Life was always difficult for me. Even as a child, I was a plus size and felt that other people considered me to be clumsy and unattractive. When I was six years old I was diagnosed with chronic clinical depression. For a few years I passed through a more cheerful time, but attempting to integrate into the social life at my middle school brought the depression back in a major way.
Not only did I have to cope with the fact that I had a body that was shaped very differently from the popular cheerleader-types, I was also strongly opinionated and unafraid to voice viewpoints and attitudes that differed from those of my listeners. I felt like I didn’t fit in but resisted every attempt by others to make me conform to the society that governed the behaviors and mindsets evident in the school classrooms and hallways. I found no appeal in the party-hardy drugs-and-alcohol-centered lifestyles of some of my fellow schoolmates. I responded to my sense of isolation by adopting a solitary existence, spending most of my free time in my room reading, playing games on my phone, watching television, and studying.
Even though I felt socially awkward, I was absolutely fearless of anyone trying to bully me. I might have been a plus size female but wasn’t at all fat. Even in pre-school I wouldn’t accept bullying behavior from other students. During art period one day, a kid who thought he was tough took my scissors and glue stick. I couldn’t get the teacher to listen to my complaints. The other kids joined in the fun and were teasing me as the bully continued to taunt me with the items he had stolen. So I finally hauled off and punched him right in the throat. He curled up on the floor and immediately lost interest in things like scissors and glue sticks.
When you are willing and able to defend yourself, there are not many times you actually need to do so. In third grade I was peaceably reading a book when a bully began throwing stones at me. They weren’t large but he wouldn’t stop harassing me.
So I finally stood up and told him to let me be. He obviously felt no danger because I was “just a girl” and, even though I was large for my age, he was bigger than I was. He tried to shove me backwards so I lowered my head, butted him in the face and then drove my knee hard into his stomach. His surprise at being beaten by a girl together with the blood and his difficulty in catching his breath apparently took all the fun out of pestering me with rocks.
I’m naturally strong and active. When I was approaching my freshman year of high school I became the only girl ever to try out for my high school boy’s football team. I was good at the sport and would show some of the guys up in the weight room. They gave me a spot on the team as a lineman, which gave me the opportunity of sometimes knocking guys on the other team in a satisfying manner.
One member of the team was our kicker and a varsity wrestler. He was good looking, had a nice personality, and was popular with other students. I developed a strong affection for him, which he seemed to return. We began texting each other and chatting on the phone. It was my first time with a guy and my heart seemed to overflow when he said he loved me. I engaged in what seemed normal teen behavior in a romantic relationship by sending him selfies, some of them showing me in intimate poses. However, it turned out that the guy was just playing with me, stringing me along like the boy did to the girl in the movie Carey. He began passing the pictures of me around the school and before long I had become a laughingstock and butt of everyone’s jokes.
There was no way I could talk to my folks about the problem. I was too ashamed to admit to Mom what I had done and was afraid of what my father might do to the kid if he learned of the awful trick that had been played on me.
A school counselor learned about the incident and called me into her office. I tried to explain what had happened and that it had all been a mistake. Police were subsequently called in and confronted the boy with what he had done. I was 14 years old so he was facing possible allegations of breaking child pornography laws. However, he was popular with everyone and his parents were big time contributors to the school, so the guy never had to face any consequences for his heartless and potentially criminal activities. No mention was ever made of it in police or school records.
My spirits fell into a deep funk. I began watching the Showtime series 13 Reasons Why, which listed reasons why the main character committed suicide. The girl had my name Hannah and her school had the same name as mine. In the beginning of the series a girl took advantage of Hannah in much the same way that the football-kicking creep had taken advantage of me.
After watching the first three episodes, I began planning my suicide. Parents are often surprised when their child takes his/her life. Like the others, apparently, I put on a positive front, using my end-of-life planning activities to stifle the pain that was continually nagging at my heart and soul. I tried contacting the Suicide Hotline but connected with a person who seemed to have other things on her mind.
Everything seemed to come into alignment on April 10 last year. Dad was at his monthly VFW meeting, Mom was in a class — ironically working on her EMT license — so I had the house to myself. I wrote a suicide note expressing my love for my parents and explaining my frustration at being able to find no way out of my situation and that I wanted to be at peace. That evening, I sat on the floor of my bedroom, swallowed a dozen powerful sleeping pills, and prepared to embrace the peace that was about to come to me.
