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Two-thirds of students will consider suicide by the end of high school. Young people who attempt suicide or consider suicide as an option are more likely to disclose their suicidal thoughts to a peer rather than to an adult.

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Story 39

It is difficult to know where to begin a story like this so, following the King's advice to Alice, I'll “begin at the beginning.” I was born into a very caring family. There were some tensions, angry outbursts, and overtones of neuroticism here and there, but more or less a very supportive environment that I was lucky to grow up in. The trouble began early in school. I have always had a slightly different perspective on things compared to most. I had trouble building friendships and otherwise acting in ways to endear me to the popular kids. Being a little physically awkward and slight led me to get picked out for bullying from an early age. I was excluded, insulted, shoved etc. starting at about age 5. I grew to fear and hate school. I would form fleeting friendships with another kid here and there. Sometimes an outcast like myself, whom I would move away from as I saw in them things I despised in myself. Sometimes a popular kid, who would come to be embarrassed for associating with me. I said little about this situation at home, but became increasingly anxious and depressed. Starting from childhood I came to learn the skill, without the benefit of any kind of counselling, of imagining my distress as a black cloud that I would hide, lock behind a steel door, and bury under a lake which I imagined freezing. I would obsess over memories of interactions that had occurred during the day and be tormented by instances in which I perceived myself saying the wrong thing.

At about age 8 I began spending time with an older boy who lived a few doors down. He was about 13. I liked hanging out with him because I thought he was cool and he seemed to like me. You probably know where this is heading.  Anyways, this friendship led to looking at playboy magazines collected by his father. Sparing the details, this progressed into his coercing me into engaging in sexual activity with him. I recall a vague embarrassment about it at the time but truly had no real sense of what was going on. I felt anxious and awkward about what he asked me to do. After about a year my parents became aware that there was something happening. They told me that this was 'wrong' and that I wasn't to see him again. It was at the moment of this confrontation that the full impact of self disgust, self loathing, and repulsion struck me. I went to my room, collapsed into my bed, and reeled under waves of anxiety and disgust. I wanted to disappear and struck myself with my fists.

The social alienation and bullying continued into high school, getting worse as a function of my desperation to get accepted. One day in grade 10 math class I caught myself staring at the backside of another boy in the class. From that moment I began to be tormented by the thought that I was gay. Homosexuality was superficially tolerated at home but fundamentally not accepted. I obsessed about this, becoming viciously self-critical whenever I caught myself paying attention to other boys. I would think about girls and try to notice if I felt any sexual attraction, again tormented by the thought that I might be gay. With the bullying and this other circumstance I thoroughly despised myself. I told no one and pretended to be happy. Once I had a driver's license I would drive on gravel back roads at high speed, barely making corners. I had a dirt bike that I pushed to the absolute limit, screaming at the highest possible speed through trails, taking turns in which I missed trees by inches. At those moments I felt clarity. No real anxiety, just a calm focus. It was a profound release from the rumination and self-hatred that dominated my mind the rest of the time. I had no real sense of being suicidal then, but I was indifferent to survival and felt clarity in moments of extreme risk. I also enjoyed being drunk but got a lot less out of that as I acted like even more of an ass when I was drunk and ruminated about such instances afterward.

I then went to university. Barely. I despised high school and had skipped classes whenever possible. At university I had something of a fresh start socially. I was still awkward and nervous, but finally started to develop some good friendships. Academically, I found my groove. I became engaged with the learning process and obtained straight A grades. However, I was still tormented with depression and anxiety. I recall entering what felt like black periods. I would almost hear them coming on--a sort of low hum and thrumming, followed by an overwhelming force of emotional pain. Kind of like being struck with the first massive gusts of a hurricane. I would spend weeks battling distress, exhaustion, and self-hatred. I still did well in school, but I was miserable.

It was during this period that I began to seriously contemplate suicide as a sort of clear idea. One New Year’s Eve I loaded a rifle and placed it in my mouth. I was alone in my parents’ basement, drinking, and placed my thumb on the trigger. I thought about what my parents would find when they returned, felt this was extremely cruel and put the rifle away. Back at university, I would ride my bike up a hill in the wrong lane hoping for oncoming traffic periodically. Nothing ever came of this but a little honking a few times.

