Suicide and Jello
Depression is like jello. Like sitting atop a big tub of jello, where at first only your butt sinks in but as the jello gets warmer, you slowly slip deeper into it. And soon enough, you are eyes deep in jello. You’re not sure how you’re still breathing. But somehow, you are. You can see and hear everything around you, but muddled through that thick layer of jello. Your skin, locked inside, quarantined away from the fingertips of the people who love you.
As a teenager that hadn’t fully grasped the depths of much, my naivete allowed me to spill out harsh words that missed the point of how helpless and all encompassing depression is. “People who are really going to kill themselves, do not say they are going to kill themselves.” And that would allow me to pack away any responsibility I might feel towards the struggling friend in a -never to be opened again- box in my mind. But you know what? I was right about one thing. I am writing this because I’m not going to kill myself. Yet. But I was also very wrong, because writing this, is taking every bit of energy I have left. It’s really simple, there might be a point of no return where I will not want to be stopped, so I will not speak about it. But before that, when depression still has not won, I do want to speak out.
If I had to pinpoint a starting point for all of this, it would be when I had taken part in Egypt’s revolution on January 25th, 2011. I, like many others, dreamt of a different Egypt. I was willing to put in the work it would take to rebuild a country I could feel at home in, only to watch it get mangled up into a disaster. On one particular day, my best friend, and the man I was in love with at the time, called my landline. The internet and cell reception were down. He had taken a shot to the leg and needed to be hospitalized. The streets of Cairo were ablaze so I had to use an old school telephone from home to find someone who could help him. I was told he could lose the leg. Even though he ended up being alright, what seemed like theoretical danger was now too close to home.
My father, being in quite a difficult position as the Egyptian ambassador in Sudan at the time, did a little dance with me. We’d rarely lived in the same house; he was a diplomat and that meant I’d see him when there were enough days off for one to visit the other. In February of 2011, the boiling point of Egypt’s revolution, I was in Sudan visiting him for spring break. I would watch him hold back tears for people my age who had lost eyes fighting for the revolution, but then he’d turn right around and tell me that I did not know what I was talking about. We were a naive generation with our heads in the clouds, he was sure we needed to settle down. I don’t remember a meal we had together when we did not butt heads. Even after he and my mother sat me down to let me know that his liver disease has become a bigger problem than they’d ever let on.
We were now officially supposed to be looking for a liver for my father. We would have to do it ourselves and we have to buy it ourselves. Organ donation is almost impossible in Egypt. Many nights, I’d find myself scrolling down through organ “donation” forums. Thousands of Egyptians were willing to sell parts of their own flesh to get out of debt. On the forums, people would post which organ(s) they were willing to sell, their age, blood type and their asking price. Many had both a lobe of their liver and a kidney up for sale. The thought of it was maddening. It was kind of funny that I’d marched against the regime before I’d even seen any of it.
As Dad’s health deteriorated, I assured myself that this could not be how my story with him ended. We would still argue about politics whenever we got the chance until he slipped into and out of hepatic comas enough times for me to realise that I could no longer trust that his mind was sound. I learned to keep my mouth shut about things that did not really matter in comparison.
The boy I was in love with was now my boyfriend. I arranged for them to meet at the hospital. My father did not know who he was meeting, only that my friends were here to visit. After cracking a cute little joke about his own appearance at the time, he fell asleep. It was the first time it had crossed my mind that my father will probably never meet my children. And if there’s one thing he was good at, it was being a grandfather. Just a few days later, the hospital sent him home. They said that he was better. My brother, a doctor, knew that they were sending him home to die. He told me that it was my job to keep our father alive until he found him liver. That meant I had to give Dad four enemas a day to flush the toxins out of his body. And because the toxic buildup meant he was not really conscious of his surroundings, I would sometimes have to chase him down and force him to let me do it.
Dad took advantage of the couple of hours he had after every enema when he’d have a clear mind to tell me his full life story. He told me he wanted me to write about him after he was gone. I listened, but not enough.The key learnings were that a) his life was difficult and b) he had regrets, too many of them. That is most of what I remember, because I was too busy keeping him alive. I was sure that there was no way he would die before I could get a real chance at a relationship with him, and then he could tell me all of this again.
