I Call Your ’13 Reasons’ and Raise You One

The world can’t stop talking about “13 Reasons Why.” It is taking over Facebook.

Maybe I’ve lost too many loved ones to suicide because I do not understand the hype. Fifteen minutes into the first episode, I turned on something else. I was already nervous and doubtful, but after watching, I was just pissed off.

In high school, I was one of three high school students to make an attempt following the suicide of a classmate. Back then, help like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline didn’t exist. So, when my friend told me I should’ve known better, he was right.

Albeit, because I knew better, I knew when to stop watching. I knew when to turn it off and I was aware of the resources available if I became emotionally overwhelmed or suicidal. He defended the show, pointing out how it brings awareness to a taboo topic which is often silenced, but he chooses not to watch. I’m with him.

While awareness is crucial to suicide prevention and advocacy, how we utilize that awareness is essential in effectively saving lives. When it comes to the impact of suicide and the media, Madelyn Gould from the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Division of Epidemiology at Columbia University confirms,

The existence of suicide contagion no longer needs to be questioned.

We know the risks. Because we know the risks, media outlets like Netflix have a moral and ethical obligation to act with the same awareness this show is alleged to present. Instead, they are risking lives.

The Media Guidelines for Reporting on Suicide specifically urge against detailed descriptions of method and site. They also encourage against headlines that will gain the front page of the New York Times and social media spotlight. In the description of the latest, most talked about television show, Netflix presents,

After a teenage girl’s perplexing suicide, a classmate receives a series of tapes that unravel the mystery of her tragic choice.

Clearly, their producers see media guidelines as friendly suggestions, instead of researched measures imperative to saving young lives.

One of the hardest parts of being a suicide loss survivor is the feeling of guilt. You replay their last days and you search social media posts and text messages, trying to figure out what you missed, and you blame yourself no matter how irrational it is, but there isn’t always a sign.

Here we are, taking suicide viral. Watching our sons and our daughters stare at their laptops and phones, thinking we’ve done enough to protect them; thinking they know better, and there’s no reason why suicide would impact our lives.

Right now, there is there a flashing, neon sign streaming across America, warning us that lives are at risk and we are strapped to the edge of our seats, gawking and applauding. We’re cheering it on.

While college students and teenagers are holed up at home with their eyes glued to Netflix, the clock is ticking. Silent, emotional reactions are transpiring inside of vulnerable people, ambivalent to their own suicidal ideation and naive to the risks. For the next suicidal teenager, death is just a matter of time, and “13 Reasons Why” is making the clock tick faster.

Maybe it is not suicide that is contagious, so much as the value of life. We should up the anti. We should help our children carry the weight and rise! We should be protesting, shouting, and taking a stand against it. Something (anything!) that sends the message that glamorizing suicide attempts and losses through celebrity-tinted camera lenses causes the entire nation to lose focus of what is required of us if we want to save lives.

Shame on Netflix, and shame on us for not taking more forceful action to protect the population in which suicide is the second leading (ages 10–24) and primary (college-aged) cause of death!

I don’t need thirteen reasons to turn off the show or unsubscribe. I only need one.

Life.


Life is Temporary. Grief is Not.

My sister died by suicide February 26, 2015, less than two weeks after her father’s funeral. Her daughter is the one who found her. Today is her birthday.

I wonder if she still wakes up and looks for her. I wonder if she cries at night, missing her mother, wishing she were holding her tight. In five days, it will be her birthday.

On that day, I will continue to mourn her and respectively acknowledge the anniversary date of the death of the woman who loved me as if I were her own daughter, stepping in to fill the shoes of my own family when they failed to support me. I was so consumed with grief and loss I didn’t even know she was sick and hurting. I never said goodbye. I wish I could’ve told her how much she changed my life and how much I loved her.

April 29th is my father’s birthday, but that’s not why I remember the date. It is also the birthday of my friend, with whom I ministered for years at our church. She was age 25, on vacation in Hawaii, heading to watch the sunrise with her husband, when they were hit by a drunk driver. She died instantly. That was six years ago. It took three years to acknowledge that loss and finally grieve her.

On this day, twenty-one years ago, I was in middle school when my friend died from a gunshot wound to the head.  I sat in the cafeteria, in shock, as the entire school finally took the time to acknowledge him as more than a trouble maker or juvenile delinquent. At first, it was investigated as a suicide.

In the end, his death was dismissed as another instance of a teen with a gun, who should’ve known better. I still drive by his house. I can still see him and all of his siblings. I wonder how many people knew he missed so much school because he was also their caretaker. There are consequences that come along with forcing children to be adults. Dangerous consequences.

The same year my friend was shot, a lady in my mother’s Multiple Sclerosis support group took her own life. I didn’t know it then, but I experienced firsthand what suicide contagion looks like. Two other support group members died by suicide in the months that followed. My mother discontinued her support group, and “suicide” became a permanent, routinely used word in our home. For ten years, I listened to my mother threaten her own life or encourage me to kill her. So, later that year, it didn’t seem unnatural or abnormal when I attempted to take my own life.

People believe death and loss are something we experience, something we feel, for a moment in time and then heal from. People assume the pain leaves the heart once the stages of grief have ended, but, often, it doesn’t.

