It was a Sunday afternoon in August and I had just finished eating a piece of banana bread with coffee to celebrate the $8,000 goal I reached as a part of the pre-launch campaign for my book, Good Enough.
I sat in awe, overwhelmed by all of the love and support I received from others and thought to myself, This is finally happening. My dream is coming true. I’m going to be a published author.
Before continuing my day of celebration, I decided to check the emails I’d abandoned while finishing up the campaign. In it, there was a message from my friend Kyle that read this:
“Idk if ya care anymore but thanks beyond. Best to ya Car.”
Attached to the email was a song called Follaton Woods by Ben Howard and I instantly knew my friend was not okay. Moments later, I received a message from his sister asking if I had heard from Kyle. She said he had gone missing and nobody knew where he was.
The next day I found out he killed himself. Never in my life have I been so wrecked. Never in my life have I been so devastated.
I never understood why those left to pick up the pieces of a suicide felt guilt. It was that person’s choice, I’d say. Nothing was going to stop them…they had it made up in their mind.
But then I — along with many others — was left to pick up the pieces of my friend, and all I could think was, This is my fault.
If only I would have read the email earlier.
If only I would have responded sooner.
If I wasn’t so caught up in the stupid campaign.
If in the past when he mentioned his struggle to me, I would have told someone or done my part in getting him help.
If I would have been a better friend.
According to The Washington Post, suicide rates have increased 35% in the past two decades.
Christian Robbins, another individual to recently take his life, was only 16 years old. When his family was interviewed after the tragic incident, they mentioned Christian describing a voice he had inside of him whispering that he was worthless and hated by everyone.
This voice isn’t much different from a voice Kyle, 29 years old, once told me he had inside of him. He said, “No matter what I do there’s still a voice deep down within…telling me I’m worth nothing and will never amount to anything.”
We all have a voice, or many voices inside of our heads, which I like to refer to as monsters. And these monsters love to tell us we aren’t good enough. They love to pin us in a corner and yell lies so loud, we feel trapped to the point where we might even question if our life is worth living.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has only aided our monsters.
In August, the CDC conducted a study and found those with the highest rates of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and substance use were the youngest people surveyed.
74.9 percent of those between the ages of 18–24, and 51.9 percent of people between the ages of 25–44 reported having at least one mental health problem.
With less room to socialize, connect, and do the things that bring us joy, our monsters have more of an opportunity to control, shame, and attack our identity.
This is a major issue, yet as of November, The Washington Post pointed out that $175 billion was granted to hospitals and medical facilities for emergency funding, and less than 1 percent of that has been used to improve services for mental health and substance abuse.
When the routine and structures we’ve become dependent on start to dissipate, a number of us will ruthlessly grab for control through unhealthy coping mechanisms. Knowing this, the mental health of our world should — in addition to emergency funding — be a top priority as we face something as life altering as a global pandemic.
In Las Vegas, Clark County schools are being forced to reopen because of the high number of suicides they’ve encountered since the start of the pandemic. Between July 1 and Dec. 31, 12 students from Clark County died by suicide, reported The New York Times.
Those are 12 faces whose parents won’t ever see them smile again.
12 dreams never achieved and thrown away.
12 lives gone and never to be brought back.
I no longer blame myself for the death of my friend Kyle, but it’s suffocating to confront these truths about him too. I knew so many of his hopes and dreams, which is why I continue to find myself perplexed over his decision.
But Kyle was right when he said, “Sometimes in life we make choices and other times, our choices make us.”
What I’ve learned from Kyle’s passing and the passing of others this year is how cruel and relentless our monsters can be. In weak moments, they thrive, and to overcome them takes a fight that at times, seems easier to lose.
However, the consequence to that is permanent. It’s not something you can take back or revisit when you feel stronger. No. To overcome your monsters, you have to resist them now. Because regardless of how small and weak they make you feel, they do not have control.
In a recent article, Erica Green from the New York Times wrote this:
Even in normal circumstances, suicides are impulsive, unpredictable and difficult to ascribe to specific causes. The pandemic has created conditions unlike anything mental health professionals have seen before, making causation that much more difficult to determine.
I would never go as far as to explain why someone makes the decision to end their life…not even my friend who I was extremely close with. Yet, I do have confidence that the voices…the monsters are a small piece of the (multidimensional) puzzle. And I have that hunch because I have my own monsters that have brought me to question the purpose of my life in the past.
They beat me when I was already down and left me broken when I needed healing.
But now, having healed in many ways and better understood the emotional wounds of my past, I have a new awareness when my monsters chime in.
I see them for what they really are: liars who want to see me fail, hurt, and suffer.
God on the other hand, wants to see me succeed, be joyful, and find rest for my soul.
I don’t think my friend Kyle was weak for what he did, and I don’t think others who check out early are selfish.
With our loved ones gone, however, I do see it as our responsibility to live the life they didn’t get to finish. To discover the beauty they had trouble seeing, and to continue on a path of faith when heaviness creeps in.
There is no shame in vulnerability, only power.
Reach out when you need help. Speak up when you are struggling. And if you don’t feel heard, yell louder because you are worth it and you are not alone.
To those on the other side, be a friend to those struggling. Ask hard questions even when things seem normal. And if you don’t know what to say or do, never stop reminding those who are hurting that they are good enough, loved, and worthy of belonging.
It’s not hidden knowledge that our world is in desperate need of a change when it comes to mental health and suicide specifically, but the change starts with us. It starts in the words we speak, how we choose to live, and how we treat ourselves and others.
I don’t have all of the answers but will never stop trying to be a better version of myself for my friend Kyle. In honor of him, I want to end this article with the two words he often left me with, and the two things I want to continue practicing daily.
Love & Light,
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800–273-TALK (8255). You can also text a crisis counselor by messaging the Crisis Text Line at 741741.