I recently participated in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s annual Out of the Darkness Walk. The connection to life, and its gifts of fragility and strength, was inspiring. Spending time with a group of people who understand the complexity of this issue filled my heart with admiration and respect.
I’ve lost a friend to suicide, been affected by the attempts of two loved ones, and in January 2014, plotted and applied myself to my own course of death. I failed, and even on the days when life feels overwhelming, I awake with gratitude to face whatever it presents. I’m thankful for the people who called the First Responders, and to those who sat at my bedside in the emergency room. If they hadn’t come together, I would not be typing this. I would be ashes in an urn.
It was not, however, my first attempt. As a child, I dropped myself from the attic window of a garage onto the debris below with intent to do bodily harm. It wasn’t enough to twist my ankle or puncture my foot. I had to take it further. I went from self-harm to suicidal thoughts during those three short falls. If the bricks, nails, and broken glass weren’t enough to ruin my little body, it occurred to me to burn myself alive—because I was no better than trash.
On my final trip into the garage, I found a box of matches. I knew that oil and gas were flammable, but I couldn’t find either, so I rubbed my hands in the grease from the concrete floor and applied it to my forearms to see if it would ignite. Dirt that had settled there dampened the effect, but fire lit in a few spots. I didn’t feel pain. I felt freedom.
I was nine. What nine year old thinks of death as freedom? For that matter, what nine year old thinks of their own death at all, especially in terms of it being an escape? Suicidal ideation in the mind of a child is beyond heartbreaking. How numb does that tiny life have to be to want to end?
The haunting never left completely; it returned during college with my first psychotic episode. Dark thoughts followed me from class to class, and eventually surfaced in my poetry, music, and art. After a car crash in the mountains over winter break, I was irate that God hadn’t seen fit to kill me in the wreckage. I was stuck with this life. I wanted out.
Standing on a bridge above the ship canal on a cold December night, I wondered how much harder it could be to drop into the void than to fall onto those nails and bricks from my childhood. I’d climbed onto the guardrail and nearly let go when a motorcyclist stopped me. He drove me to the graveyard, set me down among the tombstones. If it was meant to scare me conscious or afford me solace, I’ll never know—his face was hidden beneath a helmet. I laid in the grass instead of the morgue.
Sometimes it’s the voices I hear. Sometimes it’s my own. Sometimes it’s what I think you’re thinking, other times it’s just the day. The reasons aren’t the reason. There is no justification. It doesn’t call me, and I don’t seek it out, but it feels like a friend, or used to until I made real friends. People who’d been where I’d been, who understood from their experience that having every choice is having no choice at all, and having no choices left was a prison; that the mind and soul need love like the body, and the body needs love more than loathing needs reward.
One life touches so many. I had only to look around me to see evidence in action. Participants strode proudly through the city, sharing their stories, their hopes, their smiles and tears. We were a miniature tribe of survivors dancing to the freedom that living affords us: a chance to reach one another despite our mental illnesses or the culture that shames us. We celebrated those who’d gone, and those of us who stayed. For the ones left behind, we offered support.
Despite the fact that schizophrenia hides the truth from me just for sport, if my personal experience has taught me anything, it is this: we are all connected. Profoundly connected. We don’t have to live life alone. Ever. Desperation will tell us otherwise, but someone is always there. Volunteers, an EMT, or a trusted friend—someone will listen, someone will come.
You are a gift that deserves to be cherished. Your light keeps others safe in the dark. Shine brightly, survivor. Shine brightly.
If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.TALK (8255)