The day she arrived I remember everyone remarking what a sweet young woman she is and how could she possibly land here amongst so many with problems seeming much greater than her own. She was indeed by sight just beautiful, a smile for miles, and her manner, toned and gracious, and a mind of sharp wit and polite demeanor, all the features we would come to imagine natural to a teenager adjusting well to the world around her. The one problem that appeared most glaring with Keli, was the red line bruising just below her jawline.
In the dayroom another young man sat alone, he didn’t talk much, he was a big guy, a linebacker on his football team. He tried to off himself four days ago, with a plastic bag in his car in a wooded lot. He was found by a passerby walking their dog. One has to imagine not only the trauma this young man had endured or was experiencing, but what about the casual evening stroll a stranger takes with their animal only to come upon near death. There are stories that stretch in every direction with the perils of mental health in crisis.
So Keli, a day or two into treatment, exits her room to check out the sterile surroundings, finds the young man in the day room and decides to have a conversation. Remember this is a woman of seeming confidence, the head cheerleader in her own high school squad who didn’t present any of the features that brought her to this new living arrangement on a mental health ward in a local hospital.
Keli found out that someone had posted pictures of herself in a revealing posture during last week’s rival game, and the thought of her body being splayed across social media was just too much for her to handle. So she took some rope into her basement, and in a fluke moment her father walked in the house unexpectedly early only to hear the banging of a chair being tipped over downstairs. After putting his keys down, a minute passed and he decidedly went down the steps and found his daughter in a flash of time to save her life. Her tears streaming to mix with his own and together they arrived at the hospital.
The young man looked at her with a certain angst only she understood. She didn’t revel in being intimidating to the male figures in her high school life. In fact, she was terrified by their judgment. She believed they could see every ounce of fat growing on her body in every region, and his look only confirmed that fear. However, tough as nails is her motto so she stuck it out, as long as she focused on him, she didn’t matter at all.
‘Do you play football?’ she said with a wry smile, anticipating his sort of a fuck-off nod, as he continued to just tap his fingers on the table staring at the wall. Today was the first day he had come out of his room in four days, and in one fell swoop he was out of his chair and back in his room. Keli watched him walk away and going through her mind now was how he must have seen her picture somewhere – everyone has an internal fear when in the midst of self persecution. She moved to the couch, grabbed a SELF magazine and paged through it unconsciously until her counselor came into the room and asked her for a check-in. Thus began many weeks of therapy that appeared a progressive improvement in Keli’s life.
Keli was discharged three weeks after being admitted to an adolescent unit for suicidal ideation. What was discovered in her short time was an eating disorder that basically encompassed everything about her well-being. Her self-esteem was based upon what she saw in a mirror, not by the hours of group therapy or her own immediate family’s constant protestation of love. Keli was lost and wasn’t really able to be found. As she departed with a smile and thank you and walked hand in hand with her family toward the hospital elevator that represented home, no one had any idea she would be dead in a day.
The reality of mental health is a constant challenge in our lives. We cannot take for granted just words alone, and at the same time, we cannot blame ourselves for missing a sign or not having any clue at all. We can wonder about the pain and brilliance of a victim. Keli was a victim, and she never figured out a way to get past helping herself realize the beautiful person she is, was. Somewhere along the line, she managed to convince people that she didn’t need their help. She just wanted to be who she was.
But those dark moments in her life didn’t go away, they remained, and while she put up a comfortable facade when necessary, around her family, in church, at school, on the court, in the therapist’s office, she never once revealed the truth. That while she was going through the motions, she’d already devised a plan that she would secretly act upon the moment she had opportunity.
That moment arrived the evening she got home and her parents let her have the car to go visit a friend.
I write this piece because it is based upon a true story. I don’t have an answer to help prevent suicide in a hurting person’s life. I only want to raise awareness that we all need to step back and look at each other with love, and be ready to face the fear of actually caring about one another. We can do that, and by doing so, we can live another day. My personal objective with a story like this is to realize how precious life is, and how important it is that people know moments like this exist in the lives of those around us, those we are closest to, so give that person your time, they are asking you in howsoever manner they may. Writing this for me is therapeutic, for I have my own dark moments, but I’d rather keep helping those with their own than live a hypocrisy in my own life.
© Scott F Savage 2020