This is a memory I’d rather keep private. It is raw and uncomfortable to have a whole wide range of people that I know and don’t know witnessing the darkest thoughts of my mind. But it is also Let’s Talk day, so I am encouraged to turn on my tap and flow into the ocean of documented sadness to try and wash up as aid on someone’s shores.
My goal is that you will be able to get insight into the thought process of a mind willing to kill itself, so that you may see the odd logic, rationalization and the dangers of loneliness. Likewise, I want to put an ordinary face on someone who has these experiences. If you know who I am outside of this “dark side” may this show you the complexity of experience that we each feel – but do not let it change your expectations of my capabilities or strength. In order to better integrate mental illness issues into our daily lives, I believe that we need to hear about an event like this and react in a way that brings people closer to us – not farther (by putting them in a box of pity).
The back story for this experience is that I had just found out (through a text message) that my roommates were moving out of our house at the beginning of April (which was a month away). But I already had my ticket booked to move to BC for the end of April. I was going to have to move out with all of my belongings to some new place in downtown Toronto, just for a month. The stressful part of this was that April is the month of final projects and exams. I felt that the semi-homelessness of April would surely cause me to fail my courses that semester. At the very least, I knew the unfamiliarity of moving would change how I was able to study, perform and recover from the gruelling mechanical engineering exams.
Furthermore, I have had unstable housing since I first lived on my own at sixteen years old, and I have developed a deep underlying fear of becoming homeless. All of these triggers contributed to the extreme emotions I felt during this evening…
There were no apartments available for a month. Friends offered their couches but my discomfort with such a debt of hospitality would be too great – and how would I be able to perform on couch sleep? I looked up hotel rooms, too expensive. Storage places for my stuff, too small. Looking around my red little room my eyes touched all of my belongings. After each move I had to shave off more and more of the collection of things that were dear to me. In particular, a big red chair from the last house that my family had been together in. It and the lamps were the final bits of furniture in my room that were “mine”. Everything else was the generosity of friends or roadsides. But the chair would not be able to fit in the storage unit. I would have to lose that too.
Tears were streaming down my face. Why does this keep happening? Why can’t I ever have a home? Why do I always have to give up that which I love?
The grief of a life spent moving and losing bloomed into the full weight of utter despair. What is the point of anything? Everything I try to do gets thwarted. Now I am not going to be able to finish school. I will have no way to pay off my impossible student debt. Anything that I try to do is useless, the future is doomed to fail.
The aching in my chest spread up to my throat and down to my nauseous stomach. It cloaked my shoulders like lava calmly rolling down a volcano. I was being burned alive. Choking on tears and pain I could only repeat to myself: I can’t breathe. I can’t do it anymore. I want to die.
It was clear that I was having a panic attack. But since I had had so many of them before I simply felt exhausted familiarity with the shaking and hyperventilating.
I wanted this one to be my last.
And looking back over my life with the evidence lining up so that each effort seemed to end in uncontrolled failure or abandonment, the only logical way to stop having these experiences was to die. But what about your family? The people you love? You can’t do that to them. I looked at my blurry phone through wet eyes and saw faint glimmers of bright faces. I thought of the help lines that I had saved as contacts. There were people out there who would come rushing to my aid in this moment, I only needed to ask them.
But I was curled in that big red chair in a dark room. The only light came from the red neon “Tarot Card” sign of the building across the street, and the occasional lightning of a streetcar rolling by. My body was utterly limp – arms curled around my toes and cheeks painfully resting on the soggy bones of my knee caps. It would be impossible for me to gather the energy to text “help” to someone. And then to have to answer the urgent phone call that would inevitably result. I dreaded having to explain my extreme emotions in the painful light of reality.
It’s not that I didn’t have people to turn to, it is that hitting this low, prevented me from being able to turn to them. I was going to have to find the help I needed within my own mind.
At this point I realized that I had been crying quite loudly for a while now. Most of my roommates were home in the rooms nearby. Why had they not come to check on me? Did I cry so often that they considered it normal? I listened for sounds of them, hoping they would open the door that seemed impossibly far from me. At least let some light into my mood. But all I could hear was the sound of them happily showing each other pictures of the new apartments they were going to rent.
They hear you, they just don’t care.
They aren’t your friends, you don’t have any friends. How could you? You are such a burden! You take all of their energy with your depression. I bet you are just doing it for attention. I bet you lied to all those doctors to make it seem like you had problems, but really you just want sympathy and attention. You make me sick. Nobody likes you and nobody will.
Uncomfortable with where this was going I looked around my room to try and distract myself. I had peppered my walls with art, pictures and quotes knowing that when I needed it, something would pop out and help me. Sure enough my attention was held by a blessing I had written for my life. I tried to repeat its phrases to rally myself out of this mood.
“May I go forward without a heart of longing. Only acceptance and openness.” I whispered desperately as the storm was closing in.
But it had no effect. It fell on deaf ears. I could not conjure up a good feeling – it was as though they had all been pulled out by the root. The blackness closed around my mind and vision like the snow insistently buries the helpless blade of grass. My body felt raw and burned, everything scratched against it – the feeling of my red chair, the sound of my roommates laughter. My head pounded and I felt like my rib cage was trying to fly open from all the anxiety. Furiously I bit my lip and clenched my fingernails into my palms trying to draw blood.
What are you doing Sarah?
Somehow I made my way outside (luckily with a coat and boots). I stared up at my house with its happy yellow lights and screamed “F*** you!”, then I began walking down the street. I punched snow off of garbage cans and swaggered to each side of the sidewalk as though that would hurt it the way I wanted to.
