Open Letter on Suicide
By Jean-Luc Banks
(pictured on right)
North Carolina State was rattled by the suicide of a student who fell from a nine-story building on Monday, September 14, 2015. In response to the tragedy, Jean-Luc Banks, a brother and past President of Delta Sigma Phi, took to Facebook to express his own struggles with depression and offer a helping hand to others going through what he went through. Suicide is an uncomfortable topic to talk about. As Banks discusses in his response, college students are expected to have the time of their lives, which can make it hard for someone to open up about their experience to the contrary. The macho, never-show-weakness mentality of fraternity culture can make it even harder. Banks highlights his own battle with depression in college which was exacerbated by a change in schools and the death of his father. Read his moving, courageous and enlightening post below.
An Open Note To Those Considering Suicide, September 15, 2015 at 12:29 am
I don’t know you, but at one point I was you. Four years ago, I started college. Three years ago, I started at a different college. Three years ago, I walked around campus and felt alone. It’s amazing that on a campus with 33,000 students, one can feel completely by oneself. I wasn’t alone by any means. I had friends. I was in a fraternity. I was doing well in my classes – but that wasn’t enough. On paper, I appeared to have it all together. But, I didn’t. Despite these things, I always felt like a shell of a person. Less than one quarter of myself. I couldn’t remember the last time I had smiled or laughed for real. Sure, I had always put on a smile or fake laughed when a friend told a joke, but deep down I didn’t mean it. That’s the thing about depression – you don’t know who is going through it. People may say they are okay, but they are not. No matter how close you are with a person, they may never tell you that they are depressed; I know I didn’t.
When my father passed, I lost a part of myself. A part of myself that I will never get back. My dad took part of my heart with him when he left this world, and I always thought that left me a fraction of a person. For a time I tried to fill that hole with other things – lots of people, drugs, and oddly even school. I thought that if I immersed myself in my work, that everything else would fade away. That worked for a while…and then it didn’t. Growing up, I was known for being smart. People would commend me on how great of a doctor I was going to be, and what great things I was going to do in this world. That’s the thing about depression – it doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care how beautiful, smart, or athletic you are. You are not immune. It can get you. From the outside in, I seemed to have it together; I was okay. But, from the inside out, I was NOT okay.
Soon the black hole of despair and dread began to take over. I was skipping classes, I was spending all of my time in my room, and I was lost. I was not lost in a way that I could be found – or so I thought. I was careful never to show signs of sadness or depression. I cared about my image far too much. After a while, I couldn’t hold it in any longer. My grades started slipping, I began to withdraw from my friends, and I never left my room. But, no one noticed because I would always say, “Yeah, I’m fine.” But, truth be told, I was far from fine. Final exams drew near, and with that, more stress. Stress to maintain that perfect image that I thought I had to maintain. “Don’t even dare thinking about asking for help, because you’ll appear weak. No one can help you anymore. You’re too far gone.” – the voice in my head.
The weeks got worse and I remember feeling like I just couldn’t take it anymore. Thoughts of leaving this world forever became fantasies. Fantasies became plans. Plans ALMOST became actions. I didn’t want to have to deal with school and lawyers anymore. I wanted to be gone. Nothing. This life was too much for me and I wanted out. I remember walking about campus and seeing the tall buildings, much like I imagine you have. I remember walking into the chemistry building and thinking, “I could jump out of this window and it would be over. No more pain. Just blissful nothing.” I remember coming home and staring at my curtain rod for hours debating if that would be the best way to do it. I didn’t want anyone to have the burden of finding me. I didn’t want to leave this world as a burden to anyone. I’ve always liked exploring through the woods, and that’s where I decided I would do it. No one would find me. I would be missing and assumed dead, but my family would never know I had ended my own life.
