Guest Opinion: Living proof that we are all in this together


The following essay is by an anonymous junior at Palo Alto High School, written shortly after a Gunn High School senior died by suicide on Jan. 24.

Former National Football League wide receiver Terrell Owens once said: "A lot of emotional stress that people go through, some people figure out a way to handle it. They have a strong enough support system to keep going and keep moving forward. And some people, they feel like they don't have that outlet."

The following piece is intended to first and foremost convince you and the members of our community that your individual life is precious and that your well-being is, and will always be, the number-one priority for not just yourself but for the people around you as well. Additionally, I hope to shed light on just how incredible and transformative the support system in Palo Alto can be for those going through dark times.

I hope my story will inspire and motivate you to never feel like the supportive outlet Owens is referring to doesn't exist. Because it does. If it didn't, I would not be alive today.

On the morning of Monday, Jan. 5, I came within just minutes of attempting to kill myself. For the previous couple months, I had managed to convince myself that life was no longer worth experiencing. Life wasn't shaping out well in a lot of ways. And the issues weren't just centered around school, as many may assume.

This is a critical part of the story. A lot of people seem to point fingers at the school district and the high school system whenever a student suicide occurs. As simple as that sounds, in reality, there are an infinite number of possible factors as well.

I felt like I was taking hits left and right, from a number of different bullets that life as a whole was throwing at me. Family life at home had grown complicated beyond my control; the combination of a fluctuating GPA, rigor of academics and the cloud of SATs affected my sleep and attitude; my activity in athletics had fallen off the rails from the start of the year; and my social life progressively deteriorated, as I saw hardships with entire friend groups and individuals emerge out of nowhere.

There were no groups or cliques that I was a meaningful part of. I felt as if I was without a home. Alone.

When I was suicidal, I couldn't help but think about everything that was hurting me at that moment. I didn't see the outlet that is inherent in the community that my friends, family and other support systems have built around me.

Certain people who had stuck by me knew that I was dealing with a number of different problems at the time of the incident. It just so happened that a couple close friends texted me a few messages as everything was unfolding. The time was 10:50 a.m., and I was on my way home from an appointment.

What happened next is the jewel of why I am still here today and why I cannot emphasize enough how valued and amazing our community is. As one friend talked with me in a meaningful, deep conversation and begged me to realize just how unfortunate it would be for my life to be taken, another took brave action that I quite simply cannot thank her enough for. The school was notified immediately about what was going on and contacted the police, who sprung into action the second they got the call.

One of my friends kept talking to me, exemplifying the true power that we are all in this together. The heights she went to in order to show to me just how great a person I was and could become are still embedded in the back of my mind today. Eventually, police officers and school guidance counselors were by my side.

I was in for the most humbling six hours of my life, but at the end of the day, it was all worth it as it turned my life around. I was taken by local police to the Emergency Psychiatric Services (EPS) in San Jose. I don't want to go too much in depth about the experience I went through there, but believe me when I say that EPS is not a place where you want to stay for an extended period of time. The freedom is restricted, a lot of waiting occurs and nobody is what I'd call "happy."

But while I was there, I came to the realization of just how lucky I was to have been saved. There is so much more to life than grades, junior year and the unnecessary stress that I had piled up. Seeing the faces of the kids and adults at EPS put my problems into perspective. And although this didn't eliminate the issues I dealt with, it shed some light on the things that I'm thankful for having and the problems I'm thankful for not having.

One of the stories I heard that day was from a 14-year-old girl who had just been beaten up by her stepfather. According to her, a realistic place for her to sleep that night would have been a shopping cart out on the streets in January.

We all have problems. We all struggle at some point with juggling our responsibilities. But there are times when we have to take the opportunity to relax and appreciate life. Health and attitude take priority over school, as crazy as that may sound.

I was released from EPS later that evening after undergoing doctor examinations and questioning. I immediately got in contact with the friends whom I trusted first and foremost the two who saved my life that morning. No struggle should ever go unnoticed, they told me. If you need help, people are here to help. To this day, I can't thank enough those who guided me through that day. Without them, I would not be here. It is that simple.

