Killing Yourself to Live

When I was 13 or so, I started feeling like it was raining every day. There were no rainbows in my world, only dark clouds, and they never seemed to lift. I remember taking a quiz in a magazine, something like “Are You Depressed?”—and even though I knew the answer (YES), I was still a little scared when the results told me I should maybe consider seeing a doctor, because what I was feeling wasn’t “normal.”

Instead of asking for help like I should have (easier said than done), I started looking around at my classmates to try to figure out what “normal” meant. Didthey cry all the time? Didn’t other people think about hurting themselves on a regular basis? This was just, like, typical teenage angst that I was feeling, right? It would go away, wouldn’t it? Of course I never actually asked anyone any of these questions—the idea of exposing myself as “crazy” was too much to bear. I told myself to keep the sadness and anxiety inside, to bury it and bear it, to wait it out the way you wait out the flu: eventually, the sickness will disappear and everything will go back to normal. But that’s not the way clinical depression works, of course: Instead of growing out of it, I fell deeper in to the point where I began to see death as a viable option. Everything just hurt so much—even getting out of bed required Herculean strength—and I doubted I had it in me to keep going.

In the darkest times of my life, I found myself thinking about different ways of dying. It was the only thing that seemed to give me a measure of peace; the idea that I could, if nothing else, control my own fate. I felt irreparably broken, that there was nothing anyone or anything could do to make the sick, burning feeling in my brain and in my body disappear. It hurt so much just to exist that I came very close to extinguishing all lights, inside and out, and disappearing into an unknown, all-encompassing darkness. Darkness, I figured, was something I was good at, anyway.

But something stopped me—an almost invisible spark of defiance that I had to dig very deep to find and fight very hard to cling to. For a time, 99.9 percent of me wanted to die, but there was that .1 percent that kept flickering alight, the most distant of stars in the universe, and though it was hard for me to see it on a daily basis, I decided to find some kind of faith in the fact that it was there at all. Most of my brain insisted that this was just cowardice disguised as hope—that I was just afraid of death or physical pain or failure (oh, perfectionism, you are ever so much fun). When your mind turns on you, it is hard to fight it. But you don’t have to battle it to the ground all at once. Fighting back is an incremental process, and all it takes is the smallest effort—waking up and saying, “Not today”—to send your depression the message that you will not be easy prey.

These small, quiet victories added up for me, and here I am, years later. They are years I am so glad to have lived, inhabited by people I never even knew existed in my darkest days, people who were worth waiting for—worth living for—and the help I needed (and need) to keep my mind healthy and filled with good things. Of course, you don’t get from “I want to die” to “I feel so glad to be alive” in one step. My steps may be different from yours, but regardless of the path you take, I know that you are capable of making this trek on your own, and that recovery is possible in all things.

If you are where I was a few years ago and are considering suicide, I have a few things to say to you. First of all, I would like you to know that somebody out there loves you. Some of you won’t believe me, and some of you already know it but aren’t sure it’s enough. You can’t feel it, and you can’t believe in it, because you don’t understand how anyone would look at you and see anything worth loving. Everything seems dark and sad and lost, and lately there’s one thought that you can’t shake from your mind: Maybe everyone—including me—would be better off without me. What you are feeling is a sadness beyond sadness, and it’s hard to picture any other way to escape it. Daydreaming about disappearing becomes a source of sad relief.

But it is a horrible way to live, thinking only about death. People who have never been there do not understand it: They will tell you to “snap out of it” or that you’re “going through a phase” or that “everyone gets sad sometimes.” These people aren’t evil, they just don’t have the experience or the information or the imagination to conceive that other people’s brains don’t work like theirs do. But trust me: There are many people who know how you feel, including me. And that’s why, even though we’ve never met, I can tell you: Somebody out there loves you. You may not even know they exist yet, but I promise you that they do. I am telling you, telling you, telling you, as someone who has been at the bottom of the lowest pit, with no lights and no ladders: You are not alone, you are not worthless, and you are stronger than you think. Did you get up this morning? Did you open your eyes and take a deep breath and try to get through one more day? Then you, my love, are tough as nails. You are a fighter. Do not ever forget it.

