19-Year-Old Gay Trevor Project Volunteer Eric James Borges Kills Himself

After nineteen years on this planet, throughout which he endured shocking levels of ostracism, abuse and rejection, this week gay filmmaker Eric James Borges decided shit actually wasn’t getting better and took his own life.

In the It Gets Better video he shot one month ago, Borges describes his lifelong odyssey through various rings of hell-on-earth: he’d been teased since kindergarten, his parents tried to perform an exorcism on him when they learned he was gay, he was bullied throughout high school.

“I was physically, mentally, emotionally and verbally assaulted on a day-to-day basis for my perceived sexual orientation. My name was not Eric, but ‘Faggot’,” he says in his video.

He ended up leaving high school after suffering an assault during which a teacher was present and did nothing. He home-schooled his way into early graduation and went to college. He describes his first year of college as “a nightmare.”

But something changed — he doesn’t say what, actually, just that it was something and it happened after his first nightmarish year of college — and then he changed, now he’s a published writer and a public speaker and he works at The Trevor Project and he’s a Supplemental Instructor of Sexuality at The College of the Sequoias.

Borges seems like a guy who knew the value of his life and the importance of living through it. He’s self-aware. He knows what resources are available to a gay teenager going through hard times — the worst times. Hell, he IS one of those resources. He wants to be a role model, you can tell that just from watching his video.

I know I can’t diagnose this stranger from my latop, but he also says in this video that he suffered from depression and anxiety and I don’t think we should ignore that factor considering the well-established link between depression and suicide. Furthermore, he’d been kicked out of his home and worked part-time jobs, so it’s unlikely he had health insurance or could afford to see a psychiatrist or therapist if he’d wanted to.

It’ll be tempting to tack this suicide on the wall with the others, all those bullied gay boys who killed themselves because of bullying. But this story, like Tyler Clementi‘s, isn’t just about being a gay person in a society that demands its boys display their worth through their financial power and sexual relationships with women. It’s also about being a gay boy with a mental health condition in a society that demands its boys internalize or eradicate their feelings and always appear strong, confident and brave. Sometimes “it gets better” can sound like a blanket that muzzles more than it protects.

The thing about depression is that it’s so big, it swallows everything. And it can make your life feel like it sucks even if it doesn’t suck. So if your life actually does suck then things can seem really fucking bleak, things can seem like too much. It can seem like more than all the resources, encouragement or support in the world could change. Sometimes having more ducks in the row of a good life can feel even worse — so now that I have this/that privilege, why am I still so sad?

Sometimes you spend your entire life being told you’re worthless and adulthood doesn’t make up for that. Sometimes your parents act like monsters and they do inhumane things like disowning you and kicking you out of the house.

Maybe sometimes by the time it gets better, it’s already too late.

Avatar of Riese

Riese is the 32-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1720 articles for us.

57 Comments

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    “But this story, like Tyler Clementi’s, isn’t just about being a gay person in a society that demands its boys display their worth through their financial power and sexual relationships with women. It’s also about being a gay boy with a mental health condition in a society that demands its boys internalize or eradicate their feelings and always appear strong, confident and brave.”

    Despite the tragedy of the news itself, I am glad that someone has touched on the broad nature of this serious problem. Thank you for reminding us that it is not just the rampant bullying of kids/teenagers who are LGBT by other kids/teenagers which is tragic, but that the tragedy is also in the way we as a society (ie. not just the teenage bullies) both purposely and inadvertently contribute to the root cause of the problem.

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    Every time I read a story like this, my heart breaks again. It’s like losing family you never got the chance to meet. It’s horribly, horribly unfair that kind, strong, brave people like Eric die because of the hate and fear that exists in the world. When is it going to end? </3

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    There has always been something that I found lacking in the entire “it gets better” project. I am not saying it doesn’t have merit, because it does. It is amazing that so many people are willing to make these videos and encourage gay youth.
    But…
    when you are all alone with your thoughts, all the internet friends in the world cannot make your life immediately better. You can watch every video on repeat and you will still wish your life were better NOW.
    As someone who has been in the grips of overwhelming depression before, I can say that these videos would have made me angry if I had watched them as a teenager. Not just irritated, but filled with rage. Why should anyone have to wait for things to get better? Why can something not be done NOW?
    Also, there is an inherently glib message in phrase that has been said so many times it is now trite and meaningless. And that is that your current pain doesn’t matter. Or that if circumstances are better, you shouldn’t feel pain. Or that there is something wrong with feeling pain, that perhaps rage and intense sadness over the complete injustice in the world is unwarranted, or worse, something that should be suppressed so perhaps you do NOTHING about it.
    I believe in the spirit of those messages, but they are a bandaid on an open chest wound. And the only real way to help people is to become personally invested in someone’s life. Maybe you can’t help every person, but you can help one person. That is the real way to make a difference.

