As a child growing up with domestic violence, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse, it’s not surprising that I struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts. However, until recently, I only remembered being suicidal when I was 15, and several more times during my late teens and early twenties.
A few weeks ago, while going through a box of keepsakes, I found a diary I kept when I was 13. To my surprise, there are several entries in it that express depression and suicidal ideation. While I often wrote down my thoughts as a way of thinking through things and getting them off my chest, I usually destroyed such entries because I didn’t want my mom to find them. I knew they would upset her, and I also didn’t want her to try to stop me. So, this was a rare find.
I’ll share the entries here, and give a few thoughts on them below:
June 12, 1998
We have recently heard … that they have decided not to hire dad. We are very depressed. I feel like God has rejected me. I don’t understand why dad couldn’t get a job. I don’t understand why God does not remember us and help us when we are incapable of helping ourselves. How could God forget us? I am so afraid. Dad said we may have to get out of the house, but we have no place to go … There is nothing we can do. Nowhere we can go. Only God can help us. And despite all our prayer, God seems to have turned his back on us. However, I will keep praying, and no matter what, I will not forget the Lord even though it may seem that he has forgotten me and my family. I know daddy is very upset and so is mom. Dad had been talking on the phone with … his old boss, who had been pushing to get dad a job … He broke the news to dad that the lady who was hiring didn’t want to hire dad. When he was done talking on the phone, mom went in [to his study] and said, “What happened? It blew up didn’t it?” Dad didn’t answer. “I’m so sorry,” said mom. “We’re going to get a lot sorrier,” said dad. Mom came out crying.
June 13, 1998
Today I woke up a lot better. But then mom started talking about getting a lesser paying job and moving into an apartment. I hate living in apartments. It’s so cramped. There’s no room for Whitney [the family dog] to run and there is no back yard and no privacy except in doors. I could not believe mom ever thought seriously about it. Life now is starting to get too hard for me. Sometimes I wish I could die and end it all. But faith in God will keep me from it. Even though I still have faith in God, I do not know that I can keep having faith much longer.
If memory serves, the woman who didn’t want to hire my dad was someone he’d previously offended. There had been some kind of awkward scenario where my dad complained about having a female manager. The tension mounted until he was transferred to work under a male manager. He eventually lost that job, and was interviewing for other positions within the company. I may be mistaken though. He had quite a few interviews.
As a child, I viewed my dad as the victim in all of this. I believed, as I was taught, that it wasn’t appropriate for a woman to have authority over a man. The idea was based on a misogynistic interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12. In the verse, Timothy had apparently been having difficulties with certain uneducated women assuming teaching roles and interrupting the worship services of a congregation in Ephesus. Paul instructs that the women shouldn’t teach, but rather should focus on listening and learning. To apply his advice to a secular workplace in modern California, and to an educated woman who has earned authority in her field, is a stretch to say the least.
But at 13, I didn’t know that. I do remember wishing he’d kept his frustration to himself though. I remember thinking if he’d just kept quiet, he could have gotten a new job, and maybe never lost the last one. As an adult, I now consider that my dad’s sexist attitudes and antisocial behavior were likely largely to blame for his frequent bouts of unemployment. Anytime we got wind of an upcoming downsize, we knew dad would be among the first to go. It was stressful and depressing. As a kid, I knew my dad could be unpleasant, but it hurt my feelings when people didn’t like him.
I also remember thinking that mom’s suggestion of her getting a job was insulting to dad and unfair to me. He wanted to be the only bread-winner in our family. The idea of mom working and supporting us seemed to make him angry and depressed, and when he got angry and depressed he picked on me or hurt me. So, I was dismayed she’d suggest looking for work. Plus, if she was gone for work, I’d be stuck home alone with dad. Even though I hadn’t yet admitted to myself that he was abusive, I hated the idea of being trapped with him. I needed her home with us.
For some reason, dad was also staunchly against apartments, maybe because he didn’t want neighbors to overhear him yelling. I remember him claiming that if we moved into an apartment we’d have to get rid of our dog, Whitney. This worried me terribly. I’d never lived in an apartment, so I had no basis for questioning what he said. I adopted his opinions as my own. I remember thinking homelessness was a better option than an apartment, because then we could keep our dog.
Looking back, I wonder whether this wasn’t a form of psychological abuse. The financial struggle and unemployment were real hardships, but refusing to find affordable housing, refusing to let mom get a job, refusing to work under the authority of a woman, and warning his kids that we might lose our family dog and become homeless, was intensely stress inducing. I avoided thinking too hard about my dad’s strange priorities and actively worked not to question what he said. To do so was confusing, alarming, and depressing. I wanted to believe he knew best and that all his decisions were in our best interest.
Based on my journal entries, I’m guessing that, had you met 13-year-old me, a few red flags that I was being psychologically abused or was suicidal would be:
- Depression / sadness
- Mood swings (happy one day, sad the next)
- Eager to get out of the house or be with friends
- Parroting my parent’s illogical and/or sexist ideas
- Anxiety over my dad’s moods / wellbeing
- Expressing the feeling of being trapped
- Being drawn to depressing music and bible verses
Of course, some of the above, such as mood swings, are normal for a 13-year-old girl. However, I suspect that if someone had started asking the right questions, looking for patterns, and connecting the dots, they might have realized something was wrong. It is my hope that by reading these journal entries, and my analysis of them, you can be better equipped and aware for the sake of the children around you.
Photo: Jennifer (second from the left in the GAP sweatshirt) with friends at the beach when she was about 14.