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Sep 11 2012

[storytime] At The Edge Of The Known World: What It’s Like To Consider Suicide

Somebody, somewhere in the world, kills themselves every 40 seconds.

Set a timer on your phone or watch for 40 seconds. When it beeps, another precious, beloved life is gone.

Yesterday, September 10, was World Suicide Prevention Day. Although suicide prevention entails important things like improving mental health screening and treatment, increasing access to mental health services, and decreasing the stigma of admitting and treating mental health problems, I think there’s another part that we usually miss when we talk about prevention. And that part is understanding what being suicidal is really like.

Those who kill themselves (or wish to do so) are not selfish.

They are not weak.

They are not simply having a bad day.

All of these tropes about suicide, and many others, are wrong.

I can only speak for myself, not for any of the other millions of people who have struggled with this most ultimate of dilemmas. But for me, at least, here is what it was really like.

I don’t think I ever wanted to be dead.

I have, however, wanted not to be alive.

Why? Because living sucked, because I hated myself, because everyone else must surely hate me too, because I was a burden, because I was going to be alone forever, because I was like an alien that was accidentally born on the wrong planet, to the wrong species, in the wrong society. Killing myself would be like correcting a cosmic error.

There were many ways I dreamed about it happening. Pills of some sort would’ve been my first choice, although I was absolutely terrified of what would happen to my body if they failed to kill me. (Go figure, I was terrified not of dying, but of failing to die.)

But I wanted to be able to take the pills and lie down somewhere and just curl up until I stopped feeling forever.

Sometimes I also thought about bleeding to death by slashing my wrists or something. But I despise pain above all else, and also, poetic as it would be, the thought of someone I love finding me that way made my guts churn. Also, could I actually do it? Could I actually take a knife and slice open my own skin?

I doubted it.

Jumping off of a building occurred to me a lot, especially at the very beginning of my love affair with suicidal ideation. That was back when I was studying journalism, panicking constantly, and feeling just about ready to do anything to escape. Was the journalism building high enough? If not, what would be?

And then there were the trains. Living in Chicago, you take them a lot. Every time I stood on the El or Metra platform as a train rolled in, I thought about it. Not seriously, as I’d made no plans and written no note, but the thought did occur. The rails screeched, and gust swept into my coat and rattled my bones. How I hated standing on the platform, forced to imagine my own death graphically every time a train rolled in.

Recently, when I was already better, I was waiting on the platform for the Metra. A train was coming. It turned out to be an express train that barreled through the station without stopping. The blur, the clamor, the sudden slap of wind–I was left shaken for several minutes after it passed, imagining what that could’ve done to my body.

Strangely, I never even considered guns, although that is what a character in my abandoned novel chose to use.

I composed many different suicide notes in my mind. Some were lengthy and elaborate, with separate sections for each person I wanted to reckon with before I died. I used to keep secrets and grudges for years, and I wanted everyone to know the truth in the end. (These days, I try to make sure that if I suddenly die today, little will have been left unsaid.)

Other notes were simple. They contained nothing more than a quote or a song lyric. Often they included an apology to my family. I thought about writing it in Russian, not English, as though that would make it any better for them.

I also thought about not leaving a note, but something about that made me very sad. What if they never knew? But might that not be better?

And I could not stop listening to that OK Go song, “Return“:

You were supposed to grow old.

You were supposed to grow old.  

Reckless, unfrightened, and old,

You were supposed to grow old.

I never made a firm plan to kill myself, I never attempted to kill myself, and, obviously, I never did kill myself. The only reason, I think, was because I cared more about my family’s wants and needs than I did about my own. As much as I thought I needed to stop living, they needed me to continue living, and so I did.

Is this “normal”? Do others talk themselves out of suicide this way? I have no idea. This isn’t really something I talk about over beers with friends.

I was lucky, when it comes down to it. Lucky to have a family I love so fiercely that that love overpowered my hatred for life.

Death and I, we have an awkward but strangely comfortable relationship now. If I don’t bother with her, she doesn’t bother with me. I don’t fear death itself very much, although the idea of just not existing terrifies and baffles me, just like the idea of time travel or parallel universes or the butterfly effect.

Sometimes I feel as though I’ve traveled to the edge of the known world, teetered on that edge, and then shrugged my shoulders and returned. I can’t really tell you exactly what I saw there, but I will say that there is a thick glass wall now between me and those who haven’t made that journey.

I say to a dear friend as I write this, “I’m thoroughly desensitized to the thought of myself dying.”

“I’m not,” she says. “You should stay here and grow crotchety and gray. Perhaps even collect spiderwebs.”

“I love you,” I say.

“I love you, too.”

For better or worse, I will live with what I saw at the edge of the known world until I die what I hope will be a natural death.

