On survival, and enough.

It’s two-thirty in the morning. I’d like to be sleeping. Instead, I’m propped up on a corner of the sofa, bleeding like a stuck pig and trying not to whimper audibly as I wait for this horse-tranquilizing doze of Advil to quell the menstrual cramps that feel like a dozen animated claw hammers trying to escape my uterus from within. I’m tired, and I’m cranky, and it hurts, and this sucks.

But I’m alive.

Connie’s not.

* * * *

Connie is a friend of mine.

Well, sort of. We straddle the liminal area between “acquaintance” and “friend.” We keep in touch mainly via Facebook; if we’re hewing more toward the “friend” side, maybe Facebook Messenger. We have lots of fun when we see each other, which is not very often. Chunks of time elapse when I don’t think about her; she’d say the same of me. She’s a wonderful person I enjoy spending time with, but ultimately, she’s peripheral to my life. We all have that friend, floating in our circles, present but outside the orbit of our inner networks. Nice to have, when you remember. The Pluto of friends.

I have one less of those now, because Connie died yesterday. She killed herself.

Connie was a friend of mine.

* * * *

If you forced me to sit down and make a list of all my friends in order from most to least likely to kill themselves, I would have (1) politely excused myself to scurry away from you, because that’s fucked up, and (2) put Connie pretty low on the list. Her death is a shock (although probably not any more so than any other suicide, but she’s not any other suicide, she’s Connie). It’s not just that she was a happy person, or a calm person. She was an open person. Open to change, open to growth, open to whatever she felt the universe was nudging her toward. The kind of person who thought the universe nudges — who could reframe tragedy as a painful push toward an ultimately right direction — and who found that exciting.

That openness seemed like anti-depression insurance: when I think of myself in the throes of depression or anxiety, I see a person who is fragile. Brittle. Unable to absorb the slightest shock; crumbling in the face of wholly invented terrors.

Openness, flexibility, and acceptance seem like the antidote to grief. For Connie to be gone means that there was some pain so overwhelming in its destructive powers — so sudden, or huge, or unforeseeable, or all of the above — that no amount of flexion could withstand it.

Terrifying.

There’re a partner and son picking up her pieces. They love her fiercely, and I don’t doubt that they would have leaned into the storm with her, bolstering one tired soul with two stronger ones until whatever sudden fury had broken over her abated enough to allow for some perspective. They would have held her while she bent as much as she could then absorbed the excess of pain like sponges, to wring out a safe distance away. It might have hurt them as well, but I don’t doubt that they would have done it gladly. I don’t doubt that they are heartbroken that she wasn’t able to know that in the moment when she most needed that knowledge.

* * * *

I could just as easily be dead. Once, I sat on a bed asking my husband, tearfully but politely, if he’d mind sitting with me while I took all the Valium I’d saved up, because I thought I’d feel better if he were holding my hand when I died. If he’d agreed, he’d be observing the eight anniversary of my passing this autumn.

(From the perspective of a person who wants to die, announcing this wish to loved ones is a terribly ineffective plan. From the perspective of a person who didn’t die and no longer wants to, it was a great fucking plan. Possibly the best plan.)

Instead, I checked myself into a psych ward. I gave up my shoelaces. I participated in group self-esteem building exercises during the day and stayed up alone at night to watch late-night television to try and laugh so I could feel like a human person again. I sat mutely in the visiting room, playing Scrabble with the friends who came every evening to help pass one hour of each thousand-hour day, unsure how to respond when the schizophrenic woman on the vinyl sofa sprang to life, turned away from her husband, and announced, proudly, “I fucked a dog!”

I worked hard and leaned on people harder, and now my current life is wonderful enough that I have a hard time talking about it: it’s an embarrassment of riches that simultaneously elates me and makes me feel acutely like the privileged jerk-wad I sort of am. I will gladly deal with processing those feelings of jerk-wad-ity to have this life, to not be dead.

* * * *

Still, things are not “fixed,” and there’s one negligible but telltale sign that I live on Planet Almost-Dead instead of Planet Normal. It’s a small orange bottle. The kind for prescription medications, the kind that’s child-proof until it becomes adult-proof when you need to take a pill. The kind that collects in the far reaches of the cabinet, holding dribs and drabs of antibiotics never taken and painkillers never used, and disappears every few years when you move out of your apartment and start fresh in a new place with a new cabinet.

