Today is my (most recent) one year anniversary of being sober! This is the second longest amount of time I have gone without drinking alcohol since the age of about 16.
But, more importantly (at least to me and probably some others too), today is also the one year anniversary of me trying to kill myself!
I’m not sure that there’s really anything that I can say about suicide or advice I can give to anyone who has been or is thinking about killing themselves. A lot can and has been said, both by people who have tried to kill themselves and those who never will, about suicide, suicide prevention, the warning signs of suicide, and how to help when you think someone is seriously contemplating doing it. So, in the interest of being responsible, take anything from me just as what it is; thoughts, feelings, and ruminations about MY suicide i.e. I’m not a mental health professional and anything I offer is probably only applicable to me.
Also, I feel it would be responsible to offer trigger warnings up front for people who might have survived a suicide attempt of their own, might be suicidal or who know me personally and may have been involved, however tangentially, in my attempt to kill myself. I won’t go into elaborate detail about trying to kill myself (primarily because I hate the sense of drama and entertainment that’s often used to make talking about suicide more palatable) but I do feel that recalling some of the particulars of it and how they play into my emotional mindset at the time seems necessary or at least appropriate for context. So, if you feel like maybe that means that you shouldn’t read this, then don’t. I would be more upset by knowing that I carelessly hurt or upset someone than I would be by finding out that someone didn’t read something I wrote.
When I think about what I did (implication being that this, like most things is personal and relative and is in no way meant to be applicable or true of everyone’s situations) I try not to use the words “attempted suicide.” I, when I think about it and talk about it, prefer to say “tried to kill myself.” It’s more accurate in my case as suicide to me feels like something that follows depression or grief. There seems to be associated with it an immense and overwhelming sadness. This was not the case with me.
Sure, I felt that there was no purpose to being alive (obviously) and that all things were futile but, this was to me more of a “logical” conclusion that I had reached after a great deal of thought and consideration. I hadn’t decided that killing myself was my best option because I deemed myself worthless or felt that no one loved me but rather because it was the inevitable conclusion. If this makes it sound like it was a clean and orderly decision/action/result process that almost bordered on scientific and may or may not have involved writing out a list of pros and cons to being alive, I can assure you it wasn’t. (But there was totally a list. I like lists.)
In the month leading up to me trying to kill myself, following a brief stay at a facility for detox and suicide watch, I was, in addition to staying pretty much permanently drunk, spending an inordinate amount of my free time and energy repeatedly going over and over the same thought:
“Since I have tried to kill myself before and since I drink so much, I am statistically more likely to die by killing myself. Is it going to happen now or when I’m older? How much do I want to put up with?”
[Later, with the help of an amazing psychologist, I discovered that this is not only unsupported statistically but that this type of thinking was also a symptom of the elusive and hard to pin down “mixed-state” of bipolar disorder. This is when a person with bipolar disorder literally experiences symptoms of both mania and depression at the same time. (Two for one! What a horrifying bargain!)]
I had (in only the way that someone with an untreated mental illness can) come to the conclusion that, since I was statistically more likely to die by killing myself that I should just do it and do it then. But, in the hours leading up to me trying to kill myself things got…messy. The “logic” and resolve that I had been following eroded as the choice became more concrete and the outcome more real.
I panicked. I started reaching out to people not entirely sure if I wanted someone to talk me out of my choice or if I was just wanting to say my goodbyes. I remember (vaguely) talking to my brother about what clothes I should wear, telling my dad that I had to get off the phone once he started trying to convince me that I didn’t need to kill myself. I made and received a lot of phone calls to family I hadn’t talked to in ages (silver lining!), my mom came over to visit (really less of a traditional visit and more of a “she-knew-I-was-going-to-try-to-kill-myself-and-so-she-did-what-any-mom-would-do-and-came-to-try-and-keep-me-alive” visit and had I not verbally assaulted her and been so horribly mean she probably could have). Things were no longer theoretical or logical, they were scary. I cried more that night than I may have ever or since.
I was going to die.
I was sad that I was going to die. There were people I was going to miss.
I was not however, going to die because I was sad.
I was going to die because my brain wouldn’t stop working to convince me that I was going to die.
I remember being, in the most classical sense of the word, frustrated. Mostly I would guess because I didn’t really “want” to die but rather I felt like it was an inevitability that I had, albeit at an astoundingly high cost, control over.
