Tag Archives: suicide

Dispatches From The Dark Side

1 Feb

Trigger warning for talk of suicide

If I was writing about almost any other health issue, I wouldn’t hesitate to post this.

If I had diabetes, or cancer, or liver failure, you wouldn’t feel strange reading this.

If I started out by saying, “I went to the hospital last night because I had the flu,” no one would think twice about this. No one would call it oversharing. I wouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed.

But I didn’t go to the hospital because I had the flu.

I went to the hospital last night because I wanted to die.

I mean, I say that, and that’s how I felt, but the truth is that I didn’t really want to die, did I? If that had really been my intention, I would have just done it. I wouldn’t have talked about it, wouldn’t have told anyone, and certainly wouldn’t agreed to go to the hospital.

Intention is tricky, though, slippery, even, all tangled up with impulse, drive and desire; I don’t think I’ll ever understand what it is that I actually want. It’s like peeling an onion, folding back layers and layers of truths and semi truths, never able to really get to the core of how or why I feel these things.

I’m not writing this because I want your pity, or comfort, or advice (although you can offer them if you want to).

I’m writing this because I want to be honest. I want to be like someone who paints their self-portrait and doesn’t spare any details; I want to show you my pimples, the dark smudges under my eyes, the crease that bisects my forehead, evidence of a lifetime of squinting because I didn’t want to wear my glasses.

I’m writing this because I don’t want to be embarrassed or ashamed anymore, and for some reason saying these things publicly makes them easier to bear. It’s like racing to tell all of your darkest secrets before your ex-best friend can betray your trust; you get to keep some kind of control over the situation. Sort of.

I’m writing this because I want to talk about it, and this is the only way that I know how. I’ve developed this online voice, this sort of character that’s both me and at the same time an amplification of me, a louder, brasher, more combative version of myself. It’s easier for me to write about this in this character; I would never be able to look you in the eyes and say these things.

I promise that we don’t have talk about this in person. The next time we meet, we don’t have to refer to what’s written here.

But right now I do want to talk about wanting to die. If you’re not up for that, I totally give you permission to stop reading right now.

I wish I could tell you why I want to die, but I can’t. The truth is that I have a good life, maybe even the best. I’m married to someone that I love a whole lot, someone who loves me in return. My son is amazing; I’m not even sure that there are words to describe how great he is. I enjoy my work. I like where I live.

On paper, I should be very happy.

But still, I want to die.

I can’t tell you why, but I can tell you what it feels like.

It feels like all of the days ahead of me are grey and blank and empty. Not empty in the sense of possibility, but empty in the sense of being hopeless.

It feels like wearing a shirt that’s rough, scratchy, uncomfortable, and that shirt is my skin and I can’t take it off.

It feels like discovering that all of my favourite foods suddenly taste like cardboard, but I eat and eat and eat anyway because I need something to fill all that empty space.

It feels like standing in direct sunlight, feeling in on my back, my shoulders, my head, but never having my brain think sun. All it can think is heat. Like there’s this distinction, this appreciation that I can’t make anymore; everything is broken down to its most basic elements. Nothing is good or beautiful – everything is awful and dull in its own way.

It feels like the life-support system in my brain failed, and no one bothered to install a back-up. So now the ship is going down and the lights are flickering and we’re running out of oxygen and everyone is panicking.

It feels like being tired all of the time, like never being able to get enough sleep. I just want to sleep.

I do things. I go out, and I spend money on things that I used to enjoy, in my former life, the life that, on the surface at least, is nearly indistinguishable from the one I live now. I don’t enjoy anything anymore, though, and spending money that on things that don’t make me feel better only adds another layer of shame and guilt onto what I’m already feeling.

At home, at night, I feel trapped. The lights are too bright, the air too dry. I can’t sleep. I can’t read. I can’t watch TV. I can’t write. I can’t talk. I pace and pace and pace, trying to get rid of the prickly, irritable energy that’s building up in my veins, in my bones. I think that I could feel better if the apartment was clean, if the dishes were done and the bathroom sink scrubbed, but I don’t know where to begin, so I pace some more.

I just don’t want to feel anything anymore. I don’t even want to feel the good things. I just want to go to a place that’s beyond feeling.

