Afterthoughts: A day to remember

I’ve never been good at remembering dates.

Friends’ birthdays sneak up on me without warning. Due dates for assignments are meaningless without constant reminders. I can barely identify the months that holidays are in. There are only a few days that have enough significance for my brain to hold onto.

This year, Feb. 21 became one of those dates. That’s the day that not one, but two people I knew committed suicide. They were just 15 and 16 years old.

It was Sunday when I found out about the first one – a girl I had originally met in seventh grade through a mutual friend and had become close to. Exhausted and recovering from a cold, I curled up in my bed to finish up homework. I struggled to focus, so I pulled out my phone and started mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. I passed a picture of the middle school friend without stopping. Then I saw her again. This time, I read the caption.

My heartbeat quickened. I thought it must be a joke. I continued scrolling, only to find more pictures with similar captions. My breathing became shallow. I texted a friend to find out what was going on. My phone shook in my unsteady fingers as I prepared for her response.

“She committed suicide today.”

I dropped my phone and froze. A deep chill ran through me. My thoughts were smothered under the shock of what I had read. I slipped into a near dissociative state. A few days later, I found out a boy I had been friends with in fifth and sixth grade had committed suicide on the same day. I hadn’t spoken with him for years, but I distinctly remember him struggling in elementary school. After the initial surprise faded, I felt a surge of anger. Although my connection to him was not as strong, it still took a huge toll.

I went through the motions of everyday life, but I was numb. Walking down the hallways of Grant that week, the routineness bothered me. My whole mindset had been shaken, while it seemed everybody around  me was able to continue on unaffected.

My brain desperately tried to rationalize it all. Death has always been so foreign in my life, only interrupting my sense of normalcy on a few disparate occasions. Why had two teenagers I knew just died? Not only did they die, but they took their own lives. And on the same day?  It didn’t make sense. It still doesn’t.

Some friends and I who knew the girl thought about why. She always seemed so full of life, we thought. She had so much going for her. We never expected this. What happened? How could she do that? I hope she’s in a better place. I wish I could have done something.

With nothing to fall back on, I couldn’t believe this was fate. Like others, I found myself stuck on the desire to go back and reach out to her. We had grown apart in high school and deep down, I knew there was no way I could have known about her issues. I had no idea what she was going through. Still, I obsessively cycled through my memories of her, trying to identify any signs.

This partly stemmed from my own history. With a past ridden with depression and anxiety, I’m no stranger to mental health issues. I couldn’t help but think there was something I could have done. It didn’t seem just that I was able to recover and live my life, while both of them were robbed of a chance at a future. I felt guilty.

I’ve come to think of depression and feeling suicidal as looking at life through a pair of binoculars. Your reality is restricted to this tiny fraction of what’s really there. And those problems are distorted to seem a lot bigger and more intimidating than they really are.

You become so blinded that you start to believe the world would be better off without you, even though that’s ridiculously untrue. You’re unable to see your potential and how much those around you care. Then, once enough time passes, you just accept this view as a permanent state.

That should never be the case. You can always take off those binoculars. It’s a frustratingly incremental change, and it might be one of the most challenging things a person can do. But it’s also the most worthwhile.

A couple years ago, I thought I would never value my life as much as I do today. I wasn’t even sure I would be alive. For whatever reason, I made it. My two former friends didn’t. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to comprehend why. I’m not sure if there is a reason. All I know is that I’m lucky.

February 21st isn’t going to slip out of my memory anytime soon. But I won’t let that painful date haunt me. I hope to use it as a reminder to celebrate the memories I have of these two people and appreciate being able to wake up everyday. It’s my job now to do everything I can to ensure those around me feel life is worth living.

Suicide is permanent. Your current state of mind isn’t. ◊

Callie Quinn-Ward

Callie has always liked to keep busy. “When I was younger, I would complain whenever I didn’t have something to do,” she says. “I hated sitting around all day.” Although she enjoyed participating in activities like mock trial, soccer and rugby during her freshman year, she wasn’t completely satisfied. “I craved something more. I wanted a challenge,” she says. She believes Grant Magazine will provide that for her.

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