Don’t Press K

Years ago several of my students were struggling with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. They found solace making a joke about suicide based on a video game they all played. “Just press k,” they’d say to each other in moments of frustration to reference the command that would make their video game character shoot themselves in the head.

I was livid when one of the students first explained the joke to me; suicide ideation isn’t funny. I generally consider myself to have a good sense of humor, but when it comes to jokes about killing yourself, it’s too personal to me. I’ve had too many students who’ve tried, and I’ve come too close to following through myself that I won’t ever take lightly those emotions, that allure to “press k” and skip out on the rest of the story.

When I was at my lowest in high school, my emotionally abusive best friend sent me an email that said that I was a terrible person and the world would be better off without me. That lie has haunted me for the last fourteen years. As a teenager, I almost ran my car off the road while driving to church just hours after reading the email. I managed to park my car and make it in to lead worship for the children’s service instead. I started counseling that week, but based on my counselor’s recommendation, my mom drove me for the first several sessions until I was deemed safe behind the wheel for that commute. When driving other places in those early months of counseling, I planned routes that kept me off roads with a speed over 35 miles an hour to reduce the allure of crashing into something that would definitively end my life.

After six slow months of counseling, I reached a point where I didn’t constantly want to “press k,” and I realized it was because I’d managed to press “pause” on my life and consider the value I did have in the world. My mom has battled serious depression through her life, and she empathizes with the journey I’ve had in and out of depressive phases with varying levels of suicide ideation. In solidarity, we’ve marked ourselves with the “pause” of literature – a semicolon – to celebrate the choice to keep going through life instead of making that full stop, the “press k” my kids joked about.

A couple of weeks ago, my mom reminded me of that mark we share. She knew I was struggling with insecurities of my worth and while suicide isn’t an option for me, the intrusive thoughts that I don’t contribute to this world well and that I’d be better off secluded away in a monastery where I’m not bothering people and can just read and pray all day are not uncommon. There’s a natural allure to my personality to want to hide in a cave and read all day because I have mild social anxiety and get overwhelmed by people easily, but there’s a fine line between that and the “press k” urge to cut ties with people and run away to where I can’t hurt people and they can’t hurt me. Very few people can tell the difference, but I was struck by the student who hurt me most deeply in recent weeks respond to my frustrated comment that I was going to quit my job and move to a monastery with a calm, “It won’t work. I’ll find you and make you teach me still.”

A lot came together for me in that comment. This student says they want to learn from me and actively seeks me out for input and a Jesus-oriented perspective on big issues; this student lies to me and often ignores my advice. This student is human. Sometimes I give good advice; sometimes I swear at alumni. I am human.

These past weeks when I’ve been stuck at home by myself, I’m thriving in so many ways because I love being alone, but I also don’t have much opportunity to see if I’m doing any good in the world. The lie comes back in that lull: Would the world be better off without me? It’s easy to think so because that lie has only been turned down as I turn up Ryan Clark’s voice to drown it out like I started doing fourteen years ago. The lie hasn’t been erased, but I choose to live in the truth Ryan Clark’s beautiful voice sings: “Mother don’t you cry / Hell don’t need me.” It’s a combination approach as I don’t constantly have Demon Hunter playing, but most days Givorgy calls and talks me down from my urge to never talk to students again by reassuring me that the dumb choices of my alumni are not my responsibility. Then when I tell Shannon I want to cut my internet and never deal with people again, she reminds me that I am, in fact, a good influence on a lot of kids and that their poor choices are not a reflection of me. I won’t press k this week and cut my internet, but I will press pause and won’t turn my computer on until after I’ve spent time in the Bible and intentionally prayed each day. I’m also not spending a lot of time on social media because it’s not a healthy space for my emotional wellbeing these days.

However, in this past week I had two positive moments through social media that celebrated life in the face of honest struggles. One was this article posted by someone I went to high school with who expressed how it articulated her own high school experience. A lot of the points resonate with my ongoing battle for nearly half my life. Through all my battles with suicide ideation and depression, I’ve never once doubted my faith in Jesus, and I’ve never once stopped serving in some sort of ministry. I’ve been a children’s ministry worker, a youth leader, or a spiritual mentor through every major depressive episode except my first one when I was ten. I resonated with nearly every point of the article, but the one about people serving God wholeheartedly struck me the most. I can’t stress enough how aware I am of my own limitations, yet God still chooses to use me to encourage students in ways I’d never dreamed of. And then those kids still go make mistakes because they are not instantly perfect after interacting with me. Fancy that. We’re a bunch of broken people making our way closer to Jesus every day.

The other uplifting social media interaction was a student passing on a photo to me of the tattoo her sister designed for her that she got this past week on her 18th birthday.

You notice what’s at the end there? She took a pause. She didn’t press k.

The day she got this tattoo, she was originally supposed to be in chapel listening to me give a talk I’d titled “Don’t Press K,” but then coronavirus happened and she flew back to her parents in Texas.

I threw my notes away and made cupcakes to celebrate her birthday that day. I chatted with a couple of her classmates stuck in Kandern about how I hoped to encourage young people to follow Jesus because I think it’s the best way to live. Suffering and hurt are unavoidable, and in my chapel talk, I connected that part of the human existence to how Jesus, as a human, experienced a whole lot of hurt, but unlike most humans, instead of inflicting more hurt on other people in response, he absorbed and transformed the hurt and gave out healing. When he’s in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest, he asks his friends to pray and they fall asleep instead – which had to hurt as they fell short in his moment of struggle. It’s only the start of hurt though as Judas betrays him, the group runs away, Peter denies him, he gets literally beaten and hung on a cross. Each time, he takes it and refuses to dish out hurt in response. He receives the hurt and transforms it to life. He literally conquers death after refusing to respond to hurt with hurt, and the juxtaposition is beautiful and intentional as I learn to live more like Jesus.

I’m learning to live more like Jesus when I receive hurt and ask Jesus to transform it into healing instead of reacting by hurting others. I confessed here a couple weeks ago that I’m still not great at that. I’ve acted out of hurt more than I’d like to admit in the past few weeks, but I’ve also made some intentional pauses to consider the implications of my actions – for example, I have come to realize that the “press k” default I have to cut my losses when someone hurts me and avoid all other human contact is actually hurtful to the people who love me and receive love from me. The press pause where I evaluate what God has called me to do and how I can offer grace and healing to others and extend life to those who are hurting is a much better option.

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