The first step after the incident was really looking at the things in life that I'm blessed with. I've found over time that life is really beautiful when you can focus on the memories you cherish and the excitement of the future that is to come. The second step was Adolescent Counseling Services (ACS) and weekly meetings with psychologists, therapists and adults who were more than willing to listen and help.

I can't say enough about how awesome all of these programs have been. The amount of support and love I have received from those who have heard my experience has been beyond amazing and heart-warming. As a student at Palo Alto High School, I hope to extend the message that "We're all in this together" to not just my school and my circle, but to Gunn and beyond as well.

I still have a long way to go. A lot of bumps in the road are yet to be encountered. And I still have responsibilities like everyone else. But I also have the reassurance that I have numerous options and people who have my back. Always. I have my outlet, and that is everyone around me.

Ballet dancer Karen Kain once said, "Surround yourself with people who provide you with support and love, and remember to give back as much as you can in return." That is exactly what we all need to recognize and all need to do for each other.

Paly. Gunn. Everyone. We truly are all in this together.

Related content:

Guest Opinion: Understanding youth mental health and building a strong community

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22 people like this
Posted by Tom
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 20, 2015 at 10:36 am

I am in awe of the extraordinary courage, not to mention the eloquence, of this young person. I am grateful for his/her willingness -- no, more than that, deep desire -- to communicate this painful experience. That is of course the heart of the matter, the ability to communicate what we're thinking and feeling, and the courage to do so. I hope this young person comes to understand what incredibly valuable things these are that he or she already has in great measure. SAT scores may get you into college, but these are the things that will get you through life, enriching it for you and for everyone around you. I am grateful beyond words for the intervention of two friends...that's all it took, two friends who were willing, not just to care, but to act. Personally, having had two sons who went through Palo Alto schools -- and had their own issues -- I think it is the kids who make Palo Alto schools really special, and not the other way around.

2 people like this
Posted by Casey Cameron
a resident of another community
on Feb 20, 2015 at 11:14 am

I was very moved by this piece, and I donated to Adolescent Counseling Services. (Web Link) I can't imagine a world without the availability of such vital help to young people in our area.

11 people like this
Posted by Thank you for sharing your story
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 20, 2015 at 11:18 am

It brought tears to my eyes to know that these acts of kindness saved your life. You tell a story that sets an example for everyone. Reach out for help when you need it. Trust that it is there. Give help where you see that it is needed, so those who reach out will find a caring response. Heroes don't wear capes, they are regular people who reach out in love and give help quietly where it is needed. They are friends, teachers, parents...They are everywhere.

I don't know you, but I am so grateful you are alive to share this story, and I wish you love, strength and courage facing inevitable future challenges--because life always brings challenges. You drew important wisdom from this experience. Thank you for sharing it.

3 people like this
Posted by Thank You
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 20, 2015 at 11:18 am

Thank you for your courage in sharing your powerful story. The humanity in this, both in terms of one student's disclosure about their suffering and their friends' willingness to help, brought me to tears. Paly and Gunn Principals should distribute this to all students. Any student, or adult, would certainly benefit from reading and talking about this story. Just reading this letter may save someone's life.

5 people like this
Posted by Parent of Two Studentss
a resident of Ohlone School
on Feb 20, 2015 at 11:21 am

What a great piece this is. Thank you PA Weekly for publishing it along with all of the other great pieces relevant to the issues facing our students today.

I am really looking forward to the "Listening to Youth Voices" forum that you have advertised in this week's paper. This is the first time that I have seen an event that is totally designed for the students to give voice to what they are thinking. During the first cluster at Gunn there was a forum that had a small group of students on stage that were given scant time to say anything. We have had too many presentations that feature "experts" in adolescent mental health that were not able to articulate what our teens are thinking. This is a clear opportunity for our students to turn the conclusion from Project Safety Net, "few high schoolers feel like they have a voice in the community or that the community cares about them," around. Please come and actively listen to what our students have to say. This is vital. Who knows better what it is like to be a student in this district than the students themselves?

