(Editor’s Note: Some of the scenarios described below can be upsetting. Please take caution when reading.)
Three and a half years ago, I almost made the mistake of taking my own life.
I was a seventeen-year-old kid, and I was stuck in the middle of a story that seemed more painful than promising. Not only had I been struggling with depression, but I was also questioning whether or not my life mattered. At the time, it didn’t matter very much to me at all.
Thankfully, I ended up deciding to stay alive. I went to counseling. I talked about the stuff that kept me stuck. I got honest about some of the things I had been lying to myself about, and I watched as the narrative of my story changed. Things got better. Life got lighter.
Two years after that experience, I had told very few people about that night in my room with a suicide note. Ironically, the first time I ever really talked about it was at a TEDx event, when I stood up in a room full of strangers and shared that part of my story. In retrospect, it was more of a confession than anything else. That talk, that story, eventually found its way on to the Internet, and people started to watch it.
It’s been three and a half years, and what I’ve found is that, to quote Jamie Tworkowski, “there is still some time to be surprised.”
This thing, this secret, this pain that kept me from forming healthy relationships and living honestly was now connecting me with people from all over the world. Letters started showing up at my house from kids who had such similar stories and secrets that it stunned me. It made me realize that the thing that surprises you is the simple stuff. It’s the thing you would have never have known you were missing out on until you lived it. It’s a letter; it’s a laugh. It’s holding your friend’s firstborn baby.
I realize I am lucky I’ve gotten to experience all these things. My story could have ended, but it didn’t. And I’m so grateful to get to play the part in the world that I was supposed to play, the part that no one else can play.
Last fall, I went to my favorite gym back home. When I walked out after my workout, I saw what had to be at least three hundred people gathered in the streets, and they were all looking up at a roof. There was a young girl up there. She had been up there for a few hours, trying to make a decision about her story and whether or not it should end. I stayed with that group of people, just standing and looking up at her. We stood still, and it felt like time did too. I wondered at one point if a bunch of strangers made her feel any different.
But then I realized that maybe we weren’t strangers. Maybe we’re all in the thing together. Maybe all of us down below reminded her in some way that there were people who still cared.
Even though she didn’t know us and we didn’t know her, in that moment, it felt like we did. We didn’t know her name, but we connected to her pain. On that day, a few hundred strangers came together to let someone who felt alone feel known. She stayed up on the roof for a long, long time, but eventually she came down. I don’t know what made her decide to continue living her story. Maybe she felt our hope for her. But whatever it was, I’m thankful for it. She found the strength to walk away from that roof, from that decision, and on to something better.
There is still time to be surprised.
There was for her.
There was for me.
There is for you, too.
I think TWLOHA stands for the idea that your story matters. I certainly believe in those words. I also believe that your story is still being written. So if you’re stuck, you can become unstuck. If you’re holding on to something too heavy, you can still let it go. And if the idea of tomorrow ever starts to get scary, I hope these words feel true to you: “There is still some time to be surprised.”