The day finally came and I was ready. I was careful not to do anything out of the ordinary because I didn’t want anyone to know anything was up. I wanted to disappear and never be found. I was sitting in class waiting for it to end, so that I could go back to my apartment and get ready, but something held me back. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it anymore; oh no, I most definitely did. But, I had a physics exam that night that I had totally forgotten about. If I didn’t show up, I would be recorded absent. My friends would notice I wasn’t there and would wonder what was wrong. Like I said, I didn’t want there to be any clues of what was to come. After taking my physics exam, I came back to my apartment. I for sure bombed it, but who cares? I wasn’t going to be here tomorrow. I was exhausted from the exam and I remember thinking, “I’m much too exhausted to kill myself tonight. I’ll wait till the morning.” That night, I laid in bed and scrolled through Facebook looking at my “Friends.” 2700 people from all over the world that I would be leaving behind. “I’m sorry guys, but I can’t take it anymore. You don’t know what it’s like. You’d feel the same way too if you were in this situation.” It was not long after that, my roommate came into the room drunk and stumbling around. We made small talk for a bit, and then he got very quiet. I asked him what was wrong and was he okay. It was then that he told me the biggest secret of his life. Something that I have promised never to repeat to anyone ever. He wanted to talk about it, but I didn’t even know what to say so I told him I was tired and needed to go to bed. He said alright, and returned to his room.
That morning was the day. I awoke with my plans in my head ready to go. Would I have succeeded, no one will know. And I’m so thankful that no one will ever have to find out. When I awoke that morning I discovered that my roommate had overdosed and was at a mental institution for trying to commit suicide. The news stunned me, but also made me a little mad. He beat me to it. I’ve always had a competitive streak in me, and I was actually mad that he did it first. My next thought was, “I can’t put anything else like that on my roommates. That’s just too much.” That day, I went to the counseling center at State and confessed my plans. I told my counselor my entire life story and how much I wanted it to be over. I remember worrying about taking up her time, but she encouraged me to keep going. She had nowhere to be. She wanted to help me. I remember feeling so guilty and weak for admitting to this complete stranger that I wanted to end my life. I remember thinking “She probably thinks I’m worthless, Heck, I am worthless.” She assured me that I was not what I kept telling myself. I was not worthless. I was loved and cared for by so many people that I didn’t even know.
That’s the thing, you, You are so loved and cared for by people you don’t even know. Tonight, 300 people stood in solidarity wishing that they could’ve helped a student they didn’t even know. Could’ve asked him if something was wrong. Could’ve saved his life. Six months earlier, a similar vigil was held for another student lost at this University. Many students attended that vigil too, wishing there was something they could do. I was one of those people. Three years later, I am still here. I am here because someone wanted me to be here. I reached and asked for help, even though I thought it was weak to do so – it’s DEFINITELY NOT, by the way. In fact, it’s one of the strongest things you can do. By asking for help, I was admitting that I couldn’t handle it on my own. I wasn’t the perfect person that I always wanted to be – and that’s okay!
College is a catalytic triad – You must be intelligent, beautiful, and well-liked. Not only that, but it must be done effortlessly. It is the desire to dominate this triad that drives people over the edge. I know it did for me. For those of you who are reading this and feel like you are struggling to be beautiful, intelligent, and well-liked, let me be the first to tell you. You are beautiful. You are intelligent. You are loved. Someone called you ugly or posted a nasty comment about you? Don’t listen to them; you are beautiful! Your grades aren’t good? That’s okay! Grades aren’t the only method for determining intelligence. In fact, it’s one of the lowest correlational variables in a test to determine intelligence. You think you don’t have any friends? I’ll be your friend. Anything to stop you from leaving this earth.
The last thing that I want to discuss is the stigma of mental illness. You’ve seen the hashtag #stopthestigma, but do you know what it really means? Have you ever felt uncomfortable when someone mentions suicide? That’s the stigma. Because we internalize everything, no one knows how we really feel. We maintain an image so that our reputation is not ruined. Here’s the thing, depression is not a dirty little secret. It’s not something you need to hide. If you’re a survivor of suicide (yourself or a friend), reach out to others when you feel comfortable. You are not alone, and I bet you’d be surprised by how many people have also been in that situation as well. You did not go through this alone just so you can keep it to yourself. Use your experience to save someone’s life. I know college is tough and it seems like there is always something due, but you’re never too busy to save a life.
This is by no means a story of triumph, but I hope that by sharing my story with others, that it helps someone. I struggle every day with my depression, but I have ways of dealing with it and people to talk to. If anyone reading this is ever feeling like they can’t do it anymore, please reach out to a friend. If you can’t find anyone, reach out to me. I will always be here for you.
Reprinted with permission from my friend and LifeBrother, Jean-Luc.
Jean-Luc’s note is a reminder that fraternity men sometimes need each other for far more than the role of wingman at a bar, and how those that need the most help will often hide their pain the best. Banks urges anyone who feels as though there is no way out to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800) 273-8255. Keep an eye on your brothers…