It was now 2014 and Egypt had fallen into the hands of yet another dictator after a not so graceful military coup. This one had an even tighter hold on Egypt’s people, murdering hundreds of its people in cold blood to get it done. By the time my brother had found a couple of leads on possible liver matches, my father was already playing an imaginary oud in an intensive care unit of another hospital. He would point at the television and ask us if we could hear the people chant. He was exhilarated that they were not putting up with this dictator’s nonsense either. It warmed my heart to feel like maybe he and I agreed on more than he ever admitted to me. The only problem was, there was nothing on television, but who would dare correct him? The chanting days were over, if I were to do what I had done back in 2011, I would be dead or in prison. The majority of surviving revolutionaries were desperate for any chance to get out of the country. Most hope for the success of the revolution had died. Dad died a few days later.
I was taken off guard, almost like I had not been watching him die for years. I was not sure what grief was supposed to look like. I wasn’t sure what I needed from anyone around me either. My boyfriend insisted that after the funeral there wasn’t much anyone else could really do. He booked himself a ticket for a two week vacation in Ukraine less than a month after my father died. When he came back, he was ready for me to be over it. I wasn’t the first or last person to have a parent die. His tone of irritation slowly morphed into ultimatums, be happy or lose him. Melancholy disgusted him, and the idea of losing someone else I loved cornered me into submission. I started working on myself to be closer to what he would want to live with. That included having him do my shopping for me because he never thought anything I chose was good enough. I also had to keep my weight under control, something I’d struggled with since my early teens. And most of all, I treated my big curly hair twice to straighten it as much as possible, and when I felt like he was still not satisfied with the results, I chopped most of it off.
A year and a half into the relationship he had a motorcycle accident. Before I could make my way to him, doctors had already decided that there was no way to save his left leg. This time around, it had to go. A few hours later, it was done. I saw him cry about it once, the next day, never to be repeated again. What came next was watching stitches getting pulled out of stumps, casts, wheelchairs, physical therapy, gauze, and prosthesis fittings. But more importantly came the realization that he was and always had been unfaithful to me. I was practically living with him in the rehabilitation center, magnifying anything he was trying to hide. I stayed, nonetheless, in hopes that the accident would inspire a change. It wasn’t until he proposed to me around the three year mark that I realised that I did not want to live looking over my shoulder anymore. And I missed recognizing myself in the mirror.
The break up uncovered the specifics of his cheating: He had started cheating on his trip to Ukraine and only stopped sleeping around when he had proposed. My refusal to succumb just one more time dug up the worst in him. For about 8 months, I was practically in hiding. If I wasn’t going to belong to him anymore, he was determined to destroy my life. Earlier, I had come to the realisation that I no longer wanted to work in the marketing field. I quit my job with almost no plan for what I will be doing next. Fearing for my personal safety and with not much left for me at home, in just four months I arranged to move to Andalucia, Spain to teach English in Spanish public schools. The flight was six very quiet hours. All my thoughts reduced to an unfamiliar hush.
Since my plane landed here in Spain, everyone who truly cares about me has been so relieved that I’d finally gotten myself the fresh start which they believe I deserve. So was I. Everything, surely, would be okay now. It must. The pressure to be okay, swept every warning sign under the rug. Which only accelerated something that I had no idea was coming my way.
The jello. That separation from all that exists outside of my own body. The tint that stains everything I see to a different shade of the same color. My lungs hauling in what they can and ending up dense with gooey jello. The weight of my limbs and the frustration of how slowly they move. The defeat of never chewing fast enough to make enough space for myself in here. The exhaustion that one ups almost everything else I feel. The echoing sound of nothing but my own voice, bouncing off the walls of my mind, telling me to just stop existing.
It has gotten so bad, that on several occasions over the past couple of months, I’ve watched myself laying in bed crying. And the terrifying part is why I cry. I cry mourning what, in those particular moments, seems like an inevitable and necessary death. My own death.