So, how do you keep going? How do you fight those urges and those thoughts and that feeling that nothing is worth anything? I suppose for each person there’s a slightly different answer. But I can tell you that the path out of darkness almost always begins with help from someone else—one of those aforementioned people who understand what you’re going through. Here comes the hard part, though: You have to ask for help. You have to be willing, for one moment, to let someone else in. The scariest part of mental illness is how isolating and consuming it can be. It will try to shut you out of the world, to keep you away from help and hope. To just say, out loud, even something as simple as “I don’t feel good, and I think I need some help” is a huge step in the right direction. You do not have to suffer alone. There are people who understand, who will not judge, who will not belittle you or dismiss your pain. The major thing is to let someone else in, so that you don’t spiral out of control within your own mind.

Please do not hold these thoughts inside. I speak from experience—they don’t go away on their own, but with a little help (and I don’t mean just medication, as some people need it and some don’t), they DO go away, and it is such a marvelous and miraculous thing that I can’t even express how amazing it feels. For me, it was as if someone had come in and polished up my mind, removing cobwebs and ink spills and leaving everything sparkly and new. Colors were brighter, sounds were clearer, love was deeper and life, in general, was worth living. It took me a long time to admit that I needed help, but once I told my parents how I was really feeling, they made sure I got what I needed. If your parental situation isn’t great, that’s OK—you can open up to anyone you trust, a friend, a counselor, a relative, etc. If you don’t have anyone in your life you feel comfortable talking to, call a suicide hotline, a crisis center, or a hospital, especially if you are actively suicidal. There is no shame in reaching out. Some of the bravest people in the world are the ones who picked up the phone and decided to save their own lives.

If this piece doesn’t apply to you directly, but makes you think of a dear friend, understand that your friend is hurting, and that they may withdraw from you as things get worse. There are classic suicidal warning signs to look for: giving things away, isolating themselves, talking about suicidal plans, self-harming, etc. If someone tells you they are considering suicide, take them seriously. Speak to someone you trust and voice your concerns. If you have any reason to fear they are close to making an attempt, don’t leave them alone. Call your local emergency number, or take them to the emergency room. And tell a family member or a friend what’s happening, so you’re not in this alone.

Sharing your friend’s secret may feel like a betrayal, but a serious situation calls for a serious response, and you have to trust that your friend will understand that your heart was in the right place. It may take them a while to recognize it, but they’ll get there. It may take months, it may take years, it may take forever, but if they get the help they need, they will look back after years and years and remember, when everything seemed hopeless, that somebody out there loved them. Maybe they’ll be struck by the revelation that they actually love themselves, something they once thought impossible. I’ve met many people in treatment who started out very bitter that they were “forced” to get help by loved ones, only to watch them heal and recover and remember themselves and thank those who helped them get the treatment they needed, without which they’d probably be gone. I struggled with accepting help for a while before I got well enough to see how beautiful recovery is.

I’m not sure I can tell you how to find that little light inside of you to cling to, but I know, simply because you’re reading this, that it’s there. You are looking for someone to tell you that it’s OK to need help and it’s OK to want help, that you can get better, that you will get better, and that all of the things that seem so heavy and painful and impossible now will eventually lift and life will seem worth living again. Let me be that person. You are worth something. You are worth saving. Your life matters. Maybe you can’t see all of that now, but you will. Because you can get better. You will.

Maybe someday you’ll remember all of this and you’ll write about it online and share it with a bunch of strangers, hoping that whomever needs it will read it and know that they are not alone, that it’s possible to get up every morning and look in the mirror and laugh and think, I’m still here, motherfuckers, and dance down the stairs into another day. Maybe you’ll be able to tell them what they need to hear, and maybe they’ll believe it, because it’s sincere and true and worth believing:Somebody out there loves you.

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