I then met my first real girlfriend. She was brilliant, taking grad courses in her third year of university. She was funny, beautiful, and liked my odd view of the world. She had been horrendously sexually abused from a young age, had been in and out of group homes and homeless. She would go through these very black phases of anger, would have flashbacks when we had sex, and cut herself sometimes. I found this terrifying and confusing. She also, on a couple of occasions, suddenly began acting like a child and would stay that way for several hours, later snapping out of it and denying any recollection of what had happened. Again, I had no idea what was happening. It wasn't until much later that I understood what she was going through to be borderline personality disorder and, possibly, on the lower end of the spectrum for dissociative identity disorder. This relationship came to fall apart, which I found devastating. I had been desperately in love with her. She began cheating on me. One time, when I asked her to stop when we were having sex, she kept going. I suppose, in some warped way, she was wishing to goad me into a flashback. It worked more or less. It accomplished nothing more than distrust. She later would have me over, after we broke up, to have sex. As you can imagine, sex was, shall we say, a complicated issue for the both of us. I went on, through this period, loathing myself, doing risky things, and I went through a phase trying out self-mutilation. This did little for me. The cutting hurt like a bastard, made a mess, scarred, and felt like a stupid game. But it did become increasingly deeper, heading in the direction of a suicide attempt. Again, I told no one. I treated the cuts and bandaged them. I sought no help from a professional.

It was towards the end of this period that I began to volunteer in the mental health field. So, unfortunately I was that cliché of the screwed up individual working in mental health to sort out my own problems. Over a couple of years, I stopped cutting myself. I gained increasing recognition academically, winning several awards, receiving a number of grants, and having more publications than many new faculty members by the time I completed my undergraduate degree. I cared nothing for these achievements. My reaction was akin to being complimented on a pair of shoes. It was minimally meaningful.

I went on to graduate school. Over the years there the intensity of the thoughts about suicide lessened and became more passive. I still went through periods of intense anxiety and depression, but I seldom made any real actions to plan or attempt suicide. I continued to do well academically, made many friends, and had a fairly good time. At the end of graduate school I found another romantic partner. It was my first relationship in about 7 years since the previous young woman. I had consistently been terrified of approaching women, and was no longer concerned that I might be gay. I realized that I was likely bi, attracted in a distant way to men but not into the mechanics of gay male sex. The young woman I started dating later said she had to practically smash me over the head to get me to realize that she was interested in me. I had not seen it at all, presuming myself to be repulsive in terms of sexual attractiveness.

I should probably get back to the point here, as you are no doubt looking for themes that directly relate to your research question. My answers to some pertinent questions are: 1) I survived in part out of luck, per the risky behaviour, and in part out of fear of hurting my parents. 2) I had no turning point moment where suicide no longer was an option, where my distress did not push me towards self-destruction. With the support of a loving partner I have gradually come to despise myself to a lesser extent. I am still periodically flattened by powerful feelings of depression, but they tend to be fairly short-lived. In my later career I have found myself to be far more resilient than I thought I was.

In the end I became a professional in the mental health field. I am well-regarded by my peers, have many grants and publications, and am invited to be a speaker in many venues. My experience, as outlined above, has been in large part the reason for my success in this field. I have, I feel, an intuitive understanding for clinical issues that derives directly from my lived experiences. I never tell anyone about my history, and usually can pull out a citation to stick on an assertion made from gut instinct. I think that I can relate to persons with mental illness in a way that maybe communicates a shared understanding, albeit indirectly.

I still have times of intense anxiety and waves of sadness, self-hatred, and helplessness. I seldom think about suicide. When I do, on occasion, it has no real weight and I don't view it as an option to act on in any sense.

I believe that, in mental health, we play something of a game in terms of our own experiences. For the most part, we might admit to others that we are stressed or tired but we don't, and in many senses can't, let others know that we may have had a few or even many of the experiences our clients have had. This isn't to say that we should have some sloppy round of self-revelation with each other. But, a quiet acknowledgement of shared adversity would probably go a long way towards better clinical work and a less stressful work environment.

Anyways, there you have my two bits. I wish you the best with your project.

p.s.: I have quickly read through my story. An interesting process. It's amazing how one dimensional it seems. So much pain and such a long process pinched into a neat summary. I'll add this since it popped into my head. A few lines from Blake that have stuck with me and that come to mind quite often:

Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight
Some are born to sweet delight
Some are born to endless night

My assertion, and one spoken to by your project, is that the night need not always be endless.

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