In those moments, more than feeling like dying would liberate me from all the heaviness of life, I mostly feel neglected. I feel failed by the whole universe and everything that has ever brought me closer to this. Starting from the woman who gave birth to me, to the last person I spoke to. One question seems to repeat itself every night I’ve experienced this: “Why have you done this to me?”
Even though I’m incredibly lucky, in terms of the people I have in my life, I am still sharply affected by the unkindness of others. The unkindness I am referring to does not necessarily need to be directed at me in order to feed into the feeling that I can not be part of this world anymore. Most of the time, it’s just seeing people not trying to be careful with each other. But it is also, of course, the unkindness that is directed at me from people who probably do not understand the weight of what they do and say.
The most recent time it had happened, I was in London, a city I had been dying to visit for months. I was feeling more than alright, I was having a great time. Then something of ridiculous importance happened. A friend I had met up with there, was a little bit cold to me. It was enough to send me to what is now a familiar place. “There is no place for me in this world”. Again and again and again until I wake up the next morning. I wake up like nothing has happened. What crippled me the night before, would now become just a little bird on my shoulder.
I went about the beginning of that day like nothing had happened. Soon, the bird dug its claws into my shoulder. But there was no time or space to give it any attention. Words were building up in my mind faster than I can stack on top of each other. At the sight of my tears my friend asked me why I was crying. “Just give me a minute”, by the end of the minute all the words I’ve put on top of the other, gave out and fell away from my reach. The most I could utter was “I’m really sorry”.
That day, as I tried to keep my feet moving behind my friend, who was zooming through the tiny streets of Soho square, I felt my eyes well up. I wanted to say that I am afraid the heaviness will never be lifted. I am afraid this could be who I am now, and who I am going to be forever. I am afraid my forever will be cut short by my own hands. I wanted to say that I am tired. I am tired of pushing. I am tired of getting out of bed in the morning. I am tired of getting into bed at night. And mostly, I am tired of walking right now. I wanted to ask him to stop running. “Just give me a minute, please. I am not alright”. The thought of reaching out that way out of the blue made me cringe. Because this is what my younger self would have dismissed as “attention whoring”. So, I apologised, instead, for even considering it.
Just an hour later, I was on my way back to the city where I live with a box of donuts in my hands. My friend had stopped on our way to my bus and bought me three donuts. I was staring down at the box and it dawned on me that I’m not ready to entirely give up yet. I am still desperate to find a way out. And I found some relief in the idea that I still have a desire to speak about this, even if it’s a while later, when it is too late to say it to a friendly face. I had to come to terms with the fact that my younger self had no idea what she was talking about. She would have to forgive me for being this very specific kind of whore. If there’s anyway I would make it out of this, I’m going to need help. So, grab a spoon, if you will.
I need you to be kind. Be kind to yourself and to other people. Remember that we are all fragile in one way or another and that a little thing you say or do could be played over and over in someone else’s head. Do not have people believing things that you know are not true. Do not use people’s weaknesses against them.
I need you to believe me. Trust me when I say that I can not will this away. I can not choose to feel differently, at least not overnight. Trust that I do actually love myself, and that I do wish I could be here writing about something else. Trust that this is what trying actually looks like. I need you to understand that everything I do now is all I can do to push myself to live one more day.
I need you to speak. I need you to speak to me and to other people. Not only about this. Allow others to speak to you freely. Do not block people out of your life just because you don’t want to have an uncomfortable conversation. Do not be the reason someone is trapped in a memory of something they could have done differently. If you can, spell out to them what you need from them, or what you don’t need from them. Take the time to explain yourself. Allow people to explain themselves to you.
And finally, I need you to forgive me. I need you to forgive me if this is the best kind of person I can be right now. Forgive me if I am not giving you what I owe you. Forgive me if I am having trouble forgiving you. Forgive me if everything I have been blessed with still isn’t enough to keep me from feeling this way. Forgive me if I have failed to inform you of this earlier. Forgive me if I can not function properly. Forgive me if I am not doing what I am supposed to do, because I really am busy trying to keep myself alive. I am busy trying to forgive you. I’m busy trying to forgive myself.