Dear Social Media Friends, This Is What You Didn't Know About My Suicide Attempt
Like most girls my age, I’m a social media addict. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat. They all take up way more of my time than I’m willing to admit. So here I am, spending absurd amounts of time and energy to share perfect, candid snapshots that give my friends little windows into my life. And that’s what it’s all about, right? Just sharing what life is like.
At least, I believe it’s wrong when you’re a teenager living with a severe psychiatric disorder. OK, I feel the need to put a disclaimer here. I’m fine! It’s really not that bad! I live a very fulfilling life, thank you very much. Just look at my pictures sprinkling your Instagram feed. Here I am cuddling puppies, posing in bikinis, filtered and airbrushed to the 100th degree in my prom dress. You can be sure that you’ll never see pictures of the dozens of medications I take to control my major depressive disorder, or pictures of what I look like on my “off” days. Do I wish I could show you these?
But I don’t and neither do many of your other friends, students, co-workers, or the millions of young people living with mental illness. The fact that we’re afraid to says a lot about our current state of mental health awareness and how far we have to go on that front. But that is not why I write today. Today, I want to tell you that even under the filtering and airbrushing and absolute and utter “fakeness” that comprises our social media accounts, there might be signs. They’re small and if you blink you might just miss them, but I think they are there. For the millions of us who face diagnoses and demons behind heavily made-up faces and sorority squats, they are our 911 calls, our neon signs, our cries.
Here is what lies behind a picture.
This is a picture of me sitting on the banks of some river somewhere after I went hiking with friends after school. I bet if you look closely, you can even see my smile lines. And you, my social media friends, gave me lots of lovely comments. But here is what you don’t know.
This picture was taken just five short days after I attempted suicide. Five days after rushing to the ER and looking up at the shocked expression of a nurse who calmly stated that I should not have woken up. I was admitted, then quickly released because insurance can only cover so many days in a psych ward. I returned to school the day this picture was taken. Only one person at my school, and not any one of you, my social media “friends,” thought to ask me where I’d been.
“Strep.” Was my response.
Dear friends, if one of your friends on social media has been missing for a few days, if she hasn’t been posting much, if she’s not keeping up that streak that (damn it) you worked so hard for, just check in. It is so very simple. A quick hello and a little how are you go a long way. Maybe she really does have strep (I have heard that gargling baking soda does wonders), but maybe she’s really struggling. Throw her whatever anchor you’ve got. It will mean the world and a half to her.
You may notice the baggy sweatshirt I’m wearing in this picture. I was using it to cover my frame, which was skeletal after losing weight so quickly. You see, underneath that sweatshirt, my mind and body were both collapsing and I no longer had the strength to fight against that collapse. Oh, I’d tried to eat again and again, but it was as though every cell in my body was on a mission to snuff itself out. I couldn’t even swallow. I did reach out, once. I could see every vertebrae in my spine through my school polo. It was at a sleepover when I turned to one of you, my social media friends. “I am so sorry that I can’t eat this dinner,” I said. “It’s just that I really haven’t been able to eat much at all lately.”
Weeks of watching the body I so loved melting away as I tried everything to get my strength together to just eat. All wrapped up in that little apology.
“You shouldn’t say things like that,” You said. “You might encourage body image issues for the girls around you.”
Dear friends, if someone you know has been hiding her beautiful body behind baggy clothing, if you see her getting smaller, if you see her staring sadly at a slice of pizza, just ask. Perhaps she really is on a diet — maybe it’s not a diet at all. I know it is hard to understand, but her mind may just be trying to shut her body down. It happens and it’s scary but if you just ask, she will tell you. She wants to eat again, she wants to be healthy again and like everyone else, she really really wants to live. Treat her to a smoothie and a long talk. In my experience, a good mango smoothie always goes down just fine.
And those sleeves. Of course, in this picture, I’m wearing long sleeves. That is to hide the map of scars covering my forearm which, believe me, I hate seeing just as much as you do. In some of my other pictures, the ones where I was caught sleeveless, you can see those neon signs in the shape of faint scar lines. Look at the picture of me as a smiling prom princess and oh, there they are. I never spoke to anyone about them, not ever. Until one day when you, another one of my social media friends, took a second look.
“We need to talk about those,” You said.
And we did.
Dear friends, what you can do with one short sentence! It’s sort of a marvel, isn’t it? You have the power to make someone feel seen and heard and not at all alone. No, you may not be saving your social media friend. Goodness knows you can’t do that alone. But for just a moment, you can say to your friend, “Yes, I see your demons. Let’s shut them down together.” And that is a pretty amazing thing.
So, dear friends, take a second look.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Lead image via contributor