It plays like a movie reel in my head. One minute I’m on the third floor of our elementary school in the middle of a reading lesson with fourth graders. The next, I’m in the passenger seat of my husband’s speeding car, on the way to the High School. We’d already lost the time he spent to come and pick me up, as his office was up the hill from the high school. The office put his call through to our classroom. The secretary said, “Beth, your husband is on the phone and it’s an emergency.” I only half heard what he said after the words “cutting and suicidal” came out of his mouth.
“Tell me what she said again, word for word.” The words came out of my mouth sharper than I intended. He glanced sideways through his sunglasses. “All I know,” he said, inhaling deeply, “is that he’s* safe and with the assistant principal. She said to come as soon as we could.”
(my oldest hadn’t come out as non-binary at this time)
It wasn’t enough details for me. Not then, not now. My oldest child had gone to the assistant principal’s office that day and handed over a note that said they were cutting and suicidal.
It was a cry for help.
They met with their guidance counselor, and it was determined they were safe to come home with us. We made calls and got them in with a therapist who could see them the next day. Meanwhile, I felt helpless. My child was in crisis and I didn’t know how to help them.
The next day, they met with the therapist, then we met with the therapist together, then the therapist met with us alone. We were given a number system, where I was to ask how my child was on a scale of 1-10. Ten was good, and one meant I needed to take them to the emergency room. I was told that I should be okay with getting a three for an answer. Four or five meant they were doing pretty good. I cried on the way home.
There is a difference between feeling suicidal and attempting suicide, I would learn. My oldest child has been in both of these positions, on multiple occasions. Just writing that brings that familiar knot to my throat and tears to my eyes. There is nothing more heartbreaking as a parent than knowing your child has hit rock bottom and has tried to end their life.
Every night I went to bed thinking, “My child is suicidal, and I had no idea.”
As an Enneagram Type 1, who has been through multiple traumas in my life, control is something that helps me navigate life. It helps me make sense of the chaos. Realistically I know in my thinker that you can’t control everything, or anything really, having some measure of control over what I can, helps me to manage my anxiety and my demons.
Having a child who suffers from depression and anxiety and who has tried to take their life takes away any sense of control, perceived or otherwise, you think you might have. For years, anytime the phone rang late at night I expected it to be the medical professionals telling me my child was dead. When the call came that they needed to come home from college it was at 1:30am and every night I wake up between 1-3am. Every night, and it has been years since that call came. Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do is check my phone for messages about what could have gone wrong while I was sleeping. I will never recover from learning my child is suicidal, even if they no longer are.
Statistics tell us that “suicide is the second leading cause of death among LGBTQ+ youth ages 10-24 (Trevor Project).”
My oldest will turn twenty-six in December. Do I think that makes them magically exempt from this statistic? I do not.
There are many reasons why LGBTQ+ people are at a higher rate of death by suicide than non-LGBTQ+ people. A lot of it has to do with rejection, harassment, physical violence, and abuse. These are things that could be changed if society was more accepting of LGBTQ+ people.
As a mother, I will never stop worrying. As the mother of two LGBTQ+ children who both suffer from depression and anxiety, and who have been suicidal, I carry the fear that I will bury my children someday. It shouldn’t have to be this way.
September is Suicide Prevention Month. You can learn more at NAMI. If you or someone you love is in an emergency, please call The National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.