CW/TW: suicidal ideation.
Five years ago I was in my worst depressive episode, and I found myself on the fence about committing suicide. I was down to decision time and I was weighing the options: life or death. On the one hand, my book had just come out and it seemed like it was possible that that might be a catalyst into a better life – new career, better peers, new social circles to engage in. On the other hand, I was in constant pain and anguish, I had empirical data that no one in my life would ever treat me well, and committing to the seemingly infinite lifetime that stretched out before me felt vast and impossible.
So I made a deal with myself: I’ll give it five more years. I’ll spend the next five years doing everything I can to make my life better by creating the work I want to make, and with any luck, at the end of them I won’t want to kill myself anymore. And if I do, then at least I will have a 5-year body of work that I will be proud to leave behind.
Those five years were up yesterday.
At many times, including yesterday itself, I have felt the pull of wanting to obliterate myself again. It’s less a rational calculation than it is a visceral pull in the guts, a desire not to be in one’s own skin, a need to take oneself out of the race out of sheer pain and exhaustion, a need to shut off the migraine that is the world. But it’s not as strong as it was then; it doesn’t have the same claws. I’m more firmly on one side of the fence than the other. Most of our decisions are not neatly binary – they win out at a 75/25 or a 60/40 when weighed against each other, and most times that’s enough.
In the past five years, I’ve put more weights on the “life” side of the scale. And while I still feel the same pain, betrayal, abandonment, and despair that I felt years ago, I feel less of it, and I feel more of the hope I felt that made me keep going. I didn’t get to a 100/0 vote by any means. But I went from a 50/50 to maybe a 70/30, and so far that’s enough to keep me here on the planet.
Relatedly, it was not an accident that I chose my birthday as my pact date. Birthdays were already laden with trauma for me, and looking back now I think I wanted to see if in the future I could count on the people I loved to show up for me in the way I was sensitive to most. The third year in, that got a lot worse, as anyone who read my blog post from two years ago yesterday knows – a pattern was emerging: not only were people unwittingly abandoning me, they were purposely betraying me by knowingly hurting me on what was supposed to be the one day of the year where I got to ask to be celebrated.
In the two years since, I stopped telling anyone about my birthday. I chose unwitting abandonment over purposeful betrayal, because the former was so much more easily swallowed than the latter. I stopped giving people a chance to show up for me, because in removing their agency I removed their ability to hurt me. It was my decision to be alone on my birthday, not theirs. It was putting a few tiny weights on the death side of the scale so as not to risk adding a huge one that would immediately tip it all the way to the side. It was the lesser demon.
I’m not quite sure the scale is ready for that gamble yet – that big of a risk may have to come when I cross the 80/20 mark, clearly still a few miles ahead of me, when there is no doubt in my mind that I’m surrounded by loved ones who would never in a million years dream of doing anything on that day but showing up for me. I’m not there yet. I don’t trust people to agree to show up for me yet, frankly often with good reason, and I’m not brave enough to ask for something that would be so painful not to hear a yes to that it might literally kill me. But at least I recognize that at this point, that’s my decision, not theirs, and that in reclaiming my agency I am reclaiming my ability to heal myself.
And that historically speaking, if I continue down the path I started on five years ago, it’s bound to keep getting better. That’s something I have empirical data for too.