    Thank you, Riese, for your thoughtfulness on this topic. I know I am not alone in thinking deeply about what these things mean, and that is the kind of hopeful feeling everyone needs.

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      I’m also someone who struggled with severe depression during high school, spent my time in and out of psych wards, and I was ostracized for being the resident “crazy dyke”. Personally, the idea that it would someday get better was my one reason for living. I had no hope of ever being accepted in high school and so all I could do was look to the future, and in the meantime look for support online. I totally understand what you are saying about “it gets better” being a band-aid, but for me, it was a band aid that worked. I got out of high school alive, and while I still struggle with my mental health, my social life and happiness are both a million times better.

      Basically what I’m saying is I think you’re making some really good points here, but it was different for me. I think if the It Gets Better campaign had existed when I was in high school, I would have felt a lot less alone.

      That said, I agree completely that more needs to be done. I think as a grassroots queer-to-queer effort – when the videos are posted by actual queer people who had actual horrible experiences in high school – It Gets Better is a great thing. But when countless straight celebrities start posting their sympathies, it gets on my nerves. I don’t like that “it gets better” is now casually tossed around by people who have no desire to get further involved in the struggle. And while it’s gotten so much easier to talk about my experience being marginalized as a queer youth, I don’t like how queer youth are now being defined first and foremost as bullying targets and suicide risks.

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    I am suspicious of the whole it gets better campaign. I feel more research needs to be done into it. I think perhaps it should be called let’s make it get better.

    It gets better feels like a way of telling teenagers to sit around and wait for the abuse to stop. It’s not acceptable for people to have to wait for this to get better.

    Thanks for writing this, its given me an idea for a blog post!

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    and my friends don’t believe me when I tell them that my people are dying. In this day and age, every LGBTQI person is my brother or sister or sibling or aunt or uncle or really anything. We can’t afford to not stick together.

    Frankly, something more drastic than It Gets Better needs to be done–not that the project doesn’t have its merits.

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    thanks for the article, riese.

    in situations like these where nothing can fix, your words/writing are often one of the only things that come close.

    thanks for caring and for being so thoughtful/making words that make my thoughts make sense.

    tragic.

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    The thing is, even if it was getting better, when you’re depressed, you are depressed regardless of what is happening in your life. I have little doubt the torment he suffered was the trigger of his depression, but just because you get away from the trigger doesn’t mean the depression just stops. It can take some time to feel yourself again. Lots of therapy, perhaps medication, time, patience and pushing yourself, even if only a tiny bit, instead of giving up completely. I can’t speculate, since this is the first I’ve heard of it. Maybe it’s possible he thought it should magically get better once he surrounded himself with people who didn’t care that he was gay and then when it didn’t, he felt despair. Maybe he just couldn’t take it anymore.

    Sadly, I still think a lot of people miss the point of the idea that “it gets better.” Like that kid who killed himself who had made an “it gets better” video. I agree with the project, but I don’t think some people are understanding it. It gets better after school, after people stop caring about stupid things that make you different. It gets better when you become a real adult, when you control your own life and can do what the fuck you please. If you’re a kid in high school with zero responsibility for where you live, where you go to school, who you interact with everyday etc. etc., you have not yet reached the point where we can say, “It gets better.” Kids need to understand this and it’s frustrating and sad for me that they don’t. As someone who hated growing up gay, was severely depressed and miserable, I can say it gets better only because I’m 100% past all those feelings. I’m an adult. I live where I want, work where I want, see who I want and care far less what people think than all high schoolers do.

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          Not at all. But I can assure you that as a teenager if you’d told me it gets better I would have told you to fuck right off because I CAN NOT WAIT. That’s why kids are still committing suicide because it’s horrible RIGHT NOW. What does it matter to me at age 15 that when I’m 30 things are going to be great? That’s a whole entire life time away. At that age I was a lot more concerned with how to make things better RIGHT NOW. You can’t conceptualize being that old when you’re that young. I remember being 15 and having the feeling that being 18 was a million years away. That being said we do need queer role models who are successful and that is where the Trevor Project shines. Role models.

          So, no, I think we can talk about how it gets better. But I also think we need to talk about how to make it better right now. Because that’s what’s going to stop the pain. As people we need to DO THINGS.