And I know that suicide is selfish. But I also know that if I was dead, I wouldn’t care about anything anymore. I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about the people that I’ve left behind.

But I can’t help imagining Theo, what it would be like for him if I were to die. How he would cry and cry for me. How he would never be able to understand that I wasn’t coming, not ever. I think about how I would break his heart, think about the fault lines that I would trace along that tiny, powerful muscle, cracks that would break over and over for the rest of his life and never, ever heal.

I don’t really want to die.

I just want to sleep and sleep and sleep forever.

But it sort of amounts to the same thing, really, which is why I went to the hospital last night. Because I love Theo and don’t want to leave him. Because even if I couldn’t feel anything anymore, I would still find some way to miss him.

I live in a big city, so there’s a special hospital just for head cases like me. It even has two sites, one downtown and one in the west end. I went to the one downtown.

They lock you into the ER waiting room. There is a sign on the door that says AWOL Flight Risk. I wanted to take a picture, but I didn’t think they would like that.

There was a woman screaming in a room at the end of the hall.

There was a young man in a suit brought in by two police officers.

There was an unconscious woman brought in on a gurney. Her feet were bare.

There was a girl on the bench next to me, lying with her head on her mother’s lap. Her father was there, too. He said,

“You said that at the last minute something told you not to jump. What was it?”

But she didn’t answer.

While I was there, two code whites were called, which means that there’s a violent patient somewhere in the hospital. One of them, according to the man on the intercom, had a weapon. Both calls sent the ER staff into a flurry, running for doors and phones and elevators.

And I thought, I don’t belong here. I am not having an emergency. These people are having emergencies. I am someone who is fine, only a little sad sometimes. I am coping. I get up every day, go to work, take care of Theo. I am fine. I just have to be stronger, better, less self-indulgent.

And I wanted to leave, but I didn’t.

Finally it was my turn to see the doctor. She was young, kind. Her outfit wouldn’t have looked out of place in my closet, and I coveted her glasses.

She listened to me, took a few notes. Recommended a few things. She said that her main prescription was to try to prioritize things that make me happy.

I’m not sure how easy that will be to execute, but I like it anyway. I’m strangely pleased that instead of having me try another pill, a different pill, she handed me a piece of paper telling me to prioritize my own happiness. It seems like something that would happen in a book, or a movie, and I’ve always wanted to live in a book or a movie.

So how do I feel now?

Raw, I guess.

The same, I guess.

Maybe a little more hopeful, so that’s a start.

I still can’t stop reading Anne Sexton’s Wanting To Die.

I still can’t stop reading Ted Hughes’ book Birthday Letters, or poem his Last Letter.

But maybe I’ve read them a few times less today than I did yesterday.

I am trying to find some happy way to end this post, but I can’t think of any. I want to offer you some kind of hope. Then again, if I had cancer, or diabetes, would I feel that same urge to comfort you, to take care of you? Maybe. I don’t know.

I will leave you with this, one of my favourite quotes from the Bell Jar. It’s as true for me now as it was for Sylvia Plath when she wrote it more than 50 years ago.

“Don’t you want to get up today?”

“No.” I huddled down more deeply in the bed and pulled the sheet up over my head. Then I lifted a corner of the sheet and peered out. The nurse was shaking down the thermometer she had just removed from my mouth.

“You see, it’s normal.” I had looked at the thermometer before she came to collect it, the way I always did. “You see, it’s normal, what do you keep taking it for?”

I wanted to tell her that if only something were wrong with my body it would be fine, I would rather have anything wrong with my body than something wrong with my head, but the idea seemed so involved and wearisome that I didn’t say anything. I only burrowed down further in the bed.

I would rather have anything wrong with my body than something wrong with my head.

But since I do have something wrong with my head, I’m glad I’ve got all of you to listen.

For anyone who is in a state of mental health crisis, here is a link to the Mental Health Crisis line. You can also call Telehealth, if you’re in Ontario. If you are experiencing any kind of depression or are having suicidal thoughts, please, please call one of the numbers above, or else contact your doctor or local mental health crisis line.


