Suicide: The Taboo Topic - For Emily,
This has been a long time coming in needing to be put down, both for my own mental health and the mental health of others. Living in the internet age has put vast amounts of knowledge at our fingertips, both for the good and the bad. More and more people have accesses to resources now that we didn't have when I was growing up. As a teenager if I needed to know how to fix something on my car, I had to refer to the repair manual. If I was unfamiliar with a certain subject, I would look it up in an encyclopedia. In today's world it is easy to just google what you're looking for and it's right there on a screen in front of you. I grew up in a small military town some would consider out in the country. Compared to how it’s grown up since then I guess they were right. I always thought it was a city, maybe not big city scale but I knew it wasn’t no one stoplight town. I was fortunate in that we had a somewhat culturally diverse community, but LGBTQ was still taboo and underground. Growing up confused about my gender, confused about my anger, I had no such resources. These were taboo subjects. I was coming of age at the end of the AIDS epidemic and I remember it being called the gay disease. If anyone got AIDS, they were assumed to be closeted gay. We were so naive back then about so many things in the world. You could be sent to a psychiatrist to 'cure' you of your crossdressing because being a transvestite (terminology at the time) is immoral.
In today's world it's easier for us to connect with each other and find out that we are in fact not alone in this world. That would have saved so many lives when I was growing up. But along with the ease of accessing such communities and information comes the bad things. Bullies will always be bullies, only now they are bolder than in the past as they get to hide behind a keyboard and suffer no real consequences. It's easier to be stalked, people set up accounts with the sole intention of outing people who aren’t out yet to friends and colleagues. But all is not lost. I tend to believe in the good in humanity and have found many examples of that. Online support groups for whatever you need support with are out there. All you have to do is google it. Maybe there isn’t anyone near you that's going through the same thing or likes the same things you like, but somewhere out there online there is.
I found such friendship not too long ago in an online support group for Anxiety, Depression and Suicide. What brought me to search for such a place was the fact I am transgender. I was AMAB and I am now living authentically as a woman. Up until I started questioning my gender, my very core of my being, I led a tormented life. I could never pinpoint what it was, yet I always knew something was amiss. I had dabbled in crossdressing most all my life and I often had wished for a magic lamp or the ability to shape shift into the body of a woman. Initially I would think, if I could just have a few days as a woman and that changed into a 'Please, just give me an hour to experience womanhood'. I longed to carry a baby and give birth, I longed for menstrual cycles as well. Those thoughts or periods of crossdressing were always followed by guilt. I was a man and I wasn't supposed to have such thoughts. I did the only thing I could think to do, I practiced hyper masculinity.
This cycle led to many depressive episodes and I would always do my best not to let it show because I was a man. You can't be bothered by such things when you're a man. It's a sign of weakness. This cycle of who I am at my very core trying to come out to myself followed by shame followed by hyper masculinity would continue for close to 30 years until I met Nova. Nova is my therapist and from the beginning she assured me that I am valid. No matter what I do in life, I am valid. I could transition or not transition. She showed me that there is no real black and white when it comes to life and being transgender in particular. I often say that the best and worst day of my life was when I met Nova. Finally, there was a light at the end of the tunnel for me. Finally, I had hope, maybe I could even experience happiness one day. Yet exploring your gender and coming out as transgender presents a whole new set of problems that most in this world will never deal with. The sheer amount of strength it takes to live authentically is exhausting. You are constantly thinking about your presentation. Is this or that going to get me clocked? Am I walking correctly? Am I talking correctly? Am I sitting right? You're constantly worried about your safety. Are those people laughing at you or did someone tell a joke? Are people just humoring you to your face and talking differently behind you back? Will this place be friendly to transgender people? Is this place safe?
I had male privilege and like most I thought that was a myth. Something people say just to invalidate your opinion. Well I'm here to tell you that when you lose that place of privilege as a cishet white male you become painfully aware of the privilege you had. You're seen as an abomination, a man playing dress up in my case.
Most men look down on you for abandoning manhood. It's the peak of evolution after all so why would you want to give that up? I would say most of us lose relationships, friends, family members and that leads to more depression on top of your feelings of inadequacy and dysphoria. People constantly use the wrong pronouns, some accidentally and some intentionally citing that they always knew you as (deadname) and you'll always be that person. Those little micro aggressions hurt, and the onus is on you to not be offended at the offender because they really didn’t mean it.