          Why can’t we say, it gets better but in the mean time let’s do this so that other people won’t ever have to go through what you go through. The messages are very different. One is saying wait, just suffer through this and then you can get to where I am and tell other people who will go through what you’re going through that it will eventually be OK. The other message is just suffer through this but while things are horrible let’s make it so that no one ever has to go through what you are.

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          The “It Gets Better” campaign isn’t the only thing we’re doing. It is just one part. There are anti-bullying initiatives in various states. California has also added LGBT history to school curriculum. We have GLSEN, Gay Straight Alliances, PFLAG, Safe Schools Coalitions and various independently run LGBT youth groups.

          I myself went to an LGBT youth group when I was a teen in the mid 1990s. I had to hide it from my Mom who just thought I was going to the library every Tuesday. It still exists and I still donate to it and promote their fundraisers even though I now live on the other side of the country. In fact, I still keep the original business card someone gave me in 1993 as a reminder.

          And I think you’re wrong that you can’t conceptualize being that old when you’re that young. 5 year olds can play house. It is only queer kids that have difficulty conceptualizing being adults due a lack of exposure to LGBT adults. And the reason that is is because their parents do their absolute best to prevent their kids from being exposed to anything queer. The It Gets Better campaign is about breaking through that parent-created barrier using YouTube.

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          I think it’s different for everyone.

          For me, knowing that there was a time when I would be independent and able to live my own life was something that kept me going through the indignities of childhood. I used to think adults who told me that ‘schooldays are the best days of your life’ were completely deluded, or had forgotten what it was like. Now, I guess they had a different experience than I did.

          But I was definitely right that all the problems, worries and responsibilities that adulthood brings are nothing compared with the total powerlessness of childhood. And I really *needed* to have that to look forward to.

          But yes, there should be more. There is more. But we should have even more.

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      i think to be fair we have to remember that dan savage created the “it gets better” campaign BEFORE the rash of suicides that happened in the fall of 2010. it was a strange stroke of timing that his campaign began around the same time that kids began killing themselves. the campaign got really big really fast because of the suicides.

      but I don’t think “it gets better” was intended to be a cure-all, something that would make everyone feel better. honestly it was weird to me when straight celebrities started making the videos because I think their most powerful purpose is media visibility. gay kids don’t have a lot of examples of people like them in the media, let alone just the normal everyday lives of gay adults. it was like suddenly all of our lives became more accessible. i think that gives people hope.

      in this case, as i said in my article, the “it gets better” idea didn’t save a life. it’s not for everybody, and it doesn’t help everybody and it can work against people. there were a lot of other things at work here.

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        Re: straight celebrities: while I appreciate that they care enough to make a video/support the trevor project, I find a lot of their videos/statements patronizing and sometimes even downright insensitive. For instance, I was watching a Trevor Project fundraising event livestream and like three straight celebrities in a row were asked to give advice to struggling queer youth. The fact that these people should even be in a position to give advice is problematic enough, but it was made worse in that a lot of them emphasized the importance of family, which like wow, did that make me angry. Do they not realize that a lot of the time “family” is a major part of the problem, that queer youth are regularly thrown out of their homes? That homophobia/religious-based bigotry is often taught in the home? They were clearly trying to be helpful, but just lacked a fundamental understanding of queer issues. I guess I just feel like a lot of these straight celebrities feel entitled to speak to queer issues without putting the time and energy in to actually educate themselves.

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          One thing that annoys me about the videos from straight celebrities is when they compare their own experiences being bullied. I was bullied for just about everything about me EXCEPT my sexual orientation – largely because I was really really good at hiding it – and while my experiences were horrifying and took a huge toll on me (one part of it being that my harassment for other things was part of the reason I didn’t come out earlier – I was already an outcast in so many other ways, I knew I couldn’t take the abuse I’d get for that), but I still think it’s not comparable. Simply because the stakes are higher when you’re being teased for being gay compared to, say, being teased for being a “nerd” or listening to “weird” music. You aren’t risking familial or religious rejection for being “nerdy.” You aren’t going to be denied any legal rights because of the kind of music you like.

          Bullying is terrible no matter what, but I do think that anti-LGBT bullying is a class apart to which straight people – unless they were teased because people THOUGHT they were gay – can’t truly relate.

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    Shit. This really hit home for me. “Sometimes having more ducks in the row of a good life can feel even worse — so now that I have this/that privilege, why am I still so sad?”

    It’s this weird messed-up story we absorb: If your life is generally shitty, it’s okay to be sad (as long as you’re brave and dignified and don’t make too much noise about it). If you’re doing “well” by some external measure–job, relationship, etc–then you don’t have a reason or a right to be sad.

