Trigger warning: suicide, mental illness
Did you know that it can cost upwards of $10,000 to try to kill yourself?
The day I was discharged from the psychiatric ward, all I could think about was how badly I wanted a burrito. Not “I’m so happy to be alive” or “thank god I don’t have to sleep in a cold room with bars on the windows anymore,” but rather “man, Chipotle sounds really good right now.” What a fucked up sense of priorities, right? I refused to focus on or examine the chain of events which had led up to that very moment—the panic attack, the bottle of pills in my hand and in my mouth, my friend trying to get through my locked bedroom door, screaming at the nurse that I wasn’t going to let her take me away despite the fact that I had already signed away my freedom the moment I walked into the hospital, the sheet of paper that came with all of my meals with the words NO SHARP UTENSILS highlighted in yellow because I kept cutting my arm open, explaining how my medications were making everything worse and how I wouldn’t even be in this situation if they had just done what they were supposed to, bargaining to see a therapist every week as a way to get out and back into the world—no, I just wanted fast food. Funny the lengths the human brain will go to in order to protect itself.
That was seven years ago, and I’ve been shackled to a debt for a life I didn’t even want. At least I got my burrito.
If I’m to fully lay myself bare, I’ve never been very good at processing the things that have happened to me. I try not to fall into cycles of repression, but let’s be honest, we all do it to varying degrees. We find elements to distract ourselves, adopt vices that numb the pain like smoking or drinking or both or, sometimes, something worse. I’d be a liar if I said I haven’t spent months, even years, avoiding my own subconscious. It’s like my brain compartmentalizes each individual trauma, layering them with a kind of mental scar tissue that never quite heals all the way because I won’t stop picking at them. I’m still attempting to work through events that happened a year ago, five years ago, hell, even fifteen years ago. My mind only wants to keep me safe, but how can I be truly safe if I can’t even face myself? The frayed margins of the past are always curling into view.
Living after one or even multiple suicide attempts is much like a haunting, except it’s your own life. I’ve felt like a ghost for a long time, unable to move on because I have unfinished business, but the unfinished business is that I didn’t plan to still be here and now I don’t know what to do. Perhaps it could also be described as a sort of purgatory; stuck in a grey area of uncertainty, the ambiguity of how to come alive again—is there a way to feel alive after feeling dead inside for so long? If you were ready to end your life, did you ever even truly feel alive in the first place? Or maybe you felt so overcome by the experience of life that you couldn’t carry its burdens any longer? What does it look like, what does it mean to live after something like that? Such is the nature of the human condition to search for meaning where there simply might not be any.
Every morning, the emotional anvil of regret presses heavily on my chest, and I have to force my body to slink itself out of bed, leaving behind my comfort haven of melancholy; my bones creaking and wailing beneath the weight of my shame as I try to forgive myself for taking so long to greet another day. Sometimes I imagine the ceiling cracking and crashing down upon me so I’d have an excuse not to leave. It shouldn’t be this difficult. I shouldn’t struggle so deeply to shake hands with the prospect of a new day, but my brain is married to a type of guttural dread over still having to exist when I’ve tried so many times not to. The morning light whispers to me promises of reclamation, but the truth is that I’ve lost years of my life to a fog thick with the grief of who I could’ve been. I often wonder what my life would look like if I weren’t a prisoner to my illnesses. How many someone’s could I have grown into? How many different versions of myself have faded into the void? I want to know if I can still access those selves, to cast down a lifeline into the murky chasm of guilt, chagrin, and sorrow for a livelihood that never got a chance to breathe and pluck out who I was always meant to be. Because this cannot be it, this weepy, fearful, traumatized, full of hypervigilance husk that floats through each passing moment with a sense of bleak, all-consuming nothingness. I spend so much time asking myself “Who would I be without my illnesses and traumas? What does getting better look like? Would I even recognize myself?” There’s a sort of grittiness to spending decades in survival mode, a type of goriness with constantly trying to become, and I am still figuring out how to be more than this.
Still, there are days where the vast war zone of my mental health doesn’t seem as bad. Days where the sun shines a little brighter, a loved one’s laughter rings a little clearer, and the loud static noise that echoes throughout my skull devolves into a low hum. Times where I can say, “I kind of feel like a person today,” because honestly, most days I don’t. But here is the secret: you are not less, you are not broken, you are not without value because you deal with mental illness. The voice in your head that antagonizes you is lying—you are, in fact, worthy of love, care, and respect, and you are not wrong to perhaps need help some days more than others. There is nothing to be ashamed of in taking medication or needing time alone or crying, because goddamn, it just really hurts sometimes, doesn’t it?
Even if some days you feel like you’ve only just made it by the skin of your teeth, you’ve still made it, and that’s enough. May you find the strength to see another day, may your wounds be without salt, may you discover the courage within yourself to face the darkness head on and say, “I will not let you win,” because there is a light at the end of this tunnel, however dim.
Run to it.
If you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255.