There was a guy in my high school who would chew his fingernails to the nubs. Then he would go for the skin around the nail. He would dig in deep. His fingertips had divots and were rimmed with dried blood.
“Don’t do that,” I told him from across our lab table in AP Physics C.
He paused for a while and then went back to it.
There are things you hope you’ll spare your children. Stress isn’t on the list, per se, but when I think of that guy from high school, or another jittery high school student I tutored when I lived in the Bay Area nearly two decades ago now, I definitely hope my kids will be challenged without feeling judged or boxed into impossible situations. I hoped to avoid the extremes that I saw lead to anxiety and depression.
So when we were shopping around for where to spend this next phase of life, it seemed prudent to choose a location where our kids would find both challenge and support, and to try to avoid the cutthroat communities that seemed to scream “Harvard of bust.”
I also aimed to avoid mass shootings and natural disasters (like fire and drought).
But two days after we moved in, a young man shot into the crowd gathered at a local Fourth of July parade nearby. Then, two weeks after we moved in, my kids spotted a funnel cloud at the park (which fortunately didn’t touch down).
And two months after we moved in, while I was in the process of writing an article to raise awareness for Physician Suicide, I learned of another tragedy in the community.
Waves of grief shock a community when a 13-year-old dies by suicide. I don’t know all of the details, but I know she went to my daughter’s school. And I know my new neighbors had known her for a decade, that their daughters had been close with her, though less so in the past couple of years when she became unhappy.
I found myself in Barnes and Noble, wandering among tables boasting support for “Love is Love” and “Science is Real” and wondering what to give to the survivors of suicide. Being a writer, I finally settled on journals, as well as small bouquets of roses (flower shortages limited choices) for the daughters who were trying to make sense of what had happened, who were scrolling the internet for information, and whose wellbeing was now of utmost importance to their mother like never before.
Even here, I thought. Even here. There is no community secure enough to avoid the suffering.
Even in the community I was writing about – doctors who spend their lives supporting the health of others – are more likely to struggle with suicide.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, but the National Alliance on Mental Illness seriously needs to get a better acronym for their campaign. I mean, SPAM? Then again, the takeaway here could be that some things need to be SPELLED OUT and not glossed over. Don’t shirk from the word suicide, for starters. Don’t couch it in an acronym.
According to their website,
“After years of advocacy and preparation, 988 is now available nationwide as the new number to contact for mental health, substance use and suicide crises — a simple, easy-to-remember way for people to get help. This new number will allow people to quickly connect with support during a crisis, 24/7, no matter where they live.”
In support of their efforts to make resources readily available, I want to post those resources here. May you never need them. May they be here for you if you do:
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.