There Was A Plan.

The school social worker asked if I knew why she had called me into her office.  I had an inkling, but told her I didn’t know.  She explained that a teacher had overheard me say that I was planning to commit suicide after school.

“Oh, that,” I said.

Of course a teacher heard me.  I yelled it loud enough.

I had been enamored of the idea of suicide since I read a magazine article years earlier with faces of teens who had killed themselves.  I wondered if I’d be in a magazine some day.

Mrs. S. asked if it was true.  She wanted to know why I felt desperate enough to end my life.  I provided the honest answer:  I was failing freshman English, my parents were getting divorced after a 4 year separation, I felt like I had no friends and, though I don’t recall now, I’m sure there was some boy trouble.  She listened intently.  I inferred that she didn’t think these were valid reasons.

She asked if I had a plan.  I did.  I was going to go home after school, drink a bottle of alcohol from the liquor cabinet and then take a bottle of sleeping pills.  Except I didn’t have the pills so I was going to have to stop at the drug store on the way home.  I wondered silently if I had enough money or if the lady at the drugstore would even let me buy pills without calling my mother.

“Don’t you have band practice after school?”  Her tone made it clear that she knew damn well I had band practice after school.  Practice which, until that moment, I had completely forgotten about.  I was going to have to either skip or kill myself afterward.  Even on the brink of my own suicide, I was worried about not keeping my commitments.

“I might wait until tomorrow,” I said, knowing I didn’t have any extracurriculars to get in my way.  I hoped she didn’t notice I was seething with anger at both of us.  I was angry at my own stupidity and inability to carry out a simple task.  I was angry at her for noticing my weakness and using it against me.

Mrs. S. looked pleased with herself.  She lectured me that my woes were not uncommon to girls my age.  I shrugged a lot and said, “Yeah, I guess.”  She gave me a pamphlet with a suicide prevention hotline.  She called my mother at work and told me that I was lucky she didn’t have to call any authorities because they would put me in a hospital.

Word got around school and I noticed some sideways glances until better gossip grabbed the attention of my peers.  Mrs. S. called me down two more times that year to see how I was doing.  I told her the answer I knew she wanted to hear, that I was fine.

