Hello people of Earth! So, September is suicide prevention month and while I cannot and will not promise I will have a post everyday like I did last year, I can offer you at least 2 if not three or four.
Today I want to introduce a friend of mine Bradford Raines. I met him way back in the days of high school (I am high school class of 2013 so I am not that old, though at times I feel ancient.) Anyway, I gave Brad a simple task: tell me 13 reasons why you want to live. He gave me about 5 pages and it is so worth the read. Anyway, here it, enjoy:
1 – In 2005 I was nine years old. Looking back, that year being thirteen years ago seems both too short and too long. I was still a kid doing kid things, but that was the year I moved from the neighborhood I’d lived in since I was five. Having been homeschooled after kindergarten, friends were very important to me, and I longed for a social life like I saw kids having on Disney Channel and Nickelodeon TV shows. Indeed, watching TV was often the only window I had into the lives of other kids, and it provided a false picture of what friendship, love, and life in general were like. I don’t think like other people that TV is harmful, but I think that it can be if you’re an impressionable young mind with no way of telling what’s realistic and what’s a cliché invented for a storyline. Moving away from the only real friends I had only amplified this naivety, and undoing my loss in social interaction as a child took most of this list.
2- In 2006 I was ten and finally settled into my new home. This was also the year my parents decided to put my sister and I in a private Christian school, something I was ecstatic about.
3- In 2007, towards the end of the school year, my grades were so high that the school agreed to let me skip the 5th grade and move me with the 6th graders. It was in the 6th grade that I reach probably the first really defining moment here, which is the first day of school when we were introducing ourselves. Everyone was doing the standard “I’m Tim, I go to church at such and such and I want to be a fireman”, and of course when it was my turn I had to double the syllables with my wordy explanations (something that never stopped, if you haven’t noticed) and say, “My name is Brad, I’m 11, and when I grow up I want to be an Animal Biologist/Paleontologist/Cryptozoologist!” I thought everyone was awed by my intellectual pursuits but they were probably just weirded out. No one in the room knew what most of those words were, especially not the last one, and then when we were grabbing our textbooks from the shelves in the back of the room one kid walked up to me and said, “So you want to be a cryptozoologist, too?” That kid and I became best friends that year, and we have been up to this day. Even though I don’t believe in bigfoot anymore.
4- 2008 was the start of middle school at my school, and with each passing day I was bothered by the fact I hadn’t had a “real” girlfriend beyond the childish “I like you and we play tag and go on slides together” relationship I had as a kid. I asked a lot of girls out at my school but, going back to where I got my ideas of how social interaction worked, you can imagine how those turned out. Things got very tough at home, too, due to the recession making my parents unemployed. At the time, it was a temporary time to be thrifty until we could be middle class again, but I had no idea that we would never be a middle-class family again.
5- In 2009, as times got tougher, my grandmother would help us out with food and clothes and come visit more. My best friend and I were the weird kids at school, and nothing really changed for me. Memories of grilling out and staying up past midnight and talking about life’s woes and mercies are some of my fondest from that time in my life.
6- 2010 was no better than 2009, and relying on God’s Pantry for food, and long, sad nights of not knowing if we could pay rent became more normal. I wasn’t involved in financial discussions with my parents but I had a definite sense of where things were and it was that sense, combined with my urge for something “more” and the typical high school experience, that drove me to ask that my parents put me in public school. My first day at Mauldin High School was absolutely overwhelming, and I had that strange feeling of being happy-scared that tends to come with first days in new chapters. The classes were very hard, and I had trouble making friends at first, but I soon found a home with a lunch group, one of whom is doing a writing project I’m contributing this for. I’m not close with any of my friends from then, but I still think about them every now and then and hope they’re doing well.
It was towards the end of the year that something very important happened. I was at lunch, sitting facing away from the long tables, when I glanced to my right and saw a girl from one of my classes doing the same thing. There were a few seats between us, but I felt like I had to say something to her. I still didn’t really know how to talk to girls, and every fiber of my being was telling me what it always told me, “Today isn’t the day” “Try another day” “You don’t need to make any new friends here” “This isn’t the time”
I took a deep breath, moved down and asked, “Aren’t you in my gym class?” and then after she said yes, “What are you reading?” That single moment gives me goosebumps because of how my life changed due to it, and not at all for the reason you think.
