“But suicides have a special language. Like carpenters, they want to know which tools. They never ask why build.”
–Anne Sexton

You never say the words; you write them. You repeat them to yourself like a song you can’t seem to shake, the lyrics of which you can’t remember. Maybe you can sing your way back to fine until you realize this is yet another promise you’ve made to yourself that you probably won’t keep. Over here stands your Babel tower of wants — the ground quaking beneath. Cracks in the fault. Over there lie the notes some of us leave behind; we write about the why but rarely the what. Because the cold, quiet body is the what, and who wants to be redundant?

We leave our clues. The how are the tools we use. The where is the place we feel safest, home. Coroners can tell you the when. They have their tools and measurements, too.

But you never say the words out loud, because they’re a clarion call for the swarm. They swan in with 1-(800) numbers to call: copy, paste, and re-tweet. They tell you that you are worthy and loved. They say, you’ll live through this, and you can’t help but laugh over the irony of the words they’ve chosen. Only last week you read news clippings about a teenager found dead in a living room.

The ones who love you most will come bearing their entreaties. Call this doctor. Take this medication. Practice your self-care. Here’s that popular meditation app I told you about. You can download it to your phone! They’ve determined that yours is a situation that can be solved. You are fixable.

Just take her in for repair. Return her to factory settings.

There’s no lonelier place than the depression purgatory — the temporary space you visit between “normal” and complete darkness.

You phone doctors and insurance companies. Yes, I’ll hold. You lace up your sneakers and go for a run. Yes, I’ll continue to hold. You download that app. The glare from the screen, like daylight, has become an assault, even with its promise of cashmere clouds and cerulean skies. How much of it is covered with my insurance? You try that intermittent fasting fad everyone’s talking about. Is that what you consider a sliding scale? You do all these things because you are promised betterment.

Anything to avoid saying the words: I want to die.

One day you wake and think: Okay, life is slightly less terrible. It’s… tolerable. You even smile. You return to a life of scheduling and sitting through conference calls. You joke about the hold music. You count your steps with a watch wrapped around your wrist. You split fish tacos with friends who speak in exclamation points. They talk about your betterment. You! Look! So! Great! Everyone pantomimes.

And it’s true. You are fine, for a while, and then you encounter what will become the first of many miniature tsunamis. At first, they leave as swiftly as they’ve arrived. In its wake, you’re left lying on the floor. Paralyzed. Then the bouts of sadness last longer. How is it possible? You’re taking the pills. You’re clocking 12,000 steps a day. You’re swishing that coconut oil in your mouth even though it makes you slightly nauseated and you know it’s probably bullshit anyway.

You’re a prisoner in your own home. Food has lost its flavor. Everything is canceled. Every act is Herculean. You cry in the shower. You cry on hold. You cry listening to hold music. You cry watching “save the animals” commercials. And it occurs to you that you’ve never been much of a crier until now. It’s like you’re making up for lost time. Cashing in those rainy day tears.

How is it that you’ve returned on a tourist visa to this dark country, one to which you’ve denied yourself entry? What you say out loud: “How the fuck did I get back here?” What you don’t realize: Everyone you know in a 3,000-mile radius says those words, too. But they’re mumbling; their voices barely register above a whisper.

There’s no lonelier place than the depression purgatory — the temporary space you visit between “normal” and complete darkness. Emails go unanswered. Calls go to voicemail. They unfollow. They mute. They block. They’re confused and exhausted. What do they say? They’ve memorized the “getting better” script but don’t know how to improvise. They’ll cheer your comeback story, but recede when you’re back in the messy middle.

Suddenly, their exclamation marks become periods.

Weren’t you supposed to have been fixed? She’s supposed to be fine. Maybe they think this is your fault. Maybe you’re not taking the pills. Maybe you’ve skipped a run. Maybe you’ve stopped swishing the coconut oil. Mind over matter, they think, conveniently ignoring the fact that you have an actual illness that prevents you from doing the swishing, the running, and the desire for living. You’re taking the pills but you still want to die.

Their silences are the loudest sounds. Louder than bombs.

You are human and you are hurting and you’re not just a redemption story people tell in passing.

You tell them you’re trying. Imagine your brain telling you that you’re tired. All it craves is sound, permanent sleep. And there you are, punching that motherfucker in the face because you just spent $26 on a flu shot precisely because you want to live. Imagine that war is a constant, an invisible sickness that others fail to grasp or are too lazy to understand. You’re crawling back to that tower of wants but it’s falling. Tumbling down into the cracks in the fault and you’re tired. You’re so tired and the idea of holding a hammer in your hands, the concept of rebuilding, is unimaginable. You can barely hold the hammer; the weight of it, the thought of holding it, the actuality of holding it, brings you to your knees.

You explain to the people you love that depression isn’t a three-act play. You explain that there are degrees of sadness and not all roads point to suicide, although some sometimes do. You are not a binary; you are their friend, their lover, their daughter, their son, their sister, their brother, uncle, aunt, and everything above, below and in between. You are human and you are hurting and you’re not just a redemption story people tell in passing.


You are in a car driving up the coast and your friend steadies her hand on the wheel. You make a joke about writing a novel where the character starts out trying to hang herself, but it’s a failed suicide and it’s funny, hilarious because just last week you compared the efficacy of extension cords to ropes. Both of you laugh because you know that sometimes you need to. The weight of this talk, this illness, constantly threatens to swallow you whole. You say the things to one another that would elicit uncomfortable silences among the healthy.

Your friend tells you about a time, not too long ago, when she wanted to die. She called all of her friends to meet her at a bar and none of them showed up. She called her friends again and again because everyone tells you to reach out, but here’s the thing. You can reach and reach and feel nothing but air.

Your friend tells you that she’s never said the words —”I wanted to die“— out loud until that moment, with you, in the car.

It hadn’t occurred to her that their silences hurt more than her sickness ever could. You turn away for a moment because you’re back in the healthy place and you’ve got the crying thing under control, but you agree. You tell your friend that it breaks your fucking heart that the ones you love fail to show up for the moments you need them most.

You make a bad joke about them showing up after you’re gone because everyone comes from the curtain call, the end of the play. Your friend tells you that she’s never said the words — I wanted to die — out loud until that moment, with you, in the car. You say, We have to say them sometimes. We can’t hold them in all the time; we’re not made to be containers of all this pain. Release it, out into the world, so we can make space for other words. Words like, I’m trying so hard to live. I want to live. Live.


Make the effort for the people you love. Use Google to figure out what to say. They don’t want you to be their therapist; they don’t expect you to solve their problems — they just want to know that you’re there. Respond to their emails even if you can’t help. Let them know they matter. Let them know they are worthy and loved. Don’t mute or unfollow them. Don’t let them sit in their silences alone.

It’s tiring, sure, but this is life. You work at the relationships you value. You show up for the people you love. Because wouldn’t you want them to love and show up for you?