The first time I attempted suicide was the lowest moment of my life. I was sprawled out on the couch of a relative stranger, miles away from home, certain that I would never see my family again. It was the summer of 1999, and I had been outed by my therapist to my mother as gay (long story); after several months of put-downs and pretty awful behavior, my mother told me not to come back home when I left for college in August. I moved out that week, and I’ve never been home since.
A few friends who lived nearby offered to pick me up and let me crash at their place for the summer. They were generous with their space and resources when I had no one else, and I’ll always be grateful for that. But they were also dealing with their own fairly severe emotional, psychological and relationship problems — it was a dysfunctional household, and I was facing down the rest of my life without ever seeing my family again.
I had never felt so alone. I grew up in a religion that encouraged its adherents to keep a distance from the rest of the world, so my congregation was my life in many ways. I didn’t have many friends; I didn’t have many appreciable skills; I didn’t have any money. As far as I knew, I would live on campus, struggle through classes as best I could, and sleep on couches for the forseeable future.
The thought of that, barely surviving through a series of tests with few friends and no prospects, was too painful to contemplate. Who could possibly love me? I was sad all the time. I knew nothing and I couldn’t learn. In a very real sense, my life was over and I had no idea what could replace it.
So I bought sleeping pills, and took as many as I could swallow. I slept like the dead for ten or twelve hours, and when I woke up I took more. Then more, and more. After three or four days, one of my hosts shoved a sandwich into my hands. I ate automatically. And I began to recover.
Before I dropped out of college at the end of the year, I lost a friend to suicide and another friend made an attempt on her own life. I’ve known others — friends of friends, people in the furry community, folks from back in the old neighborhood — who have tried to kill themselves. Almost every single person I know has been touched by suicide, an act of desperation made by people who say no other way out of their deep suffering.
A 2005 study found that suicide was the third-leading cause of death among young black males in this country. A CDC report found that between 1999 and 2004, the suicide rate among black males was the highest in the land. There is a whole culture of us who feel trapped in broken neighborhoods, targeted by those in authority, with no hope of anything getting better for us. In addition to turning to crime, drugs and anti-social behavior, suicide is a recourse that so many of us consider.
The same holds true for LGBTQ youth. Those brave teenagers and young adults who are open about their alternative sexuality and gender expression face bullying, rejection from friends and family, isolation, confusion about their own minds, and depression almost routinely. So many of us have felt like there is simply no place to go, no other option left to us. We have no idea what kind of help or resources are out there.
There is a stigma about mental health and suicide in the black community, and in the fandom/geek community. There is so much misinformation about there about the nature of suicidal thoughts, expressions and actions; there’s an incredibly damaging attitude about self-harm and what it means. It’s incredibly important to me to change that. I need to speak up about my own experiences and advocate a more responsible and compassionate conversation about this. I want people to know that they’re not facing this alone, that people see and support them, that we understand and want to help.
So I’ll be participating in The Overnight, an event in San Francisco that begins at sundown on May 21st. I and hundreds of others will walk 16 – 18 miles across the city, visiting landmarks by moonlight and connecting with others by sharing our experiences and losses. At sunrise we’ll gather one final time to reflect, share, mourn and celebrate the fact that we’re still here.
If you’re in the Bay Area — or New York, where an Overnight Walk will take place on June 4th — I highly encourage you to join me. If you can’t, please donate whatever you can to support me and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The AFSP is a charity that focuses on education and outreach about mental health and suicide, provides support for those who have been affected by it, and promotes legislation that encourages a more compassionate response towards those of us dealing with mental health issues or suicidal thoughts. If you would like to help me raise money for this important work, please visit my participant page here: http://theovernight.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donordrive.participant&participantID=18579
Every little bit helps, and I’d be incredibly grateful for your support.