When writing about Amanda Todd (read that blog first, if you haven’t already, at http://bit.ly/X1wO6Z), I found it was part of a whole sub-genre of teen confessionals: haunting little five-minute shorts that distil a lifetime of pain on to a few handwritten cue-cards. They make for heart-breaking and, sometimes, inspirational viewing.
They bring to mind messages in a bottle, cast onto the virtual sea of the internet, hoping someone will pick up their S.O.S. They do. But sadly not always in time.
Before Amanda Todd there was 19-year-old Olivia Penpraze (above). She was bullied, but her chief affliction was the psychosis she believed developed as a result. She describes the evil hallucinations and voices she experienced as a “LIVING, BREATHING NIGHTMARE”. Think about that for a second: she means the phrase literally, not metaphorically. She warns that she usually tries to commit suicide on May 1st, and that this time she would succeed. She didn’t even last that long.
Her father discovered her messages in a bottle only after her death. They included hundreds of disturbed posts on Tumblr, as well as a final video apologising that she couldn’t hold on any longer, and saying just when she would kill herself. “We are now finding out there are kids on her Facebook who actually know her on the Tumblr account,” her father said. “Why are they not getting in touch? If she said she was going to do something on this date they could have told us.”
There’s worse. As well as those who did nothing, there were those who posted comments egging her on.
Before that, there was Hannah Novak’s My Suicide Story (above). She tells how she had no friends because she was abused: “You don’t want to bring a friend to your house… Who has bruises covering her body L. I felt ugly… worthless… forgotten. So a few weeks ago… I tried to kill myself.”
This, at least, has a happy ending. She gets the medical attention and counselling she needs; learns to talk about her problems; makes new friends; and now uses her story to tell other lonely, suicidal teenagers that they are not alone, that suicide is not the answer.
She now has her own YouTube channel, making videos with titles such as You Won’t Ruin My Life, and Message for the Bullies: “160,000 kids miss school a day… because they are afraid of being bullied.”
Many of the videos in the cue-card genre are called “Secrets” or “If You Really knew Me”. One of the most affecting is Cassie’s (above), because of the range of emotion that flits across her face in five short minutes. She flinches as she holds up each card documenting the taunts: “Go cut your wrists some more… Everybody hates you… GO DIE.”
Then the child in her resurfaces: she holds up another card with a big thumbs-up and a huge grin. “No cuts! J” it says, proudly. She’s delighted that she stopped self-harming. For a while.
This story, too, does not end in suicide. It ends with Cassie finding help and support from a loving boyfriend, and she also now runs a YouTube channel offering support and advice under the user-name XcmfhX. “I’m still broken though,” she admits. “I still cry a lot… I still feel worthless… Honestly, I’ll probably feel like this forever. I’ll just get used to it… Eventually. But I try… and that’s what matters.”
And that’s the thing. Depression feels like a deep pit with unscalable walls where no light penetrates. But there are millions more who’ve been in that pit, and got out, and are ready to reach down a hand.
The Police song Message in a Bottle could have been written for these videos. It ends: “Walked out this morning/ Don’t believe what I saw/ A hundred billion bottles/ Washed up on the shore./ Seems I’m not alone at being alone/ A hundred billion castaways looking for a home.”