"Do I not give you enough Attention?": Talking about suicide in the Black family
The first time I felt like I wanted to die, I was in high school. I remember talking to my cousin about it in the middle of the night. He soon then called my father. I vividly remember my father storming into my room angry! He told me to go to the kitchen table so we could talk. It really wasn't talking. It was more of yelling and saying things like "I had nothing to be depressed about!" There was something asked along the lines of "What, I don't give you enough attention!?". But the thing that was said that literally is stuck in my brain (like tattooed there) is when he said "I don't negotiate with terrorist! A terrorist comes and takes things and you're trying to take your own life just like a terrorist takes others' lives!"
I could not have been more than a sophomore/junior in high school. Of course my father thought it had to do with some boy and my heart being broken; however, that was not the case.
I have written about how my mom died when I was born on this blog before. I have discussed what that was like for me growing up. How much it weighed on me and how guilty I felt. And the root of this suicidal thought was the fact I felt guilty and responsible.
I felt like a failure. If I remember correctly, I had just received a bad grade, students were making fun of me for liking to read, I wasn't getting any start time on the basketball team despite all of my hard work; even with all the things that were going bad for me at school, the thing that pushed me over the edge was I heard my father and stepmother arguing. For some reason, in my teenage head, it was all my fault.
I love my dad. I always have and always will. The pain of hearing their arguments really weighed heavy on me. I felt at fault because I thought my dad would be happier if my mom was still alive and I was the reason she wasn't. I know that thinking is wrong now that I am older, but back then it made sense. I was constantly surrounded by folks that told me how much I reminded them of this woman I had never met. They would tell me how when I sang, they heard my mom's voice. That was (and still somewhat is) a lot to bear.
So it was a compilation of things that were causing me to feel this way. It would be unfair to say that there was not a "boy" somewhere in this mix. But it isn't what my father thought. I was being made fun of for being smart and "nerdy" and the cutest guy in school pretended to like me and then turned around and joined in the jokes. It just reiterated to me that I was useless and just caused more trouble than I was worth.
I honestly do not think at that moment I wanted to die; however, I just wanted all of these feelings to stop and at that time it seemed like dying was the only way. I was trying to talk my cousin about these feelings, and that is a lot to put on someone who isn't that much older than you. Who probably has their own issues as well. He did what he thought was right, call my father to let him know.
But that did not help. Being told that you're a terrorist to your family because you thought about suicide just adds to the list of things that you have messed up. Being met with anger was not what I expected.
I think that that this is what most children, especially Black children, are met with when they try to talk about feelings that do not align with the parents' ideas and ideals.
A study came out in JAMA Pediatrics discussing the disparities that exist between Black and white children when it comes to suicide rates. It found that Black children were twice as likely to commit suicide compared to their white counterparts. For the longest, suicide research focused on white suicide (like many research studies only including data from white populations). With these new numbers, researchers and doctors are trying to find out why.
It is believed that it has to do with cultural aspects as well as the family structure--and strained relationships in the family.
In my house, we grew up talking about quite a few things but emotions/feelings were not one of them. We were taught to acknowledge the blessings that we had. To be thankful for the opportunities that we had. And anything less than that was disrespectful and we were acting ungrateful. When that type of environment is what a child is brought up in, it is hard to for them to communicate anything that may deviate from the "norm."
I know that anger my dad felt in that moment was rooted in hurt, but just like me he was not taught how to communicate emotions--especially hurt. Expressing feelings is frowned upon. Expressing any type of emotion outside of anger or rage, a Black male is going against what it means to be " a man." My dad was just told that his youngest daughter wanted to die and all he knew then was that he didn't want that to happen. And how to not make that happen is related it back to the Bible, tell me I may go to hell and that I was being selfish. I did not have the range back then. I did not want to be a disappointment to my father, but I didn't have the words to answer the questions he was asking me. I did not know how to formulate the sentence back that then that I felt that I was the reason he was unhappy and arguing with my then stepmom.
I did not want to be a terrorist. I thought that would make him more unhappy than I perceived him to be.
Discussing depression as a kid in a Black household was more traumatizing than it should have been. I am now almost 25 years old, and this happened almost ten years ago and I remember it like it happened yesterday. I actually never even talk about it. I try to forget it.
I think this moment was when I realized I had to keep everything inside. I had to keep my thoughts and feelings in my journal. This was not going to be the last time I thought about dying and I will tell those stories one day as well; but, right now I am not ready.
I can say that I am better now. I go to therapy regularly. I write it out. I blog. I talk to my boyfriend. I am unlearning the things I learned as child. I am learning that you cannot keep things inside. I also know that there are things I do when I am in a really deep depressive state that can push folks away. I am thankful for the ones who can see that there is something going on and that I may just need a friend. I may need to some time. But the thing I never need is isolation.
I see all these posts about folks should reach out when they are feeling suicidal. That they should call a hotline. They should talk to a family member. However, when a person has had a traumatizing experience trying to talk about these things it can make them not want to reach out to family or anyone for that matter. We must understand that this is a complicated matter and we cannot act like it does not exist.