I’m approaching the anniversary of my suicide. It’s something I think about frequently given the numerous physical reminders still with me. That day, I was totally unresponsive for a while. I was close to dead. Maybe I was “dead” briefly, but it’s not a detail I’ve endeavored to learn about that day. I’m only now really starting to talk about it as I’ve found people are curious about the experience of surviving a suicide.
I think it’s because so many people are affected by it without ever understanding it. A recent study put the figure at 1 in 5 people being personally affected by suicide. That’s quite high. It’s always very awkward for the family. On one hand, you didn’t think your loved one was actually going to kill themselves, but on the other, they did say it or imply it a number of times. All at once, you lose a loved one and relive every moment that might have been the biggest mistake you’ve ever made with another person. Grief, guilt, frustration, fear. When an otherwise healthy person just stops existing, people can’t help but run down the list of things that could have prevented that death. They need to. It helps them feel grounded during a time of incredible pain.
I think my own family had an incredibly difficult time because I didn’t seem to fit the bill of your typical depressed person. Sure, I made comments about wanting to vanish off the face of the earth, but lots of people say that without making any attempt to do so. In my family’s eyes, I was a surprisingly well-adjusted smarty-pants who was ambitious and set to achieve great things. And then, one day, they got a phone call.
They knew I had struggled with depression, low morale, low energy, fatigue, irritability, and generally crappy moods. But, how is that any different from PMS? It had always been very alienating to me to always be held in such positive regard, as weird as that sounds. I had vicious mood swings and a hot temper, but no matter how mean, incoherent, or crazy I was, I was always treated as though I was being held to an incredibly high standard. It worked, in large part. I strove to make my family proud. I did well in school, landed great positions and internships and had attractive boys hit on me a lot. It was nice. I was living up to the aspirations everyone had for me.
But, the entire time, I was struggling. I had frequent nightmares, insomnia that kept me awake for days at a time, violent mood swings, loss of appetite, apprehension, anxiety, and a desperate need to end it all. It wasn’t just once that I wanted to end my life. I’d tried dozens of times, but my attempts always fell far short of lethal. I turned to self-harm, but I’m not a masochist; I hate pain. I think I did it to build up my nerve. To prove to myself that I could do it, that I wasn’t trapped in misery.
The whole time, I hid it from everyone. I made a few attempts to tell those closest to me, but each time, I was told to shrug it off or to focus on how much good I have in my life right now, to stop dwelling on the past, or to straighten out my priorities. Each time I heard something like that, I felt even more hopeless. No one seemed to care. Why should they? I kept more to myself, but I started to resent everyone around me. I’ve seen dozens of therapists, tried numerous prescriptions, but nothing ever seemed to hit at the core problem – hopelessness.
I’d finally had enough and decided to end my life. I was desperate and saw no other way out. Before I was taken to the hospital, I never thought that my death would matter to anyone. I was just one unhappy cog in the system. I figured my absence could only improve the machine. But, I was wrong. As much as I had alienated people from me, they did still care; they were just misguided in how to show it. Even strangers cared about my fate, even if I didn’t.
I was unconscious most of the time. I faded in and out during the ambulance ride and the emergency room. One of the moments I remember before waking up in the ER was one of the responder’s telling me to pull through. I wasn’t breathing. My eyes didn’t respond to light. My pulse was very slight. Somehow, I heard that man’s voice, beckoning me to pull through and to be ok. That touched me like I have never been touched before. I’d never thought that anyone would really care. Maybe I expected people to sneer at my pathetic attempt to end my suffering. But, someone cared.
I wish I had the courage to reach out for help before that. I had become so discouraged by the people close to me that I never tried to reach beyond that. Friends didn’t know, I had never made any attempt to share anything like that about myself. I certainly had never suggested that I had even really felt depressed to anyone in my social circle outside of my closest family members.
The effect of the experience was devastating to my loved ones. They still hurt in ways that I honestly can’t describe. I struggled with a tremendous amount of guilt for hurting them as that had never been my intention. I just didn’t want to suffer anymore.
My family has since taken some great steps in doing something positive with their experience. Those closest to me have volunteered to speak with families dealing with mental illness as a sincere urge to exercise empathy and to show compassion. It’s actually kind of embarrassing for me because I’m still not terribly open about it, but I’m glad that they’re doing it. I think it’s important for people to know that a little kindness can go a long way. You don’t have to break your back, lend money, or even really do anything to persuade someone in crisis to seek another way to soothe their suffering. Just a nod and a sincere effort to understand them can make someone feel like there is a reason to hope, to try again.
I’ve recently started actually talking about my experience (and my family’s by extension) with some folks who do stories on various human experiences. I’m pushing myself to get more comfortable in my own skin so that maybe I can encourage those like me to try reaching out and those like my family to adopt a different approach. As far as I’m concerned, I’m living on won time. I was so close to dying that day and I saw what would have happened if I had. I hope that at least one person can be spared the expense of a stay in the hospital by gaining the benefit of the lessons I learned after the fact. No one deserves to suffer like that.