Every year, as my birthday comes around, I dive into my memory box and reminisce on some of the important moments that made me the woman I am today. This year I turned 24, and somehow memory lane took me back, to when I was only half of my current age. Looking back, 12-year-old me seems like a distant stranger, yet the role she played in creating the woman I am today was pivotal. She thought she had all of the answers, but she fell short – and her lack of knowledge inspired the ever-learning woman in me to bloom.
The transition from primary school to secondary school, which would be from 5th grade to 6th grade in the US, was a complete shock to my system. Before the summer I was a child, completely guided by the adults around me, and by fall, I was embarking on a new journey that came with responsibilities of my own. I mistook the vast change in responsibilities as confirmation that I was finally a grown up, but I was wrong.
As well as moving to secondary school, I was also dealing with the fact that my parents had recently split up, and I had another little sister to set an example to. When you’re the oldest child, the grown responsibilities just keep on rolling in, and at that point of my life, everything seemed more intense than ever. I was riddled with nerves, which is something that I’ve battled with from an early age, and my defence mechanism at that time was to wing it instead and focus solely on the excitement – pretending that the negatives were non-existent.
The most exciting part about becoming a “big girl” was that I would be able to choose my own friends. I had very rarely felt a genuine connection to those that my parents introduced me to: their friends, their family and the children at the after school activities that they sent me to – so I was ready to connect with people from different areas, school and backgrounds. I remember being told by the adults around me that growing up wasn’t going to be easy, and I would mumble something cheeky under my breath, every single time, about how uncool they must have been if they thought that growing up wasn’t fun. Growing up seemed like fun to me simply for the fact that I was finally able to choose my own best-friends; but, as quick as I started finding new friends, I lost one – and that experience changed my life forever.
One day, one of my best-friends came to me for help. Her parents were separating and they had given her an ultimatum: she had to choose which parent she wanted to live with. She knew that my parents were separated, as I was very vocal about it, so she asked me what she should do.
When my parents had split up I never had a choice of who I would live with, nor did I want one, so hearing that my friend had to make a choice left me startled. I couldn’t stop thinking about how unfair it seemed, and trying to put myself in her shoes was proving to be difficult, but I couldn’t dwell too much because she needed an answer. I went back and forth with her, telling her to tell her parents that it was unfair, and that she didn’t want to be involved, but she made it clear that she had already done that, and that she needed me to give her a different answer. “Don’t choose then”, I told her, “Eventually, they will get tired of waiting for an answer and they will have to make the decision for you.”
Unfortunately, they didn’t get tired of waiting, they just got even more frustrated, and angry. They began to pressure her, day-in and day-out, to make a decision, and every day I recycled the same advice.
“Don’t choose… don’t choose… don’t choose”.
I felt like a broken record, but I didn’t know what else to say. If my stubborn parents could make the choice for me, why couldn’t hers just put her out of her misery? We came from different backgrounds, and her parents’ relationship had seemed like the dream compared to mine, up until this point, so to say I was confused would be an understatement. I was mind-blown.
It was a Wednesday afternoon when she decided that she had had enough. She told me on that afternoon, right after school, that she was going to kill herself. The pressure had taken its toll on her, and she felt like dying would be a better option, than choosing between her parents.
Although now I know that I could’ve been a better friend, I have always been caring, so I instantly gave her what I thought were wise words, to talk her out of expressing such final, and scary, thoughts. I gave her the whole “it’s not worth it… don’t be silly… you have your whole life ahead of you” speech, which now sounds ridiculous to me, because it made no difference. When that didn’t seem to be working, I then told her that I’d get some friends together and we could all run away together, but she didn’t think I was taking her seriously – and, to be honest, I wasn’t.
Not only am I a dreamer, but I am also a very dramatic person. I’d fiercely packed by bags many times in my childhood, and written letters to let my parents to say that I had run away, and was never coming back; but I never left. It just felt like a part of the process that would take my hurt out, and then once I calmed down, I would unpack my bags, and stop crying, and get over it. I assumed that my friend was having one of those moments, and although claiming to want to kill yourself is serious, at the time I assumed it was just words. I didn’t take much seriously at that point, and I judged my friends expression of hurt, off of my own reaction to my parents’ separation, and assumed that she was being a drama queen. She wasn’t.
