Trigger Warning: Suicide, Bullying, Depression
So today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Sadly, I didn’t actually know such a day existed, I think because, despite being caught in an attempt three times, no one ever thought of me as “suicidal”. In fact, it’s only over the last few years, when the thoughts started returning, that I realized I spent a couple years of my life wanting to die.
Miri’s post alerted me to this, and after reading her story, I wanted to write my story.
I was not quite 14 years old.
It seems kind of young, now. It’s almost a stereotype. Doesn’t everybody hate their life at 14? To be honest, I think that’s more of a media stereotype than true. But it was certainly pervasive.
Until a few years ago, when I realized that knives were triggering thoughts I hadn’t had for years, I never actually thought of myself as ever being even remotely suicidal. I mean… I knew I hated myself. I knew I had a grand total of one friend, and sometimes I wondered if he really liked me or he just hung around because both of us were outcasts. At that point I didn’t know any women who liked me, either. My only support system was my family… and often I wondered if I was a burden to them. Often back then, I found myself wondering if maybe… just maybe… they’d have been better off without me…
Mom doesn’t remember my suicide attempts. I know why. On the face of it, they didn’t really look like suicide attempts.
Two times, Dad caught me in the kitchen, just holding a knife and staring at it. The third time he caught me, I was actually taking the knife to the bathroom… so I could lie in the tub and slit my own wrists. I’m not really sure if he ever even knew. He never said much. He’d ask me what I was doing with the knife, I’d stutter, he’d take it, and that’d be the end of it. Mom was there, and so was my brother, but no one ever actually made anything of it. From the outside looking in, they were actually rather forgettable events; just me being weird.
I don’t know why I didn’t try a fourth time. I’m not sure what changed, exactly. I think I honestly just gave up. “Third time’s the charm”, and all that jazz. I had hit three strikes, and that meant I was out.
I only see them now as suicide attempts because of what went through my head each time, because I find it sometimes going through my head now.
I hated myself. I hated who I was. I hated what I looked like. I hated that I was a consistent and chronic liar, and that I would keep doing it, even to myself; I couldn’t trust myself. I hated that I had only one real friend (even though I appreciated him for being my friend). I hated that, even in middle school, I had invisible friends (I knew they weren’t real; it was just me and myself and I; but they still had names… though I don’t remember them now). I hated how selfish I was. I hated that my brain would never just shut up.
It just didn’t. Shut. Up.
To this day my brain goes on and on and on. It never stops.
Songs. Ideas. Arguments. Retorts I will never actually get to say (there’s a joke concerning me: diss me, and I will come up with a good comeback… six months later). Things I want to say to people, but never get a chance to. Scripts concerning how a future conversation is supposed to play out (though of course, it never does play out like that). Conversations I’d like to have with people, but probably never will. Ideas for stories I’ll never write because I can’t write and don’t know anyone who’d be willing to write them for me.
It keeps me up at night and gives me headaches.
Marijuana shuts it up… for a little bit. But then I get sober, and it turns right back on, like there was no blissful hour of wonderful silence that just happened.
And it makes me hate myself. It dwells on everything that’s wrong with me. My body. My acne. My social phobia. My lack of money. My internet addiction. My lack of sexual experience. My phobia of typos (God help any website that doesn’t allow comments to be edited; sorry Pharyngula). My inability to make friends with the average person. My complete lack of social skills.
At almost-14 years old, I had no idea how to deal with it. I thought I was a burden to everyone around me. I thought the world would be better off if I simply weren’t in it. Maybe the world would get a little lighter; things would be a little better; the sun would shine a little brighter.
With one less mouth to feed… one less body to clothe… one less bed to buy… my parents would be able to afford better stuff, like a house instead of an apartment, a new, nice car instead of cheap, second-hand Fords and Chevys. Without me, their financial burden would be lighter. Maybe they could afford to open up a savings account. Maybe they could afford to take my little brother out to nice restaurants more often. It would be selfish of me to keep that from them, forcing them to spend that money on worthless me by living.
And I knew they would miss me. I knew my whole family… not just my brother and my parents… but my grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins… would mourn me. But they would all move on. I thought that for all of them, life would be a little easier, a little less noisy, a little less stressful. They wouldn’t have to wonder what stupid lie I would tell next. They wouldn’t have to watch for the next embarrassing thing I would do or say. They would be free of the burden I was to all of them.
Because I really did believe I was a burden. I was a burden to myself; how could I not be a burden to those in my life, as well?
I believed the kids (and, unfortunately, the two or three teachers) who bullied me. I believed that I was a loser and a moron and pathetic and sad and ugly and worthless. And sure, I had people tell me otherwise. But why should I believe family members and most teachers who have something invested in making me feel better? Weren’t the people who didn’t care, like my peers, being more honest?
As I was coming up on the age of 14, sharp knives began to look beautiful. Their ability to cut things… destroy them… was like art to me. I knew they could do the same thing to me.
And three times, I nearly went through with it. Twice, I just picked up a knife and stared at the sharp edge. Once I had filled the bathtub with water, walked into the kitchen, grabbed the knife, and started walking back. All three times, Dad stopped me. And after the third time, I…
I was such a complete failure that I couldn’t even kill myself. What now?
