Wake Me Up When September Ends
When the nurse strapped my arms to the bed, she glanced into my eyes with a look that was both sympathetic and apologetic. In a gentle whisper, she said, “We just need to make sure you don’t hurt yourself.” Here I was in a place for crazy people, looking like a crazy person, being treated like I was crazy. And maybe in that moment, I was. I truly was.
Swallowing an entire bottle of clonazepam and sertraline with the hopes of ending my own life got me to the emergency room and psychiatric facility. To this day, there’s not a day goes by that I don’t look back on what happened that sunny afternoon in September of 2015. I cannot help but wonder how my life would have been different if I didn’t keep trying to kill myself every other day. Constant fantasies of nooses, rooftop edges, busy freeways, and kitchen knives lulled me to sleep. I kept hoping that one of those things would put me to rest forever.
Every minute, the only thing that ran through my head was, “Everyone hates me everyone hates me everyone hates me I don’t belong here I deserve to die I deserve to die I am unworthy of love everyone is laughing at me I deserve to die die die.” Occasionally, when I walked to class or in social settings, I heard a voice. A voice with no gender. It affirmed all of my dread.
“They’re whispering and laughing because they want you to go away but don’t know how to escape.”
“Did you see that? She smiled at her but didn’t even acknowledge you’re standing there.”
“Why are you so hateful? Why are you even alive?”
I remember, I started to talk to myself in the bathroom — lights off, doors closed, knife clutched in hand. Sometimes I would lie on the cold tile floor, completely numb, and try to stop breathing. Then, I would slowly pick myself up, walk out the door, and go to a sorority event planned for that evening like nothing happened. My worst fear was to ruin the public image I maintained so meticulously: for people to casually mention in side-line gossip conversations, “She’s psychotic.” That fear is largely what must have kept me alive. Keeping up with the perfect and revered version of Justine meant that I would have to become a master of duality and deception. That maintenance, in itself, required a tremendous amount of expended energy. I was fully functional and fully suicidal.
When people ask me about the scars on my arms and legs, I have to try my best to come up with an excuse. Honestly, I can’t even keep track of them anymore. I’ve blamed cats, dogs, and accidentally scraping against sharp edges. If we were being realistic, would anyone actually say, “Oh these are just from all the times I tried to punish myself for being alive” or that seeing my own blood made everything melt away? At my current stage, I deeply regret it. I am ashamed of these marks that mar my flesh. Yet, at the same time, I am grateful for them. They are reminders that I am still here, that I made it out, that I am healing and getting better.
The question I’ve repeatedly been asking myself is, how did things reach that point? Through my ordeal, I learned that everyone has a story. Some are complicated. Others are not. Some people, like me, were never taught how to cope with trauma, whether it be mental, physical, or emotional. That’s how it reached that point. Deciding to stop trying to brave it out alone and accepting that therapy and medication could help me was the best decision I could have made. I am learning to allow myself to trust others again, and most importantly, how to trust myself.
The moral of this piece of writing is this: we all hide our demons in the closet. There is a lock on that door, and we are the only one with the key. If we are too afraid to let those demons out for fear of other people seeing it, then they will always be kept inside. Waiting. Thriving. Feeding.
I know I am okay because I don’t hear the voices in my head anymore. When I think back on everything that happened during those years, I no longer feel an anxious, unquenchable desire to carve things in my body or teeter on the edge of rooftops. I think of my parents, who staggered into the mental ward with a shocked and dazed look on their face. I think of my father’s callused hands swiftly and masterfully slicing fresh cuts of soft sashimi and my mother’s adorable laugh that echoes like happy chimes throughout any room she’s in. I think of my brothers who I am just now starting to establish beautiful relationships with. I think of what their faces would look like if I was gone: if that day in September no one found me and I didn’t make it.
I cannot say confidently right now that suicide isn’t the answer. There’s still a big part of me that isn’t used to being rehabilitated to think normally; I can’t help but continue to believe that ending everything would have been the ultimate and permanent relief I needed. But what I do know is this: I would never have been able to fulfill my dreams. I wouldn’t have a chance to raise the children I’ve always wanted. My parents would be left without their only daughter and I wouldn’t be able to wear the wedding dress my mother never got to wear. These are the things I cling on to now. They may not be much, but they keep me from relapsing into a dark place again.
I’m going to allow myself the luxury of being a bit juvenile here. It’s no secret that we as humans are socially-made creatures who thrive off of the inter-happenings of ourselves and others. I also concede that people are free to say what they choose, and that it is inevitable for talk to happen. However, I hope that my peers and acquaintances can learn to watch what they say and why they say it. If there is one thing positive I have learned, it is to be mindful about the things that come out of my mouth if it is not my business. I’ve grown up. I’ve realized that something that’s so easy for me to say can stumble someone else and hurt them deeply from those same words. So I beg of those who have managed to read this far: speak as if that person might not be here tomorrow. Like me, there are many others out there who –till the death of them- will not exhibit signs that are red flags. And, if that’s you — it’s okay to say you’re hurt when you’re hurt. It doesn’t make you any less of a brave person.
These things came to mind because of a peer who shared the passing of someone in her life through suicide. It was a wake-up call. In those moments when things get hard and our brain is no longer controlled by us, we forget that there are people who love us and whose lives would be changed forever if we died. I thought that the world would be better if I wasn’t in it and it was so easy to overlook the key people in my life because we take for granted their love. How could I hurt my mother and father in that way? How could I have ever dismissed the help I so desperately needed out of fear of being a coward, and prioritized that over the happiness and well-being of my parents? In hard times, these are the things we must remember.
I held on, and I’m continuing to hold on — just like the rest of us. I am still so, so scared to say these things, but I am glad to share in hopes that I could provide relief to someone secretly reading this who may understand what I’m trying to say. We’ve all been there, or we will — so let’s try to support each other in our individual journeys to find happiness and purpose. I am learning that it is not an earned right to be happy; I am not required to obtain permission to be. It is mine for the taking. I am allowed to own it. And when happiness leaves me, it is my duty to find it. To not give up. To live as long as I can and do the most good that I can before my place in the heavens calls me to come.