Sunday Reflections: Kicking off the Year of #MHYALit
***Trigger Warning: Suicide***
There was another post here. But today, I found out that one of my best friends from high school took his own life yesterday and I am raw and angry and sad and what I wrote seems so inconsequential.
Every September 24th the texts would come without fail. You see, Curtis, Teri and I were best friends in high school. Except that during my junior year our best friend Teri was killed in a car accident and to be quite honest, we never really recovered from it. When I gave birth to my children I thought long and hard about naming them in some way or another in memory of her, but I wanted to give them a clean slate not burdened by the grief and sadness of this girl that I had loved and lost.
Curtis never forgot either. Every September 24th he would send me a text. Sometimes he would send me a picture of her headstone and I knew that he was standing there remembering her. Sometimes he would be at work. But he always knew, he always remembered.
The year before, I briefly thought my mother was having an affair with Curtis’ dad who kept calling my house and leaving clandestine messages, refusing to talk to me. It turned out that Curtis and Teri were planning a late night surprise birthday party for me and his dad was trying to get in contact with my mom to explain it all to her. That is still, to this day, one of my most memorable birthdays. We still laugh about that, my thinking my mom was having an affair with his dad. And do you have any idea what it means for someone to go through all the time and effort it takes to plan a surprise birthday party for you? I do, and I am blessed to know it.
A few years ago when I moved here to Texas, I immediately got in touch with my friend Curtis. He and I took the girls out to dinner and I was proud that he finally got to meet them in person, these two important parts of my life coming together.
Curtis and I lost touch for a few years in my early twenties. He married my roommate and when that relationship went south I think it hurt for a while for him to be reminded of it all with me. But time heals and some relationships are built in ways that you just keep coming back to them.
In September of this year Curtis found a new kind of happiness to overwrite some of the sadness of this month for him, he got remarried. Yesterday his new wife posted that he had lost his battle to depression. Just hours before he had posted wishing everyone a Happy New Year. Suddenly my timeline was filling up with posts of sadness, grief and disbelief.
Fuck you depression. I’m sorry, I know that some of you will be offended by my language but you know what – I’m angry. I lost months of my life this summer to depression. I had a date and a method chosen, I didn’t see any way to carry on. And in one final moment of desperation, I told someone. I don’t know why some people make it through and others do not. I don’t know why I am here and my dear friend Curtis is not.
Depression is a very real disease. It is an illness. It is crippling, debilitating and in the very worst of cases, it is deadly.
I am angry. But I am not angry at Curtis. Nothing will change my love for Curtis. Nothing will take away my precious memories of him.
But I am angry at mental illness. I am angry at depression. I am angry at our world and the way we talk about depression and mental illness. For example, don’t a single one of you ever dare try and tell me that Curtis was selfish. He was not; he was giving and kind and loving. He was a teenage boy that planned a surprise birthday party for a friend who had never had one before. He was the adult man who took me out to dinner and was excited to show my girls that in Texas they make fresh made guacamole right at your table. He was the man who never forgot the day a dear friend died. He was the man who had just gotten married and had, once again, glimpses of happiness. He was a loving father. He was a loving son. A loving brother. A loving friend.
We were three. Then we were two. And it is unfathomable to me that I am all that is left of us, our trio. Of all of us, I thought he was the one who most had it together. But depression lies. It alienates. It isolates. And the way our world wants us to focus on blessings and happy thoughts and positivism, it can be hard for those in the trenches to be real and ask for the help that they need. The overriding message in our world is that you must be grateful, you must be kind, you must be easy, and you must try harder.
If you just . . .
That’s what we tell people suffering from mental illness. The just can vary, but there is always a just. Just get up and go out and do something. Just focus on what you do have. Just think of how much worse so and so has it.
But we are telling the “just” to the wrong people. If your friend is suffering, just be there for them. Don’t offer advice. Don’t judge. Don’t compare. Just sit. Just listen. Just love.
Tomorrow we are kicking off the Mental Health in YA Literature Discussion (#MHYALit). There is a part of me that wants to dedicate that project in memory of Curtis; but I’m not going to lie, I’m angry that I even have to think about it. Again, not at Curtis. I am just tired. I am tired of all the suffering going around me and in the lives of people I love and trust. The original post written here was about the friend of The Teen that I had to drive home, crying, last Saturday night as she had to leave our party early as she was dealing with her own struggles of depression and anxiety. 1 in 4. 1 in 4 of the people around us are struggling. Sometimes their diseases take them. And make no mistake, it was the disease of depression that took my friend Curtis from me.
I don’t even know how to end this post. I have no nice wrap up here. There’s not easy transition or closing lines. There are just tears and, to be perfectly honest, a bunch of cuss words inside my soul tonight.
Depression is an illness and it lies. If you or someone you know needs help please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
Filed under: #MHYALit
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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