Two Women Saved My Life — Then I Abandoned Them

Please be aware that the following story contains frank discussion of suicide and suicidal ideation.

I am nineteen-years-old, and my friends and I are standing in an alleyway just off Oxford Street. We met through our university’s musical theatre society, and have known each other a scant few months, since we made it through auditions.

We all take different subjects, come from totally different backgrounds, and yet have made friends in that immediate way that you do when you leave everything you know behind. They are staring at me as if I have just told them that I tried to kill myself on the way there.

Because I did.

Several hours earlier, I dragged myself out of my bed in halls and forced myself to get ready. I made the walk to the nearest tube station — twenty minutes away, a distance that seemed like forever then, even though I had grown up in the middle of nowhere. When you live in the middle of nowhere, you don’t walk anywhere. Walking was alien to me. I wasn’t used to it. And somewhere in that journey, I started thinking terrible things.

I shouldn’t have been there. I shouldn’t have been in that city, hundreds of miles from my family, at a time when I spent so much of my time thinking about wanting to cut lines in my thighs. Before I’d gone to university, I’d had a breakdown. The close-to-catatonic, don’t leave your room for months, ‘do nothing except sleep and occasionally manage to poke idly at the internet’ sort of breakdown.

That catatonia faded when I went to university, replaced by a form of mania that I did not yet understand. I went about my life on auto-pilot, occasionally waking up to think a single, clear thought: I wish I was dead. I wish that I was dead.

By the time I reached the station, it was all that I could think. All that I could hear. I stood and watched the edge of the platform, consumed by this one, overwhelming thought. The announcer crackled over the speakers above me; my train was approaching. I could hear the rumble as it clattered along the tracks. I was halfway down the platform; it wouldn’t be slow here.

I lifted my foot up.

I was going to jump. I didn’t. Instead, something truly ironic happened: my anxiety saved me from the moment it was going to kill me. Instead of stepping forward, I started hyperventilating. The one leg I was standing on gave way, and I stumbled against a nearby bench. There were people around me, but they didn’t notice — or they thought it nothing more than someone falling over.

I sat on the bench and tried to remember how to breathe, that thing I should surely know how to do by that point, but did not. I scrubbed at my eyes and took a deep breath, then pushed the thought of dying out of my head — it fell from it, jarred away by the sudden panic attack. The alarms began to sound, warning that the train doors were about to close.

And, because I was no longer my true self, but a manic version that did not understand the momentousness of what had just happened, I got onto the train that my depression tried to use to kill me and I rode it all the way to university. Soon my head was full of lectures that I could only just pay attention to, and I had forgotten that terrible mantra — for a little while, at least.

When my classes were done, I met up with those friends I had made. We walked all the way to Oxford Street from our campus, intending to go shopping before we had rehearsals in the evening. We were walking down the tourist-filled road, talking about whatever scene it was we were working on, and all manner of other nonsense.

To this day, I don’t know why I told them what happened. I don’t know how it came up. The nature of my manic days is that I remember very little of the details about them, save the things that are impossible to forget. Perhaps I owe my sudden honesty to them — perhaps they noticed, commented on it, coaxed the truth out of me.

I told them that I had almost died by suicide — but I didn’t use those words. I didn’t understand, then, the difference between “killed myself” or “committed suicide” and to have died to it. I didn’t understand that the thoughts about dying would haunt me for years to come, even when I was whole and recovering.

What I do know is that, eleven years later, I understand what it is to be on the other side of that moment. I have stood there as someone has told me that they almost died, I have been one of the first to respond, and I have had to talk people down from ledges of many different kinds. I know how terrifying it is. I know how overwhelming. And I know that, if I could go back in time and tell my nineteen-year-old self anything, it would be this: whatever you do, make sure you tell them.

They will save you.

Because these friends did not flee, even though we had only known one another for weeks. They pulled me into that side street, handed me a phone, and told me to call my parents. My parents, who had seen me have a breakdown, yet who I had told so little about what was happening to me. My parents who were now forced to listen to the news that I was far more ill than I had said.

When that was done, and my friends had held me through five years of tears, we went to rehearsals — because none of us knew what else to do. Many people might have left at this point. Duty done, the need for care passed on, they could just have abandoned me and gone home at the end of the rehearsal. They didn’t. Instead, without really knowing what it was, they personally put me on suicide watch.

For days after, I slept on the floor of their tiny, cramped rooms. One of my most vivid memories from that week is remarking on how full one bedroom was of the free condoms given at freshers. They were everywhere, like an unexpectedly poetic symbol of her protection.

Through that week and after that, these two incredible women looked after me, with the help of other friends who knew what had happened. They passed me from one to the other, making sure I was on my own for as little as possible, never mentioning the burden of becoming carers to someone they had only known for a few weeks. I moved halls to be nearer them, to feel safe. With their help, I got referred to the university psychiatrist, and started getting treatment.

And over the next year, I cut off all contact from those friends entirely.

I was terrified of them.

These two people had seen me at my worst. Until then, I had shut everyone out of my mental health. My family knew, but I had never told them the extent of it — I had never truly talked about what happened in my head. They had seen me depressed and anxious, they had even seen me have panic attacks, but they had not seen me manic. They had not seen what I looked like when I was drunk; the alcohol combining with my SSRIs to make me someone else entirely.

One day, when we were out at a bar with the society, I had a panic attack so bad that I hallucinated. I don’t remember what I felt or saw, but I remember the crushing weight of the emotion on my chest. I remember holding onto a hand so tightly that I thought I would crush it. Because my angels were still with me. They never left.

I was the one who left. I fled to another group of friends. I stopped going to that society that had given me those incredible women and, instead, I found some new people to let down. Some other people to lead on and then drop when I became scared of them, too. Again and again I cast aside these people who had seen me vulnerable, and sensitive, and weak.

But through all this time, strange as it may sound, I was getting better. Eventually I met a group of people and I believed, for the first time, that they wanted me there. That they accepted that side of me that was broken.

In that group I met my fiance, my best friends, people to whom I am now closer even than my family. People who, in their own way, saved my life over and over. I don’t know what it was that made the difference. I don’t know whether I was ready, finally, to see that people loved me — or whether they were just stubborn enough to stick it out.

But I have never stopped thinking about those women who were there when I most truly wanted to die.

I’ve started and never finished letters to them. Facebook is a cruel thing; I’ve looked at their photos, seen glimpses of their lives through public updates. Sometimes I get stuck looking through pages upon pages of what little privacy settings will allow me to see. It hurts. I don’t know if they are more beautiful than I remember them, or if I am simply seeing them in a way I never have before.

What would I even say, given the chance?

I’ve thought about it a lot. I could say a lot of things. But really, when it comes down to it, there are only three things that I would want to say; a painful senryu of truth.

I am so sorry.

You should know you saved my life.

I love you so much.

Everything else, after all, would be besides the point.