Talk Back

To hear the inaudible threat

JET wants you to Talk Back.  This is one of the reader submissions that we received and opted to publish.  Want to make your voice heard?  Submit your commentary, TV show recap, poem, or essay HERE.  Read all the rules  so you know how it works. 

All I could see was her plummeting.

Every time I closed my eyes, for weeks, all I could see was my friend Jessica’s* suicide replaying over and over again in my head.

They say she flew out to Vegas, ditched her phone, got high and then jumped off of the roof of a building. In addition to the grief & sorrow that naturally comes with death, her death left me haunted by the ghost of missed opportunity. I should have known something was wrong. Jessica was young, smart and could have been anything she wanted to be. I knew she’d taken a few lumps in her personal life, but I never imagined she’d hurt herself. I kept asking myself why she didn’t reach out to me, which always led to the far more troubling idea that perhaps she did try to reach out to me, but I had missed her pleas.

In an attempt to resolve her death and preserve my well-being, I convinced myself that what happened to Jess was a horrible, horrible, one-time accident. I pledged, in Jessica’s memory, to be more vigilant in knowing when someone around me was distressed. Because, I believed, that if I could sense when someone around me was in severe emotional/mental distress, I’d somehow be able to prevent the tragic, premature death from happening.

But sadly, it happened again.

This time it would be my high school classmate Lauren*. She was a recent college grad, gainfully employed and the single parent of a young son. Yet and still, she was silently troubled. She couldn’t overcome the battle she was fighting with her demons and ultimately took her own life. I never found out how Lauren died. I couldn’t take it. Her passing left me absolutely bewildered and not just because her young son was going to grow up without a parent; Lauren actually did reach out to me just months before she passed. I totally missed it.

She hit me up on Facebook just a couple of months before she died just to say “Hey” and ask how my life was going. I kept my response short and polite. I told her I was well, that I graduated and was pursing the career in journalism I’d always wanted. I asked her how her life was going. She never answered. When I found out what happened to her a few months later, I felt sick.

It’s difficult to find light in such a dark place, so I try to think about their deaths as little as possible. But I’ve recently learned of five more suicides. They were all young and talented and that has made it impossible for me to escape my thoughts. In thinking about it, I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that as much as I may have wanted to, I probably could not have saved either of them. There is something I can do—must do— though, to change the narrative around mental illness.

Mental health must come into the open and it will start with me. I will start asking my friends how they are feeling instead of just, “What’s up?,” to give them a chance to openly discuss their emotional & mental state. I will promise to keep such conversations confidential, so my friends can feel safe & secure confiding in me. I’ll be more willing to discuss my disappointments and shortcomings, so my friends will know they aren’t the only ones to know disillusionment. I’ll stop fronting for “the gram.” My life is not perfect. I’ll also start more convos about mental health on social media.

Yep, that’s what I’ll do, and I invite you to join me.

*Identity has been changed