Happy New Year

1 Jan

Last night, Matt, Theo and I got all gussied up to ring in the new year – me in a sparkly dress and flower crown, and the boys in their adorably dashing kilts. Early in the evening, we made our way east, crossing the Don River and heading to a friend’s place in Riverdale, where we spent the night sipping champagne and nibbling delicious hors d’oeuvres, as befits the status of classy people such ourselves. We also sang, cuddled, debated about The Hobbit and witnessed an adorable toddler sleepover. Then, around one in the morning, we woke up our sleeping toddle, packed him into his stroller and headed out into the cold, snowy night.

The streetcar service along Broadview was intermittent (to put it nicely), so we ended up having to walk up to Broadview station, which meant that by the time we made it to the Yonge & Bloor subway station, where we had to change lines, it was nearly two. The platforms were filled with a rowdy crowd of people heading home from their various New Year’s activities, and, once the train arrive and we all boarded, Matt and I found ourselves squarely in the middle of a large, loud, drunk group of people. Which was totally fine, and, really, the only thing you can expect when you’re riding the subway at two o’clock in the morning on New Year’s Day.

The subway doors slid closed, and we were all waiting for the train to start up when suddenly voice spoke out over the PA system:

“Aaaaaand here’s the announcement none of you has been waiting for: this train is now out of service. Everybody needs to exit the train. Come on, now, everybody off.”

There was a lot of grumbling (and a few outright rebellious shouts) as we made our way off the train, and I heard a TTC worker say,

“Don’t blame me, blame the drunk girl who – ”

He cut himself off, perhaps suddenly realizing that people could hear what he was saying.

As the train we’d just disembarked pulled, empty, out of the station, amid shouts of “FUCK ROB FORD!” and “YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK”, I went up to the TTC employee standing at the head of the platform and asked if he knew when service would be restored. It was late, after all, and I wanted to get Theo back to sleep as soon as possible.

The man just shrugged.

“It’s hard to say. We have a power off situation at Summerhill, and who knows when power will be restored?”

Now, when the TTC says that they have a “power off situation”, that can mean that the power is, in fact, off, or it can be a euphemism for a whole range of events and situations, including people jumping or falling in front of trains.

Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long before another train arrived and, the power apparently having been restored, we boarded the train and headed home.

By the time we’d gotten off at Summerhill station, I’d nearly forgotten that it had been the scene of the power outage. After all, the delay had been so short that clearly no one had been seriously injured or killed. I remembered the TTC worker’s words about the drunk girl, though, as we came up the stairs and found a young woman sitting on a bench surrounded by five police officers.

She’d obviously been out somewhere nice. She was wearing a short red skirt with tall black boots, and her long brown hair was arranged in an artfully dishevelled wave. She looked young, maybe in her early or mid twenties. She was crying, hard. So hard that she couldn’t answer the questions the cops were asking.

“We need to know why you did what you did,” one of them said, not very kindly.

She just sobbed and shook her head.

“I don’t know, I don’t know.”

“Where do you live?” asked another.

The girl just buried her face in her hands and cried harder.

“Where do you live when you’re here in Toronto? Rosedale? Parkdale? Come on, now.”

She shook her head again and didn’t, or couldn’t answer. She was more than just upset, or sad; she was terrified. And not one of those police officers had a kind word or look for her. In fact, they seemed more irritated or angered by her antics than anything else.

I don’t know what she did to cause the police to be called, and likely I never will. Did she threaten to jump? If so, why were there no paramedics or health professionals there? Why was her only help a crowd of big, burly, intimidating policemen? Why, instead of trying to calm her down, were the cops using their power to frighten her even more?

Of course, maybe she really did do something bad enough to warrant five police officers (although if that were the case, you’d think she would have been in handcuffs or something). Maybe I misread the situation completely, or else I was just projecting, or my mind, in an attempt to make sense of what I saw, was doing some other weird thing that psychologists have a fancy name for. I don’t know.

But I do know that she was scared. I know that I can’t stop thinking about her today. I know that, above all, I hope that she’s okay.

I know, too, that I wondered last night, and am wondering still, if I should have done something. Should I have gone and sat with her? Offered help? Told the cops to back off? It’s hard not to wish that I’d done something. It’s also hard to admit that part of the reason I did nothing was that even I, a bystander, was intimidated by the policemen, with their uniforms and their guns. This is not the kind of person that I want to be.

Happy 2013, everyone. Please be safe, and don’t forget be kind to each other and to yourselves. Let’s make this year better than the last one.