Fifteen Years

Photo by Rostislav Kralik.

CONTENT WARNING: The following entry discusses suicide from a survivor’s perspective. Discussion is limited to events and mental state. The planned method is intentionally omitted.

Photo by George Hodan.

On June 4th, 2003, I was going to kill myself.

I was struggling. I was in pain. I had no hope. And I was holding it all inside. I built high, thick walls between what was going on inside and the people around me.

The emotions I was experiencing, and the pain I felt, kept trying to find ways out. From the art I created to the way I dressed, part of me was trying to cry out from inside my self-imposed mental solitary confinement. I needed help, and I did not know how to ask for it. I was afraid to ask for it. I was ashamed of my feelings. I thought asking for help was showing weakness. Moreover, I thought asking for help was selfish. I believed that I was nothing more than a burden on the world and especially those I cared about.

I had convinced myself that there was no hope of escaping the ever increasing pain that I felt. And I believed that everyone’s lives would be better without me. I set certain landmarks for myself, goals to reach to prove to myself that my life was worth continuing. This was an effort doomed to fail, because the instant that I decided I needed to justify my existence, I turned failure into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of proving to myself that my life was worth living, I had found a roundabout excuse to end it.

One by one, I missed my landmarks. One by one, I fell increasingly into the false narrative I had created, the lie that removing myself could only be beneficial. I convinced myself that it would cause no real harm. I even told myself that my little sister was young enough that she wouldn’t really remember, and so wouldn’t be hurt.

I was wrong. On all counts, I was wrong.

Photo by Circe Denyer.

The final landmark that I’d set for myself was high school graduation. While obsessed with learning, I struggled in school. Though my intelligence was sufficient, even celebrated, the standard school environment did not always suit me well. And as I grew older, I had more to deal with. My head was full of negative elements, from depression and anxiety to bullying, loss, and memories of abuse. When the end of my senior year arrived, I was just one required credit short of graduating.

I knew it was coming. I needed to keep up the act, even to myself, that I was still trying. It was the only way I could justify what I was already planning to do. But the truth was I had given up a long time before that final straw broke.

So I kept up the appearance that I was still working toward graduating on time. But I hadn’t applied to scholarships. I hadn’t looked at colleges. I saw no life past the end of the school year. A little part of me did keep trying, and kept hoping for help. But I kept that part buried as much as I was able. So when the day came that I would find out for certain whether or not I could graduate, I already knew what the outcome would be. I didn’t truly believe I was coming home that day.

But that same day, a classmate asked me to help them with a project after school. I didn’t know how to say no. I’d convinced myself that suicide would be a noble act, relieving the pain I caused others as well as freeing myself. I couldn’t turn down the request, especially without giving away what I was planning on doing.

So after school, I helped. And they tried to help me finish what I needed to graduate. In the midst of that, I found out that it was too late. I was not going to graduate on time. And I still vividly remember the moment my whole world fell apart. I still remember that tiny, trapped part of me that was trying to survive withering up and dying. I remember the last little fear of death vanishing. The fear of oblivion held no power over me. The thought of Hell itself, an eternity of torture, still seemed preferable to a life of pain on Earth.

Just after I found out, I was alone. I was broken. I was devastated. If things had gone according to plan, that would have been the moment. That would have been the end.

Photo by kai Stachowiak.

But I’d made a promise to my classmate, and they were waiting for me to return to our classroom to help them. So I did. I couldn’t justify leaving that task unfinished before making my exit from the world.

On my way back to the classroom, I ran into my mom. She’d found a story I’d been writing, which ended with the suicide of the main character, who was very obviously me. I’d left it sitting in the printer tray. I didn’t realize I’d done that. I certainly hadn’t meant to. Maybe my subconscious was asking for help. Maybe it was just an accident. Either way, my mom showing up, worried, was jarring. I still told myself she’d be better off if I was gone, but it was jarring.

I reassured her, and then returned to help my classmate. We worked for a while longer, but we ran out of time. I was asked to come back the next day to help finish it. I still couldn’t find a reason to say no. I still couldn’t leave that last task undone.

The next day, after we finished working, that same classmate made me promise to come back the next day. I don’t remember the details of how I was convinced. It might have been for a senior barbecue. It might’ve been something else. Whatever the case, I couldn’t find an excuse to say no.

On June 6th, I faced my failure. I attended graduation as a member of the audience. I watched as gown-clad friends and bullies alike walked across the stage and received their diplomas. I don’t know that I can describe my mental state. I was in tears. It felt like the hardest thing I’d ever done. But I got through it.

