On Suicide, From Someone Happy to Have Failed

Friday, September 14, 2012

Suicide Prevention Week - from someone who's happy to have failed


Many people will tell you that I'm not a very serious person.

I hit my deadlines, I produce a lot of work, and I'm very professional. But on the whole (heh heh-- on the hole!), I can be very childish and silly. As in, wears ridiculous hats and owns every season of Family Guy, Futurama, and Robot Chicken silly.

But I'm going to be very serious now, because suicide is a serious topic. And because I used to be very, very serious. And very, very depressed.

I had some troubled times as a teen, which I've alluded to in past blog posts. I won't get into specifics, but let's just say that beneath the artistic Valedictorian exterior, there was a lot of pain. I started reading books that focused on heartbreak and hopelessness-- like The Yellow Wallpaper and The Awakening. I watched The Piano. I spent a lot of time sitting in my car, alone, crying and listening to depressing music and writing poetry.

And then I went to France when I was seventeen, the summer before my Senior year. It was an exchange trip, and I was to stay a month with a family in Toulouse. They were wonderful, warm, giving people, and they treated me like their fourth daughter. I had this weird mixture of homesickness and longing and hope and  hopelessness that all came to a head during a trip to the beach. My French family was settled under an umbrella, each person happily doing their own thing, and I looked out at the ocean and realized that I was the only one who wasn't happy, who wasn't capable of happiness.

I couldn't take it anymore, whatever it was.

So I walked out into the ocean. And kept walking. Then started swimming. Then kept swimming.

At 34, it's hard for me to remember what that version of me was thinking, was feeling. I remember noting that this was what Edna Pontellier did in The Awakening, that it was a soft, sweet, poetic way to leave a world that brought me mostly misery and anxiety. I swam farther and farther from shore, and my smooth strokes turned to tired dog paddling. And then I just gave up and sank.

I remember how peaceful it was underwater for just a moment, dark and bubbly and calm. And then I couldn't hold my breath any longer, and without my mind's buy-in or my heart's agreement, my body began to fight back. The world went from poignant serenity to thrashing terror, waves pounding, salt burning my eyes and nose and throat and lungs.

In a heartbeat, the world twisted. I wanted to live, even if it hurt like hell.

I was so far from shore; even now, I can see it, how far and hazy it was. The people playing in the shallow water were mere smudges, and no one knew where I was. I was exhausted, half-filled with water, my limbs numb. But I kept churning, my nose barely out of the water, inch by inch, until I was at that point where the waves stop trying to punish you and start trying to call you home. They washed me back onshore when I had nothing left, and I sprawled on the sand sobbing, surrounded by vacationers who had no idea that I'd just undergone the first major turning point of my life.

I dragged myself to the family umbrella, where Maman asked me how I was.

"Magnifique," was all I could say.

I was magnificent.

I was alive.

And I started to notice things. Small things. The air on my drying skin. The sun on my dark hair. The vibrant shade of red in the umbrella. The scent of suntan lotion rising from everyone's skin. I realized I was starving, had never been so starving, and that whatever I ate next would be the most wonderful thing I'd ever eaten. One day, I would watch Fight Club and hear Tyler Durden talk about how tomorrow would be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel's life. And I would laugh, because I knew that feeling exactly.

That day, I asked the family to stop by a stationery store, and I bought a journal and a package of Sharpies. And I started a book called I LOVE in which I wrote I LOVE and described something small that made life worth living. I love the feel of grass under bare feet. I love the perfection of slipping under cool sheets. I love the taste of the fried haddock and rice I ate that night, sitting at a table on a boardwalk in Biarritz while the family asked me why I was so happy all of a sudden, almost like a different person.

I'd like to say that from that day on, everything was easy. But that was the summer before I was stalked and raped, my next major turning point as a person. But because I'd survived that day, I was able to survive being attacked. I knew I wanted to live and would do anything to stay alive. And I knew, after that, that things would get better, if I just kept living. So I started my second I LOVE journal, which is pictured up above.

My point is this: suicide is serious, and no matter how normal or successful or beautiful or smart or happy someone seems on the outside, that doesn't mean they haven't considered it. Or tried it.

I used to be ashamed. I used to try to forget that it happened, but I know now that it's part of what made me who I am. I'm an artist and a writer, and depression has always been a looming threat in my life, something that sneaks in no matter how well I guard myself. But I've never returned to that dark place, never considered wanting to end it all.

Whatever it is.

So maybe that's why I don't take anything seriously. I live in the moment, choosing to focus on the sweetness of the cupcake or the beauty of the music or the leaves crunching under my favorite boots. I don't look to the past and mull over what I might have had or what might have happened differently. I don't worry about the future. I just live, right now, in the best way that I can.

If you're depressed, if you're suicidal-- you're not alone. Please go here and find help. Tell someone. It doesn't have to be your mom or your dad or your significant other. It can be a volunteer on a phone hotline, or a stranger on tumblr. Find help, even if it's just to talk about it, to say it out loud and know that someone you've never met desperately wants you to live and thinks that you matter. It's nothing to be ashamed of. Asking for help, reaching out to another human being, is one of the bravest things on earth.

I once thought there was nothing worth living for, and I have never, never been so wrong.

You're not alone.