After drinking an obscene amount of booze, saying my “goodbyes” (read: telling a bunch of people “fuck you” for trying to help me), swallowing a bottle of pills, having my best friend call 911 after finding me on the floor, and ripping an I.V. out of my arm in a last ditch effort to kill myself by bleeding out in the back of an ambulance, the decision to die was ultimately taken out of my angry, and existential hands.
As morbid or fucked up as it may sound, surviving trying to kill myself gave me a chance to re-boot so to speak. And, trite as it may sound, I had a new lease on life. After I physically recovered I honestly felt refreshed.
I also felt fearless.
I started to tell myself that either A) I was somehow cockroach level invincible or B) (and slightly more realistically) that having already nearly died, that there was nothing that life had to offer, nothing that anyone could say, nothing that people could do (short of killing me of course) that could ultimately be as bad or as terrifying as that was.
When you try to kill someone that isn’t yourself (a.k.a. murder) it’s not usually because you’re overwhelmed with sadness or emptiness (though I can think of a few Japanese films and Greek tragedies in which this is totally the case), it’s usually because you’re angry with the potentially soon to be deceased person.
I feel like me trying to kill myself falls pretty neatly into this category. Maybe I was more depressed than I realized but I wasn’t sad. I was still going to school (I maintained a 3.5 all that semester despite being hospitalized twice, missing two whole weeks of class and nearly dying!). I was still going to work. I was still spending time with friends. I was doing the things that otherwise “normal” and healthy people do. I even knew I had scads of people who I loved and who loved me. I never doubted that but in spite of my wealth of normalcy and quantitative human interactions, I felt the need to die and I was angry.
If anything I was mad at myself for losing control of myself and for trying to fit too neatly into too many cultural niches. Filling the roles, either collectively or independently as: a dangerously slutty queer, a drunk/tortured “artist”, a jaded, nihilistic millennial, an emotionally unavailable, stoic, American man, and so on to the point that all of them became unfamiliar and watered down. Its one thing to be multi-faceted and “contain multitudes” after all, humans are complex. However, it was another thing entirely to live as each of these things so fully and wholly that I wasn’t able to do things that didn’t fit in one of those roles. It was infuriating to lose control over who I was and what I was doing just so that I could fit into these quick, easy, culturally reinforced stereotypes and be more palatable, more consumable. I was mad that, either for the benefit of others or my own, I had gotten lazy.
Trying to kill myself gave me a chance to kill that me. To destroy the lazy, culturally adherent, terrified me.
[I feel like it would be responsible to stop and make it clear that I am in NO WAY SUGGESTING that everyone should experience a nearness to their own death as a means to become more confident or to jazz up their life. I feel like what’s more true or accurate here is that, my life and mental health were SO FUCKED because I had been so negligent that it took nearly dying to convince me to make changes. Plus, there are lots of cooler ways to add some pizzazz to life. Try a new bar, volunteer at a local Aquarium or get a daring new haircut maybe?]
I owe a lot to both surviving and trying to kill myself (despite this, I still would not suggest it). Over the past year I’ve made a lot of changes. Most of which are completely internal and invisible (unless of course my fear where all the things that I’m thinking and feeling are written on my skin with ink that is only visible to everyone but me is a valid fear). With the help of the aforementioned amazing psychologist I was able to discover that even though, yes, I do have bipolar disorder, that doesn’t mean that everything I think or want that falls outside of cultural norms is a result of or symptom of that illness and, that some, if not most, of the things I feel are situationally appropriate and aren’t necessarily the result of misfiring brain matter.
I’m getting more comfortable admitting that I’m not a naturally stoic or emotionally frigid person (I feel feelings, I’m not a robot. Not a cheap one at any rate.) And also, that expressing emotions is not going to make everyone think I’m a queer. (I mean, I am and I totally love dicks but that is only whoever’s business I make it and is entirely exclusive and independent of how I process and express emotions.)
I fucked up and got unreasonably lucky. Even though I think that it’s important for me to remember what I did and where I was when I started making the choices that lead to me trying to kill myself so that I can spot them if they come back, I also have to keep in mind the cost of all my magical, emotional growth. I have to remember that just as I may wake up on every October 21st, like I did today, and think about how I tried to kill myself, others may too.