7- 2011 was the year that girl and I started dating. I was on cloud 9 because I’d never dated anyone, and the only thing I really remember is being happy; Happy in a way I’ve only recently gotten to know again, which is why I want to mention these things that happened. It didn’t last, though, and I can still remember everything about that cold night in November when Gramma fell asleep after her surgery and didn’t wake up.
8- 2012 didn’t fare any better than the end of 2011. Money was getting a lot worse, and we found out our family dog of a decade had cancer. The grave we dug for her was still fresh when my first girlfriend broke up with me, and my depression from that was only worsening when we got kicked out of our house and had to live in a motel. We soon found a trailer to move into, and I attended Woodmont High for two weeks before dropping out. Mauldin was going to hold me back a year for taking too many sick days, something that transferred with me to Woodmont. I didn’t want to be 18 in the tenth grade, so I decided to get a GED. “Just not this year, maybe next year” I told myself.
It was very lonely there. Dad landed a job at the motel, but it wasn’t enough to keep a family of four afloat. I remember one night in December the power got cut off and Mom, Dad and my sister were going to the motel, but I refused to go. I still remember sitting on the couch cushions I slept on, doing my best to keep the pets warm, and reading by candlelight in the cold. The power came back the next day and so did my family, but the sense of isolation was there to stay.
9- In the first weeks of January 2013 we were worried we couldn’t pay rent and were worried about being kicked out again. Dad woke me up and said I needed to start packing my things. We went to the motel but I was sick and tired of it all. I wanted a different life, one that wasn’t so dark, and I began texting my best friend to let him know I was going to just start walking. I didn’t know where and I didn’t know what I expected to happen but anything was better than this. He tried to convince me not to but I didn’t listen, and I also reached out to my ex to let her know. I still don’t know why I did, but, looking back, I’m so glad I did.
She begged her parents to let me live with them, and they took me in. Words cannot express how happy I was to have a second chance at life. Saying goodbye to my family was so hard, but I knew I had to and after hugs and tears I was reunited with a family I thought I’d never see again.
I wish I could say that I moved in and took my future as seriously as I needed to, that my ex and I became like brother and sister, and I became a part of their family, but life isn’t that simple, and I had my own mistakes to make. After doing good things like get my GED and get my first job (at a car wash) I took for granted the generosity I was shown, and began seeing my ex again after being told not to as a condition of my stay there, and we were together for six months before having a huge falling out. Her parents found out about us and were, rightfully, livid, and it was not a great situation for anyone. I grew very close to her brother and sister through it all, though, because even the most stupid mistakes can bloom some blossoms in life.
Towards the end of this year, likely the most eventful of my life, I started school at Greenville Tech and started working at Mauldin Sports Center.
10- In 2014 I was able to move from the family I was living with on somewhat amicable terms. I was good friends with my ex’s sister and brother, but there was a lot of healing that needed to be done for the bridges I burned with her parents. I didn’t have my license or a car, so I took a break from school after the spring semester. That summer, my ex’s brother got married, and I was a groomsman, so I accompanied the family on a road trip to Massachusetts for the wedding, a week I would definitely place in my top five, despite the tension under the surface at times.
11- 2015 was essentially just a work year for me. I stayed at that townhouse and kept to myself most of the time. Despite my comfortable situation, especially compared to the years prior, I wasn’t advancing in life at all, and knew I needed to take steps to get things in order. Education, money, and a car were things I needed, but it was difficult to get either of them without one of the others. I had lost touch with my parents after I moved, visiting them less and less, largely because their situation hadn’t improved and I felt like I failed them because I couldn’t help them. I had a nightmare that my dad passed away one night, and the thought of him dying without us being close was too heartbreaking to entertain. I began calling them every few days, then every other day, and finally I developed the habit of calling them every day.
12- One night at work, in February of last year, my dad called me, which made my heart stop because I was worried something was wrong with my mom or sister, so I had to work up the courage to answer the phone after a few deep breaths. “Did you talk to mom?” he asked. After I answered no, he said, “Uncle Rick killed himself today”. Uncle Rick never married and lived with Gramma until she passed away. He struggled with depression and Bipolar Disorder. I wasn’t close to him at all, but it hit me really hard that he took his own life.
My mom’s sister and her husband came up from Charleston for the funeral, and after catching up with me, offered me a room in there house so that I can get my life in order. I wasn’t ready to leave my friends here, but I knew it was the right thing to do. I started working at CVS, first as an overnight cashier, then as a Pharmacy Technician. One night, I was working late and it was slow, and one of the pharmacists mentioned that he was trying to get sell a ‘94 Ford Ranger. I told him I needed a vehicle, and he sold it to me.
