A guest post on the topic of struggling with thoughts of suicide, and the short film, "The Balcony" , that has a suicide prevention message.
As a married twenty-something looking back on my teen years, I will always remember growing up as feeling like the walls were caving in.
As a child, our fragile young minds are protected by walls of innocence. There are things that we know exist in the world, but they do not affect us. We may be able to see them through the windows, but they cannot touch us through the walls, and therefore, they are not a part of our world.
But as we grow up, slowly but surely the things on the outside of the walls seep into our lives. First we hear about them affecting coworkers and friends of friends, and then they start affecting our close friends and family. And suddenly we find that we cannot keep these things on the other side of the walls anymore; they are entangled in our lives, shaping the way we think. It feels like the walls are crumbling around us, until one day these things touch us personally. And then the walls fall down.
What lurks outside the walls varies from person to person. For me, one of the scariest things outside the walls, and the one that finally ended my childhood, was suicide.
I knew suicide existed. I knew why it happened, and had heard a few trite explanations of depression, but it wasn’t something I had ever dealt with personally. I knew it was there, but it was outside the walls.
So when I wrote the first draft of my short film “The Balcony,” I wasn’t thinking about the importance of suicide prevention. It was a story about a girl who planned to jump off the balcony in a concert hall and was interrupted by a lonely violinist coming in to practice, but the suicide was just an effective storyline for me. My focus was on the music, as the flutist decides to accompany the violinist’s practice from the shadows, and the two begin to converse through the interplay of their instruments. I was driven by the artistry of it all, and suicide was simply the most effective character motivation I could use to convey the emotion. And so I labeled it as a sweet story I could probably one day sell, stashed the draft in the back of my files, and forgot about it.
And then the walls around my childhood started to crumble.
First I learned about a casual acquaintance struggling with depression, before mysteriously vanishing off the internet, leaving behind rumors that she had committed suicide. Then my closer friends started to come forward and open up about their depression. I watched as their struggles got deeper, and I felt like my ability to help was slipping out of my fingers. The foundations of my childhood were shaking, and I grappled to keep my little world from toppling. But when I turned around to look at my own life, I realized that the thing that had once lurked outside the walls had moved in. I was depressed, and it was getting worse.
I lived in denial while things got progressively darker through 2013. In the spring of 2014, the man who would later become my husband found me and encouraged me to come to terms with the things that were taking down my walls. But as is often the case with depression, when you first try to throw off the chains that bind you, they tighten. I kept holding on to the few things that made me forget the pain briefly, always believing that if I just fixed enough of my problems I could go back to that simpler time where my innocence gave me peace.
But no amount of dreaming could keep my childhood alive. In May of 2014, alone on the highway and suffering from my worst depression and the screams of demons, I almost drove my car into a concrete median to end it.
But I didn’t. Why? Because a friend texted me.
Even though I don’t text and drive, I had my phone sitting out on the passenger seat where I could see it. And that simple text notification was a distraction. It was enough of a distraction for rational thought to break past the noise in my brain, enough distraction to make me realize I should call the friend who texted me and let her talk me through the rest of the drive, enough distraction to give me the opportunity to make the conscious choice that saved my life and started me on the path of healing.
And now, almost a year later, when my producer dragged “The Balcony” out of the archives and put it on my desk again, I can look back and realize there’s a second story to the film that I didn’t even know my heart was trying to write.
In the story, the flutist is distracted when the violinist turns the lights on over the stage and comes out to practice. This distraction gives her enough pause to notice him and listen to his music instead of the noise in her head. The distraction allowed the violinist to enter her world, and she made the conscious choice to reach inside of her and respond. Just one moment of chance timing made for a distraction that opened the gateway to healing and encouragement for both of them.
I am not saying that we should constantly pester our depressed friends and family with text messages to make sure they are all right. Not all distractions will change a life; many encounters are simply just that, brief distractions that quickly fade and do nothing to help us conquer the battle. But I am saying that every positive connection we make with people opens up a door for God to work. Every time we touch another person, we are opening a channel of communication with them. And if you respond to all the connections you make with honesty and love, you never know when you may have been the open door that let a life-changing thought in.
I want to thank Ophelia for letting me talk on her blog and share about my short film “The Balcony.” As I mentioned, my old producer Jordan Smith from Phantom Moose Films drug this script out of the closet and decided to produce it this spring. This is monumental for me, not only to see one of my films make it into production far sooner than I ever could have hoped, but also because I can now use this film as a way to share my experiences with depression and suicide prevention with others.
Of course, producing a film is easier said than done, especially since the intimate nature of the music involves an original violin-flute duet that must be tailored to the movie, as well as two talented musicians to act it out. For that reason, we’re running a Kickstarter through the end of March to raise the necessary funds for the music and high-quality cameras. I’d be delighted if y’all could check it out. Even if you can’t donate, please share the link--you never know when your Facebook post or Tweet might put the film in front of the right person.
After all, even the simplest connections between people can change the world.