Trigger Warning: Mentions of Suicide
I’ve always had a way with words. The way some people dance gracefully or paint smoothly is the way I feel when I speak or write. I love to chat with friends, family, even strangers for hours on end. I love writing, endless strings that drag on across the page, for no reason at all. Easily flowing sentences and effortless answers; that’s what I hold onto. That’s what I know I can do.
You know how when you were young and you’d look around, and to your left, you’d see your friend who was an all-star swimmer; and to your right, you’d see your other friend who was a brilliant mathematician? And you would think to yourself, why can’t I have a “thing?” Why can’t I have that one thing that I’m great at like my friend is at swimming and my other friend is at math? I used to always feel that way and, to be frank, it really pissed me off. I felt like the universe had wronged me. But then words became my savior. Now, when I think about the very core of my being, who I am as a person, I think of someone who wields the power of words. They are my ultimate strength. If you think about it, they can be yours too.
Words can be everything. Every person, thing, place, feeling, expression, anything you can imagine has a word associated with it. Look around you; there are words to match each eye-catching aspect of your surroundings. Think of the people you love, the people you hate. Why do you love them? Why do you hate them? The answer is quite literally words. It’s all words. Everything is words. But at the very same time, words are nothing. They don’t really exist. That can be a terrifying and all-consuming thought for me sometimes. My strength, the very thing I define myself as, doesn’t exist. Words themselves aren’t tangible things we can hold onto with our hands or lay out on a table. But then I remember: the meaning words carry is everything. Every feeling we have comes from a different combination of words. I love you or you are beautiful or I hope you die. And the effects of each and every one of those combinations can be either amazing or catastrophic.
Like I said, words have always come easily to me. They flow in my blood and course through my veins.
So you can imagine my surprise when, after a friend confessed to me her desire to commit suicide, no words came out of my mouth. No sound escaped my body. There were no easily flowing sentences. No effortless answers. I dug deep into the recesses of my brain and raced to get my hands on anything, anything at all, any words to say. I could find only scraps. There weren’t nearly enough words to cover the message I needed to share with this person I couldn’t fathom living without.
You know when the irony of something is so perfectly crystal-clear that you can’t help but feel a little sorry for yourself? Because it’s just so ridiculous? Well, despite the dread and shock and panic I felt at that moment when my friend confessed, I felt the sharp, tiny knives of irony stabbing at my insides. What had clogged my ever-flowing fountain of words that day was that it was words, the very thing that I’ve always held so dear, that had sent my friend to the edge in the first place. This heart-breaking epiphany came to me, that cruel, spiteful words from others were what had drained her mind of all hope. Words so dark and destructive that our minds can’t shape them without experiencing the horror of them being said firsthand. It made me recognize that hateful words are capable of causing more intense damage than any weapon ever could.
However, while words were what nearly killed my friend, they were also what saved her life. The words that provided my friend support after the initial shock were the very ones that came most easily to me. I told her that although depression held her in a tight chokehold, its harsh grip would eventually loosen. She would be able to breathe again. She would be able to get past the tired feeling of living every day without a glimpse of light. There was a better ending, a healthy escape from the darkness that seemed to stretch endlessly in front of her. Words had hurt her, and now she needed a voice to provide her with light.
It was a long journey, recovering from those damaging words, and my friend is still persevering through it. Even after many years have passed, my friend is still recovering from words. Aren’t we all? Isn’t there a word or a phrase, no matter how small or how seemingly irrelevant, that has stuck with each of us like a rock lodged in our stomachs?
Once upon a time, I was sitting with three fellow students working on a school project. The conversation drifted away from school as it always did. One of the students, we’ll call him Rob, asked me when I had my Bat Mitzvah. I looked at Rob, confused. I barely knew him, and he certainly didn’t know me when I had had my Bat Mitzvah two years prior. I asked him how he knew I was Jewish, and he responded with a laugh saying it was because of my big nose. That was the conclusion of that exchange. It ended as quickly as it began. Who knows if Rob was outwardly trying to insult me? He probably forgot what he said by the next period. But this was six years ago. Another five years will pass, and I will likely still remember this brief moment.
Those words have stuck with me, like a rough pebble in my stomach. That pebble has rolled around causing damage in its wake to organs and other essential human body parts that keep me living and breathing. Every time I walk, every time I take a step, that pebble budges a little bit, rolling slightly, bruising another cell in my body. That stone has created one of my greatest and all-consuming insecurities all because of five words that some random guy said when I was fourteen. “Because of your big nose.”
Isn’t it just truly obnoxious how powerful words can be? Words have such explosive power. It’s like giving a machine gun to every single person in the world. There are going to be an endless number of morons who don’t deserve to control something so powerful, something so potentially dangerous and destructive. Yet, almost every single person has it.
This power must be used very wisely. If not, you could end up putting a rock in someone’s stomach. The sad fact is, you probably already have. So have I. So has everyone. This fact became clearer to me through the experience with my suffering friend. Since then, I have tried to focus my love for words on the positive ones such as the ones brought to my friend to ease her away from the edge of the terrifying cliff words had pushed her to.
After watching how these words brought my friend back from such a dark place, they became more important to me than ever. Instead of focusing on the grief words could bring, I held on to the way they could be used to help.
No matter how much words have the power to cause trauma in the world, they can also make you laugh, smile and remember that life is worth living. There is light somewhere within the darkness, and pain doesn’t have to be permanent. I hope to continue sharing my words to remind others of that.
Additionally, I’m forever grateful that my friend is still in my life. Not only because I love her, but also because of what the experience taught me. I learned that words are everything, and I can continue to develop my strength in using words to help others. Now, I will never stop using my words for the better. There are simply so many more words to say.
Before I go, I will leave you with one final thought, probably the toughest one for anyone to absorb: you have to use your words carefully with yourself too. Don’t let your own words, your inner thoughts, be the most destructive ones you ever come across. It’s not worth it. Use your own words to save yourself. Use them after some other fool spews cruel words all over your life and tries to shove you over to the edge of that cliff. You need your own words to save yourself from falling. Because at the end of the day, the power is always in our own hands. Above all else, use your words for yourself. Your own words need to be the ones that save you.
Just like my “friend” used my words. In reality, those were the words that saved my “friend” from falling too.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please dial 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Hotline.