12 comments

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  1. 1
    Elly

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

    I did used to cut myself, though I only had one *actual* attempt at suicide. I was in the shower, and had cut down my arm. My hand went numb and it freaked me out. I stopped it, thinking that my dad would just be pissed that I hadn’t done the dishes beforehand. Ended up staying the night with a friend, who bandaged me up and got me drunk.

    I’m at a point now that I know I’m going to die, and I’m more or less okay with it. I certainly feel like I haven’t finished accomplishing Things. I might end up committing suicide just as a way of choosing my own death and preserving my body, since I intend to donate it to science. However, not done living yet.

    The fact that I’ve tried to commit suicide doesn’t really cross my mind very often. It certainly changed how I view life and who I am as a person. I just felt SO BAD all the time, and I didn’t know how to cope with it or how to feel better. I was having horrific nightmares that kept me from sleeping. Basically, it was the first bad point of depression for me.

    In short, it sucked. I’m glad I’m still alive, but I’m definitely not going to be upset about dying when the time comes.

    1. 1.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      Thanks for sharing, Elly. *hug* We’re all glad you’re with us.

      The idea of suicide as a means of choosing when to die appeals to me, too, but I don’t know if that’s what I’ll actually want to do when I’m old.

  2. 2
    brassycassy

    The character in my abandoned novel chose to drive off a cliff with her boyfriend in the passenger seat.

    1. 2.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      I guess I’m not the only one who abandons novels. >.<

  3. 3
    J C

    September 10 (yesterday), marks a special one month anniversary. A month ago, I was in the hospital being treated for taking 94 unisom tablets. It obviously failed. I didn’t realize that my one mont coincided with Suicide Prevention Day. Ironic.

    1. 3.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      Ironic indeed. I’m glad you’re still here. :)

  4. 4
    Titfortat

    Sept 4, 1987

    Mark took pills, told grandma. Mom got him to the hospital in 15mins. Hospital staff makes huge mistakes. Secondary affects have them scrambling. Hours later Mark is in Mom’s arms stating, “Mom, I dont want to die”. A short time later he dies. Consequences, sometimes they just suck. :(

    1. 4.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      I’m sorry. :(

      1. 4.1.1
        Titfortat

        Thanks for your sympathy. One thing that irked me about the wikepedia link was how it talked about 1.5 million “people” commit suicide each year when the stats show that it is about 4 to 1 male rather than female. This is not an intentional derail just a pissed point of mine.

        1. 4.1.1.1
          Kate Donovan (@donovanable)

          While I respect your intention not to derail (I’d rather not either), I would like to point out something that both the wikipedia and your comment missed. While men are more likely to successfully commit suicide, women are more likely to attempt. The difference in success rates tends to be as a result of method; women tend towards less sure methods, such as pills or cutting, while men are more likely to use deadly weapons (which almost always succeed) or tall places.

          This link is just to an article. I accessed the original research through a university account, and I don’t know if it’s available for free. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/aug/30/news/la-heb-men-women-suicide-20110830

          1. Titfortat

            @Kate

            “While men are more likely to successfully commit suicide, women are more likely to attempt”

            There are so many ways this can go, none of which I think will bode well for you.
            Let me put it to you this way. Your sisters(gendered peers) are still alive, my brother(and most men) are not, do we actually need to say any more?

  5. 5
    Strength

    Wow, I’ve never heard anyone be so honest about suicidal ideation. I attempted once, with pills, and I still face occasional self-harm as a problem when I am triggered. I totally know what you mean about being addicted to it. Been suffering with it on and off since I was a kid. Now that I’ve been diagnosed as bipolar it all makes much more sense. I typically forget about my suicidal moment when I am doing well, or yes, in a manic state, especially. Comes with the territory. And then, inevitably there it is again, staring me in the face. And then I forget what it’s like to be happy or interested in anything. I also understand the fear of failing at suicide – that keeps me from trying, even with pills.

    I think I turned a corner last fall, when I finally got back on correct meds. I’ve been through so much shit and survived so far, that I refuse to be a statistic. And you are NOT alone in staying alive for your family. That is probably the #1 reason I keep going when I get that down.

    Thanks for your honesty. You’re right. It’s not something you can talk with anyone about, and yet it’s something that lives deep inside, a deep ache, hurt, and darkness that a lot of people don’t understand, and is taboo to talk about. But it helps to know there are others out there who know exactly what it feels like, staring over that cliff into a black hole.

    Now, well, I decided to face my illness head on. I believe this is the only life I get and so it gives me more motivation to make the most of it. I am plunging headfirst into therapy, finding things that I like to do to keep me busy and interested, or even if I need to, pamper myself, cuddle up with some tea, and watch movies all Saturday. :)

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