I move a lot. It moves with me. It usually ends up behind one expired tube of Neosporin and in front of one tub of hair putty that didn’t live up to its sexy bed-head promises. It’s a small, orange bottle with half a dozen tablets of Paxil.

It’s my bottle, and my Paxil, and no matter how hard I try to pretend that I live on Planet Normal with everyone else — no matter how much it seems like I really, really do — the bottle greets me each morning to remind me: no. I don’t. Pretend all you want, but if you’d like stay on Planet Almost-Dead instead of Planet Kaput, you’ll swallow that pill. Good girl. There is no fresh start, no cabinet without its jaunty orange presence.

It’s the biggest small orange bottle in the world.

There are other things I do as well: therapy, exercise, yakking about feelings on the internet. They all help, and they’re mostly just “life” rather than “self-care” at this point. Ninety-nine days out of 100, I go to the gym simply because I enjoy going to the gym. Therapy these days mostly consists of chatting about what I’ve been up to, like having a coffee buddy with a co-pay. Writing on the internet is fun. And three days out of seven, I completely forget to take my pill. Four or five days out of seven, if I’m being honest with myself. I don’t notice any adverse effects until I forget for more than seven or eight days in a row — I notice myself getting shaken when someone else who yaks about things on the internet is critical of the way I yak, and realize that I’m on thin ice. It only takes a day to even the keel back out.

I’ve done a lot of hard work to build the life I have now. I know I’m lucky to have the self-awareness and perspective needed to take care of myself, and to have people in my life who will happily step into the breach next to me if my reserves ever fail me again. Who will fill in my gaps of their free will and will remind me of that, repeatedly if they have to, because when you need someone to be strong for you in that way, you also need reminding that you are worth their strength.

I’m also lucky to have that bottle. I wish Connie had had a bottle of her own, whatever that might have meant for her.

* * * *

I don’t typically talk about all of the above. I’ve been trying and failing to write something about my experience in the psych ward for nearly eight years; this is the first time I’ve put more than three words together.

I could have died in 2007. I got through that moment with a lot of help, and today, it seems almost dream-like; I have a hard time imagining that I really would have killed myself. But then, I have an equally hard time imagining that Connie would have ever killed herself, and she’s dead now.

It makes me think: maybe I’m not stranded on Planet Almost-Dead with the universe’s other troubled souls. Maybe Planet Normal is just a myth that keeps us all striving for perfect; maybe we’re all already on Planet Almost-Dead, and the best we can hope for is to stay there until we reach a ripe old age. Maybe our jobs are to keep ourselves grounded there, and to help others do the same when we see them unmooring. To cling to one another and to those small things; to clutch our friends and our little orange bottles, and just keep going.

And some of us will stumble because sometimes it hurts too badly. It’s heartbreaking and makes no sense and gives us no option but to continue trudging along, survivors in one way or another. Our choice is to try and forget the loss, or to take what lessons and love we can from those who’ve left us and make sure that those, at least, continue living, ephemeral and intangible though they are.

Maybe that’s the best we can do, and maybe that’s entirely enough.

I hope it’s enough for Connie.

—–

ETA: I’d originally changed Connie’s name, out of concern that this might feel like my co-opting someone else’s tragedy. But un-naming her didn’t feel quite right and still doesn’t, and I think it’s important to bear witness to the life and death of this real person. Her name was Connie, and she was wonderful.

