This week I have a funeral. Nothing unusual about that of course, but this one is a bit different. A teen suicide. ANd while such a service is a challenge for any clergyperson, I found myself with an additional piece of work. Processing/revisiting memories.
You see 28 years ago it could easily have been me. In fact it was closer than I truly want to admit a couple of times in my life. And I know that there are things that could possibly take me back there, they would have to be fairly horrific/major/tragic things to be sure but I could see mtself on the verge again.
From grade 4 til 9 school was a most uncomfortable place for me, with grades 7-9 being worse and grade 9 being pretty much unlivable. I did not feel like I fit in (and really in retrospect I didn't really fit in, for a variety of reasons) but I kept feeling like I should be fitting in. I was unmercifully bullied by many (most days it felt like ALL) my classmates. And my poor work habits just added to my stress and my feeling of being a disappointment. On top of it all I had a feeling that no one understood me or how much I was hurting, or really wanted to make it better, For years I have told myself that I was borderline suicidal for the last half of that school year. But this week I realized that was need to be honest and name that I was over the border.
I have a memory. One day I found myself in a closed locked bathroom tying a housecoat belt around my neck. Had I thought of taking the next step and tying it to the shower rod....
The fact that I didn't tells me something (other than suggesting a lack of creative thinking). I never fully got to that point where life was something I had given up on. In hindsight (and to a degree I knew this even then, although I may not have been able to name it) there were 2 or 3 things that kept me from that place. One was the church. For several months in Grade 9 our confirmation class met every Thursday. The church was always a place where I was at home, a place where I had friends, a place where I was safe. Another was the local theatre. I was part of groups called the Arts Renaissance Troupe and St Albert Children's Theatre (the membership of both was pretty much the same). The theatre was like my second home some weeks. Again it was a place of safety, of friendships, of comfort. The third was the knowledge that I truly wasn't alone, even if it felt like it at times. I had supportive parents (who were at a loss about how to improve my scholastic habits), and that year I was blessed with a life-changing teacher. She actively cared about her students and used the subject (English/Language Arts) as a way to teach us life lessons. But without those three things....
A little over a decade later I danced with the precipice again. For a year after my first internship crashed around my ears -- and while it was crashing -- I moved back and forth. There were days when I was moderately at ease. There were also times when I remember standing looking over the railing at the floor several levels down. But still I never got there. Still there were enough other forces around me that pulled me back. And it wasn't me pulling back, at least not consciously. I was pulled back from the edge.
In retrospect I would guess that I was plausibly suffering from depression (situational more than bio-chemical in nature) at both those times in my life. But they have left their mark. I have no problem understanding how people can get to that point of thinking there is only one way out. Some people find that an impossible thing to understand. I remember years ago when taking suicide intervention training that I seemed to be coming at the discussion from a totally different place than some of the people in the group. I am no longer any where close to the precipice. YEars of life, and eighteen months of work with a counsellor, have seen to that. But I still remember, even if only sub-consciously tying that belt. I still remember looking over that railing, or the temptation to turn the steering whel sharply as I crossed the bridge. And because of that I simply can't look at suicide the same way as others do.
This week reminded me of that. This week made me work through it again in a new way. And I really think that is a good thing.