Until last night the only time I ever came close to having a plan to commit suicide was when I was 21 and on a cocktail of 7 psychiatric drugs. I had visions of hanging myself out my window with a rope that I’d never had before and have never had since. I’ve spent precious little of my life being actively suicidal and even those visions seemed more like haunting images than actual plans or intentions.
I’ve been lucky enough not to make a plan to kill myself despite a growing mass of time feeling suicidal. Since my lifelong friend Michael Bloom’s death by suicide 2 years ago, it has been a default state of mind for me to feel suicidal when I feel broken. As naive as this may sound to some, last night was the first time I ever went towards a plan in my mind
After having a recurring stomach flu that felt intertwined with a lot of feelings of separation and alienation from many people I have considered family (including my birth family) and losing my appetite on and off for a week, the thought of downing a bunch of pills went through my mind. When I lose my appetite (for emotional or physical reasons), I almost always feel suicidal, due in large part to the deficiency and lack of reserve from not eating. The combination of physical and emotional loss of appetite this week put me over the edge to finally approaching the loss of my suicidal-plan-virginity.
The ironic thing was when I played out the prospect of downing a bunch of pills, I had the realization I wouldn’t die anyway. I would go through another trial of the body and I wouldn’t die. I can’t explain how I knew this or why some people die and others don’t, but I can say I know it’s not my time to die. Many people survive suicide attempts and other near death experiences “against all odds” (while of course many, like my dear friend Michael, do not and I have no explanation for this).
This might sound like a torturous thought to someone feeling suicidal and at loose ends, but rather it was the opposite. After playing out this scenario, and having the realization that I simply am not gong to die anytime soon no matter what I do, I felt relieved. I felt light hearted. A sense of optimism returned to me. I recalled something a friend wrote to me almost 15 years ago when I was losing faith as I was last night. “You are woven into a fabric that holds you and loves you and will not let you fall.” This phrase came back to me and rang true in a new way.
I feel most at ease and safe when I know I have no choice. This is strange to many people, I am aware, but it has been true for me for as long as I can remember. I like to feel that the Universe is guiding me and I am basically going along for the ride. Perhaps someday I’ll grow into a more willful and self-directed approach to life, or maybe I’ll continue to move toward surrender and feeling protected by something bigger than myself. What I know right now is that surrendering to something bigger than myself has thus far been the only option that works for me and it is what keeps me alive.
Knowing there is a purpose and plan for my life that is stubborn, relentless, unwavering and unwilling to die (just yet) is a relief. When I share suicidal feelings with others, I usually say, “I don’t have a plan.” Now I have numerous friends I don’t need a disclaimer with. They know by now I don’t have a plan. And now even if I do I have another disclaimer: I’m here for a reason. It’s not my time to die. I have more to do even if these things terrify me. I have a purpose. The Universe has dreams for me and holds them solidly even when I can’t. Especially when I can’t.
Sometimes every day feels like a suicide attempt, a stomach pump, a near death experience and the combination of feeling further damaged and a stronger sense of purpose. Since I go through this cycle regularly, a suicide attempt seems frivolous. The only point would be to indicate to others how much I’m suffering, how real it is.
This brings me to the humble task of communicating, telling people emphatically how much I am suffering at times, asking for reassurance that my dear ones love and care about me and sense my purpose. This may sound self indulgent, and it may be, but it is also a preventative measure, harm reduction and what keeps me from addiction and suicide. Haven’t most of us had moments of wanting to die so others would finally value us, notice how much pain we’re in, name our special qualities, express how much they loved us, regret their behavior that hurt us? Isn’t it humbling to admit we need our loved ones to tell us how much we mean to them sometimes, how much they care?
My vulnerability and brokenness in this regard may make me unpopular with some who pride themselves on being “more together,” yet it also fosters the intimacy, closeness and trust I feel with so many. And because of it, I don’t need to ask myself if anyone will care if I die. I can experience that reassurance while I’m alive if I have the humility to ask for it, and keep asking until my soul is met with other souls who genuinely care. That experience humbles me greatly and somehow makes all of my brokenness feel like love and open heartedness. Against all odds.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.