I’m always fine.  I’ve been fine ever since.
~~~

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65 Responses to “There Was A Plan.”

  1. And you did it again!! Great post. I love the way you captured the teenaged angst and the confusion: Should I go to band practice or kill myself….hmmmmmm? Strange that schools give kids in your state a pamphlet. How’s that supposed to help? Glad you are here teaching me about writing and living every week!

    • I teach? Wow – that’s one hell of a compliment! Thanks! And the pamphlet, I just pictured myself dragging the corded phone with the extra long cord into my room and shutting the door to whisper into that enormous handset. And then I’m sure my mom would have picked up the downstairs extension… so impractical! :)

  2. Pish Posh says:

    Great post Michelle. High school and jr high school guidance counselors were such a joke to me. Didn’t understand teenagers at all. The last two lines are filled with ambiguity to me. You have a poignant style of writing!!

    I hope you always are fine :)

  3. Robbie says:

    wow..just wow. I feel like I am inside your high school head. As I’ve said before my heart breaks for that girl you were. Sounds like your school counselor was a joke.

  4. Excellent post!! “Seething with anger at both of us” – SO GOOD. Thank you for sharing this story with us.

  5. Christie says:

    Very bold writing. I’m sorry you didn’t have a better high school guidance counselor.

  6. How insensitive can a counselor be?…To tell you you were lucky?

    Great and gripping post. Sorry about the tough times you encountered in high school.

    • I suppose going back to whatever class I needed to be in was probably better than being committed, but yeah, I didn’t much like her comment at the time. Thanks for the kind words!

  7. Oh, I love your ending. The last line gave me chills. Riveting. And so painful. Beautifully written. Congrats on another job well done!

  8. carrie says:

    Great post. You really know how to suck a reader in. And oh my god what was wrong with that guidance counsellor. Holy crap you run across a lot of assholey and creepy people!

  9. Joe says:

    I loved your light touch on serious personal and societal issue. ” I was going to have to either skip or kill myself afterward. ” What a conundrum! Great post.

  10. That last line seemed defiant and almost like a challenge, daring the reader not to believe you. About a year ago, a sick friend (no one knew she was terminal at that point) said that she was “fine.” I must have looked skeptical because she told me that if she said she was fine, let her be fine, and if she said she wasn’t, then she wasn’t. It was her way of keeping a little control. So go ahead and be fine. When you aren’t, I hope you’ll let someone know.

    • I’m sorry about your friend. Wise words she spoke though. I like that you called that line a challenge. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but yes, it definitely was. I’m better now at letting people when I’m not ok :) Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

  11. Ha! My first draft of this week’s post was entitled “I’m fine”. That prompt got me too. “How are you?” – it’s a question we are asked a million times but never REALLY asked. Great post. Thanks for sharing (I was there too).

  12. Kathleen says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. Kathleen says:

    Wow! That guidance counselor sounds like a real piece of work. She called your mother and told her you were planning to kill yourself over the phone? Unbelievable.

    Great writing. I really liked the way you ended the post.

    • My mom was pretty pissed too since she was at work. But I guess it couldn’t wait until later. Glad I wasn’t the one who had to MAKE those calls to parents!
      Thanks for reading and your comment!

  14. IASoupMama says:

    Well, I’m glad that band practice foiled your plan. Did your counselor suspect that you weren’t serious? How did your mom react?

    • I’m not really sure what she thought. I think I was as serious as I could be about a plan with holes so large you could drive a truck through them. My mom was really pissed that she was called at work. She cried – she told me later she better not ever get a phone call like that again. Then we never ever talked about it after that day. Weird when I think about that now…

  15. Jennifer says:

    I get I’m fine. I’m fine a lot as well. My daughter already has an “I’m fine” face and it kills me. Children should not have to arm themselves with an “I’m fine” face.

    The counselor may have been clumsy, but she also saved you, and that’s a good thing. I had a best friend that did the same for me.

    • Yes, she did save me. I’m grateful for that. Sometimes I feel like my son isn’t telling me when something’s on his mind and it breaks my heart. How do kids learn to do that?

      Thanks for your comment!!

  16. Cat says:

    Very well written, and it actually made me smirk a little. I’m going through a dark journey of coming to grips with my brother’s suicide, and yet I completely understand why someone would want to cease existing. Adolescent years are tough, yo.

    • Tough is an understatement. I read your posts about your brother. I’m so sorry for your loss.

      I’m glad I made you smirk though. I was hoping for that. If we can’t laugh, even a little, at this difficult stuff, we will go mad. Well, I will anyway :)

      I hope you find peace on your journey.

  17. Jackie says:

    Sometimes I wonder where some of these counselors get their training. What did she think you were going to say down the line? Your voice was so clear, the pain, the teen angst, I could feel it all.

    • Thank you! I don’t know what she thought. I wish I could ask her, now that so much time has passed, what she thought of that day. It would surely be interesting to get her perspective.

  18. momfog.com says:

    I love the attitude and how you just answered all her questions in a nonchalant way. The guidance counselor did her job, even if she did it badly. (Your plan wasn’t much of a plan and you were stymied by band practice, so maybe she figured it was just a cry for help and she answered it?)

    Great ending, too.

  19. Kianwi says:

    Really amazing post. You are an incredible writer!

  20. Margi says:

    That counselor appears to have done a lot of the “right” things, according to training. I applaud her, and the fact that you’re here to tell us about it.

    • I agree. I’m not sure what else she could have done, but at the time I only saw it from my limited perspective. Looking back on it, I do see it differently.

      Thanks for your comment – I’m happy to be hear to tell about it too!

  21. Jester Queen says:

    What a useless supercilious twit. How was she supposed to help you if she didn’t take you seriously? I’m very glad you survived in spite of her.

  22. Ah, Michelle. I also would have been worried about missing band practice and would have tried to schedule my suicide at the least inconvenient time for everyone. Excellent post as usual!

    • People pleasing, it’s a tough gig, isn’t it :) I couldn’t go through death with people talking about how I missed that last band practice now, could I?
      Thanks for your kind words!

  23. christina says:

    oh Michele. once again, i’m left feeling as if we were separated at birth. your raw honesty is so captivating and i appreciate it so much- as i do you sharing this with us.

  24. Wow…I have worked for our crisis hotline for almost 12 years. I am glad someone asked at least. Fine..that is an answer I always question. Thanks for sharing

    • It’s not a good answer at all. When someone says it to me, I tend to tell them that I’m happy to listen when they aren’t fine. And I feel like the mark of a good friend is one who knows when it isn’t true. Thanks for your comment.

  25. So, this post brought up a lot of powerful emotions for me because I have been the person sitting in the counselor chair, hearing a teenager tell me their plan. I can’t say I agree with everything your counselor did, but because she’s getting a bit of flame, I will add my own experience/training/2 cents.

    1.) It sounds cold, but you have to ask the person if they have a plan. That is a HUGE red flag. Many people unfortunately have nondescript suicidal feelings or thoughts, but no plan. The plan is the big deal.
    2.) Asking you about band practice was a way to assess how future-oriented you were. People who are able to think about the future are less likely to attempt suicide. Asking about concrete plans also moves the person from the emotional realm and into the logical realm, where it is easier to reason with them.
    3.) One of the worst things you can do with a suicidal person is make a huge deal out of their statements. It just raises the emotional temperature for a person that already feels overwhelmed by their feelings. It can also lead to shaming and/or blaming. Stressing the seriousness of the situation is crucial, but blowing up isn’t helpful. Sometimes that comes off as cold, but it doesn’t have to.
    4.) Lastly, the law is very tricky and frustrating regarding what she was required to report. She most likely had to call your mother. It destroys me when I have to break a client’s trust by informing them I have to report their statements (which is why I tell them in the beginning what I’m required to report and to whom).

    I’m sorry this response was so long, but this post really got to me. It was difficult to read (though, as always, well-written). It is so important for mental health workers to understand the client’s experience. Thank you so much for sharing this story.

    • Thank you for your comment – I really appreciate the time you took! I actually have a bachelor’s in social work but I never actually practiced outside of my internships. The plan is such a red flag. In my mind at the time, my plan was solid. Looking back I know it wasn’t. I suspect she didn’t think it was solid either, but she never told me so in so many words. She did everything she was supposed to (though I’m not sure the calling my mom and letting me leave on my own really covered all the bases, assuming I was serious and my plan was solid). Who knows, maybe if I said I was not going to band she’d have done more than call my mother. Maybe she did more to check up on me than I really knew. I said in another comment that I think it would be very interesting to hear her take on all this. Maybe she had good reason to not tell anyone besides my mother and then let me go back to class. It was also 22 years ago – the world was different. I think kids were different.

      Thank you again for your comment. And I admire those who can do the work of counselor – truly.

    • I knew there was a reason I loved your blog. Whether you practiced or not, you write like someone that studied social work. I think you are right on every count. Without knowing what she was thinking or whether she did anything else, we can’t know whether she did the right thing. Plus, who knows what the right thing is? It differs for everyone.

      I’m glad you weren’t mad about my post. I never got notification of your response (hence my late response) so I just assumed I had offended you. I’m glad I checked.

  26. Mamarific says:

    Someone told me once that “fine” stands for freaked-out, insecure, neurotic and emotional. LOL! I always say, “I’m fine!” when I’m usually not. You captured the teenaged perspective so well. I recall having dramatic thoughts like ending it all with a bottle of pills, but not before the new Cure album came out..ha, ha!

  27. Great post Michelle!
    I liked how you captured the teenaged angst so well.
    Good job!

  28. What’s great about this is the ambiguity. We’re not sure how to really feel about the counselor as you wrote it through the eyes of your teenage self. As I was reading the comments against the way the counselor handled it I couldn’t help but think maybe she wasn’t that bad. You didn’t feel sad after talking to her, she pissed you off, reason enough to live another day. I was glad to read Shiftless Mommie’s perspective. No question it’s heartbreaking that you had these thoughts at all. To the writing, as I said – great stuff as you told it through your teenage self. Nicely done. I could feel the angst. I could feel the anger. And the last line brings it home!

    • Thanks so much! I like that you saw the ambiguity in it. It was one perspective on one event and really only looked at such a small portion of a much larger picture. There is more to it (I mean, how could there not be, right?) and maybe that’s a post for another day.

      I appreciate the kind words!

  29. You really took me to that place. Strong writing. But, by the way, and I know you know this, that counselor’s “follow-up” bordered on negligence, if by bordered on I meant knee-deep in it. Ellen

    • Thanks! The follow up… Yeah. I have to examine this more in my head because honestly while I’ve thought about that day a lot over the years, I haven’t thought as much about the impact. I haven’t considered how others saw me, only how I knew me at the time. These comments have stirred up lots of thinking!

  30. Michelle – another sparely told, excellent post. I kind of wanted to punch that teacher. I mean, yeah, she reminded you of band practice but wasn’t exactly the most, um, supportive? Your emotions overwhelmed me.

  31. Larks says:

    This was a really well written post and I ache for your junior high self (in more than just the way I ache for everyone’s junior high selves because junior high. Oy.).

    I have to echo Shiftless Mommies’ semi-defense of the counselor’s behavior though as well as your reply/reflection on how it was a long time ago and difficult place. I’m not saying I’m about to retro-actively nominate her for Best Counselor Ever or in anyway want to diminish the pain you were feeling.

    But, man, counseling a young teen with suicidal ideations is a rough road, know what I mean? There are approximately infinity places to go wrong, few to go right, and even fewer that make you come out of the situation looking like a hero. (Though if “looking like a hero” is your goal when becoming a guidance counselor dealing with junior high kids then that’s whoooooole other conversation full of side eyes.)

    Just wanted to put that out there since the counselor herself is such a focus in the comments. Great post and I’m sorry you had to go through that.

  32. That is SO the teenage thought process “I’d really like to kill myself today but I’ve got something else going on.”. I would have been terrified to be that counselor because you just never know…great post!

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