Editor's note: This article, written by a young person, addresses the painful topic of suicidal thoughts.
It was a day in eighth grade, the day the devil in my head almost won.
It hurt more than I want to say. More than I want to remember.
I sat in the shower, too weak to support myself. I knew the shower head could no longer listen to my problems because they were far too complicated to wash away. I needed help.
A few days earlier I hurt myself. I was being bullied in school and abused by a cousin at home. The people I believed to be friends no longer found an interest in maintaining our relationship. I admit that being a friend to me requires patience, understanding and honesty. I’m complex, but I do not apologize for it.
In the scalding hot shower, my brain spun like a washing machine in a vicious, continuous cycle. Thoughts circled of the things I was told when I was younger and the antagonists who taught me how to hate myself. My cousin, a drug-absorbed soul, was the most cutting.
You don’t have to be sexually violated or physically beaten to be abused. Words scorch like sun-beaten grains of sand on a beach. My cousin pounded me with harsh waves of fear: always in my face telling me I was broken and unlovable. I was a child, not even 10. And yet, he still came to our home for the chagim and secular holidays, my parents afraid to not invite anyone who carries an ounce of their familial blood.
Snapshots of others flashed before me—people who claimed to love and care about me, only for it all to be a lie.
Under the shower’s cascade, my tears began to create their own pool and I felt like I was struggling to hold my head above water. That’s when I screamed.
I’ve heard about teens and 20-somethings who took their lives. I can relate to them but I could not be like them. Scratch that – I didn’t want to be like them, to be another statistic, another tragedy, another “what if.”
I had survived every single panic attack. I had exercised every ounce of strength to rebuild the shattered porcelain of my being. Was I really about to quit? To violate a fundamental Jewish law that values life? To let every person who hurt me get what they wanted?
My life was literally at an edge, wanting to live but not wanting to live, at least not the way my life had been. I couldn’t tell my parents, because how do you tell the people who gave you life that you don’t want it anymore? I turned to a friend, but over text. I didn’t have the courage to look anyone in the eye, not even a supportive ally. He was very understanding though. I told him everything. I finally let my emotions tell my story. I cried. I felt like I was swallowing a bowling ball.
The following day in my Orthodox Jewish day school my friend said we needed to talk to someone who could really help me, and that was the school psychologist. I didn’t know it at that moment, when my friend turned to me and told me his idea, that the psychologist would be the first person whose reaction I’d see when she found out. She’d be the next person to know my deepest secret.
We ran through the halls to find her. It took a while, but he was determined. Finally, we found her, and she told us to sit with her in an empty room. I started crying almost instantly. I couldn’t talk. I could barely breathe.
My friend spoke for me, sharing my story. She asked to take a good look at me. I was shaking. My friend looked away and was then asked to leave the room.
She hugged me, an embrace I had been yearning for through the 13 years of my life. She was trying in her own way to fix me, but I wasn’t sure if that was really possible. She called the menahelet (head of the school). I sat with her and cried. I cried for a while. She then said something I didn’t want to hear, but I knew was coming. “We need to call your parents to come in.”
A Hug and Hope
My mom ran in and squeezed me with all her loving vigor. My dad sat there as the school psychologist told them everything. They were confused. My dad looked at me as if to say, is this really true? Is it even possible? I sat there in that room and cried on my mother’s lap for almost an hour. After, we headed home.
In the car, still shaking and crying, I heard my parents talking. My mom turned to my dad and said she didn’t know what to do next. My dad replied, “She’s just tired.”
He will never know how wrong and right he was in that moment. I was tired. But not the way he was thinking. Not in a way he will ever be able to understand. I didn’t need sleep, because no amount of rest could fix me. I was tired. Drained, actually. I needed a break from the pain. I needed to breathe again.
More than three years have passed since that day, and I’m here to tell you I made it to the other side. But like a broken handle glued to a mug, my life is fragile, exposed.
I’ve often asked myself the question why. Why didn’t I take my life? Why, if Hashem loves all his creations, did He give me this life filled with so much pain and also deny me the religious right to end it?
When I was in that shower, my eyes shifted from the water falling onto me to the self-inflicted injuries on my body. I saw the faces of every person I loved, not knowing or caring whether they loved me back.
I saw my parents and siblings and others being told they would never see me again. I saw their faces shatter like a broken vessel, the pain of losing someone. Forever.
As I now begin my senior year, I feel the warmth of my bed, the comfort of my pjs. I feel the insecurity of friendship but know that I do have friends with great midot. I see how the little things matter and that I want to stick around for them.
My life remains complicated. My therapist tells me I have PTSD, a four-letter acronym used for those who emerge from war not in a coffin, yet not fully upright. That’s where I stand today. My dad not believing in mental illnesses sometimes contributes to that hurt. He’s working on it, just like I am. My mom is my warm hug that’s always waiting when I need it. My brothers are always there to tell me that I’m beautiful, and I need to never forget it. That’s my family. We’re crazy. We have our issues. But I love it. I love them. Because this is my family, and no one can take that from me.
As for my relationship with Hashem, it, too, has changed. I’m not saying I understand it all, but I do feel His love for me.
Life is not a movie with a simple happy ending. And I know my story is still being written. But unlike a few years ago, I can say more confidently that there will be another chapter.
It was a day in eighth grade. A day that shaped me into who I am. A day I could forget but choose not to. Because without it, I would not be sharing my story with you today.
The author is a resident of Bergen County and attends an Orthodox day school. At the request of her parents, the author’s name is removed from the column.
This article is sponsored by Kosher Recovery/recovery at the Crossroads. For more info call (856) 474-1602 or visit www.kosherrecovery.org.