Thank God for the support network that this writer had surrounding her so that he/she was able to get an intervention before a "permanent solution for a temporary problem" was found.

We are now truly on the road for finding out what we need to do to change the culture that has had a direct effect on the lives of our precious students.

1 person likes this
Posted by Eric S.
a resident of Southgate
on Feb 20, 2015 at 11:29 am


1 person likes this
Posted by PA Youth Forum 2015
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2015 at 11:39 am

The Youth Forum mentioned above is NEXT SUNDAY MARCH 1 from 5:00pm to 7:00pm.

Doors OPEN at 4:30 PM so please come and have refreshments.

Program starts promptly at 5:00.

You can view/download/print the flyer here:

Web Link

Let's make this event a success by coming to hear what our teens have to say.

3 people like this
Posted by Thanks
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 20, 2015 at 6:37 pm

Are you one of Woj's students? Very well written. I'm glad you lived! Thank you for sharing your story. Narratives about adolescent mental health are lacking without the voices of adolescents. Godspeed to you.

1 person likes this
Posted by Thank you for your courage
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Feb 20, 2015 at 7:00 pm

Thank you so much for sharing. I hope everyone who reads this realizes that moment of anguish is temporary and lots of things can play into it that will pass. Teenage hormones intensify those feelings. You have done a really wonderful thing to share.

We have not had such a good experience at the middle school level. It has made for most of our family stress and feeling we cannot trust anyone at the school. I hope it will be different in high school but the same people at the district office make me wonder how it could be. Thank you for giving some hope.

1 person likes this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 20, 2015 at 10:08 pm

You are a star! Thank you for sharing your experience - I believe it will serve hundreds, yrs hundreds of kids who are processing difficult hurdles . This will also continue to empower friends to act and be present the way your friend"s were for you.
So proud of you for sharing your experience with others. This will bless others. Peace to you:)

4 people like this
Posted by Parent who was there as a teen
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 20, 2015 at 10:58 pm

Thank you for writing this.

I was in the same place when I was a teen. My problems were a culmination of similar issues, family, school, social. Like you, I had some good friends and good support from a couple of their families, but I was also struggling with lack of self esteem. I honestly felt my life had no future. Life beyond high school felt like a joke as I thought I was worthless.

Each problem is one of the straws on the camel's back. Getting through each day was a triumph sometimes no more straws and sometimes another straw, but it was just a case of no more straws to add to the load today - it hadn't grown bigger but it hadn't grown smaller either. I felt that one day the camel's back would break as each straw piled on.

The pain I felt then still returns in dreams, or even when something difficult in my life occurs. I don't think you get out of the habit of thinking this way, but you do get to go beyond the feeling of waiting for the camel's back to break.

I can remember, and I got through it, somehow. I didn't get the help that is available now to teens. I did have help though. Hang in there. Thanks for sharing, your words will help someone who needs it.

5 people like this
Posted by Paly family
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 21, 2015 at 1:36 pm

Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights, you are an inspiration. It's not hard to feel trapped by all the stresses of high school life, and I'm so proud of you for your courage, of your friends for their love, maturity and support, and of our school for helping make sure you are safe and well. The more we can all talk about things and support each other, the better -- your experience sends out ripples of hope to all like a pebble thrown in a pond.

I had a similar experience when I was a junior at Paly, with the same cocktail of stress, and though I didn't get to the point of wanting to act on my feelings of despair, I still needed an intervention by the school and mental health support. Only in retrospect with more perspective about life, have I been able to see how falsely trapped I was, and I hope your story helps other kids to see that they don't have to feel trapped, life is all around us waiting to be lived on our own terms.

Like this comment
Posted by pono
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2015 at 2:49 pm

So many good things about this story. Thank you!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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