Running for my life

CW: Suicide, suicidal ideation

When I was a kid, I would lie awake at night in a pitch black bedroom as my thoughts spiraled from the pain of the day. The words used to wound. The taunts used to demean. The verbal jabs used to leave invisible scars.

As I internalized it, my mind practiced its mental gymnastics. Eventually, it would turn to thoughts of death. More specifically, it would zero in on a paralyzing fear of not existing. I would run out of my room and down the stairs…

eyes wide open

heart pounding

mind racing

…trying to find refuge, escape or support. Looking back, it was a premonition because I’ve been running from thoughts of death ever since.

It is hard for me whenever someone in the public eye commits suicide. It is not because I fail to understand why it happens. It is because I understand far too well. Undoubtedly, a chorus of folks comes out of the woodwork with questions ranging from confused to ignorant:

“But they were so successful. How could this happen?”

“How could they be so selfish?!”

“We needed them here. Why would they leave?”

The confusion and ignorance does not rattle me anymore honestly. What is rattles me is that suicide does not confuse me at all.

I understand how living with depression can feel like you’re living on borrowed time. And as the sands pass through the hourglass, every depressive episode chips away at your ability to believe that better days are on the horizon. Over time, you find yourself severely outmatched in the war for your mind. Sometimes it happens slowly…sometimes it happens very quickly all at once.

There is a myth of suicide being an act of cowardice and a display of weakness, but I view it more as a heartbreaking surrender after months, years or decades of fighting. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that suicide is inevitable or ‘the answer’. I believe wholeheartedly that hope is possible and that we should continue to love each other and support each other so that people know that they are cared for.  I have to believe in that. Many years have passed since my nights lying awake in my childhood bedroom, but I’m still running. Keeping my eyes on that horizon as I hold out for better days. All I’m saying is, I understand…because years of running can leave you exhausted, hopeless and searching for lifelines.

I have had to find supports to sustain me in this survival marathon: friends, therapy, medicine and eventually writing. I started trying to put words to my experiences with mental illness when I was a junior in college. It was liberating for me. I found myself, for the first time, as the narrator and protagonist of my journey and not merely as a passive participant held captive by bouts of depression and mania.

I started my first personal mental health blog in 2008 and wrote posts on it (at first regularly and then intermittently) until 2012. It was a lifeline for me. A way to make sense of the hopelessness. A way to give meaning to the madness. A way to try to help people understand.

I haven’t written about mental illness in six years and have not really written about anything at all in four years. For years now, I’ve been debating starting to write again in general and I found myself stuck and unclear as to why I felt like I should. Recently, I’ve been reflecting on it and trying to figure it out. Was it because:

a) I missed it and found it to be a meaningful part of my life that I wanted to rediscover.

b) I knew it was something I had been good at so I probably should pick it back up.

c) In some self-centered way, I missed the positive affirmation it brought me from others.

It probably is d) all of the above, but I realized that there was more to it. I still had things I wanted to say. 

While I can’t promise to post every week, I’m going to try to keep at it. As a friend of mine once put it, I’m ‘consenting to learn in public’. One of the reasons I started writing in the first place was to try to be an example that living a meaningful life with mental illness, though not without struggle, is possible. Given all of the support that I have received that has allowed me to make it this far in this race for survival, I feel like the least I can do is try to get back to this commitment that I made many years ago.

Thanks for reading.