Lucky to be Alive
By Sarah Schiro
The day I attempted suicide I didn’t want to die. That is to say I most definitely did not want to put my family through the pain of my suicide. That was reason enough to keep going because I loved them deeply, and I didn’t want to break my mother’s heart.
The problem was I didn’t want to live either. I didn’t want to keep getting up day after day and facing what my life had become.
Weeks before I had lost my job because my employers rationalized, “our insurance won’t let us employ a person who cuts herself as a childcare provider.” They said they knew I wasn’t a risk to the children. They knew I was a dedicated, loving caregiver. The parents of the children I watched sang my praises, but the insurance wanted me gone.
The insurance said I was a liability, claiming that at any moment without warning my private acts of self-aggression could metastasize to violence towards the children in my care. I knew the stigmatizing generalizations that their insurance company had made were unfair, but I felt powerless to advocate for myself.
“This is only temporary,” my employers said, “We know you are great at this job. When you have gotten treatment, when you stop hurting yourself, we want you to come back. We will give back your job.”
“Okay,” I told them, “I will,” because I wanted them to feel better about firing me, but deep down inside I knew I wouldn’t be coming back. They thought that mental illness was something that could resolve quickly. From the tone they took during our conversation I got the impression that they believed that telling me I couldn’t work for them until I stopped cutting would help motivate me to stop.
If it were that easy to stop cutting myself I would have stopped a long time ago. I was sixteen and had been living with my depression and struggling with the compulsion to punish myself since middle school. I had tried over and over again to stop, but I always failed. I didn’t believe things could change for me.
In the weeks that followed it became more and more evident to me that I would never be able to stop cutting myself. I began to dwell on what my life I imagined my future would be like if I never stopped, if the depression never left. Thoughts of suicide followed— unwelcomed and unwanted.
Then one morning I woke up at peace with suicide. What had been hitherto unthinkable seemed like the answer. Suicide was the only way I could see to end the struggle between the part of me that wanted to live a life where I wasn’t caught in a cycle of shame and self-destruction and the part of me that just wanted to stop hurting inside. I prayed for forgiveness from God and for healing for the people I loved. Finally, surrendering to the part of me that longed for death, I overdosed.
When I woke up hours later I was filled with remorse. I knew if I had died I would have destroyed my family, and I didn’t trust myself not to attempt suicide again. Ambivalence was a war raging in my mind—I felt strongly both the desire to live and the desire to die. This duplicity of desire led me to seek hospitalization as a refuge, a safe place to be so tragically split.
At the emergency room the nurse asked me how many pills I had taken. I laughed in his face and the part of me that wanted death said, “obviously not enough,” but the part of me that wanted to live was trying to form the words to say “too many. I’m sorry. You have to help me.” I just could not. My voice was choked out by the anger I felt over still being alive.
Later the ER nurse told me, “you are lucky to be alive.”
I whispered under my breath “I wish I was dead,” but there was a part of me that did agree with him; a part of me that knew failing at suicide was not failure, but a second chance. After the dark night of my soul, my heart was still beating. Breath stilled filled my lungs. I was still alive for a reason.
During the course of my hospitalization I came to realize that my thinking was making my life unsustainable. If I kept on saying to myself, “You are hopeless, going to be this way forever— Nothing good will ever come from your life now,” it was only a matter of time until hopelessness hijacked my will again, pushing me once more to the brink of life and death.
If I wanted to live, I had to choose to believe:
that things could change,
that there was hope that I could get better,
that despite the stigma I had experienced I was not irreparably flawed,
that there was purpose in my life waiting to be discovered.
At that time choosing to change my beliefs felt false. Emotion had dictated my beliefs my whole life. To say “I believe there is hope for my life,” went contrary to the depression and hopelessness I felt. It felt so fake, and it was important to me to verbalize that too. I would look myself in the mirror and say, “I feel depressed today, but I am choosing to believe that my life can get better. Not every day is going to feel this way. I am lucky to be alive.”
Change is often an agonizingly slow process, but from this side I can say it truly is worth it. While I continued to struggle with self-harm for three more years eventually I developed a support system that helped me to achieve my goal of sobriety—11 years now.
To this day I live with reoccurring episodes of depression, but even that has changed. I am quicker to recognize the downward spiral, quicker to seek the help I need. I have learned to say on the good days and on the bad, “I am lucky to be alive. “