In spring 2017, I stepped in to W332 in the Adler Journalism Building for a typical day of class at the University of Iowa. Then my dad called. I stepped out of class, somehow knowing something was wrong, and barely made it down the hall before I sunk to the floor, stifling sobs. He told me my cousin had died by suicide the night before.
The only quantifiable effect of my cousin Christopher’s death in my life was the drop in my GPA that semester. Yet my heart was never the same.
His death, his suicide at the same age as me, made me question everything. It made me wonder what I’m doing in college, what this degree is supposed to get me, and which experiences really matter.
I’m 21, and for the first time, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. All I know is that old intangible cliché: I want to make a difference.
The insidious demons that caused my cousin’s death did not die with him; they threaten the well-being of people across the world. Not only depression, but the pain of poverty, addiction, illness — the fear in feeling helpless, alone.
Yet he wasn’t alone. When I remember Christopher’s face, I choose to remember him smiling. Playing guitar, laughing. I remember the gray sweater he wore the last time I saw him, how old he suddenly seemed when he had to hunch over to hug me. I remember us grimacing over our glasses of wine, the youngest in the family and the last to learn to like it. The world was still sad and scary sometimes, but it was better off because I could look across the table and there he was.
In a world with so many problems and so many people, my cousin’s death taught me that making a difference in the world can come down to making a difference in one single life. The internship I recently accepted with The Crisis Center empowers me to do just that.
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I’d like to ask everyone reading to take this number down: 1-855-325-4296. This is our Crisis Line.
It’s hard to allow vulnerability and weakness. We live in an era of individuality where everyone wants to succeed, and no one wants to ask for help along the way.
But being human means being challenged. It means being exhausted. Sometimes, it means wanting to give up. On the assignment driving you crazy, the job you can’t stand, the degree you’ve worked so hard for; on life itself. But this desolation never lasts.
Check in with family and friends, ask them how they are doing. Really ask them. When they ask you, really answer. This question, this conversation, could change the world.
And if you ever feel alone, you’re wrong. Call or text us anytime at 1-855-325-4296. We’re here, we’re waiting, and we’re wondering — how are you?
• Brooke Clayton is a communications intern at The Crisis Center of Johnson County.