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    This reminds me of an awesome quote that I think more queer youth and people in general should be aware of:
    “People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all. People talk about how great love is, but that’s bullshit. Love hurts. Feelings are disturbing. People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they’re afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up… you feel your strength in the experience of pain. It’s all in how you carry it. That’s what matters. Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you’re letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain.” -Jim Morrison

    Just a little gem of wisdom I sometimes think about. I agree with the original sentiment of the It Gets Better project, but I think it should be more focused on helping queer youth recognize their pain, be scared of it, FEEL it, stand up to it, ride it out, and finally begin to see a world in which their strength is more apparent than their pain. You can’t make it get better if you’re living in the future.

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    This is why, instead of just telling these kids that it gets better, we need to find ways to MAKE it better. I have suffered so much abuse and discrimination in my life, and it’s not just kids. It has extended well into adulthood, even. This society needs to be changed the better, instead of just telling people it “gets better”. Eventually. Maybe.

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    Depression is a nasty beast to deal with. I had an event this week that usually triggers a fairly severe bout with depression, this time I got lucky and was able to mitigate it, but it’s a constant fight and sometimes you just don’t feel up to the fight.

    We need more help out there for people dealing with depression, it’s not going to get better until people can get the help that they need.

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    Depression is so scary to me. It’s not like it’s plain on someone’s face, and it’s not even always clear to the person themselves when they’re sad versus when they’re depressed. This was a beautiful, tragic article, Riese. Thank you.

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    Thanks for addressing the mental health aspect of this. One of my big issues with the It Gets Better Project is that it kind of ignores that these kids might be hurting not only because of the bullying, but because of mental health issues, which, left untreated, might NOT get better.

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      Thing is, I wrote my evangelical aunt and uncle and their holy-devil-spawn off years ago. I don’t care what they think about me. But it’s what they do. What sends me into a fit of pure rage is that they continue to try to convince my Mom and other family members that gays and suicide victims are going to burn in hell.

      It’s not just me that’s gay, but I also have another aunt that’s gay. One of my uncles succumbed to suicide about 10 years ago. And they keep saying these things, not to convert me or my gay Aunt, but convince our family that we’re pieces of shit.

      It hasn’t worked. But it does make me think…how much damage does the anti-gay movement cause by targeting the parents and other relatives of gay people? Who gave Eric’s parents the idea that they could exorcise the gay out of him? When is this going to be legally classified as domestic abuse and linked to PTSD.

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    Thanks for highlighting the role depression may have played in this Riese; I think “It Get’s Better” has played an important role in sharing experiences and highlighting successful queer role models for young people but, like others here, feel it oversimplifies the issues that lead to suicide. And that more needs to be done to help young people now.

    My own experience with depression was, I suspect, partly down to bullying, partly down an element of pre-disposition in my personality, and the experience of growing up with gender identity issues. I’ve lived with it since my early teens and coming to terms with it, learning to understand and manage it, to deal with the underlying issues and physically transitioning, has taken nearly two decades. I’ve dropped out of university, fallen out with my family and have been fortunate to hang onto a bar job; and that’s coming from a privileged, and very well educated background, with state funded health care and mental welfare support. I am indebted to the Samaritans charity support line.

    The odds are very heavily stacked against people struggling with long term mental illness: I only came of anti-depressants a few years ago and I still have a couple of severe panic attacks every year, I still need to be constantly vigilant about my state of mind and how I manage my lifestyle. I’ve a supportive boss, but unless you can hide your condition completely your chance of promotion is zero simply because they will still consider you to be, effectively, unreliable.

    I think abuse is where it all starts, but so many factors feed into this that it’s become frustrating to not see people take the conversation further, in the wake of a great deal of public awareness about suicide amongst queer youth.

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    “Sometimes “it gets better” can sound like a blanket that muzzles more than it protects.”

    “Sometimes having more ducks in the row of a good life can feel even worse — so now that I have this/that privilege, why am I still so sad?”

    Wow, Riese! Thank you.

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    This breaks my heart so much. You make so many good points here, Riese. It’s so true that years of marginalization can have effects that linger ever after life has supposedly “gotten better”. I learned how to make myself invisible as a survival strategy and I’m still trying to unlearn that years after leaving high school.

    I also struggle with long-term mental health issues, and I think the marginalization associated with being “crazy” has had more of an effect on my self-esteem than the marginalization associated with being queer. At least there is an active and supportive queer community to plug into. There is no equivalent social justice community for people struggling with mental illness. As of today, I can talk about the discrimination I’ve faced as a queer person and be listened to. But I still can’t talk openly about the discrimination I’ve faced as a “crazy” person. Coming out as mentally ill at work, for example, is out of the question. Coming out as gay? Not so much of an issue.

