A raisin, a razor, an Ikea rug. That's all I remember of it now: flashes like yellowed projection slides in sixth grade biology with Ms. Wallace flapping a fleshy arm before the screen, her hand undulating forward, "mi-to-chon-dri-on" -- her skinny lips pulling over each vowel like she were casting about for some kamikaze straw in a Diet Coke at a Cracker Barrel and didn't want to peel her eyes away for as long as it took to crack the peg puzzle. Centriole. Cytoskeleton. Nucleus. Slide. Slide. Slide.
I see the day I tried to kill myself that way.
There's that rug in its infinite home-of-Swedish-meatball glory. Slide. There's that raisin squeezed between the desk chair and the carpet. The edges of it now the color of gunmetal, it had adopted a few charming stray hairs -- both of which, I thought, were quite appropriate for a raisin. Slide. I'm pressing the blade to my left wrist. Slide.
I've known seven people to attempt or gesture at suicide. I've known two to succeed. And a week ago, a friend tried again. But that's not my story to tell: Mine began a year ago.
It started in the middle, in those gory in-between bits: the one's that haven't yet chosen china dolls and wheat fields and ballet slippers, but weren't quite committed to tragedy either. Equal parts terror and promise, yesterday and tomorrow, I think middles are a lot like todays. They scream remember this so loudly you can't. Muddled like you took all the colors to a page, they're a crowded sort of blackness. So all that's left is silhouette.
That's how I remember -- or rather don't remember -- my depression. The thing is, the madness all settles so smoothly in you that by the time you're off running away in your pajamas at four in the morning, scaling gorges and wielding kitchenware, it all feels rather forecasted. Like going to the movies or eating lunch after breakfast.
I remember standing on a curb or a cliff and thinking: just one. Just one. Just one. One. One. One. One. Just one. Just one away. Come on, just one. Just one step. And it would fill me with this sick sense of agency -- this power that otherwise had fled months before. How the distance between one foot and another, between either ends of cut can altogether be one unit and one universe away still amazes me. There are so many stars between them.
By the time I was checked into the hospital, I was depressed about being depressed. And I felt so pressured to stop being depressed that it only made me more depressed. I remember one of the first things a nurse said to me while I was being admitted. I was alone and terrified, sobbing, sweaty and bandaged on a gurney in the ER. "Some people here have real problems," she said. Some people here have real problems: Put a stress on any of the words in that sentence and it's got a fresh bite. That one still guts me.
The ward was shaped like a horseshoe: Bedrooms lined either side, and the bend at its center was flanked by the nurses' station and the kitchen, with the living room nestled in between. Everything smelled like pretzels and ammonia. The nurses were, on average, 23 and incompetent. Still, I felt embarrassed to stand near them -- as if I was some factory fuck-up and they were the blonde-haired, heavy-breasted older sisters I would never live up to.
The steady smack-smack of the Ping-Pong table was enough to drive you insane, had you not been already. The radio -- bound to send someone into a memory-induced meltdown -- was safer off than on. And the books reeked of halitosis, each page of Seabiscuit another ancient yellow tooth. So we sat.
I liked the sitting, actually. While the nurses gabbed about their boyfriends and compared nail art, and the doctors were off doing something very important and medical that never seemed to include visiting patients, we'd tell each other our stories -- with far more coarseness and humor than we ever would to the higher-ups. Helen*, my German roommate, had a nervous breakdown writing her doctoral thesis, trembling and hysterically shrieking at her computer until someone finally pried her from it. She also never managed to piss with the door closed so long as we shared a room, but that's another matter. John* was a recovering heroin addict. He was this scrawny blue-eyed grease monkey with a small chin and hands. This was his third time on the ward; his second, he fell in love with a patient with whom he later moved to Boston and adopted a golden retriever. When they broke up, he started using again. He landed back in here. There were plenty of others -- schizophrenics, catatonics, borderlines and schizoids -- a full-on medley of mental disorders splayed out on three horrendously upholstered couches. Everyone was complicated and kind, and often hilarious. "Why will the voices tell me everything but the lotto numbers?" one woman would always ask.
