I’m Glad it Wasn’t You, or I’d rather be stigmatized than dead

 

My iPhone shook.  The black screen was aglow with my mom’s name.  I answered.  After a few minutes of small talk, we plunged into deeper territory than normal for a Wednesday afternoon.  “My co-worker’s stepson committed suicide,” She mentioned, “he was twenty-three and showed no signs prior to completing suicide”.  She paused.  The silence delivered the words before she could.  Still, she spoke them, “I’m glad it wasn’t you”.  To understand this call, we need to rewind a week.

Last Thursday, 8/30, I checked myself into the emergency room for debilitating anxiety and suicidal ideations.   I’ve never had to do this before.  I felt like a failure, but I know I failed myself long before this.  I failed myself in all the ways I settle on abusive biomes, convinced I can colonize hell.  Human beings belong to better places than infernos.  I failed myself in not getting help sooner.  I failed myself because I process violence though self-harm.  A week before I checked myself in, I cut myself.  It was only once, I say.  Just a glass shard across my hip.  “Just” a word like a shrink ray.  Honey, I shrunk my self-abuse! I try to minimize it, but we both know what this means.  A single jagged remain of some cup I dropped became a seam ripper in eight years sewn without cutting.  The thread is loose.  With a piece of glass against my hip, I knew I’d gone too far. I know that if I go any further, I will be gone entirely.

Mental health issues are like having a weak immune system. Things permeate easily.  My surroundings are the moon ruling my tidal thoughts.   Right now, I am amidst a situation that is like the black plague.  When you struggle with mental health, your head lacks the antibodies to fight the plague.  I wish there were a vaccine.  I guess there is.  It isn’t as simple as a shot, but medication, counseling, exercise, support, and self-care improve my headspace.

I admitted myself to the emergency room because I knew I needed help.  I still need help.  I can choose to shame myself for this.  I agonize over whether writing this makes me unstable or incompetent or attention seeking, but the casualty rate for silence is too high.  Mental health is so marred, so stigmatized that we all fear the repercussions of sharing our pain. I do, too.  I panic if my employer will see this and believe I cannot perform my job.  I fret if a person I’m dating comes across this, will he or she still like me?  That’s why these are stories not routinely told.  That’s why mental health rarely reaches a decibel above a whisper in conversations. We have too much to lose. How puzzling it is that we have too much to lose, but jeopardize losing ourselves.  Countless overachievers live so perfectly in two dimensions.  It’s the third, the one that doesn’t fit into a picture, where all the hurt is housed.  I will not write in hushed tones about something that deserves full volume.  We deserve to exist loudly, even if that existence isn’t pretty.

I am a professional woman, a high achiever, an advocate, a big sister.  I am lucid, appearing to all of my responsibilities on time and performing as if everything is ok.  My Instagram is lit.  The memes I share online are top notch, and no one can touch my caption game. I enjoy an active social life.  And, yes, I struggle with suicidal ideations.  The bottom line is that I’d rather be stigmatized than dead. As Glennon Doyle Melton said, “People who need help look a lot like people who don’t need help”.  Plenty of normal, function people carry these weights. Pain is inherent to the human condition.  So is connection.  So is healing. We are in this together, Reader. I took myself to the hospital because I am worth saving, despite how much of the time I doubt that.

I’m glad it wasn’t me, Reader.  I’m glad my name isn’t the hardest thing my loved ones say this morning.  I don’t want my exit to be an unsolvable mystery where everyone I love wonders what clues could’ve solved everything.  I don’t want them to learn that the clues don’t exist.  My life is a love letter to everyone I meet. My body has been a shield between others and their traumas.  I live in the hope that I can steer people away from abuse, or at the very least, help them in their healing.  I don’t always succeed in this.  People worry because I always choose the hard thing, that I crucify myself to unreachable standards because I aspire to be an example for those around me.   This essay is not me being an example.  This essay is my rawest humanity at your disposal.  It is my manifesto to keep going.  It is my pact with you to not give up, and it isn’t for you.  For the first time in twenty-five years, I summon the courage to exist for me. Prioritizing myself first demands new coping skills and therapy and med checks with my doctor.  This means I will disappoint you, Reader.  This means I put myself first for the first time in my life, and inevitably, some aspects of my existence may feel less special because I am focusing on me.  But my life’s value isn’t in conjunction with another being.  My life matters because it is mine.

The light is not at the end of the tunnel.  It’s in my chest.  That’s why its hard to see it most of the time.  Speaking of tunnels, screw linear progress narratives!  Nothing about healing is linear.  Three months ago, I was exuberantly happy. I literally wrote an essay about my last suicide attempt when I was 15.  A week ago, I spent twelve hours in a psych ward.  I feel like a fraud.  Then again, mental health is a shapeshifter, but I’ve conquered every form it has ever taken.  With no numbers to call for help, with no friends or worth, I crawled my way to the good stuff before.  I don’t believe eternal hope is necessary, but I believe in moving in that direction.  Even if I am on my hands and knees, I am going toward good things.   Some of those good things are with me: a phone filled with numbers of loved ones I can reach out to (as much as I suck at it), creative outlets, a roof over my head and food to eat– and if I have survived when I didn’t have all the things I listed, I know I can survive this.  Because it wasn’t me– not ten years ago and not last week.  It could’ve been, but it wasn’t.

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