I remember not calling you the day I almost killed myself. I didn’t call my brother, my parents, anyone. Being suicidal is hard enough; telling someone is a whole other story. Besides, it wasn’t something you’d probably want to hear. But maybe keeping it from you was a mistake. In a way, it was harder than telling the truth. In either case, I’m writing this to you now. I’m writing what I wished I’d say the day it happened.
I’m sure you remember this picture. It was taken the day before the university’s fall break of 2018. I didn’t actually see the photo, but saw the familiar flash of camera lights, you and your colleagues lining up to pose. There were so many smiles and laughs that day, and it stayed on everyone’s faces as they finished and said their goodbyes. I could tell they were genuine smiles even though I couldn’t feel the happiness myself. But I saw it in everyone’s eyes. I saw it in you when you approached me, your cute face bright and full of sunshine. “Bye, Fairley!” you said, hugging me.
That broke me. In that moment, I was truly miserable. You had everything I wanted. You had best friends; you loved your job; you started a coed fraternity, and you loved yourself, truly loved yourself. I hadn’t felt that way in a long time.
I don’t know if you remembered, but when you hugged me I hugged you tighter than I normally do. Did you feel it, my desperation in that moment? In my mind this was the last time I would see you, but I couldn’t tell you that. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. There aren’t enough words to express the feelings of being suicidal. I can only describe it in metaphorical terms: It’s that dropping feeling you have in the pit of your stomach, but it keeps dropping and never stops. It’s not being able to breathe but breathing quickly and shallowly at the same time. It’s the feeling of eyes stinging from unshed tears, ready to fall at any moment because you’re just so fragile.
God, I didn’t want you to let go. I knew as soon as you did the tears would come down, the mental breakdown that I had delayed would start. I could hide my face from you in your hair, so soft, and your shoulders, so strong. You never had to see my real face.
But hugs don’t last forever, and even if they did, they can’t cure depression. As soon as you let go, it was over. I kept the smiles on my face while you were there, but as soon as you left I burst out of the room and left the building.
I headed straight to the amphitheater. It was after five in the evening, so campus was dead, save for a few students. I knew I was alone, safe from prying eyes. My eyes looked right behind the amphitheater, where the manmade lake stood.
It was time for me to die.
I’ve thought of so many ways to commit suicide. I know, that’s a horrifying statement. But those were just thoughts. As they often say in therapy, thoughts are just thoughts, not actions. You’ve had your share of disturbing thoughts, I’m sure, but you never acted on them. I was the same way. Suicidal ideations, they called it, didn’t mean you’d commit suicide. It was a precursor, but not an immediate danger sign.
But by this point, I was past thinking. I needed, wanted to take action. I was sick of pretending, Jules. I was sick of pretending to be happy every day I woke up in the morning, sick of pretending to enjoy school, my life—everything. I don’t know why I settled on a lake for my suicide. Maybe it was because my brother’s friend died that way; maybe I just didn’t want you to see my dead body in the most graphic way possible. The last thing I wanted to do was traumatize anyone. My suicide probably would have done that, anyway, but I was trying to minimize the damage.
I didn’t go straight in the lake, though. I was still thinking, a part of me hesitant and the other part shouting, “Do it already!” The indecision itself was stressful. I walked over to the grassy area near the lake and just sat. Usually I walk to clear my mind, but I just couldn’t today. Everything had to stop. I needed my thoughts to stop moving so quickly, stop shouting contradictions at every turn. What was I supposed to do? What did I want to do?
I sat in a semi fetal position on the grass across the lake, crying in intervals. It was like my body was so drained that I couldn’t muster enough tears. I kicked my shoes off, figuring they shouldn’t drown with me, but I changed my mind seconds later. My head was hurting, my eyes were tired, and I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to die but I didn’t.
I just wanted to stop feeling.
I took out my phone and texted a crisis hotline. I had called them a few other times, but it only helped temporarily. Do you know how accurate they are? I always see that they’re supposed to help, but there’s no concrete evidence (at least that’s what Wikipedia told me; you’re probably rolling your eyes right now…) It’s just so routine. The counselor asks you if you’re okay sharing your name, what your issue is (“Sorry you’re feeling that way!”, they say) and offer solutions. I know there’s not much more they can do, but it wasn’t enough for me. It’s never been enough.
I told the counselor this time that I was feeling completely hopeless and that nothing would help, but she kept trying to change my mind. I know it was her job, but it just felt like I was beating my hand against a wall. Nothing was changing in my life. I had been suicidal on-and-off since I was fourteen. I was nineteen now. When were things going to change?