When we weren't sitting, we did our best to act normal. We'd collect little check marks for all the sane things we did: waking up before 9 a.m., showering before bed, eating each of our meals, passing our time in common areas and not crying -- the not crying part was important. The ward wasn't going to cure anyone. You were lucky to see a doctor for longer than five minutes, and the activity board was mostly for show. Most items were skipped, and the one's that sounded remotely legitimate -- like CBT, DBT or some other ludicrous amalgam of letters -- were mostly just 20-minute sessions in which a nurse read aloud highlighted portions of an old book and said things like "right?" at the end of her sentences a lot. Sometimes there were worksheets to complete after, other times we'd sit in a group and list activities preferable to suicide, like baking a soufflé or learning to juggle or taking up artisanal soap making.
The funny thing is, the ward did nothing significant to help its patients, but at least for me, the indoctrinated regularity of eating and sleeping and interacting like a quote unquote healthy person was enough. I did it to placate the nurses; I did it to go home. And eventually what felt like faking it, felt a bit like normalcy.
I'm always wary to explain how I got better. When I was discharged after a week and I took my first breath of real air outside the hospital doors, I just decided I was done. Just like that. This isn't to be reductive of the recovery process: It's not to say you can simply will yourself whole again. So maybe it was a long time coming. Maybe the hospital really shook me. Maybe it was a miracle. Maybe I'm just remarkably stubborn. But all I can say is before that Tuesday I was depressed, and every day after I was just very sad -- until I wasn't anymore. There's this line in one of my favorite poems, "Your Body Down in Gold" by Carl Phillips. It goes: "Remember the days of waking to disasters various, and of at least in part your own doing, and saying aloud to no one I have decided how I would like to live my life, and it isn't this way, and how you actually believed it: you'd change, the world would?" Well, that's how it was for me. I just decided.
Everything after that day is the beginning. It's been almost exactly a year to the day, and I've been happier ever since. I'm not going to do the thing where I tell you it's the little things, where I list shit like picking the lint out of the drier, or the sound of autumn leaves underfoot or bubble wrap, and say that's the secret. I mean they don't hurt, and I'm a sucker for holiday lights and a pair of jeans that fits just right. But as someone who has declined medication, who has unfortunately found her many attempts at therapy fruitless at best and exacerbating at worst, and yet has somehow made it out the rabbit hole in tact -- the secret for me has very much been a big thing. It's people. It's my dad. It's any person who's made me macaroni. It's anyone who's ever listened to me, waited for me or held me.
I used to spend of lot of time wondering if I am a weak person. There's this pervasive fallacy out there that it's the weak that are depressed, that it's the weak to commit suicide -- that inherently it is an act of cowardice. "Am" for such a tiny word, sure says a lot. It says: This is who you are, this is how you exist -- weakly, strongly, however-ly. That always makes me think of Spanish -- which I never seemed to master, much to my Argentinian family's dismay. In Spanish, the word "ser" means "to be," as in the nature of one's being. "Estar" means "to be" also, but as it refers to what someone is doing more temporarily. For instance "estoy feliz" means something to the effect of "I am happy now," whereas "soy feliz" means "I am happy by nature" or "I am a happy person." There's something about that that I find really beautiful, that we can be both weak and strong without it defining our character. It's a lexical gap -- up there with the opposite of "virgin" and the plural of "you" -- that I think informs the way we discuss and conflate weakness and mental health.
It's a shame adjectives carry as much weight as they do, because it cultivates this myopic idea that you are something other. Something better. You are a strong person, and she is a weak person; you are healthy, and he is sick. As if we didn't all have the capacity for weakness and strength, for greatness and for illness. I have been weak, and I have been strong -- many times, in particular, when I was unwell. And I can tell you I am no weaker than I am tempted to order the Magic Bullet from a late-night infomercial. No more broken than I am craving a donut. Sometimes it happens. So I am not proud of some of the things I have done, but I am not ashamed either. And in the interest of not knowing an eighth person to attempt suicide, this is me, saying I've been there. This is me, saying you are not alone.
If you are depressed or have suicidal thoughts, please tell someone. If you have survived, please share your story. And if someone has chosen to confide in you, please listen. Maybe even offer to make macaroni. Macaroni makes everything better.
*Names have been changed
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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.