tw: suicidal ideation
When I was seven, I wrote on a piece of paper about how sad and alone I felt because no one understood me. I made the mistake of writing this deeply anguished reflection at my cousin’s house, where privacy was not an option. Soon enough, my cousin and her friends had come back to her room where I had been hiding, and snatched up the paper I had poured my heart into.
“No! Don’t read it!” I pleaded, trying to get it out of my cousin’s outstretched hand.
“What does it say?” her friends asked.
I watched my cousin’s brow furrow as her eyes skimmed over my neat, round handwriting. “It’s just about feelings,” she finally said, and didn’t share the paper with anyone else.
I remember feeling a wave of relief wash over me, knowing that she would keep my secret.
This memory still lingers in my mind to this day, nearly twenty years later. I think it’s because it marks one of the first moments this all began: this ebb and flow of chronic melancholy that has haunted me for most of my life.
Some people might ask, don’t you mean depression? And honestly, I’m not sure. Sometimes I use that word because it’s the easiest way to encapsulate my experience, but I’ve never been officially diagnosed. And according to the Internet (which of course you can’t always believe, but still), depression isn’t just about being sad. And I don’t know if there’s anything more to my condition, other than a deep, impenetrable sadness I default to when I’m alone with just my thoughts.
There’s usually a process to it. Sometimes it starts with uncertainty about little things, oftentimes nothing of consequence. Maybe I’m walking down a hallway and try to say hi to an acquaintance, and she doesn’t acknowledge me. Or a group of people sitting by me are laughing and I swear they’re looking at me as they’re doing it. Not knowing what other people are thinking when they see me or interact with me, leads to mounting feelings of dread, a queasiness in my stomach, a racing of my heart. Then the void gets filled with my own toxic, poisonous thoughts: I definitely did something wrong, said something wrong, they definitely do not like me, I am definitely a walking human error and my only solution is to crawl under a rock and die.
Other times, it begins with a negative response from someone that they may quickly forget within minutes but I end up holding on to forever: a scolding from a teacher on breaking a minor classroom policy, or a joking but biting remark from a friend. The hurt will fester inside me and along with it come those toxic thoughts again: I definitely did something wrong, said something wrong, they definitely do not like me, I am definitely a walking human error and my only solution is to crawl under a rock and die.
By this point, I am overwhelmed with existential feelings of rejection, shame, loneliness. I think things like, Nobody likes me. I keep fucking up. I’m going to die alone. I have no purpose in life. What’s the point of living?
I’ve fantasized about dying, off and on throughout my childhood, adolescence, and adult life. I’ve gotten excited at the thought of being hit by a car and getting killed instantly. But the most important part is my funeral. Who will attend and how everyone will react. The things they would say once I’m gone. Maybe that’s when people will finally care, is the refrain that echoes in my mind. I’ve also romanticized suicide. What a tragic, courageous way to die. I could never do that. But if I could, how would I end my life? Jumping off a bridge and drowning? Swallowing pills? Throwing myself in front of an oncoming train?
I keep waiting to outgrow this unhealthy train of thought, but it catches up to me, especially in the past two years, when so many life stressors have built on top of each other in layers I am too overwhelmed to tease apart and remedy. What if…? Life is so exhausting. I’ve done enough. There’s nothing to look forward to. How long would it take for people to notice if I kill myself?
On the bright side, I’ve combated these thoughts just as quickly as they’ve entered my head. No, you can’t. You can’t do this. Be grateful. You don’t have it so bad. Your family will never get over this if you die. You don’t want to hurt your family and friends, do you?
In a way, it’s been a morbid game of truth or dare I’ve played with myself:
Truth or dare.
Would you kill yourself?
No. I’ve thought about it. But no, I wouldn’t.
Truth or dare.
I dare you to kill yourself.
On my 26th birthday, I listened to Logic’s “1-800-273-8255” song for the first time and bawled my eyes out, especially when I heard him sing, “I want you to be alive,” because it hadn’t hit me until then how much I needed to hear someone say that to me.
The third time he sings the chorus, he changes the line to “I finally want to be alive.” Something inside me cringes at that part because I don’t know if I can ever genuinely sustain that feeling. It just sounds easy to transition into that mindset when it’s a lyric in a catchy four minute song.
A part of me knows this all sounds very melodramatic, and not quite in line with my life. I think this is because I have done a decent job of holding it together so I can avoid other people worrying or pitying me, or becoming a burden. People come to me with their emotional baggage. If I do it to other people, I try my best to keep my presentation as contained as I can. I usually save the actual emotional wreckage for later, when I can retreat to the privacy of my car or my bedroom. Once, when I gave the slightest indicator that I was having a hard time to a friend, she expressed surprise and some disbelief. “But you seem so together,” she said.
And so I do.
I don’t know all the root causes of this melancholy. I can only guess. Maybe it’s because my family was so dysfunctional, maybe it’s because I grew up poor, maybe it’s because I was bullied as a kid, maybe it’s because my dad died when I was so young, but most of the time I’ve brushed this all off. So what? All of this stuff isn’t that terrible. Almost everyone has a dysfunctional family. It’s not like you were living on the streets, begging for scraps. I was guilty of also bullying other kids. And other people grow up with a single parent and turn out fine. There isn’t anything so awful in my past circumstances that should warrant this level of emotional turmoil.
All I know is, I am scraping by with some measure of self-worth I’ve worked hard to obtain and keep in the past seven years. Yet I can’t seem to progress much farther than deciding that I no longer want to hate myself.
Inspired by a friend of mine, one of my resolutions this year is to be kinder to myself. But I don’t understand how to do it. It seems kind of stupid to have it as a resolution, now that I think about it. I haven’t figured it out in the past twenty years, what makes me think I can figure it out before this year is over?
A therapist would be able to help, you might suggest. I hope so. The last therapist I worked with thought I should continue with therapy. I told her I was too broke, in a fancy white people roundabout sort of way: “I’m struggling financially at this time and I don’t think I’m in a position to afford therapy, although I would like to reconnect with it in the near future when my situation is more sustainable.” Maybe someday. What’s more important, therapy or opening a retirement account?
Last week I dared myself to Google “how to kill yourself painlessly.” I did. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately popped up. I read a list of suggestions that were paradoxically prefaced with a cautionary disclaimer that emphasized seeking help. Going through the list felt funny, like I was reading a bad fanfiction story removed from my actual life. I guess that’s a good thing, though.
I’ve always been pretty indecisive. Probably the only arena in which that is a valuable trait is suicidal ideation. I mean, death is so permanent from my understanding. I’ve never been good at hard decisions like that.
For now, I’ll keep hiking on trails that muddy my shoes and set my mind at ease. Laugh long and loud with friends. Write in the solitude of my room. Go to work when I can muster the energy, which has to be often by necessity. Promise myself I’ll get my room together soon, unlike the entirety of my life which is much harder. Listen to music that somehow holds my sadness in a way that I don’t think people can. Smile and tell people I’m okay, even when I’m not. Cry in my car and in my room and wonder who can bear witness to this ugliness, and would I want them to. Practice gratitude and try to hold the toxic thoughts at bay. Sometimes I’ll succeed, and sometimes I won’t. I guess that’s how it goes.
Sorry. That’s the only cliché I could think to end on.