My friend hanged herself that day, that Wednesday, and she was 12 years old.
No. She was 12 years young, she was a young child – and so was I. Only now, that I’m twice the age we were back then, can I truly understand just how young we were, but when you’re living in the moment, and feeling such grown weights on your feeble shoulders, it’s easy to forget just how young you are. Her life had barely began, and it was over, just like that – which still sounds so surreal for me to say.
I am now 12 years older, but most importantly 12 years wiser.
It would be nice to say that the pain has stopped, and that my broken heart has healed, but it hasn’t. However, until life stops, it must go on. I couldn’t stop my life, because I knew that it wasn’t the answer, and so I had to move forward, and moving forward meant figuring out how to turn my loss into a lesson – no matter how hard it seemed.
Turning my loss into a lesson came with accountability and acceptance. Although people have told me that it’s not my fault, there’s a part of me that carried some blame, for not seeking help when I realised that I didn’t have the answer, when she first shared her problem with me. It also came with stopping the blame: I had to stop blaming myself, and stop blaming her parents, which was the hardest part of the whole process. I blamed us all for failing her, but the damage was done, and blame doesn’t help anyone.
At 12 years old, I didn’t trust adults, and I also suffered in silence a lot. When I struggled, I kept it to myself, or spoke to friends my age that wouldn’t tell; because whenever I had spoken to adults about things, it had always backfired and made things worse. I was terrified that if I told anyone what my friend was going through that I would be: a disloyal friend for telling, and that things would backfire on her with her parents. Now, I wish that I had told someone, even if it meant that she may have hated me for telling, because it may have saved her life.
A true best-friend doesn’t have to have all of the answers, but where they fall short they should seek guidance from those wiser, and more qualified, than themselves to help their friend in need.
I had to accept that everyone doesn’t handle situations like I do, and that I can’t fix everything by myself. My friends always came to me with their hardships, and their reasons varied, but one things that remained the same was trust. People saw me as (and still see me as) someone that they can trust, and it is something that I have always been proud of. I’m proud that people can trust me to keep their secrets safe, and proud that they can trust me to have the answers. Yet, my friend trusted me with her life, and that type of trust is different.
You can’t treat someone’s life, the same way that you treat a secret, and unfortunately I didn’t learn that lesson until I lost my friend. It was when she passed away that I learned, and understood, that sometimes you may need to break someone’s trust to save their life. My friend didn’t want me to tell anyone, and I ‘pinky-promised’ that it would stay between us, but I should have told someone.
My friend’s suicide taught me to never judge another’s reaction to circumstances, by comparing it to what I would do. We are all different and something that may be manageable for me may be overwhelming for another. She taught me to pay more attention, not only to others but also to myself. My fear and misjudgment made me negligent when my friend needed more than I could offer, and now I am less fearful, and less judgmental. I seek help, not only for others but also for myself – and I am not ashamed anymore. She taught me that being a good friend isn’t just about keeping secrets, and giving advice, but it’s about doing everything that you can to make sure that your friend is safe, and well.
I am a better friend today because of her, and although she isn’t here in the flesh, she forever lives on in my heart.
Thank you, Paige, for being my friend and teaching me some of the most important lessons of my life. Nothing is accidental, and I know that what is meant to be will be, but you left me with a ‘what if’, and that ‘what if’ enables me to question my morals in every situation, and put my fear aside, to be a better person – and the friend that you knew I was deep down. Rest in peace, blondie. Never forgotten.
P.s. Dear Paige, you better not be peeing in the shower anymore, because now that you’re an angel it will come down as rain, and that’s just gross, lol. I will love you forever!
The lessons that I learned from my first suicide helped me be a better friend moving forward, but there were still many more lessons for me to learn. 5 years later, although there were deaths and lessons in between, I faced my second suicide. I did what I thought was right, and yet I was being taught something completely different the second time around. Suicide is not black and white, and there is a lot to learn from it.
Please, let me know if you’d like me to share my second suicide story, and I will.
Suicide prevention is so important, and protecting our own, as well as our loved ones, mental health is a main priority in preventing suicide. For more information about suicide, please click here to read another one of my articles, with more information.
One day, I will go in more depth, but until I’m ready, I hope that this gave you some insight into a very important part of my journey.
Love and light, Liss x