Sarah Liberti on Casually Suicidal at TEDxAdelphiUniversity (Transcript)

 

Sarah Liberti: I’d like to start off with a joke. What do you call a student of music with a 40? Suicidal. Oh my gosh, you laugh. But I’m sure most of you are very uncomfortable right now. Let’s just linger in this discomfort. I’m also sure I heard your laugh, so some of you found humor in that.

But maybe some of you related to that in one odd way or another. Discomfort, humour, relatability often run hand in hand when we talk about the big scary s-word: suicide.

My name is Sarah, and everything pertaining to that “joke” relates to me. I’m currently in my fourth year studying music here. I really do have a 40 right now, and I have danced with depression and the very dark intrusive thoughts that come along with it.

As I scroll through social media and hear conversations between people, I realize that suicide is something people are actually joking about and people are actually laughing about. It makes me wonder what made suicide such a casual thing to tease about.

Well, have I brought some examples? Let’s take a stroll through our social media together.

Facebook “I’m pre-peared to die”, “I want to pickle-d myself”, “I tomato-ly want to die”, “I have no raisin to live”, “I avocado-n’t want to be alive”, “I want to corn-mit suicide”, All right Onto Yik Yak – an App the allows you to anonymously confess things, You can search by region, and I searched under Adelphi’s tag, “This class is going to be the death of me.” Smiley face gun emoji, that’s a popular one. “I’m so lonely.” “At that point in the semester where I don’t look both ways when I jaywalk”. “I sometimes cut my arms but lately I’ve been thinking about cutting my wrists”.

To Twitter “Every day is just 24 hours of me not trying to kill myself”. “If I kill myself, I’ll stop wishing to die”. “I won’t have to stress about the future if I kill myself”. “I won’t be suicidal anymore if I just kill myself”.

“Good morning I want to die in December of this year”. “Just reminding everyone that I really want to die in October of this year”. “Maybe you don’t want to die but you don’t care if you lived”. “I’m not even dropping hints that I want to die anymore. Honestly, someone please run me over or stab me already.”, “Sometimes I want to die for a day just to see who really cares.”

So Tumblr SpongeBob, “I’ll kill the first person that moves.” Spongebob again “Me deciding if I want to go to school or kill myself”. Wow Hang in there.

A noose pun Oh Forget me not. From this year, this month actually, “I’ll just kill myself. Bye” And then an Instagram post – I’m not sure if these are lyrics to a song – “If they say to kill yourself then you will try it.” But what intrigued me the most about this Instagram post are the hashtags: suicidal, cutting, depression quotes, bulimia, freak, die, monster. And there were three words in German that I translated at the bottom here: blade, to cut, scratches. I’m a quiet person, so I hear everything. Behind me sat two girls in the class where our professor was always five minutes late.

A says to B, “I’d rather jump out the window than to be here” B replies, “We’re only on the second floor. You’d have to swan dive out, so your head was the first thing that hit the ground, then you’d die”. Sitting in my statistics class this semester, the second week of school, two boys are sitting behind me, and one says to the other, “This class already makes me want to kill myself”. The other one chuckled.

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I made the mistake of assuming that in all of these situations the people were fine. That because they were talking about pain with humour, they were okay. That they did it for a laugh; they did it to relate. But it got me thinking: what if that was their flare? What if instead of laughing, they were screaming? What was it about having to present their pain through humour?

I believe it was because they were uncomfortable actually talking about these hard feelings to discuss. So what do we do if someone actually, boldly says, “I want to kill myself.” We get uncomfortable and retract into our shell, and we don’t know what to do. Discomfort is something that tore an old best friend of mine and I apart.

A few years ago, I actually drove myself to the emergency room in the midst of a panic attack. I learned two things that day. Never drive when you’re having a panic attack. It’s not good. And number two: it feels really good to get help. It feels so relieving and wonderful to tell someone: “I’m hurting, look at me, help me!”

I was released from the psychiatric emergency room at 6:30 in the morning, and I was sitting in this ugly green waiting room, waiting for my parents to come pick me up because I didn’t feel like driving back. And I realized that people were still coming into the emergency room, that the Sun was rising, and people were still going about their day. And because it was 6:30 in the morning, my best friend was getting ready for school to start at 7:00.

