This post has been brewing in my mind for a bit, and it’s time. It’s not that I’m suicidal or even depressed right now. I’ve decided today will be a great day and I’m expecting something good is on it’s way. I believe in choosing my moods and the feelings usually follow. After that serendipity and the universe conspire to surprise me.
Yesterday I started clicking through an article on Facebook. It was one of those “21 celebs that took their own lives” type of stories that make you click through each and every one so you get the full exposure to all of their partners and sponsors or ads. This was a horrible set up, as it allowed the author to repeatedly rephrase their sentiment, nullifying the tragedy of a life unfulfilled into statistics and cliche.
I’m writing to make it clear that I will never call suicide a coward’s way out.
My first suicide attempt was a couple of months into the 7th grade. I’m 38 now.
I don’t remember wanting to die. I felt overwhelmed. I had my first crush and it turned obsessive and it was the first of many unhealthy infatuations. My great grandfather had just died and the family was planning on driving out to Houston and I didn’t want to go. We had visited often enough, every few years. All of my memories were of him being bedridden with a colostomy bag attached to the bed in varying degrees of fullness. I would have to climb on the bed to give him a hug and a kiss where his lips couldn’t quite pucker, and it was warm and wet. I couldn’t understand his slurred speech. I’d wander through his immaculate house full of mirrors and fiber optic lamps, and crystal vases filled with bright silk flowers in unnatural colors. I didn’t feel an attachment to him, and I didn’t want to have to pack up during the school year to head out on a trip to Texas for a funeral. I felt lost, and uncared for.
That night I snuck out of the house around 10 to go for a walk. Late night strolls are how I will always self medicate. I snuck back in, and didn’t get caught. I grabbed a bottle of Advil and a bottle of Tylenol and started swallowing pills, one at a time and one bottle at a time. In the morning when I woke up vomiting, it still didn’t occur to me that I might die at that point. I told my Dad I had taken pills. I don’t even remember which parent or if both of them were with me in the Kaiser emergency room. I was so far from understanding the gravity of the situation. I was almost nonchalant, in between puking.
Advil would’ve given me a stomachache. Tylenol needed to be flushed out of my system because my liver couldn’t process it. I had my stomach pumped and was in intensive care for a few days, drinking medicine mixed with apple juice to make it more palatable. It was years before I could smell apple juice without wanting to vomit. It finally hit me when I was next to a mother with her anorexic baby. When I saw her reaction to what I was there for, I saw the stigma attached to suicide in a way that I couldn’t grasp before. I had months of therapy, and never saw that it made a difference. I still don’t know that I was depressed enough to kill myself, or if I was just bored and lonely. To this day, I only take medication when absolutely necessary and I am really happy that I’m not on any medications.
Years later, during and right after high school, I made attempts. The most dangerous attempt wasn’t a fully formed thought of wanting death. The attempts that came later were an absolute contemplation. I will not deny that I was so depressed, I felt dying would be better than living. They were so long ago, I can’t remember a sequence, and I’m not sure it would matter.
I was drinking. It wasn’t like the dream I had last night at a bar with friends and a sweating MGD in my hands. I was drinking alone with a knife in my hands. I always had knives around me when I was younger. I had a knife and I was making superficial slices along my wrists. They were tiny scratches that didn’t draw blood. I was depressed and I wanted that feeling to end, but I was more afraid of killing myself.
Another time I was sober and crying, and held a knife over my stomach. In a rage, I had stabbed a bible multiple times because I couldn’t find comfort in faith and I was ready to turn that knife on my gut. I wanted to cut out the ache and hollow feeling in my chest. Again, I was more afraid of the pain.
I had a bottle of vicodin once. I held it and considered taking them, one after another as I did when I was younger. I called someone to talk to. She told me she didn’t feel qualified and I should call someone else. That depression was quickly replaced with rage, and I put the pills down.
I won’t say that feeling is forever gone. I know that sometimes depression will visit. It’s always a slow and gradual feeling that creeps up and if I don’t take time to reflect on how I’m doing, it’ll sneak up on me until it is all I can see. When my husband told me he was leaving me, I was very aware of all I felt, and I was determined to not go on anti-depressants again because of how terrible withdrawals felt. I had rage. I was lost. I was broken. I was angry. But I refused to be depressed and those moments came, but I fought hard to push them away. During that time, I can say I was never a danger to myself or anyone else. Having a mom willing to fund a 100 pound heavy bag and hand wraps really helped.
My most recent bout of severe depression was two years ago. It was a time when I was dealing with my husband’s late uncle, and a suicidal kid2, and a husband that wanted more of my attention than I was capable of giving to him, while trying not to destroy the eggshells I walked on by going against his wishes in making final arrangements for his uncle. His mood on that was fickle and one moment he approved and was grateful. The next he was angry at me for doing it. A lot of our marriage, I ended up doing what meant the most to me whether or not I was given permission, and I have a degree because of that. Our son was being bullied and teased and I felt so powerless. I was so busy worrying about how everyone else was doing that I didn’t see my own feelings taking a dive. One day I was on the freeway and I was surprised by an errant thought of crashing into the center divider. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but it was a thought that crossed my mind. I got home and called my doctor for an appointment and anti-depressants. They helped. It took a while to kick in, but once they started working, I was able to take the hits, and not feel like I needed to do something drastic and scary. It gave me an ability to get through what I needed to. Now drastic and scary looks like cutting my hair into something so short my curls make me resemble a peppy poodle.
I never saw suicide as an easy out. It seemed like an only out. It was difficult and terrifying. I can’t say killing myself would’ve been brave. I know when I’ve thought about it, I never worried about how my family would react. I have a sister that beat cancer. I’ve imagined losing her, and the thought of what her loss would do to me has backed me off of the ledge a few times. I won’t say I think of how it would hurt her if I were to die. At my lowest I’m too selfish for that. It takes my self focus into another person I love and my perspective shifts just enough to step back and remember a person I love, and get lost in nostalgia of her teaching me to throw a football or the red Minnie Mouse watch she bought me. I remember the first house party she took me to and her looking me in the eye with a pointed finger and threatening me about taking something and having it hit me years later that she meant taking drugs.
Being suicidal is selfish. I can say that. It’s not selfish in the way where I would ever bash someone with it as a sharp accusation. It’s selfish because the times I have been there, I didn’t feel like anyone else had my concerns as their priority. I felt I was doing what was best for me. It wasn’t about cowardice in facing a difficult life. I didn’t think that far ahead. I didn’t think farther than how I felt in that exact moment. It’s not that I didn’t care about anyone. I was just so consumed, it didn’t occur to me that other people would exist in the bubble of hell I was in.
Suicide isn’t the easy way out. It’s a more difficult decision than trying to get through another day of despair. Depression that visits in cycles is something you can get used to. Deciding you’ve had enough is stepping out into something new and terrifying. I’m not advocating suicide. Clearly, I’m still alive and kicking through adversity. I’m such a believer in life, I’ve given birth to three of my children and four that belong to other people. I’m just saying it’s not okay to negate a life based on a choice you have never been faced with, or choose to not remember. It’s not okay to call a person’s existence a cliche and ignore the devastation they’ve left in their wake because you don’t agree with their choice. Or because you are too afraid to try to understand it. They left behind a family marked by stigma. That family has a lot to reconcile, but sometimes saying you don’t know what to say, and offering a hug or practical help around the house is enough. You don’t have to replace their loss, or feel it fully, but let them know they are not alone and not forgotten.