Every time a teenager commits suicide, God thunders down at us: "This is not why I gave you the gift of life!" And then God cries.
Right now, in the time it takes for you to read this, a teenager in your town or city wishes she were dead. A teenager in your state is thinking of a way to kill himself. Perhaps he'll use a gun or a rope or pills or his car or simply go out for a swim from which he won't return.
A teenager in this country has just reached for that gun or is stepping up on that chair and placing his head through the noose of that rope. Or she's counting out enough pills to finish the job or starting to slice into her wrist and watch the little beads of blood seep to the surface, harbingers of the hemorrhage that will start when she deftly severs her radial artery.
And somewhere out there in the global community to which we all belong, a teenager has just ended his life as the culmination to his absolute, unshakable belief that he belonged nowhere.
Although the suffering of that teenager is over, it has not yet begun for her family. When that teenager's mother and father make the awful discovery that awaits them, life as they know it will be over. After this moment, if you ever look directly into the eyes of that mother or father, you will see how much of their own lives has been ripped out of them with the suicide of their child. You won't know what to say and you will find it too painful to keep looking. You'll look away, hoping that such a horror never befalls you; but somewhere inside you are thinking that there but for the grace of God, goes your teenager and you.
Many of our teens are in danger of falling through the cracks of a "too busy to care" world. If you're worried that your child has something dark and troublesome on his mind, he probably does. If you're too busy to take the time to break through to your child, make the time. If your child pushes you away, remember you don't need his permission to protect him from anything that could hurt him or his future. In fact it's your most important job as a parent. If you don't know how to communicate with your defiant teen, learn to.
If you're that teen who is having despairing thoughts and the following letter and poem relate to you, send it! If you're a parent worrying about what's going on inside your teen and you think the letter and poem may relate to him or her, give it to them and ask. Then put everything else aside and take the time to listen to and talk with your teenager.
Dear Mom and Dad,
I'm writing you this letter, because I'm afraid if I tell you how unhappy I am, you'll become angry or frightened, or even worse, you'll tell me I'm just trying to make excuses or trying to get attention. Then I'll have to take it back and reassure you that it's nothing and I'm okay--- when I'm really not. I really don't know what's wrong, and I know I don't deserve to feel as bad as I do because other people have it much worse. But I can't help it, I do feel as bad as I do. I feel very alone and that nobody in the world knows me--- and I'm so confused, that I couldn't even tell anyone what I want them to know about me. Read this enclosed poem and it might help you to know how I'm feeling. I'm really sorry if I'm a big disappointment to you. Please don't be angry at me for being so ashamed of myself. Can you please help me?
REACHING OUT FOR HELP
Don't be fooled by me.
Don't be fooled by the face I wear.
For I wear a thousand masks, masks that I'm afraid to take off.
And none of them are me.
Pretending is an art that's second nature to me.
But don't be fooled, for God's sake, don't be fooled.
I give the impression that I'm secure,
That all is sunny and unruffled with me,
Within as well as without,
That confidence is my name and coolness my game,
That the water's calm and I'm in command,
And that I need no one.
But don't believe me, please.
My surface may seem smooth, but my surface is my mask.
Beneath this lies no complacence.
Beneath dwells the real me in confusion, in fear, and aloneness.
But I hide this. I don't want anybody to know it.
I panic at the thought of my weakness and fear of being exposed.
That's why I frantically create a mask to hide behind,
A nonchalant, sophisticated façade,
To help me pretend, to shield me from the glance that knows.
But such a glance is precisely my salvation. My only salvation.
And I know it.
That is if it's followed by acceptance, if it's followed by love.
It's the only think that will assure me of what I can't assure myself...
That I am worth something.
But I don't dare tell you this. I don't dare. I'm afraid to.
I'm afraid your glance will not be followed by acceptance and love.
I'm afraid you'll think less of me, that you'll laugh at me,
And your laugh would kill me.
I'm afraid that deep down I'm nothing, that I'm no good.
And that you will see this and reject me.
So I play my game. My desperate game.
With a façade of assurance without and a trembling child within.
And so begins the parade of masks. And my life becomes a front.
I idly chatter to you in the suave tones of surface talk.
I tell you everything that is really nothing.
And nothing of what's everything,
Of what's crying within me.
So when I'm going through my routine, do not be fooled by what I'm saying.
What I'd like to be able to say,
What for survival I need to say, but what I can't say,
I dislike hiding, honestly.
I dislike the superficial game I'm playing, the phony game.
I'd really like to be genuine and spontaneous and me.
But you've got to help me. You've got to hold out your hand,
Even when that's the last thing I seem to want.
Only you can wipe away from my eyes the blank stare of breathing death,
Only you can call me into aliveness.
Each time you're kind and gentle and encouraging.
Each time you try to understand because you really care,
My heart begins to grow wings, very small wings, very feeble wings,
With your sensitivity and sympathy, and your power of understanding
You can breath life into me, I want you to know that.
I want you to know how important you are to me.
How you can be the creator of the person that is me, if you choose to.
Please choose to.
You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble.
You alone can remove my mask.
You alone can release me from my shaking world of panic and uncertainty.
Please...do not pass me by.
It will not be easy for you.
A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls.
The nearer you approach me, the blinder I strike back.
I fight against the very thing I cry out for.
But I am told that love is stronger than walls,
And in that lies my hope.
Please try to beat down those walls with firm hands,
But with gentle hands...for a child is sensitive...
Who am I, you may wonder. I am someone you know very well.
For I am every man you meet and I am every woman you meet.
I am you and I am me.
To Think About:
• Trying to understand your teenager is more important than what you understand. One of the most exasperating experiences for any teenager is dealing with someone who instead of trying to understand, acts as if they already know. You accomplish trying to understand by keeping your teenager talking and expressing his or her thoughts and by asking questions like: what happened next, what did you feel when that happened, what did you do when that happened, and what did you think when all that happened. Keep asking these questions and alternate the order so you might talk about feelings first, thoughts second, actions third and then changing the order. Don't worry about arriving at the correct solution. The more your teenager is able to express his thoughts, feelings, and actions into your undivided attention, the more he'll feel known and felt, the less he'll feel alone, and the less his despair will be.
• Teenagers have a great sense of despair about how angry they feel towards their parents. They're so furious with their parents, but still are so dependent upon them that they don't know what to do with their destructive thoughts other than direct them back at themselves. Helping them to talk about this conflict with you (and not becoming defensive when they vent their hostility at you) will lessen the pain it inflicts on both them and you. As awful as it might be to have them aim their anger at you, it's much better than having them aim it at themselves.