I think that most of us in the LGBTQ community experience depression at least once in our lives. Some of us are better equipped to cope with it, maybe in the form of a support system or hobbies and activities. Some of us don't have a support system or we just don't know how to deal with it. And sometimes when we are in these depressive episodes our mind starts messing with us. Like a little voice whispering in your ear. 'Maybe you're better off dead.' 'Stop being such a burden to everyone.' 'They would be better off without me.' Those thoughts quickly snowball into more and more dark thoughts. Maybe we self-harm in an attempt to alleviate the pain we are feeling inside. Maybe we engage in dangerous activities that have an increased risk of death, after all, you can't say I committed suicide if I was just speeding, driving recklessly and got in an accident and passed away. The more depressed you get the darker these thoughts are sometimes. You long for death, you romanticize it, it's all you can focus on, you see it as the ultimate act of self-love.
You can't talk to anyone about it though because mental health still has a stigma attached to it. Suicidal thoughts and suicidal ideation even more so. When you try to bring it up to someone you see the way they look at you differently or worse yet, they make your pain about themselves. 'But I'll miss you.' 'What will I do without you?' One of my favorites 'Stop being so selfish, you're only thinking about yourself and you need to think about the people you would leave behind. It would break our hearts.' Maybe I was thinking about everyone and removing the burden that I am from your lives. Those things are not things you should ever say to someone battling suicide. Much like the 'why can't you just snap out of it?' 'What do you have to be depressed about?' Comments one should never say when someone is battling depression.
Maybe you don't know what to say to someone battling depression or suicide and that's fine. Just don't ever belittle their experiences. Don't ever make it about you or try to minimize their experiences. Just listen. Express that you know they are hurting and just offer your ear to them. Unless you know for a fact that an attempt is imminent, don't call anyone such as LEO or EMS. Just listen. Sometimes that's what's needed to help someone’s. Maybe you can't relate to what they are feeling so tell them so, but also tell them at the same time that you're there for them anytime they need to vent. Tell them to give it 'X' amount of time to work through these feelings and if they're still feeling this way at that time then maybe we can look at another way work through this and discuss other options. Just be supportive, that more than anything else is what's needed.
That online support group I mentioned earlier? I joined it in December of 2019. I was in my most depressive/suicidal state I've ever been in. I had only been living fulltime as Lillie for about 6 months, I still had no ideas who I was as a woman. Things were toxic at home and I was hurting a lot. I resorted to self-harm in the form of cutting. It allowed me to focus on that physical pain instead of the mental anguish I felt at the time. It worked briefly, I was able to bleed out my pain. I made a post in that support group about my desire to die. I talked about my life and my children and my fears of 'messing' them up for being trans as well as my fears of them not wanting anything to do with me as they got older or seeing me as an embarrassment for being trans. I thought they would be better off without me instead of being picked on because dad is now a woman. I hated being transgender, I still do to a point. Yet at the same time, looking back on my life I can say for a fact I am happier than I've ever been in my life. Funny how that works.
I got the support one would expect from a support group even though most could not relate to the transgender experience. Two people stood out in the responses those. Rose and Emily. Both transgender women who were suffering as well. We started our own little group chat and bonded quickly through our pain and shared experiences as transgender women. It would be equal parts building the others up or venting your own frustrations. Often, we would talk of our attempts, what we thought we did wrong, how we would do it, always looking for that guaranteed way to end it. We once signed a e-contract between the three of us to not kill ourselves on a month to month basis. The contract would be renewed monthly. It only made it one month. I was climbing out of my hole thanks to my therapist, my doctor and two of my best friends over a period of some serious intervention, crying and opening of my soul from a Thursday through the following Monday. Details of which are known only to those closest to me.
I credit those women with saving my life. They might say I'm the strong one or that I did all the hard work and maybe one day I can acknowledge that. Today, they get all the credit for listening to me, for helping me and comforting me in my time of need.
So that contract, I didn’t see a need personally to renew it on my end, yet I would have been more than happy to resign it. Emily had just come out of a stint of inpatient therapy and was telling us she was doing a lot better. Rose was still struggling but wouldn't sign the contract since we didn’t 'need' it like she did. Yet we still spoke daily. I continued to improve and was still scared at how bad off I was before and how close I was to my own inpatient stay. I was too close to death and even though I thought that's what I wanted at the time, when I was standing on the metaphorical cliff, I found that's not what I wanted to do. I have had this happiness since then at beating my demons. It's only been 4 months since then and I'm still riding a high I hope never goes away.
Rose has struggled the whole time and I've worried for her so. Emily would have cycles of happiness and depression. We all three continued to talk, continued to check on each other. Emily had an attempt at hanging herself that failed and another attempt at an OD that left her having seizures and, in the ER, followed by another inpatient stay. Emily hated the fact she wasn't born cis and would never have the experiences of a girl growing up. She suffered more when people used the wrong pronouns or disowned her for being transgender. She would tell us that she wanted to try to hold out until her debt was paid off from all her medical bills from her attempts before killing herself so her family wouldn't be stuck with her debt.