Well, I’m 26, now.
I’m majoring in Anthropology and minoring in Commercial Music, now.
I have a long career of school and research and, maybe, music, ahead of me, now… and I can’t wait.
I’m excited for what my future actually holds. I’m excited to study fanaticism from an evolutionary perspective. I’m excited to at least try and get my music out there.
Do I still have issues?
I mean, I already said that even now, my brain doesn’t shut up (by itself, anyway). I actually still kind of hate myself in little ways. I think I’m a horrible guitarist; and I think I will always consider myself a horrible guitarist, no matter how good I actually get. I think I have only a decent, but forgettable, singing voice. I think my music-writing abilities, especially my lyrical abilities, are non-existent.
But I’m not looking to die any time soon.
Death doesn’t scare me, but dying before I’m ready to does.
Death itself is natural. This life is all there is, and it’s short. All of my work… everything I do… will be how I “live on”. I don’t want my legacy to be that I killed myself. I want to be remembered for changing something. I want something out there… a piece of common knowledge… to have my name on it. And I won’t be ready to die until that happens. If it means I have to live until 110, then so be it.
It’s worth it.
Life really is worth living if you’re willing to live it, and I certainly am. I’m glad I struck out back then.
It’s funny. I’m a pacifist. I hate violence and instruments of violence…
But I love blades. I have a board on Pinterest dedicated to blades. Throwing knives, ninja stars, swords, daggers, katanas, spears, axes, kunais, throwing discs, dirks, darts, spikes… I’d love to have a collection some day.
And I really have no idea why. But I look at it as evidence that I’ve healed. They don’t frighten me. They don’t sing to me, either. They’re just cool. They’re neat to look at, and would be fun to show off.
I love to cook, as well. And bake, and fry, and I still need to learn how to grill. So I use kitchen knives consistently.
And I still feel a pang when I look at the edges of a knife now and again, but it’s no longer one of longing. It’s more like… you were once an instrument of death to me, but now you’re a tool to help me live.
I like to say that if who I am now knew who I was then, I would not be my friend. In some ways that’s hypocritical, because there are a few ways in which I am still the same little child.
But there are many ways in which I’ve changed. There are things I’ve learned to love about myself. And I’ve learned to be excited about the future, instead of afraid of it. I’ve learned to believe people who compliment me, instead of privately waving them off as liars. I’ve learned to take on and love constructive criticism, because it can only help me grow.
I’m still learning the folly of having heroes… especially lately.
But at the end of the day, I’ve learned how lucky I am to be alive.
Say what you want about Richard Dawkins (and he has earned a holy hell of a lot of criticism, especially over the last few years), but he was right about this:
We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place, but who will, in fact, never see the light of day, outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets then Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds, it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.
We live on a planet that is all but perfect for our kind of life: not too warm and not too cold, basking in kindly sunshine, softly watered; a gently spinning, green and gold harvest festival of a planet. Yes, and alas, there are deserts and slums; there is starvation and racking misery to be found. But take a look at the competition. Compared with most planets this is paradise, and parts of earth are still paradise by any standards. What are the odds that a planet picked at random would have these complaisant properties? Even the most optimistic calculation would put it at less than one in a million.
Imagine a spaceship full of sleeping explorers, deep-frozen would-be colonists of some distant world. Perhaps the ship is on a forlorn mission to save the species before an unstoppable comet, like the one that killed the dinosaurs, hits the home planet. The voyagers go into the deep-freeze soberly reckoning the odds against their spaceship’s ever chancing upon a planet friendly to life. If one in a million planets is suitable at best, and it takes centuries to travel from each star to the next, the spaceship is pathetically unlikely to find a tolerable, let alone safe, haven for its sleeping cargo.
But imagine that the ship’s robot pilot turns out to be unthinkably lucky. After millions of years the ship does find a planet capable of sustaining life: a planet of equable temperature, bathed in warm starshine, refreshed by oxygen and water. The passengers, Rip van Winkles, wake stumbling into the light. After a million years of sleep, here is a whole new fertile globe, a lush planet of warm pastures, sparkling streams and waterfalls, a world bountiful with creatures, darting through alien green felicity. Our travellers walk entranced, stupefied, unable to believe their unaccustomed senses or their luck.
The story asks for too much luck; it would never happen. And yet, isn’t that what has happened to each one of us? We have woken after hundreds of millions of years asleep, defying astronomical odds. Admittedly we didn’t arrive by spaceship, we arrived by being born, and we didn’t burst conscious into the world but accumulated awareness gradually through babyhood. The fact that we slowly apprehend our world, rather than suddenly discover it, should not subtract from its wonder.
Of course I am playing tricks with the idea of luck, putting the cart before the horse. It is no accident that our kind of life finds itself on a planet whose temperature, rainfall and everything else are exactly right. If the planet were suitable for another kind of life, it is that other kind of life that would have evolved here. But we as individuals are still hugely blessed. Privileged, and not just privileged to enjoy our planet. More, we are granted the opportunity to understand why our eyes are open, and why they see what they do, in the short time before they close for ever.
After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? To put it the other way round, isn’t it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of it?