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September

I have a draft of a post that’s been sitting in my “Drafts” folder all summer long. I stopped writing it mid-sentence, something I rarely do. It partially reads:

I’m not going to start this post pretending I’m going to get back into blogging, or apologizing for infrequent updates.

The truth is… I don’t know why it was so hard to write this past year.

At first I attributed my lack of voice/ desire to have one to wedding planning. Well, we’ve been married for just over (10) months now, and I’m still finding it hard to write.

This past year or so was a weird one. I found myself doubting so many aspects of my life, both personally and professionally. I tried to force myself to socialize with others as I felt myself slipping more and more into self doubt, and, when I actually spent time with others, I was especially cognizant of moments where I no longer seemed to fit into social circles I once felt at home in.

There is no reason at all for the anxiety and weirdness I felt this past school year. I was stressed, surrounded by people who were stressed. Yet, I hid in a cave while simultaneously trying to light a match. It was weird.

At the conclusion of this past school year, I became unexpectedly unemployed during the summer. Sometimes the best laid plans don’t work out. Our school year ended too late for me to find a job that didn’t take away weekends with my wife, and I ended up having my first summer off in years. I used a lot of that time to take care of myself, reading books, actually going to the gym, learning new recipes… I did a lot. But, I did it on my own. I consciously made an effort not to socialize outside of my family this summer, which was the opposite of what I forced myself to do during the school year.

Oddly enough, the exact opposite of what I craved during the school year was exactly what I needed to find inner peace within myself again.

Daytona 2016The ridiculous amount of anxiety that had been growing since January seemed to have melted away. I suddenly grew excited at so many new and exciting prospects for the upcoming year, some of which I can’t even discuss yet. As I sat on the beach in Daytona, soaking in the last few moments of summer during that last week before returning to school, along with the waves of salt water came small, almost minuscule waves of unreasonable fears and anxiety.

Then, it was September.

 

With the hustle and bustle of the start of the school year also came the reminder of what the first week of September is: National Suicide Prevention Week.

As the facts about suicide are woven into morning announcements, and I’m distracted by hall passes and returned signed policies and procedures, I can almost always count on fleeting moments of thinking about how intertwined suicide was with what I call “my vital years” at Rutgers.

Thoughts of Tyler Clementi remind me to check on my new students, or those who seem to be struggling to catch their groove in the sea of students.

Thoughts of how anxious I got every time I saw a news van on campus after Tyler’s death, and how much anger I felt in the years following his death about how the media treated LGBT+ students on campus light a fire in me to protect those that need protecting.

Thoughts of the interactions I’ve had with Jane Clementi, Tyler’s mom, and how much of a difference the Tyler Clementi Center is making remind me that something good comes out of everything bad.

Then, I think of Lauren.

I think of how she was the epitome of what I wanted to be when I first met her as an underclassman at Rutgers– fierce, brave, proud, and fearless.

I think of how she did everything I did– or vice versa– as I grew older and more sure of myself at Rutgers. We joked once that I was her shadow– she was in the GSE pursuing English Education and navigating what it meant to be a queer educator, and I was as well, only a year behind her.

I think of the fact that I am now forever older and a more experienced teacher than Lauren will ever be.

And, when my students crack jokes at the facts and figures being cited, or when they joke about how tough their year is and how they want to end it, I don’t even stop to think before I call them out on it.

“I had a friend who committed suicide. That’s not something to joke about.”

The words echo, loud and clear. Mumbled apologies are given, sometimes mixed with quiet whispers of gratitude, and we move on.

That’s what September is about– stopping, pausing, and continuing forward into the unknown, even stronger among a mixture of thoughts, memories, and hopes for the future.

“…tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning— So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” (F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby)

Welcome to September.

Suicide is rough.

I hadn’t posted about the deathaversary of Lauren this year because, honestly, I didn’t have it in me. Four years have passed since I received the early morning text message that she had killed her self, and that number was stinging all last week.

Four has always been my favorite number.

I was assigned to be “#4” in 4th grade and I loved the consistency of it. I loved that it was 2×2, the number of sides in a square, and a number frequently used. If you wanted to divide something evenly, you could cut it into fours. Clocks were divided into quarters, and quarters also made up school marking periods, percentages, sports games, and dollars.

Four has always made sense to me.

So why is it, four years later, I’m still left asking the same question about suicide: Why?

It’s also mind blowing to me that 4 years, the suggested length of a college education, have passed. She was my pseudo-mentor in my grad school program for education. This length of time, and its significance, to me, is surreal.

A lot of my blogger friends are grieving, as a well-known blogger from our community took her life last week. News of her death came a few days after the anniversary of Lauren’s, and, even though I didn’t know her, it stung like crazy. So many found themselves grieving as her face was plastered across the internet. God, how I feel for everyone that knew her.

Depression was a big part of my summer, with various people I love coping with depression in various ways. Some wrote about it. Some sought professional help. Some made decisions that led to having to seek help.

Luckily for me, they’re all still here.

Some people aren’t so lucky.

So, in honor of Lauren, in honor of those you love, please reach out and let people you know are suffering know that you love and care about them, and that their lives are worth it.

They might need to hear you say those words.

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 7.13.49 PM

This popped up on my time hop last week. Lauren’s words have never felt as relevant. I wonder if she purposefully took her life a few days after Suicide Awareness Week.

 

 

Robin Williams

It’s been mere minutes since I learned about the death of Robin Williams, which is reportedly a suicide, but I have the chills. The last time I reacted this way to the death of a celebrity was with the death of Whitney Houston, who was a major part of my childhood growing up. Whitney represented my childhood in so many ways, predominantly with my love for “I Will Always Love You” blasting on my boombox as a bedtime melody, but Robin Williams represented a different part of my childhood: he represented the loss of my innocence.

With Mrs. Doubtfire, I first learned about the concept of divorce and love going wrong.

With Patch Adams, I learned about childhood cancers, the concept of murder, and even gynecologists.

Years later, with Dead Poets Society, I learned what it meant to be a teacher, as well as the impact one’s suicide can have on others.

Robin’s publicist issued the following statement not too long ago:

“Robin Williams passed away this morning. He has been battling severe depression of late. This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time.”

I have no doubt in my mind that a lot of suicide-and-depression-awareness posts are about to pop up on the internet, and I agree that you should reach out if you’re struggling to get through anything from everyday living to bigger deals. Depression and suicide aren’t black and white, and there won’t be answers, just confusion. But you know what? Not everybody is a suicide expert.

quote courtesy of LILF

quote courtesy of LILF

Nonetheless, I keep thinking of a quote my friend Lauren said about her friend who had committed suicide, a mere year before her own suicide. Her words seem to ring especially true right now as the world reels in the comedic loss of Robin Williams:

“We always question the people who look more upset and more depressed than usual, and never think to worry about the people who don’t seem capable of expressing any sort of negative emotion at all.”
Sometimes there aren’t signs. Sometimes you don’t know what someone is going through. Sometimes you’re just left feeling helpless.
Rest in peace, Robin. Thank you for shaping who so many people have grown up to be today.