117 Comments

  1. You are really brave to write about your experiences. I appreciate it very much. A friend of mine once tried to kill herself, too. Luckily she was not successful and then she changed pretty much and I found out she does not really appreciate the worth of living so I am really glad that you try and found a will! Keep getting better, keep living. It IS worth it, no matter what! Keep smiling and writing. Good luck and thanks for sharing:)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m sorry. Sorry that Connie couldn’t stay. Sorry that you’ve had to struggle. Sorry that so many people don’t realize how important they are. We have a friend who killed herself in October. We don’t understand. We probably never understood. Maybe we didn’t try enough.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m so, so sorry. I can really only speak for myself, but when someone’s in that place, I don’t think it’s a matter of how much other people try (or don’t try), because you’re so trapped inside yourself, in a deep dark place.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I appreciate your willingness to share something so personal. It’s inspiring, honest, and makes you reflect on life.
    My biggest fear is going to a friends or family member’s funeral because of suicide. I confronted my sister about it and I can’t help but feel like I only made it worse. I don’t know if she’s depressed or not, but I just want to be
    sure.
    Like you said, I can’t “fix’ something like this, but I do want to give her support if she ever needs it.
    Again, thank you for sharing your story. I appreciate it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It’s the least I can do, but is so important; staying silent about things like this doesn’t help anyone in the end. For your sister’s sake and yours, I hope she’s well and knows how much you care about her.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Your blog post was part of a recommended reading list and for many reasons your words resonate. “because when you need someone to be strong for you in that way, you also need reminding that you are worth their strength.” This is truly fantastic insight.

    Like

  5. The longer I live, the more “suicide stories” I read. (Damn, that sounds trite.) Each has been compelling for me. I’ve never been in that space, so far. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t read others’ experiences to guide my own. Your story leapt out at me, too. It takes strength to tell (and live through) such stories, strength for those who are companions to encourage the telling of those stories, and I am in awe of such strength. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. This really struck me because i am really glad you made it out of your personal hell hole then, and can share your story with us today. You would think a seventeen year old wouldn’t be able to relate to this, but at this point in my life, hardly anything surprises me.

    I was abused as a child, ran away twice, almost killed killed myself on multiple occasions, and was barely making it through school.

    My friends were either gang members, or kids that were partying their life away. One of my close friends even got raped. Every year we’d have at least two of our friend’s friends committing suicide.
    (I sound like I’m talking about it like it’s nothing, but that’s my way of coping)

    Seeing so many people in depression and killing themselves, it makes me so happy to know that there are people like you who can make it out well, and alive. You give me hope.

    Thank you.

    Like

  7. Wow. That was quite a read. I can not full relate, but i do suffer from clinical depression. Though never suicidal, I can almost understand how one could feel that way. I am glad to read you are doing better and appreciate the raw and realistic writing you offer.

    Like

  8. This is a beautiful read and my complete and up-most gratitude to you for sharing your story. Your story helped me just now, answered questions about feelings I have of my own. So lets say I came across it at the right time, thank you 😉 We too can relate.

    Like

  9. This is beautifully written and so closely resonates with me. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I know personally, I have been in that place before as well. Leaning on the people who love you is imperative. I know that I would not have survived without it.
    Thank you again. Sending prayers to you, as well as your friend ‘Connie’ and her family.

    Like

  10. I can barely type because tears are clouding my vision. My friend, one similar to your Connie, committed suicide in September. I hadn’t talked to her in 3 years, but her death has haunted me. Memories of her haunt me. I never, in my wildest dreams, thought my friend would do this to herself. She leaves behind a severely mentally disabled son and the tragedy is, will he ever understand why mom doesn’t come see him anymore? I am so sorry for your loss. ((HUGS))

    Like

  11. Thank you Michelle. I think too often, we (as humans) hide our pain, and it is connection we most need during this time. I am grateful you have so eloquently described this situation and I know people will connect with it/you. I know I have. Thanks again and God Bless

    Like

  12. I recently wrote a blog entry as a sort of test drive, exploring the idea that by medicating depression, part of my personality was being labelled as not good enough, aggravating a condition that already breeds shame and insecurity. That maybe by allowing myself the freedom to be sad without recriminations I could just wait out the storm and come out the other side. Your post is a stark reminder of the consequences of waiting too long. I wish there was an easy answer. Happiness shouldn’t be so hard. Beautifully written.

    Like

  13. I can so relate to this. i was on the verge of committing suicide. that’s why im blogging my story on word press. i know people might read it or even care. but have a mental illness is so debilitating. I swore to much ill help people as much as I can because Mental Illness is a deadly Diesease 😦 beautifuly written

    Like

  14. Keep on living. Try imagining your detractors saying that you are a loser who gave up. That would be the situation of taking your own life. Stand up and tell them “You won’t get me this easily”

    Like

  15. How truthfully and authentically you wrote about such live, twitchy nerve endings, hidden things, quiet questions we ask ourselves at 2 a.m.; that lumpy, clumpy baggage we drag from place to place with us. Thank you.

    Like

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