Jokes are funny, Suicide is not.

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Every 40 seconds, somebody takes their own life.
Two years ago, my friend Arpan was one of them.
Arpan Ghosh was a Plano East student and a childhood friend of mine. Well to be more specific, a friend of my brother. But after all our shared piano lessons and the scar on my right foot, after he chased me off my scooter, I consider him to have been my friend as well.
Arpan was no ordinary boy, he was intelligent beyond expectation. His undeniable brilliance and outstanding pianist skill were truly incomparable. Anyone who had the privilege of even somewhat knowing Arpan, knew there was something oh so special about him. I have no doubt that he would have achieved great things.
Unfortunately, on one cold January day, Arpan took his own life and for reasons you and I could never truly understand.
Arpan’s story is not singular. Over the course of this past year, nearly one million people have taken their own lives and share stories that are all too similar to Arpan’s.
One million.
And we let it happen.
Just last year McMillen freshman Sophia Etheridge, took her own life. While I personally didn’t know her, her death was a wake-up call to many. After hearing the news of Sophia’s passing, we all immediately looked at her social media and were in utter shock when we saw Sophia’s very last Instagram post captioned with a haunting phrase. Three simple letters that held such immense power. KMS. An acronym for the phrase “kill myself.” Actually, think about that, this precious and beautiful girl who was in so much pain literally told the world exactly what she was going to do and we ignored her. Sophia told us, practically to our faces, that she was about to end her life and
we
just
kept
scrolling.
Disgusting.
When we make jokes about suicide and say things like “kms” jokingly, we dilute the gravity and magnitude these statements carry. We make ourselves oblivious to how unforgiving the stupid things we say, truly can be. Yes, I understand bombing a test, a Cowboys loss, and cracking your brand new iPhone screen are all arguably “devastating” events. However, tweeting something like “bye guys you’ll never see me again”, “i hate my life”, “death save me”, or “lol I’m gonna kill myself” over such petty and trivial matters, is not funny at all.
When we joke about such things we undermine the real meaning these statements carry. We indirectly tell our friends with suicidal thoughts and incomprehensible mental issues, that their illness, their sorrow, their pain— is a joke to us.
Now don’t get me wrong, anyone who knows me knows that practically all of my humor comes from things that are totally and utterly offensive. Even I can’t help but crack a smile at a GIF of Kermit the Frog jumping out of a building. But if you stop and think about it, jokes of this category are actually pretty sickening. Seriously, we’re joking and laughing about ending our own lives— how is that, in any way, funny? This type of comedy is so deeply embedded in our modern culture that we don’t even pause for a second to notice that what we’re saying is SO wrong. I promise you, if you take the time to stop and notice one day, you will undoubtedly come across some type of comedic suicidal reference. Whether it be someone mimicking a handgun being shot to their head, a picture of someone pretending to drink bleach, someone saying “kill me” or “i just want to die” because they had a physics test, or tweeting a meme of some kind, I promise you will see it.
But, HELLO PEOPLE suicide is the SECOND leading cause of teen death in our country today. THE SECOND LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH! This practically means that the second leading killer of teens in the United States is not cancer, or heart disease, or car accidents, or murder— but themselves. Not birth defects, or AIDS, or strokes, or malaria— but themselves. Not pneumonia, or influenza, or leukemia, or chronic lung disease— but themselves.
More teens kill themselves each year than cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.
The second leading killer of teens is themselves.
Think about that.
How can that possibly not mean something to you?
Suicide and mental illness are not things that rarely happen to a few people that we “barely even know.” Mental illness is literally all around us. Nearly 20% of all American teens are mentally ill, and nearly 90% of Americans who commit suicide have mental illnesses. These past few years have had too many stories of too many kids who died too soon. Chances are you probably know someone who has taken their own life not too long ago. Nearly 4 out of every 5 teens that kill themselves, have shown clear and evident warning signs, so how come we’ve allowed suicide to become one of the leading causes of teen death? The answer is simple. We just don’t know and we just don’t care.
In my hometown, nearly five students have committed suicide and instead of facilitating honest discussion, awareness programs and taking preventive action, we too often find ourselves ignoring suicide and doing absolutely nothing because suicide is “just too depressing to talk about.” It’s exponentially easier to just sweep suicide under the rug, cross our fingers and hope another kid isn’t found dead in their room, than to stand up to things that make us uncomfortable.
The most important thing in solving any problem, is by acknowledging the fact that there even is one. We keep trying to deny what we cannot deny. If we really, truly want to address suicide, we have to do more than just posting a suicide hotline around school, retweeting something like “lol don’t kill yourself”, or talking about suicide only when it happens to someone we know. We need to move beyond simple awareness campaigns and reshape how our society addresses mental health issues. We have to care about suicide every day and suicide prevention all the time. We need to convince our politicians, presidents, and principals to support the implementation of proven suicide prevention programs, instead of just turning a blind eye towards it.
It’s easy to keep scrolling. It’s easy to just laugh at things that make us uncomfortable, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to things that have nothing to do with us.
It’s easy to not care.
But we have to.
Because turning our backs on suicide prevention is just as deadly as turning our backs on the people we so deeply love. When we ignore how detrimental suicide is, we turn our back on our best friend with a gun to their head, our older brother with a bottle of pills in his hand, our classmate tying a noose, or our childhood friend standing on the ledge of a highway. When we not only blindly ignore, but blatantly choose to ignore suicide, we practically hand a loaded gun to our best friend, open the pill bottle for our brother, help tighten the noose for the boy in our chemistry class, offer up a hand to our friend getting onto that highway ledge.
By being ignorant, we choose to let the people we love kill themselves.
Life is hard. But, life is also the most beautiful and precious thing our Creator has ever given us. As human beings, it is not only our moral duty, but our job to stand up and speak up for one another. If we even remotely sense something is wrong, even with someone we might barely even know, there is no question whether or not we should get them help. The answer is always yes.
Every day since that cold January day, I think about Arpan. His loss not only affected me, but everyone who knew him. Every time I drive past his house, or play the piano, or see the gigantic scar on my foot, I remember Arpan. Every time I see his mother, or his father, or the little brother he left behind, I miss Arpan. And every single time I see or hear a joke about suicide, I think about Arpan or Sophia or Kate or Ritu or Joseph and all the friends we lost these past few years to suicide, and my heart hurts just a little bit more.
Arpan’s death is not funny to me and suicide should not be funny to you either.
Teachers should not have to look at an empty seat, best friends should not have eat lunch alone, and parents should never have to bury their babies.
We absolutely cannot let the people we love blow their brains out, hang themselves, overdose, or jump off of highways, because of our ignorance. My friend Arpan could’ve easily been your older brother or your best friend. The time to take a stand against suicide is now. Because losing one million people to suicide each year should not be a statistic that we turn our backs to. Suicide is serious and it’s time we treat is rightfully so.
There are tears in my eyes while writing this, and if I could bold every single word in this article, I would. That’s how important this is to me.
As Martin Luther King Jr. so once eloquently said, “The words of our enemies, is not nearly as deadly as the silence of our friends.”
Please read, please share, and more than anything— please speak up.
Don’t stay silent and risk losing someone you love forever.
PHOTO TAKEN FROM AFSP.ORG