13- In January of this year, a very good friend of mine in Clemson said in our group chat with some of our friends that they needed a roommate. I missed the upstate, and told them I’d love to move up here. So now here I am. Last month I got a job at Firehouse Subs as a shift leader, and I’m going to be attending classes at Tri-County Tech in the Fall, looking at transferring to Clemson and majoring in Journalism.
I wanted to explain my journey these past thirteen years because it makes it easier to understand the significance of overcoming my demons. I’ve struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember, from turning the water on to take a bath as a kid and getting worried mom and dad are arguing, so I turn it off, listen, then back on, then back off, to laying awake at night unable to sleep because I’m afraid of sleeping through my alarm. I’ve struggled with depression since around 2009, sometimes just not wanting to get out of bed, or talk to anyone, and increasingly in frequency I had suicidal thoughts, peaking, as you can imagine, in the 2012/2013 area of my life.
I thought I could never have a “normal” life. I began to view success in life as being 1) Measurable and 2) Being measured as how many people respect you. After 2013 love sort of fell out of the equation, and despite my friendly exterior my internal monologue was typically plotting how I needed to let go of my friendships and even morals in favor of excelling at school, so that I could one day get into politics and try to make a difference.
I’d had my chance at happiness, I thought, and I’d lost it. I wanted to martyr myself, and choose a disciplined, unhappy life, while trying to “avenge” my family by being “successful”.
That all fell apart last year.
I moved in with my aunt and uncle, and was in contact with someone running for congress in Charleston. He never contacted me for volunteer work, though, and around last fall I had an epiphany watching a documentary on Netflix, of all things.
I realized that the world will never improve because one person decided to be like politics batman, and internalize their depression, and use their anger to drive them. I realized that, even if I accomplished what I saw as success, I wouldn’t be happy, and if I was remembered, I wouldn’t be there to experience it.
And, most important of all, I realized that everything I’ve experienced, from baking cookies with Gramma, to playing outside with the neighbor kids, discovering puppy love and losing it, to learning to love again. From going to see James Cameron’s Avatar in 3D with Uncle Rick, to regretting that I hadn’t reached out to him while he was so alone, to hiking Table Rock with one of my best friends and taking in the beautiful horizon, from being born in 1994 to an unlikely couple, to moving to Charleston last year, these memories were all a part of me, a part of my story.
My story wasn’t unique. Billions upon billions of others, filled with love and hate, joy and sorrow, courage, and fear, have all graced this beautiful earth, and billions more will follow. It’s this sense that has caused me to transcend whatever state of mind I was getting by with before. It’s this sense that has made me love life again. I love drinking coffee and thinking about the world, I love going to Walmart and in those brief moments where I make eye contact with a stranger and smile, knowing that they have a life just as complicated and amazing as mine.
I could never take my life because of the love I feel for my friends and family; every memory I create with them is a testament to the unlikeliness of life. That kid from 6th grade who believed in bigfoot as much as I did is still my best friend to this day, and now, in our twenties, we still stay up past midnight sometimes and talk about the world. If I hadn’t talked to that girl from my gym class, I would have had no one to take me in when I was going to just walk and probably end up dead on the street somewhere. If I hadn’t talked to her, I would never have worked at the gym for three years, or moved to Charleston, but some other chain of events could have followed, and that’s what’s so wonderful about life. I could never take my life because I’m curious about where I’ll be in ten, twenty, or sixty years. Where will I live? Who will I spend my time with? What kind of job will I have? I want to know how the story ends.
Finally, and most importantly, I could never take my life because of hope. I have hope for the world, hope for my friends and family, and hope for my future. I lost hope in happiness, and I got it back when I thought it was impossible. I want to lead by example, and live a happy life to show those that are unhappy that there can be joy after cynicism. I want to make Christmas special for someone else like my grandmother did for me, and I want someone to see in my eyes what I see in theirs. I want to be happy, make other people happy, and maybe, just maybe, someone I do know, hurting like I don’t know, will decide not to take their life.
Thank you Brad for those insightful word wisdom. He shows us that when things get bad, don’t go with them. Stand firm and know you are not alone.
In the United States: Text CONNECT to 741741.
If you are not in the US my post, has a link to the hotlines there.
Stay strong, stay alive. You are loved.