We lived in a bad neighbourhood. And at that moment I fit right in. I could see that I was no different from the screeching old woman with the leather coat. Or the shaking bones of a man at the grips of a terrifying drug. I felt free in my despair. Felt there was nothing left to care about (certainly not the thin social rules that govern our public selves). The burning had become me, and I shook with its frantic fury. Crying all the while.
But then I became aware of the fact that no one reacted to my meltdown.
We lived on a main street, and it was only 8 at night. I passed many people, but received no reaction. This started to really freak me out. Was I imagining all of life? Did any of this exist? Did I exist? Could these people see me? If they can why aren’t they freaked out by me?
My despair now turned to the present. I no longer cared about finding a home or stability, I just wanted to know if I existed alone in this world. I just wanted any sort of interaction with another human!
As every siren went by, I begged that it would be for me. That one of the people on the street were annoyed by my noise and had called the cops. I wished that someone would take me to jail so that I would have eyes to look into and a semi permanent place to stay.
I had staggered up the hill to a bridge near my house when someone ran by me. For a moment I was caught in pure disbelief at the silhouette: it was one of my roommates going out for a jog. The casual manner in which they sidestepped my sobbing form in order to continue on their way broke down the final hope that I didn’t know was there. With a strange choking laugh I turned to face the bridge railing.
There is your final answer. You are alone. You are worthless and no one cares. You will never find the connection and friendship that you hope for. This is how people are – they live for themselves just like you do. You are no more important than a slight obstacle in an evening jog.
I sagged onto the cold railing, and stared at the black water below. It would hurt, and I hated the feeling of falling. I’m not high enough anyways. It won’t do the job. I stepped up onto the cement base to get taller. Leaning further over as though I would slide off the bridge like a raindrop leaves a leaf. It felt as if the wind of each person who walked by without acknowledging that I existed was urging me off the bridge. Pills would be better than this.
This was the edge of the world and my life. I had felt this low before, but I had never had a method of action so close to me. This was it.
My mind had taken me to a point where suicide was practical, logical and simple.
There was no complexity in it. I could not remember the faces of people I would miss. I could not remember the cause of these feelings. And I certainly could not comprehend any other solutions. In fact I felt the bliss of finally having a truth and an answer regardless of how brutal it was. The pounding fog eased, and I felt that I finally found what I had been running from. My mind was singular, and purposeful. I was going to jump off this bridge.
And then like a cat wiggles her way under your arm to reach a warm lap, a glimmer of thought seeped through my resolve. I took one last look up to see all of the lights on in the buildings around the city. I thought of all of the people in the world and suddenly realized that there was someone else standing on a bridge at this exact moment. That they were feeling crushing loneliness as people passed them by too. That they were at this breaking point with no one to turn to.
My aching instantly changed to include the aching of these people, and eventually the aching of the whole city. I now cried for people who were abandoned and rejected – including myself. My need for someone to notice me eased. I felt community through the radio channel of suffering, where only the cold sobbing of loneliness played.
“Are you alright?”
I spun around to see a middle aged man with a face weathered by liquor and sun, homeless. He staggered back from my face and I briefly wondered how scary I looked.
“Yes, thank you.” I said lamely. He turned to go, but thought of something.
“Don’t do anything stupid alright? However somebody hurt you, they aren’t worth it.” He shuffled on through the snow after I smiled my acknowledgment.
I turned back to stare at the water beneath my feet with brand new eyes. It was a homeless man who stopped and checked on me. He experienced that which I was utmost afraid of and it had at least given him the gift of sight – to suffer is to see a whole new colour which you can then recognize in someone else. It’s not that everyone was ignoring my pain – some of them had walked by because they couldn’t comprehend how dangerous it was. They may have seen a girl crying, hanging over a bridge and just thought that she was a little more than normal upset, but not had believed that I could be of the mind to kill myself.
This eased me into forgiveness, understanding and clarity. I could once again see how little equipped for emotional life we all are – especially when it comes to interacting with each other.
With an ancient sigh, I dropped a leaf off the bridge. It broke the surface tension of the water like the soft shattering of my world view when hit with the solid power of empathy.
I wiped my nose and walked home.
I have made a decision to stop and check on everyone who seems suspicious or out of the ordinary (and find this is hard to do, we want to avoid it by excusing ourselves for reasons of “privacy” etc).
I have learned that depression, panic, despair, and hopelessness cycle in vicious waves. But I am the shore.
My realization that there were other people on the edge at the same time as me showed me that no matter the situation, probability assures that I am not alone in doing it. This simultaneously hurt my ego and helped my soul. It put my emotions in a perspective that prevented them from getting as drastic, and it provided me with the community that I was aching for.
I learned that no matter how many people offer support, and how many programs I become a part of, there will be a time when I am forced to solely rely on my own mental strength. It is imperative to engage in practices of self soothing and attention development in addition to the mental health supports offered.
My expectations for others have been softened by empathy like a well worked leather hide. Knowing the varying degrees to which we have suffered showed me that no one is to be automatically expected to know how to help. But it has also encouraged me to learn and listen in order to become a more deeply supportive person if I can.
Most importantly, this experience was the ultimate testing ground for my own strength of will. I received a new respect for myself and a valuable bookmark to remind myself of how much I can survive.
This night was a real turning point for me. It has almost been a year since it happened, and I have not had a depressive episode since then (this is the longest time in between them that I can ever remember). I still wake up depressed some mornings, but because of my experience withstanding its greatest attack I no longer fear it. When I am not afraid of it I am quickly able to release it – or to continue on my day with it passively at my side (I will be writing a post about how I treat my depression and what has changed about my perspective of mental illness in general to better explain the massive shift I experienced).
Whomever you may be in the spectrum of mental experience, I would encourage you to get down to your roots and find what lies there. Look out and realize who else may be with you on your radio channel frequency, and respect your mind by paying attention to its awesome power to change your whole world into hell or heaven.