Someone told me that people who survive Bay Bridge suicide attempts confess that in the instant following their leap from the bridge they abruptly regret what they were doing. The report might be true because, as the drugs began to take effect and I felt the first drowsy symptoms, I suddenly realized how my death would affect Mom, Dad, and my grandpa. I became aware of the endless sorrow and interminable grief my suicide would cause for them. I also had a sudden stab of regret that I would never again be able to hug my mom.
I phoned an acquaintance named Abby and told her what I had done. She said to call 911. I was too embarrassed to do so, so Abby dialed the number for me. During the ambulance ride the EMTs told me to stay awake, so I was groggy but still alive when we arrived at Sutter Delta Emergency. The hospital had contacted Mom at her Los Medanos College classroom and she had called Dad at his VFW meeting, so they were both present when the ambulance arrived. I wasn’t happy to see them because I was embarrassed and afraid they would be mad at me. Much later Mom told me that she was confused and shocked. However, she said that nothing was further from her feelings at that moment than anger.
They put me in an emergency room. I was still alert enough at that point to be embarrassed by the skimpy little hospital gown they gave me, which would have failed to preserve the modesty of a person half my size. In the middle of the night a medical transport unit took me to the County Hospital in Martinez, which seemed a noisy and confusing bedlam. They put me into a ward with a number of other patients and continued asking me questions until 4:00 a.m.
I finally went to sleep but an hour later was jolted back into awareness of my grim environment by a medical person asking in a loud voice over all the sleeping patients, “Is there a Hannah Smith here?” They apparently had such poor management procedures that nobody at the front desk knew for sure where a patient named Hannah Smith might be located, and might have only been reminded that I was a guest in their facility when my parents showed up asking for me.
I felt dazed and grumpy in the car on the ride home, went to bed, and was still feeling groggy when I awoke ten hours later. That day I had a visit from my friend Halle — the only acquaintance who ever reached out to me. Halle’s visit started me on the road to recovery.
I spent a few days at home recovering. During that time I Googled other depression response sites other than Suicide Hotline. Fortunately, I discovered the Buddy Project that provides peer-to-peer therapy. The site paired me with a girl named Maddie. She had gone through an experience similar to mine, so we helped each other out by talking through our thoughts, feelings, and actions. We sent memes to each other and made each other laugh. We remain connected and continue to talk with each other a few times a week.
Fortunately, my life has undergone great improvement. Besides my regular connections with Maddie, Mom and Dad are paying more attention to me.
Things never got better at school. I learned that I was on a hit list that one of the kids kept of people he wanted to hurt, or worse. I took my concern to the administration, but they had no response at all. Mom called the School Resource Officer who tried to reassure her with the disturbing admission that he was packing a gun.
Mom put in for an inter-district transfer and had to explain to a school administrator the reasons for wanting me to change schools. The administrator had no clue about the things that had been going on.
He had to make several phone calls to verify my stories that seemed at first to be so unbelievable. Well, they were, of course, unbelievable. But true. The high school administration had merely shrugged off the concerns my parents and I shared after being confronted by two dysfunctional kids. If anything serious had happened, the administration would claim they hadn’t been aware of my problems. And they would be telling the truth. They remained clueless to an amazing extent.
I switched schools but the environment hasn't been much of an improvement. People still bring things up like those
horrible pictures and my attempt to end my life. However, I have more friends now, including a kid named Jackson who has been a buddy of mine since sixth grade. I’m also in therapy with a patient and effective counselor named Laura Bevilacqua. It has been good talking with her. She has been helping me with my anxiety and depression by teaching me breathing exercises and other ways of fighting off the darkness.
I’m thankful every day for my life. The doctor told me that if I had taken 13 pills instead of stopping at 12, I would not have survived. It’s difficult to think about the consequences if I had succeeded. Mom said that she is still haunted by images of her potentially finding me on the floor of my bedroom, and then trying to administer first aid to my lifeless body. It’s unimaginable how desperate she would feel if the images were actual memories.
Now I want to be an advocate to help people who are going through what I went through. Someone shared a proverb with me: “A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” The Buddy Project showed me the power of synchronicity — the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. We can be strong together!
Someone said that suicide is a permanent solution for a temporary problem. Even if you imagine yourself to be alone, look around and you will find people who would be glad to help if you will only make the connection. Consult the Buddy Project website (www.buddy- project.org). If you can find nobody else, email me. We’ll chat and I’ll understand what you are trying to say. It will make a difference.