The First Time I Thought About Suicide, I Was 6 Years Old
If you’ve experienced domestic violence, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.
The first time I thought about suicide, I was 6 years old. Over the last half a decade, after speaking with hundreds of people about the subject while making a documentary, I learned I wasn’t the only one who first thought about suicide at that age. I talked to several other people, strangers who didn’t know each other, who told me they were 6 years old the first time they wanted to die. There was something about the age of 6 and suicide ideation that made me curious. What made other children, at such a young age, think about dying?
I know that in my case, it was because of abuse. In my young mind, I thought the only way to make the abuse from my dad and big brother stop was if I died. It became very clear to me that no one was going to step in and stop them. Opening up to other adults about the abuse resulted with me being told that “no one likes a tattle tale,” asking what I did wrong to deserve such treatment. Or I was told it was just a “love tap” and they didn’t realize their strength. Excuses were always made and my abusers were never held accountable.
So I learned how to internalize and stop talking about it. Instead I began writing poetry and short stories at the age of 9. I didn’t know how to talk about it. I was ashamed, embarrassed and had already received the message loud and clear that the other adults didn’t want to hear about it. I felt helpless, hopeless and alone. All I wanted was to die; it was my birthday wish every time I blew out candles on my cake and it was in my prayers every night before bed. I wasn’t mentally ill. I was being abused. It was circumstantial. It was the abuse that I wanted desperately to escape but didn’t see any possible way how to, unless I died.
My parents got divorced and my brother eventually moved out. The abuse stopped but the mental wounds were still bleeding. I had a few creative outlets which made great coping mechanisms and at some point in the future I utilized therapy to help undo a lot of the damage my father and brother created. But the pattern of abuse would end up returning through my husband and marriage. This time it wasn’t as easy to recognize the abuse because it wasn’t physical and it was started out with subtle narcissistic undertones at first.
The emotional anguish I endured in my decade long marriage, which felt like a self-chosen prison sentence, caused me to believe the only way out of my marriage would be through death; he was going to kill me or I was going to kill myself. Every morning and every night for the last two years of my marriage, suicide was a reoccurring thought. The only loose end I needed to tie up was where my children would go; who would raise them? I had even convinced myself that my children would be better off with me dead than with their father and me fighting all the time and both of us being miserable. That was not the kind of environment or example I wanted set for them.
The first night I said I wanted a divorce out loud was the night he almost killed me. And as I was lying on the living room floor, all I kept thinking about was what I was going to do if I survived that night. By the next Monday morning, I had enrolled myself in a film program and continued my education where I had left off before having kids — doing something creative that I was passionate about and make new dreams to pursue.
After film school and my divorce, I moved across the country with my children and started a new chapter. I had new skillsets at my fingertips and new dreams ahead of me. I spent several years making a documentary, released it independently… and then I did it again. And while making my second documentary I learned that suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-34 in the United States.
As a mother of pre-teens and teenagers, that bothered me a lot. It caused me to ask the question, “What would make a young child want to die?” I heard the voice of my inner child whisper “abuse.” I don’t believe that every child who is abused thinks of suicide, but I do think many children who take their life were abused in some way; mentally, emotionally, physically. Abuse doesn’t always come from domestic living situations either. It can be inflicted by peers, classmates, foes posing as friends (frenemies) and authority figures in various forms of bullying.
Jared Padalecki who plays Sam Winchester on Supernatural launched his “Always Keep Fighting” campaign in March 2015, the same month I went into production with my documentary. In November 2015, he sat down with me to interview for the film and talk about losing two friends to suicide, his own struggles, bullying and how he’s learned to retrain his brain to think differently. Emmy nominated hip hop artist, T.O.N.E-z shares a story about losing his best friend to suicide and how he never saw it coming. He also talks about how music is a great coping mechanism. Retired highway patrol officer, Kevin Briggs and hypnotherapist Joe Tabbanella also share insight from their experiences. The film also has a host of personal stories about people who took their lives told by their family members left behind.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in general in the United States of America and with the chaos brought on by 2020, the fear is that suicide rates will go up. Financial and sudden job loss can be causes of suicide. Isolation and cabin fever take a mental toll on peoples’ psyches which effects their behaviors. Temperaments are rising and there is a surge in domestic violence and abuse going on around the world. I intended my documentary to be a conversation starter and it’s beyond time we get these conversations going in our society. What I’ve noticed is that everyone says we need to talk about it, acknowledges it’s a problem… and that’s where the conversation ends. Talking about suicide might be uncomfortable, but we need to push through the discomfort and do it anyway because talking about suicide won’t lead to more suicides, but not talking about it will. Talking about it openly is how we begin to erase the stigma.
In some last minute editing, I added a segment about how 2020 has affected our lives and society before the premiere screening of the film. It was important to me to create a well-rounded discussion on the subject of suicide that was relevant and timely. I had a vision for the film and the story behind the making of “The Last Train” to follow. I make mention of the history of suicide from antiquity to today, military and veteran suicides, the effects of nutrition on the brain, as well as talk about the risk factors, warning signs and what we can do, closing out the film with numbers and resources people can reach out to. More than a film, I wanted to make an important tool and resource for people in need, with some entertainment value.
Thirty-two years after my first suicidal thought I released a documentary addressing the suicide crisis during May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month. I chose to host the virtual premiere screening on May 7 — the nine year anniversary of the night that I almost died at the hands of the man I thought I once loved. It was my way of turning a traumatic experience into a positive one. It wasn’t until I was literally on the verge of death, that I decided to choose life and the reason I named the documentary “I Chose Life”… and also because I know that for some people, choosing life is a daily struggle.
Getty image via izumikobayashi