I’m Indian, I’m dark, and I don’t care.

I love being an Indian, truly I do. With the country’s powerful history, one of a kind culture, and to-die-for food, how could one simply not?

But behind India’s beautiful face, there is a growing disease that our society continually fails to recognize- colorism.

Colorism is a term coined by author Alice Walker, and is defined as a discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone among people of the same racial and/or ethnic group. Also know as, internalized racism.

Growing up, I’ve always had dark skin. I, personally, didn’t see anything wrong with it and heck to be honest if you ask anyone I knew back then it was no secret (with my plaid cargo shorts, above ear length hair, and buckteeth) that I gave absolutely ZERO flips about how I looked. And to be quite honest, why should I have? I had great friends, saw the glass half full, and went to bed at 9:30 every night, there was nothing in life that could stop me!

LOL and then middle school happened.

As I got older I really began to start noticing the things people said about my dark complexion. I remember times when the lights would be turned off in a room and people would say “where’s Aswathi?” or  “Aswathi, smile so we can see you!” Or the times relatives that I hadn’t seen in years would greet me with “Oh my goodness, you’ve gotten so dark!” and then suggesting skin bleaching products or face masks for me to use.  Yeah you read that right, skin bleaching- it’s actually a thing.

I distinctly remember one specific summer night when, after a church basketball practice, some of us girls had gone out to eat. While enjoying our snow cones, a few girls began looking at their arms and began to complain about how their skin had gotten darker over the summer.  I can clearly recall one girl saying to another, “Just be thankful you don’t look like Aswathi” followed by another girl saying “Yeah no offense but I’m so happy I don’t look like you.” Everyone laughed, but my blood boiled and my eyes burned, never have I had to bite my tongue so hard. I couldn’t believe that someone had actually told me they were HAPPY because they didn’t look like me. Those eight words have, to this day, hurt me  in unexplainable ways.

That night when I got home, I ran upstairs, closed my door, sat on the ground, and cried. I cried like I had never cried before. Hours and hours had passed and there were still tears running down my face. I didn’t want to live. The words and comments those girls had said to me, made me hurt in ways I never knew I could hurt before. The things those girls said to me changed the way I saw myself forever.

None of it was truly mean-spirited, the girls at my church are very kind people. But as Indians, ever since we were young we are embedded with this false idea and mentality that “to be fair is to be pretty and to be dark is not.” Indian media, only further adds onto this fallacy by whitewashing (literally) celebrities and actors, along with advertisements that promote the usage of skin lightening creams and products.

But as a young girl these comments had really brought me down. All those stupid things people had said hurt me and the adverse effects they had on me while I grew up made me see the world, and myself, in a twisted way that I would never wish for someone else.