One of the last things the counselor said to me was that things would be okay; I only told her that I appreciated her condolences. I was grateful for her trying to help out, but I knew she couldn’t.
I had to do something. I called the suicide hotline next. I don’t remember what we spoke about, but I remembered feeling better—I think hearing someone’s voice helped. But almost as soon as I felt better, my mood fell once again.
I was running around in circles. I always called the crisis hotline whenever I felt really hopeless and couldn’t talk to anyone else; I always spoke to my counselor about my depression and anxiety during our sessions. But they all had the same outcome, which was nothing. And if a professional couldn’t help me, then who could?
I cried again. There was nothing anyone could for me, not even you. Even if you were there, telling me that life was crappy, and you agreed with me 100%, I doubt I would’ve felt better. I was trapped, faced with a terrible decision to make: live or die.
Neither option appealed to me, not at first. But I remembered feeling stuck in circles again, and I realized that would be me the rest of my life if I didn’t change. I was tired of making no progress. I was just faking myself out, pretending like I was getting better when I wasn’t. It was time to do something different. Change had to happen, and it had to be drastic, because nothing else was working.
Okay. I’m done. I marched towards the lake, feeling detached. My brain turned off its emotions somehow; I was vaguely aware of my distress, but it didn’t feel as strong as earlier. I think I was too overwhelmed by my feelings to feel anything anymore.
When I reached the lake, I just stared at the water, watching the ripples. A moment’s hesitation went by before I stepped foot into the lake. It was cold and soggy. My shoes were wet, and I smelled an unusual stench. There was definitely dirt in my socks at that point. That would’ve been enough alone to make me regret it.
But I was still numb; I couldn’t feel that much. I stepped my other foot inside and just stood there, letting the cool water run through my legs. And I just stood there in that moment, feeling so empty, so light. I was truly free. Free from human emotions, from all the drama that comes with being a person, free from the hell that was life.
Oddly enough, this moment made me appreciate the simplest sensations of life. The lake was so beautiful, and it felt so good. I just felt peaceful standing in the water. Do you swim? I don’t know how to, but I wanted to. I wanted the water to just wash me away and take me wherever. I wasn’t in a rush; I was simply there.
That’s when it hit me. I felt numb. This wasn’t really happening in “real time”: It was an out-of-body experience. I saw the part of me that just didn’t care anymore, but I also saw the part of my brain that was still working, still thinking, “Is this what you want to do?” Because once I did it, everything was over. As far as we know, there are no do-overs in death. Was I ready to make a permanent decision?
I immediately got out. What happened next was a whirlwind of events. I called the hotline, who told me to call 911, and I found myself surrounded by so many strangers—campus security guards, campus police, and a particularly cute paramedic. I was transported to the hospital in the ambulance. I stayed there for a day. A few close people found out what happened and reacted accordingly. It’s not something I’d like to relive, if I’m being honest with you. I’d like to forget that day ever happened—but, of course, life doesn’t work like that.
It’s almost been a year since I attempted suicide. I’ve been in and out of therapy, taken too many medications to remember, and had my runaround with counselors. I’m not in therapy now, but I feel okay. Not on top of the moon, but okay. Life is good. I’ve stopped worrying so much about what other people think. I’ve been comparing myself less to people. I’m focusing more outward than inward, seeing what I can do to help people. Because after what I experienced, I don’t ever want anyone to feel that way. So I’m trying to be the person that I would’ve wanted for me in that moment of distress.
Have I “recovered”? I can’t say. Recovery is a funny word. I think we have this idea that after getting treatment you’ll feel all better and never sink again, but that rarely happens. Healing is messy and not linear. I don’t know how people can say they’re in recovery. When do you know you’ve “recovered”? Is not wanting to kill yourself recovery, even after all the hell you went through? I don’t think I’ll ever fully recover from this experience.
But telling someone is relieving. It’s liberating. I can’t keep this to myself anymore. It’s too much of a burden.
Do you know what it feels like, lying to people all the time? That’s what I’ve been doing for so long. The week after I went to the hospital, I pretended like nothing happened. I still pretend like nothing happened in front of most people. But it always sits at the back of my mind, eating at me. It happens every time I pass by the student union the amphitheater; it happens whenever I see an ambulance on campus or the police speaking with someone. It’s even on social media, every time I see that damn picture of you and your work friends. It’s everywhere, and I can no longer avoid it. I was lying to everyone that day. I told them I was fine when I wasn’t. I lied right to your face. I even lied to myself. But I’m not going to do that anymore; I won’t. I’m done lying to myself and everyone who cares about me. I want to be honest. I owe that to myself and everyone who cares about me, especially you. The human experience is anything but smooth, and I think I’m ready to accept that.