I Was Suicidal. Here’s What I Wish Someone Had Said To Me.
It's been two years since the last time I wanted to kill myself.
CW: suicide and suicidal ideation. If you or someone you know needs help, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800–273-TALK (8255).
I was seventeen the last time I wanted to kill myself.
My life wasn’t worse than usual, nothing had happened, but I stood there with a bottle of Advil in my hands and willed myself to take it.
I was tired. By that point, I had been depressed for seven years. All of my memories were colored the same sad shade of gray. I wanted it to be over. I dreaded waking up every day and having to go through the motions and pretend to be okay. Therapy didn’t help. I didn’t expect it to.
I thought my depression would never leave. Maybe it would wax and wane. Maybe I would be okay for a while, but it would come back. Like it always did. I would go back to feeling like this.
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I stared down into the bottle. I knew it was enough to kill me. I had counted the pills. I had researched. Even though this particular urge came more suddenly, I had been suicidal for years. I dreamt of finally having the courage to end it.
I thought that it would make things better. It would make everyone who hurt me realize what they did. I wanted everyone to know how much pain I was in. They didn’t listen when I was alive, but maybe they’d listen when I was dead.
What stopped me was the fear of getting caught. It was early afternoon, I would have to talk to my family that evening. I knew the mechanism by which the Advil would kill me. I knew it would hurt.
So I took the bottle of Advil with me to my room and resolved to take it that night, but I fell asleep instead.
When I woke up the next day, I didn’t want to kill myself. I kept the bottle of pills in my room, but I never again got so close to taking it.
There was no magic moment where I realized that people would miss me, or that life really was beautiful, or that no matter how bad things got, living was still some great gift that I should cherish.
I just realized I didn’t want to die.
For something that’s called the coward’s way out, it’s not easy. I won’t go into the details of each method I’ve considered, but they all involve pain. I didn’t realize my life was great, but I did realize that somewhere deep inside, I considered it better than the alternative of a painful exit.
I’ve read many narratives about suicidal people realizing that they loved life, or that their pets would miss them, or that their partners would. I’m sure those are true. But none of that would have stopped me. My suicidality focused on me: I was in pain, I didn’t think the pain would ever end, and I was tired of it. Maybe that makes me selfish. I wouldn’t have cared at the time.
That was almost two years ago.
I’d like to say things got better after that. They didn’t. I was still suicidal, but I never got so close again because I knew it would end the same way: I would decide that I didn’t want to endure the physical pain to end the emotional pain.
A year and a half after the pill incident, I got better. I started taking antidepressants. Apparently, escitalopram and bupropion work miracles on whatever brain chemistry issue caused my depression.
I enjoy my life. The big things, like having an adult relationship and goals and career plans, and the small things, like the particular beauty of the New York City trees in fall.
But if I could go back to that scared, tired seventeen-year-old, I don’t think I could convince her that her life would get better.
I, in fact, have no clue what anyone could have said to me to make me feel better. I was incapable of believing that things could get better. No amount of convincing would make me believe that I could be happy.
When I was suicidal, I read dozens of articles that started, like this one, with an author telling me that they used to be suicidal, and ended with them choosing life and telling me how everything got better. Maybe that helps some people. It didn’t help me.
What would have helped was not having to pretend.
I needed someone to tell me that I was right. That I had a right to be as depressed as I was. When you’re in the pits of depression, at the lowest low you’ve ever felt, you can’t climb out in one day. No one can pull you out.
What I needed was someone to come down to the pit with me. To sit in that crater of misery and tell me that I was right. That it was okay for me to be sad. That I didn’t have to pretend to be happy. That it was okay for me to rest, to take the time I needed to regroup.
And then maybe I would have been able to take the first step out.
I needed empathy, not promises. No author across the country can promise me that my life is going to get better, maybe it’ll even get worse. But someone listening to me, someone sitting with me through the worst moments of my life, would have made it different.
This article is not meant to talk anyone out of suicide. I don’t think I, or anyone, can write one thousand words so powerful as to convince someone that life is actually worth living in spite of crushing depression. The decision to live is one I had to make for myself and one that no one could have made for me.
What I can do is share my story and what would have helped me. The general trend of suicide awareness seems to be moving in a similar direction as mine: the best tool is empathy, not an argument. You can’t debate someone into wanting to live. There are no words poignant enough to erase the pain.
What you can do is stop trying to pull them out of the pit. They have to do that themselves.
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You can walk down, and sit, and listen.
You can tell them you care, and that you’ll be there for them.
You can tell them you’re sorry that they have to experience something so horrible as to drive them to suicide.
I wouldn’t tell my seventeen-year-old self about my life today. The intervening two years would seem like an eternity to her. I don’t think she would believe any of it.
I would tell her that I understand,
I would hold her hand and tell her that she’s allowed to feel the way she does.
And maybe that would help.