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    Sometimes when things are calm and quiet after a horrible storm, it’s worse, because you’re not fighting through the rain and thunder and floods anymore you’re just standing where you feel like home should be and looking at the damage the past has caused. I don’t know if I’m making any sense, but I feel like I understand how you can feel at your worst when things are at their ‘best’.

    On another note, not to lump this as one of many gay suicides and depersonalise Eric Borges, but when I read about things like this, it feels like seeing a whole bunch of kids in America who are just now fighting for their own complete equality, but it’s new and they’re still not completely armed, so they just charge out into the line of fire from homphobia and ignorance and they’re so brave, but not everyone makes it through. It’s not fair :(

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      Sophia, you make perfect sense from where I am.

      When you are fighting, you are in the moment and the moment is everything. For me, a transwoman struggling with hormone induced depression due to a bad hormone replacement therapy, yesterday is a black hole that has come and gone. Today was not much better and tomorrow is probably another bleak day and might as well be the 32nd century because it is not here yet.

      Afterwards is a time for reflection and damage assesment and then you have to find the strength to make repairs. It is then when hopelessness is at its highest. Often I feel like Sisyphus.

      Learning to deal with this is the hardest thing I have to learn so far. But even in a wasteland there are flowers….

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    “Sometimes having more ducks in the row of a good life can feel even worse — so now that I have this/that privilege, why am I still so sad?”

    This sentence realy hit me hard because I’m an 18 student who has a very normal life. My family and friends accepted me completely when I came out and no one bullies me at school, apparently I have a “great” life, yet every day I struggle to keep a smile on my face, to face the day without despair. I struggle with my lack of self confidence, never allowing myself to wear any nice cloths in fear of looking even the slightest bit different because I’m terrified of standing out. I blame myself for every single thing that has gone wrong in my life because it’s all my fault, I’m worthless and useless, I should not even be here, I don’t being here. I tell myself that every good thing that has happened in my life is just a fluke, a stroke of luck, why would I deserve something that nice when all I do is mess everything up.

    I often wish that my life was worse, not because I want it to be, but because it would give me something else to attack other then myself.

    I think the only reason why I’m still here is because I’m just too fucking stubborn to let all of that get to me. I am going to live my god damn life so hard that S&M will sound like a fluffy bunny.

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      I want to give you a hug.

      Also, have you tried counseling? I wouldn’t have made it through college without counseling, and not because anything in my life was terrible at that time, but because I had spent my adolescence forming terrible emotional habits and it all came back to make me terribly depressed when I was out on my own trying to actually feel my feelings.

      You aren’t worthless, you aren’t useless.

      Thank you for sharing.

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    While I can appreciate the spirit behind the “it gets better” videos, I can’t help but be suspicious. I don’t think anyone who’s suffered from depression hasn’t heard over and over that it’ll get better. It doesn’t GET better, you have to MAKE it better, and that’s really hard to do when depression is weighing you down.

    Also, just because a person knows all the resources that are there to help suicidal youth doesn’t mean they will get help. When I was a teenager, I was depressed and tried to kill myself, and I could have named a dozen websites and organizations meant to help. I had the local suicide hotline phone number on a sticky note on my desk, but I was ashamed to call it. Every time I hear that a young person killed themself after posting an “it gets better” video, I have to wonder if that wasn’t a pressure in itself. After you announce to the internet that your life has gotten better, how can it not feel like twice the failure to admit to yourself that it hasn’t?

    Every one of these stories makes me sad. No one can know exactly how another person feels, but I know how I felt when I thought that I had no other way out, and I wish I could give every person who ever felt like that a hug.

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    Honestly, Who wants to hear “It gets better”? Why are we even saying “It gets better” when it should already be better? Why are so many people dying? Is it because we give them false hope? Does it really get better?

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    Every article I’ve read that involves bullying would really cut my heart into pieces. And I am sure that it’s also hard on their parents itself. Furthermore, upon reading this news about this suicide of a talented man, makes me feel regretful. If only we could full force to stop this bullying, this hurtful incidents should have been lessen or better yet be vanished. The idea of my children being harmed or lost is not something anyone wants to consider. And I was reading this blog on anationofmoms and found an article that spoke of a service to protect my family. It said that if I followed the service on twitter, I would enter the drawing for 6 months free of service. Check out the article: http://anationofmoms.com/2011/08/protect-your-family-giveaway.html

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