A letter from our Executive Director: Your Life Is Precious

Today’s blog discusses suicide which may be triggering to survivors or to the family and/or friends of victims. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please seek help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day or reach out to one of the other resources listed below for assistance.

My first language was Romanian and if you’ve every heard Romanian spoken, you’ve probably giggled. I often ask my own children not to talk about various bodily functions during mealtime and as they’ve learned more Romanian, they’ve found a work around. “Te poop” means “I kiss you” in Romanian and when I was younger, I would get horrified looks from strangers as I told my mom “fac o” (pronounced exactly how you’d think it would be, to get horrified looks from strangers) which means “I’ll do it.” This is a long preface, intended to tell you that when I was younger, I was allowed to curse. What was a curse word in one language, was a way to listen or show affection in another so my mother would tell me they were just words and what mattered was that how I used them. And, if I dropped too many F bombs in a day, she’d tell me I was getting lazy and ask me to consult a thesaurus and expand my vocabulary.

In middle school, I mentioned to her that my friend Karen had tried a cigarette and she pulled out a pack of Virginia Slims and told me to go to the backyard and try it and to let her know if I needed help. I didn’t like it and, somehow, the act of rebelling against your parents by smoking in an alley wasn’t so cool when it was your mom throwing you the cigarettes in your suburban backyard as the testing ground.

My mother was a psychologist and I was her finest case study. Her unorthodox parenting wasn’t always right, but it was always open, honest, and inviting of conversation and truth.

When I was thirteen, I did something truly mean to my little brother – I don’t remember what it was – but I remember that it was bad and I probably still owe him an apology. My punishment was that I couldn’t go to Ricky’s bar mitzvah and I was devastated, sure that I’d be erased from the social scene immediately. My mom calmly handed down the punishment and I went into hysterics. Through sobs I said, “If I can’t go to Ricky’s, I will kill myself.”

Her body straightened; her face – which was previously soft and calm – got rigid and severe. She grabbed my shoulders firmly and she looked at me and said, “Maya, never again. You will never again say that. You can have every reaction you want in the world. You can hate me, for the rest of your life, but you will never again say those words. Your life is precious, it will be hard and I will be here, and you will live it.”

I was stunned into silence. I was allowed to curse at the dinner table and try a cigarette in the family’s backyard. I told my mom about every boy I kissed and, later in my life, she’d be my confidant in much more serious and urgent issues. But, this one time, I had gone too far. In 34 years, jokingly or otherwise, I’ve only said those words one time.

When I was a teenager, one of my closest friends attempted suicide and was sent away to get help. In my twenties, my boyfriend (now, my husband) lost his father to suicide and I walked along that journey with his family and, one day, I’ll have to tell my children how their Gramps died. I give speeches about mental wellness and people line up in the corners of the room to whisper to me that they too have attempted to harm themselves or that they are desperate to get help – for a loved one or for themselves.

What I’ve learned from my work, and my life, boils down to what my mom told me when I sat on my bed instead of dancing the night away at Ricky’s bar mitzvah: your struggles are real and they’ll be devastating but your life is precious and the world needs you. I need you.

Today, the world lost Kate Spade, but we also lost dozens more. Each day, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, we lose approximately 123 people to suicide. If you know someone who is struggling, share the resources below and tell them how much they mean to you. If you’re struggling and clicking on another link is not what you’re in the mood to do, just know that on behalf of the team at Born This Way Foundation, including our fearless leader Lady Gaga, we need you. We need your light, your voice, your spirit, and your fight.