Even in pain she would not let me feel inadequate as a parent for being transgender. She cared deeply about others, just not her own life. She never liked to see anyone else hurting and would always check on us, especially if we were suffering. On 4/20/2020 she succumbed to her pain and depression and killed herself. It shook me to my core because that could have easily been me, it was so very close to being me. I was in the process of writing my goodbye letters when my therapist told me it was probably time to go to inpatient. She had been trying to help me intensely for close to two months and I was just getting worse. I was to follow up with my doctor and come back on Monday and see what route was going to be taken. Driving to my doctor on the Saturday after seeing my therapist I drove by where my best friend lived and reached out to her on a whim and asked her to come to the doctor with me.
She knew of my struggles before but this time I kept most of it from everyone. So, she sat with me at my doctor for hours while we talked, and we all cried, and I was able to get a lot of my pain out. Come Monday I was doing so much better, so much weight was lifted off my shoulders. Were it not for that experience over the weekend I wouldn't be here now to write this. Once I had finished my goodbye letters to those important to me that was it, I was going to end it. I was so close. It could have been me. That's part of why it hit me so hard to find out about Em's. Because it could have been, it nearly was me.
I was initially mad at Emily. We had this agreement between us that if it got so bad that we were going to end our life we would call or reach out via text to the other two and say goodbye and give the other two a chance to say goodbye. We wouldn't try to stop them, just say goodbye. That idea came from another best friend who told me to give her that much if I chose to end it. I think the idea of calling and saying goodbye is a good idea because you're voicing your actions out loud to someone, you're hearing your own voice say goodbye and that would hopefully give you pause and not go through with it. I think that's what my bestie had in mind when she told me to at least give her the chance to say goodbye.
Emily did not say goodbye however and being hurt I turned to anger. Initially at Em's for not saying goodbye, but that anger soon turned towards suicide itself and how we as humans get to that point in our lives. You never can fully know the impact you can have on someone’s life. I am visibly trans and I have a deep voice. I'll never pass and yet I'm happy. So, when others say 'ma'am' 'Ms.' use she/her pronouns or even start off with 'girl let me tell you....' those things fill me with such joy. Or when you're included in conversation or activities for your authentic gender it means the world to me. Small, what seems like insignificant acts of kindness and human decency makes all the difference in the world. Sometimes it’s those small acts that can actually save a life. Some of you may never know how something so small such as the wrong pronoun can cut someone to their core.
Think about all those times you've put your foot in your mouth or even made what you thought was an innocent comment. That woman you said looks like death warmed over? She just lost her baby. Your coworker who seemed out of it today and you told him to stop daydreaming and focus on his job? His dad just passed away. We have no idea what other people are going through. Maybe your best friend is struggling financially, on the verge of losing their home and can't go out for drinks but you tell them to stop being a prude. We don't know what others are going through and the burden is not on them to tell us their troubles so we will be nice to them. The burden is on us to be kind and decent human beings and in doing so you just might save a life. Be especially kind to those in the LGBTQ communities because every day for most of us we have to live in fear of violence towards ourselves. Ask their pronouns. Do not ask their preferred pronouns as that indicates we have a choice. We chose to live as who we always were. We chose to drop the facade that came with our assigned gender. Be especially kind to people of color as they have suffered more than any of us can possibly understand. Just be kind.
I can't tell you how important it is to be able to talk candidly about suicide and depression. There were many times my best friend would listen to me while we were on break at work or eating lunch together. She would just listen and never once showed an ounce of judgement. Or another dear friend would listen to me at night over the phone or via text. She would drop whatever she was doing at that moment and give me her undivided attention and when she herself was struggling I would do the same for her. We must be able to talk about this and not just in a clinical session but also amongst our friends and loved one. That's why it's so important to just listen. You never know how close someone is to ending it and you could be the reason they stayed alive we all have the ability to be heroes.
And if you're ever struggling yourself then please reach out to someone you can trust. Anyone at all. Your life is too precious to throw away. Reach out to your local support groups or any online support groups. You can always call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or go to https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org
The Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860 or go to
Help is there, the resources are there, all we have to do is reach out. All we have to do is be kind. Kindness can stop these senseless deaths. Please, for all the Emily's out there, practice love and kindness.
Emily Brown 5/26/1994 - 4/20/2020 I hope you found your peace and your happiness. You will be missed. I love you.