February 1, 2006

>>> February 1st is a day I’ll always remember. Unfortunately, it’s not exactly a happy memory, but instead a reminder of a very good friend and recollection of the journey I’ve been on for the past few years. Five years ago, one of my best friends, Jeff, took his own life. I had recently turned 17 and was sitting in first period math class that morning when our teacher informed us the school was on lock down. After class, I found out it was my friend Jeff who attempted suicide in the school bathroom and later that afternoon found out he had passed on. 

>>> I can’t even describe the emotions that flood you when something like this happens. Many of you may have experienced the death of a friend or family member and understand the pain, sadness and emptiness but suicide has an added dimension. Suicide leaves you with a numbness; physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. I completely empathize with anyone who has been in this situation; specifically for parents or siblings who have lost a loved one to suicide. Those left behind continue to just ask WHY. Why did this happen? Why was this the option? Why would he/she do this? All I could ask was why and how could Jeff, the happiest, most outgoing and silly person in our entire high school, be so frustrated to take his own life? Why could someone who made it his mission in high school to support and cheer for everyone else up not be happy himself?

>>> For a long time, the way I dealt with my pain and numbness from the loss of a close friend was just to sleep. To block out everyone; everything. Rather than showcase my emotions or even talk about them, I would attempt to be my normal, perky, upbeat self in public and would just crash. I would remove myself from reality and escape into sleep. So many other people were struggling and suffering from the loss and everyone handled their pain in different ways. What I’ve learned in the past few years since Jeff’s death is how vital talking to someone is; explaining to someone, anyone what YOU are feeling; pouring out your heart to someone about what you’re going through. My counselor helped me sort out feelings and emotions and actually has influenced my thought process in “moving on” past Jeff’s death.

>>> Jeff’s story is not the only one. Suicide wasn’t just an issue five years ago when I was in high school. Teen suicide is still a HUGE problem today that does not seem to be going away. Too many teens are taking their own lives because they feel like they have no other choice. Too many people are left behind to deal with the mess of emotions and asking themselves “What could I have done differently?” Too many people are depressed and not getting the help they need. To put things in perspective: During the past 40 years, suicide rates for Americans ages 15-24 has tripled, while the overall U.S. population suicide rate has remained constant. Suicide is the second leading cause of death, exceeded only by accidents, among the college age population. 900,000 youth planned their suicides during an episode of major depression. 19.3 percent of high school students have seriously considered killing themselves. 14.5 percent of high school students made actual plans for committing suicide. So what can you do? Donate to organizations like Suicide Prevention Action Network, consider being a mentor to a local teen who is experiencing loss, but most importantly, staying aware of any suicidal warning signs. If you have a depressed friend who might be suicidal, ask questions. Be there. Get them help.

{Source: National Conference of State Legislatures http://www.teensuicidestatistics.com}

Relay for Life, sophomore year.

>>> A former coach and teacher at our high school and personal friend of mine wrote a book about how suicide has affected Bowling Green. The book concluded with tips about overcoming a suicide, depression and moving forward in life. Coach Merrill also started The Power Up Foundation to reduce teen suicide. Read more here. Although the tips were originally for those who were experiencing the effects of suicide, I feel like the apply to anyone who is transitioning in life, going through a hard time, and/or looking to move forward. Read below:

1. Complete your circle of influence: I encourage people to surround themselves with people around them that are positive in their life.  Block out people who are not inspiring, influencing you in a positive way or pushing you to be the best person you can be.
2. Courage: Knowing the difference between right and wrong and making the right choice.
3. Set goals: Ask yourself, “What do I want?” The answer is not what is important, asking the question is.  As long as we are asking ourselves what it is out of life, then we are moving in the right direction, we are making things happen.
4.  Know thy self: To many times in life we worry about being “normal”. We give entirely too much credit to society and we allow it to define what is normal. If we choose to allow society to dictate who we are or what we should be then we will live short and unfulfilled lives. Grab all that life has to offer!
5.  Accept help: Use whatever tools that are available to you to get the help you need. In my case, my parents urged me to see a counselor to deal with my grief. Don’t be embarrassed to admit you need help or that you can’t handle emotions alone.
6.  Stay physically healthy: The single largest boost to your own self confidence is staying healthy physically.  If we take care of our bodies, our body can help take care of our minds.
7.  Volunteer: Blessing others with your time actually ends up being a bigger blessing to you personally.
8.  Attitude and perseverance: A strong positive attitude is the key. Always. It is the most powerful weapon you possess.  You sometimes cannot control what goes on around you, however, you can control how you handle each issue and battle that comes your way.
9.  Find your happiness and achieve your dreams: Find your passion and what separates you from others. What makes YOU happy? What gives YOU joy? Now do it.
10.  Power Up!: Power that comes from the soul is what gives us the energy and motivation to continue to our goals and dreams. Go do it. Power up!

School dance, junior year.

>>> Although I’ve learned to move on and continue life after Jeff’s death, his life and death is still something I think about often. The main shift in my life –on an emotional, mental, spiritual and physical level-is that rather than be ruled by feelings of sadness and depression, I’m choosing to fill myself with peace. I don’t think you can “get over” a death or completely “heal” from the sadness, but what you can do is grow from the experience. What you can do is channel those sad feelings into a productive life change. What you can do is appreciate the moment you are in with the people you are with because life is short.

Thanks for reading this post…it’s taken me awhile to write and it’s been hard to put my thoughts into words and express what I wanted to say. Rather than be sappy and sad all day, I’m going to remember the happy memories I had with my good friend and thank God that he used this death to transform the lives of so many people. Have a blessed day!

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12 responses to “February 1, 2006

  1. This post was really brave of you to write.

    • Thanks for your comment Amy—It took a really long time to write & was hard to put thoughts/emotions into words and then showcase them in the blog, but I’m glad I did. SP, love you tons. Praying for you today!

  2. Thanks for this, And. Love the part about filling yourself with peace.

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  4. Terrific post, Andi. Have you been involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention? (afsp.org) I led a team in an annual walk by this organization called the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk. It’s a 20 mile walk that begins at sundown, participants walk throughout the night and ends with a ceremony as the sun rises. There’s also community walks that happen throughout the year. The walk brings together a variety of people affected by this issue and raises a lot of funds for suicide research and prevention. The friendships you strengthen by particpating are just as great as the connections you make with complete strangers.

  5. Love you, baby girl. There is room in our lives for both joy and sadness. I am very proud that you are using your personal experience with Jeff’s suicide to influence others. xxoo

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