I spent far too many summers inside and out of the sunlight. There were summers where I didn’t go swimming at all. I constantly tried out many face masks and skin bleaching products. I thought something was wrong with me. I edited pictures of myself to make me look lighter, just so I could be pretty. I hated taking pictures at night and avoided wearing bright colors at all costs. There was time when it got so bad, that I hated even looking in the mirror or would start crying while getting ready for school. I would even try to physically scratch the dark from my face. Yeah, it was pretty bad.

But then sophomore year came and I joined Debate and wrote a speech (with the help of an awesome coach) about colorism and what I went through, and it made me realize a lot of things. It made me realize that I didn’t need to bleach my skin or hide from the sun anymore. It made me realize that I could wear my favorite color, yellow, and still feel awesome. It made me realize, that after years of hating myself, I truly was beautiful just the way God had made me.

That silly speech I had wrote made me change my outlook on so much. I joined groups with people who went through similar experiences as me, and shared insightful conversation with people all over the world. One guy even offered me a photoshoot! Through debate tournaments, I met other Indian girls who would hug me after rounds, because they knew exactly what I had gone through. (A little side note; but you can bet, me and that silly speech ended up qualifying for State and even Nationals)

My experiences have helped me grow as a person and taught me that the only thing I had to change about myself was nothing.

To anyone who has been shamed for having a dark complexion, what I have to say to you is this- there is nothing wrong with you. Don’t let others words make you ever think that there is. You don’t have to be fair to be pretty. You are absolutely beautiful just the way you are. 

Not everyone can relate to my issues and concerns. Not everyone knows what it feels like to be hated on for having a complexion that’s dark. But we can all relate to being made fun of for who we are.  As one beautiful African American proverb so eloquently says, “Beauty is as beauty does, a single monolithic standard of beauty is unattainable- it makes no sense. Nature, with its phenomenal diversity, provides a model of the range and variety that beauty may assume. Thus, a lily is no more beautiful than a rose; an oak tree no more beautiful than a palm tree; and an opal no more beautiful than a pearl. Each is beautiful in its own way and plays a special role in our world.”

We as a society have to stop putting people down for the things that make them unique. Whether it be the way their voice sounds, or the type of clothes they wear, or you guessed it, even how dark their skin is. We should learn to love people for all the things that make them who they are, rather than make them feel like they’re any less because of it.

My name is Aswathi Thomas and I can finally say that after 16 years, I love me for me; dark skin and all. My name is Aswathi Thomas I’m Indian, I’m dark and I absolutely do not care.

 

 

49.

They are more than just another number. Another statistic. More than another victim.The 49 individuals of the deadliest mass shooting in our nation’s history were more than just victims–

They were people.

Lately, gun violence and mass shootings have been the norm and it’s common sense that they shouldn’t be. However, in a nation where purchasing a Glock is arguably easier than buying a Sharpie, I’m not surprised. I feel as if the meaning of the phrase “mass deadly shooting” has become diluted through its unfortunate overuse. While people everywhere continue to point fingers, debate the Second Amendment, and complain it seems as if nothing is getting done. How many more six-year olds need to die till we realize enough is enough?

The most important thing in solving any problem, is by acknowledging that there even is one. Solutions to gun violence aren’t as unreachable as they seem. On a recent PBS NewsHour Q&A forum, President Barack Obama answers a question from gun shop owner, Doug Rhude, regarding gun control. President Obama answers by explaining how common sense gun laws can indeed be created. In his answer, he brilliantly makes a comparison between gun violence and auto-fatality rates. He discusses how in previous years, automobile accident rates were high but have drastically declined due to the formation of common sense tactics like making it mandatory for car manufacturers to include airbags, or things even as simple as creating laws that required individuals to wear seat belts and cracking down on drunk driving and texting. This example shows us how easy it is for us to come up with an answer that benefits everyone. But in order to do so, Democrats need to understand that responsible, law-abiding citizens shouldn’t get their guns taken from them for no reason at all and Republicans need to comprehend that there needs to be more precautionary measures taken when an individual wants to purchase a gun and that no one wants to tyrannically destroy your Second Amendment Rights.

It’s time that the issue of gun violence becomes real. We can’t look at the 49 people of last month’s massacre as “just another victim of just another tragedy.” If some Americans think that another moment of silence or lowering of flags will cut it– they’re disgustingly wrong. Parents shouldn’t have to bury their babies, President Obama shouldn’t have to give another apologetic statement to the American public, House Democrats shouldn’t have to stage sit ins to get bills passed, and #prayforwherever shouldn’t be trending on Twitter every other day- all for something that could, and can, be prevented. When will we understand that fighting will never solve anything? When will we realize that Americans are dying and it’s because we are killing each other. The time to work together is now. And perhaps when it comes to fighting hatred our most powerful weapon is not a gun, but rather our hearts.

As Albert Einstein so eloquently said, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but rather by those who watch it happen and do absolutely nothing about it.”