I call them and, to my surprise, they pick up, because they weren’t a morning person. The first thing to fly out of my mouth was: “You won’t believe the night I had. Can I see you in 12 hours?” 12 hours come and go, I’m sitting in their bedroom – at the time, one of my favourite places in the world. It was their bedroom; we made so many great memories there. They have a really comfortable bed, a computer, and a piano, and a fish tank, and most importantly: my friend and our friendship.

I tell them everything that happened. The drive, everything that led up to the thoughts, the actual thoughts I had, and what happened in the hospital. There was silence after I spoke for a solid 20 minutes. My friend looks me in the eye; I could see a glimmer of confusion, and they say to me, “Sarah, you’ve always known what I thought about people who want to kill themselves: let them; they’re weak, and we’re better off without them.” I don’t talk to my best friend anymore.

I don’t know where they are or what they’re dealing with their life. And I don’t think they’re a bad person. We were so young. And if you hadn’t dealt with mental illness directly, you don’t know it. If you weren’t educated properly, how are they supposed to know what to do, what to say, how to feel? Discomfort is what drove us apart.

Discomfort crumbled our relationship. I feel sorry for them. And I feel sorry for every little boy who can’t cry and every little girl who can’t get angry. Because they have to keep it inside; because if they let it out, they would make the other people uncomfortable, and we’re told that that’s wrong. Discomfort is at the root of all of this emotional turmoil people feel. We don’t want to share out of the fear, it’ll hurt someone.

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And we’re too afraid to ask because it just might not be our place. Let someone deal with their sadness alone; it’s a journey they have to take alone. Let me tell you, it feels good to share; it feels really good to ask for help. I actually told a friend of mine recently that I’m trying to start up therapy again.

And my friend, a rather intelligent woman, can’t look at me the same ever since I told her this. I bumped into her a couple of days ago, and the conversation went something like this: “Hello”

“Hi, Sarah”

“How are you?”

“Good. How’s it going with your doctor?”

I just stare at her for a little while. “My therapist is a great woman”.

“That’s good.” And she wouldn’t leave, like she wanted to help me, but she didn’t know how, so I just lingered in the discomfort for a little longer, and I wanted to say, “We can grab lunch the three of us some time”, but I didn’t, I just said goodbye. I feel bad for her. How uncomfortable she was with me, her friend. And I feel sorry for this religion teacher I had. When I was in middle school, we went to after school religion class.

She was an older woman. One day, she taught the class that people who commit suicide go straight to hell that there was no chance of them getting into heaven because they took away the most precious gift God can give you: life. I agree with her that life is beautiful, but I feel sorry for her because she was so uncomfortable to see the pain a person is in when they actually end their life. She’ll never understand that people can hurt so bad that they end a life. We need to stop oversharing online and undersharing in real life, start reaching out.

Reach out to others that you may see in pain; reach out for yourself; ask for help; share your emotions. Because there is something so beautiful about being human that we have all of these emotions. And yes, feeling happiness, and joy, and love up here are a wonderful thing, but there is something also wonderful about feeling the depths of despair and hopelessness. It’s a part of the human experience, and being human is something we have to embrace, and that especially includes discomfort.

If you see someone in pain just ask, “Are you okay?” It’s not hurting anyone, I promise.

Just know that some girl with frizzy hair and glasses told you that, I promise It’s a weird world we live in. Why am I so comfortable to write online but not to share in real life? I want to change that. Because, you know, the CDC reports that someone around the world kills himself every 40 seconds, and that suicide rates have done nothing but increase in America since 1999; that scares me. It scares me that I lost a friend, that the point of a view from a friend about me has changed.

It’s incredible. I think everything I’m trying to say can be summarised by a quote from my favourite fictional history teacher Cory Matthews of Boy Meets World and Girl Meets World. He once taught his students that the secret of life is that people change people. I’d like to add on to what Mr Matthews said: I believe that people change people because people need people; we need to embrace being human and all of the beauty and ugliness that comes along with it.

Thank you.

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