On Living: One Year Later
Honestly, I don’t know how I’m here: nevertheless, here I am. More shocking than the fact that I’m here, perhaps, is the fact that I’m stoked on it. It’s been quite a year and 10 days—give or take—since I tried to take my own life. (By the time I get done writing this.) I’ve survived the unthinkable, I’ve come out stronger (sadder but wiser), and I’m still trying to pick up the pieces to form a better person. (A sentiment that I’m really beginning to think is a moving target.)
For the last 365ish days, I’ve been contemplating the notion that Rene Descartes questioned so long ago: what does it mean to be? There’s nothing like coming so close to death that you can feel your skin grow cold, your limbs weighing you down yet feeling surrounded by the sensation of floating, free fall, and sinking all at once. The sensation of slipping into and out of consciousness, the coldness of the bathroom floor against your flushed face. The sudden urge to cause yourself to throw up but the lack of the typical response from your nervous system, which would normally spring you back to life. The fear of being paralyzed and not knowing what comes next: hedging your bets that heaven is real but fearing that this act of self-murder would send you to a dark place with eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth. I remember thinking to myself that I didn’t want to die. All at once though, I didn’t want to be alive. I wanted to exist, but I couldn’t conjure up a reasonable state of being in all of my mind. It was everything to just hold on.
“I was essentially waiting to die.”
I don’t remember exactly what happened in the following hours. I was in a near catatonic state for some of it, yet I drifted from that to moments of lively disarray. I was warring with myself and losing. I felt so heavy. I couldn’t stop heaving. It was all I could do to not let my eyelids flicker and flutter and close. Part of that was for the fear of not knowing when they’d open again, and coming to terms with the fact that I may not want them to. I remember rushing to my friend’s house and dropping off the dog. I remember an unseasonably sticky early June night, trudging through a bad neighborhood to get to the only mental health crisis center that would treat me for free. I recall the cracked and dirty pink and blue linoleum floor, the heavy doors that were inoperable once inside.
“Once you come in, you’re not permitted to leave until the doctor sees you and you’re cleared as ‘not a threat’ to yourself and others.” I thought that notion was laughable. My very existence is a threat to myself. Back then, that’s what it meant “to be.” I was essentially waiting to die.
After a long stay—made longer by the amount of involuntary committals the warm weather invoked, which were rightfully prioritized over my case—I finally saw a doctor. After what must have been an unremarkable conversation (I barely remember it) I was handed a prescription and given some forms to fill out: waivers and a kitschily-decorated and poorly-written promise that I wouldn’t kill myself.
After I left that hospital, I remember sarcastically thinking to myself that I never want to end up in a crisis center again: either I’d get better, or I’d make sure my suicide stuck.
Just because I’m here doesn’t mean that I want to be here. A lot of people who come out of suicidal situations are simply buying time. “I’ll see how I feel next birthday,” or, “let’s see how my quarterly review at work goes.” I know it seems somewhat macabre but when those who have conceded defeat in this journey called “life” still want to make sure they’re making the right decision. Call it unfinished business, call it cold feet, call it “just making sure.” Your mind just doesn’t act right when you’re coming to terms with your own death. It takes a while to start living again. Living is a still. It doesn’t come as naturally to me as others, and I suspect that I’m not alone in this.
At the risk of sounding like a “deep fourteen-year-old,” have you ever heard of the term kintsugi? It’s a beautiful sentiment:
Kintsugi (金継ぎ, "golden joinery"), is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-e technique. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. | SOURCE
I think the day I started truly living was the day I realized that neither grand gesture nor sudden awakening could save my life: I’d have to commit to small changes. At first, the trauma seemed insurmountable, but I found solace in completing one small task at a time. Filling in the cracks with powdered gold, letting my shortcomings and flaws be refined to make me better than I ever was.
Properly refilling the roll of toilet paper rather than letting the empty cardboard tube sit while leaving the new roll on the sink. Taking a shower. Cooking for myself. Washing the dishes after cooking for myself. I was set back in a huge way when I lost my job but under the wise guidance of some strong people in my life, I went for a job I felt I wasn’t quite qualified for (spoiler: I was) and I got it. (And I’m killing it, by the way.) That was a big one. That led to paying my bills on time, to making the changes that I needed to be the best version of my self. Finding the courage to live alone and take care of myself when no one else was watching. Teaching my first workshop. Buying a new car. Finding the strength and getting good at leading meetings and standing up for myself to my boss, a skill that eluded me throughout my early twenties. What I didn’t realize was happening while I was taking care of menial tasks was that I was learning just how much I was worth.
“What I didn’t realize was happening while I was taking care of menial tasks was that I was learning just how much I was worth.”
Back to the idea of beautification through embracing flaws: something that I’m so lucky to have learned and thrilled to pass along is the idea that there are so many different versions of ourselves out there and we have the power to continually be the best one to every person we touch. What’s that mean? It means that no one gets through life unscathed, and just as the person I was one year ago is much different than the person I am now, the person I am today has slightly more experience than the person I was yesterday. Same applies to you as well, by the way. Isn’t it a wondrous notion?
I can’t acknowledge much about where I am today if I gloss over this era in my life where suicidal ideations were as commonplace as the four-letter-words that I’m trying so desperately to not lean so heavily on. Every utterance of “fuck” or “shit” would likely translate to just as many fixations on an untimely death. (I’m sure you can gather that it’s quite a few on any given day.) As much as I hate to admit it, I don’t think I’d be the person I am today if I hadn’t been through this entire hellish ordeal. I’m a firm believer in people being able to pull themselves out of great adversity long before they get to the point of rock bottom—however—I’m stubborn. (Strong-willed sounds a little better so I’ll go with that from now on.) It doesn’t matter though. I really doesn’t matter. I’m here. And I’m happy that I can say that much.
I wonder if I’ll ever be capable of staying in love without the fear of a looming episode of self-sabotage, or if the people I’ve hurt in my recklessness will ever forgive me. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to take care of myself without hurting others in general. But when I think back on my former whole self—how unrefined, how green, how naive I was—I have to be thankful that I was able to learn from it, and that part of the refining process has involved letting go of grudges that I used to love to hold. I’m learning how to apologize earnestly; how to not just see myself as a victim.
Once you come back from a long time spent ruminating on death, you can’t help but wonder, “what now?” I think I’m okay though. The answer to that question, like so many other things, is a moving target. Some times are for deconstruction, some are for rebuilding, some are for thriving. I’m proud to say I’m somewhere between those last two, and I think I’ll be okay to stay here for a while. I’l relish in my brokenness, I’ll admire my strength instead of downplaying it.
Save for an unfortunate act of God calling me to eternal rest before I celebrate another trip around the sun, I know I’m going to make it to 28. Throughout most of my adult life, I haven’t been able to say that with confidence. I was always merely buying time until I was brave enough to end it all. Not anymore. This has been one of the best years of my life, and I can’t wait to see what else I can do. Excited to have you along on the journey with me. I’m excited to see which new patterns will form once my cracks are gilded with gold, and, to me, that’s what it means to be.