not many women will admit: they have seriously contemplated killing themselves. Some will go through with it. Some will attempt it. Some will go through possible scenarios repeatedly. They love their children, they love their families, they have close friends, and they’re feeling isolated.
Let’s say what we mean. Let’s tell people close to us and those we care about, “I know you’re struggling with depression and/or anxiety (or if they feel uncomfortable with labels, say you know you’ve noticed a difference from their normal disposition). I want you to know that I not only love you, but you can call me, text me, email me, and just vent. Or maybe you don’t want to talk and maybe you just want to grab a cup of coffee. Or maybe you just want to sit on my couch and watch a show and not say anything. That’s okay. Whatever you need to do to help you get through a dark phase, I’ll be there. Let me be there for you.”