We bury the loss. We hide the guilt, and we forever carry the grief in our hearts until we finally reach the end of our own lives.

Life is fleeting— temporary. We must cling to hope to survive.


If you are feeling suicidal, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 
national-suicide-prevention-lifeline

How I Became A Preacher

I have been given a lot of reasons not to like Christians. I wish I could say I know in my heart God is real and Jesus loves me, but no one really knows that for sure, and I am a very logical, practical, girl. I always have been.

When I was a teenager, I went to youth camp every summer. The Pentecostal kind. At the end of the service each night, I would watch all of the other kids flock to the altars. They’d be there all night; slain in the spirit, speaking in tongues, crying, and holding hands, and I’d just be in my seat… watching.

I remember one year, I made sure I was “slain by the Holy Ghost.” I thought people would think something was wrong with me if I kept choosing to stay in my seat. Everyone else was hugging the concrete, so I faked it. It hurt like hell when my head hit the ground! (Note to self: Make sure you have somebody there to catch you.) I never tried a second time around.

My last church sealed the deal on my view of Christian organizations. Around age fifteen, I decided church wasn’t the place for me. I began to see through it.

I had just signed a ministry contract. I thought it over for a week before I finally committed. They included a whole clause about tobacco use, and I did not want to be dishonest by alleging that I wouldn’t use it. I was an underage smoker.

I told my youth pastor my dilemma and he encouraged me to step into leadership anyway. I poured myself into the youth group. I spent my weekends and summers at the church. I lead national See You At The Pole day at high school, helped organize the first statewide youth rally in our town and led praise and worship.

Yet, the very second that I was placed in an Oklahoma psychiatric children’s center, my family-owned church deemed me unworthy to serve. I wasn’t worthy enough to be a leader. I wasn’t even worthy enough to sing in the choir. People like me aren’t worthy of positions like that.

“Like me” meaning suicidal. People, like me, who struggle with the impacts of trauma, we’re tormented. In the eyes of the church, we’re sinners in need a deeper relationship with God and a closer walk with Jesus Christ. We’re not worthy of anointing, love, or light.

So, there I was — shunned at Christmas. I wasn’t even allowed to sing in the church cantata! I couldn’t possibly worship God with my voice. It was spotted. The choir director did her best to pretend she wasn’t judging me as she stopped me in the bathroom and told me,

It’s for the best.

That is the same thing the youth workers on the children’s behavioral unit said. And how many times did my church leaders or church family come to see me? Not once. Who came to visit outside of my parents? Nobody. Did any of them confirm or hear me say that I wanted to die or that I had made an attempt on my life? No. Nobody asked me.

After that, I was behind in school six months before graduation. I lost my only social outlet, and I worked until 2 o’clock in the morning nearly five days a week. I tried to hold onto the church and the fake smiles they all seemed to master. But every time I dared to attend, I was blinded by darkness.

It was full of judgment. We made the same judgments in our family. A lady in our church was dating an ex-convict and living with him out-of-wedlock and wanted to serve in the church. They wouldn’t allow her. They asked her not to return until she got her life right with the Lord. The sad thing is, the deacons and youth ministers were judged the same way. It was the same way the pastor treated his children.

When we’re younger, we’re not deaf and we’re not blind. I meticulously watched people my entire life. No one in the church or the family bothered to get to know me. They didn’t then. They don’t now. I was never accepted into their church… or family. Not since that new poor-little-adopted-girl smell wore off.

While the last three years have found me verbally open about it and in public confrontations on social media platforms, I find it all ironic. All this judgment as if they know who I am, all my sins, and my soul’s darkness. Yet, here I am shining the brightest light.

Not once did those who served in our church tell me I was anointed or called, but they had plenty to speak over my sisters. I must have been really terrible at faking it. The only part of the church I embraced was worship. My voice. I lived and breathed for the youth group and music.

Since my birth, people have prophesied over my sisters and me and stamped our lives with scripture. I remember each time. The last person to speak anointing over the three of us girls was Ms. Brown. She was a vibrant lady. She professed God would use each of us; one of us would write, one of us would sing, and one of us would preach His word. I always liked her.

While people routinely praised and ordained my sisters, purpose in my life was merely remnants written in cards from my foster parents, DHS workers, or people from the church, like Lydia. She prophesied Psalm 100 over my life. Years later, after dad gave me a box of our adoption records and collective other things, I found an old card addressed to a younger me. “Charity.” Mrs. Brawner, my foster mom, penned Psalm 101 inside. All those notes and cards stopped by the age of five.

What do I do today, even though I don’t get to feel the warmth of the sun on my face or know what it’s like to face the world every day, much less face myself in the mirror? Write, sing, and … preach.

I am a preacher. I send God’s love out into a dying world, and I don’t throw conviction or scripture, but I shout His word. When I speak, people listen, and I have a powerful voice! The world is my church.

Funny how home became my prison. Blame mental health (or religious culture?). Today, I have a full congregation. And we don’t worry about building funds, smokers, gay people, or offering plates. We don’t abandon suicidal children, addicts, or whores. We serve.

I guess that is the kind of sinner I am. I shine brightly from all the way inside of a dark, forgotten, apartment. And on the days I remember to pray, it’s usually to ask Jesus what happened to all of His lighthouses.