I wasn’t alone for the rest of the day. I stayed around friends, and later went to the Graduation All-Night Party, in spite of my failure. And surprising no one more than myself, I had an amazing time. I think I was in a kind of trance, not sure what to do with the extra time I was living, but I enjoyed myself. I didn’t think that enjoying life was possible, anymore. But there I was, enjoying it. It felt strange.

The next morning, as I waited to be picked up in the early morning light, I decided to live. I thought to myself, “I’ve lived a few extra days. Maybe I’ll try a few more.”

And that’s how I survived. A day or two at a time. My older sister sent me an audition notice for a paying acting job. I auditioned. I got the part. I enjoyed myself. That job led to other experiences and opportunities. A tiny ember of hope started to rekindle inside me.

A day at a time turned into a week at a time. Then a month at a time. I started looking to the future more and more.

On June 4th, 2003, I died. The person that I was died.

One June 7th, 2003, I decided to live. And I spent the following days, weeks, months, even years being reborn. Little by little, I rebuilt myself. Little by little, I built something new and wonderful out of my extended life.

Fifteen years later, I am so grateful to still be here.

My life hasn’t always gone the way I wanted. But despite the pitfalls, wrong turns, and devastating experiences I’ve encountered along the way, I am so grateful for the life I’ve lead. For the life I continue to lead. The valleys I’ve stumbled into are nothing compared to the peaks I’ve climbed.

I nearly missed out on so much. My first kiss. Friendships that mean the world to me. Adventures and travels that gave me both pleasure and perspective. Communities that gave me a true sense of belonging. Accepting myself and living openly as as a proud, queer human being.

I have lived more in so many single days of the last fifteen years than I did in all eighteen years prior. And I nearly missed out on all of that.

I’d be lying if I said it’s been easy. I have struggled, and will continue to struggle. I still live with depression, anxiety, and trauma. I deal with even more than I did when I was a teenager. I still experience strong suicidal thoughts, even urges, that wait for my vulnerable moments to leap from the depths of my mind and take control.

But little by little, I’ve learned how to manage it. I’ve learned how to ask for help when I need it…though admittedly, I’m still not great at that in all regards. I am a work in progress. I always will be. And I’ve learned that the same is true for every person on the planet.

This morning, I watched my little sister, Jewell, board the school bus for the last time. She graduates tomorrow. Like me, she struggled. But she made it. And I am so proud of her. I am also so very grateful to be here to see it happen. I almost missed watching her grow up. And now she’s transitioning into adulthood.

Jewell, you will continue to struggle. You will continue to experience hardships. But your life is just beginning. There is so much ahead of you, and I cannot wait to see what adventures you will experience. I hope you, and anyone else reading this, knows that there is always hope. There is more good than bad in this world.

Photo by George Hodan.

There’s a natural tendency, in humans, to focus on the bad over the good. It’s an evolutionary trait meant to help us survive, but taken too far it can destroy us. But our minds lie to us, even supposedly healthy minds that don’t struggle with mental illness. Because even in the deepest darkness, there is light to be found. And if it’s tended, it can grow brighter and brighter. It’s not always easy. It takes work. It takes help. But you are not alone. We may tell ourselves that we are, but that is a lie. Someone cares about you. Even if you don’t know it, even if you’ve convinced yourself otherwise, someone cares about you.

If nothing else, I care about you. I want the best for you. Even if you’ve been cruel to me, I would never wish what I’ve felt on anyone. And I want everyone to find happiness. Where I can, I want to help people find happiness.

John Donne said that no man is an island, and that every death diminishes us as if we ourselves had died. I agree. I’ve lost too many people. I used to count them. When the number of losses surpassed my age, I stopped counting. And every one of them felt like losing a part of myself. But I also carry them with me. They live on in me, in some small way.

And as painful as those deaths were, the deaths of strangers are no less damaging to all of us. We influence each others’ lives in ways we can’t even see. The ripples of our actions and our very lives extend out to people we don’t know and will never meet. None of us are as isolated as we believe we are. And none of us gets through this life on our own.

I did not achieve these last fifteen years of life without help. I cannot possibly express my gratitude to everyone who has helped me get this far. Whether friends, families, neighbors, or even strangers on the street, so many little things have kept me going. And though it’s often difficult to keep going, the passage of time always proves it to be the right decision. So thank you. All of you.

There’s a quote, though I don’t remember who said it: suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. It sounds trite. It sounds cheesy. It sounds like a motivational poster with a quote over some generic stock photo. I know that. But it’s still true. And I hope everyone reading this can remember that.

Photo by Rostislav Kralik.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you. Not all of us have the courage to be so open with our own struggles. Keep being amazing. 🙂

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