How I Learned To Live, Wanting to Die

Thanksgiving Day, 2007. I stand in my basement bedroom, a cord in my hands. The most insistent thought beats like a drum in my head- Die, die, die. I wrap the cord around my neck and I pull. I pull, hoping to strangle myself. I don’t think through the fact that even if I could make myself pass out by this course of action, once I passed out my grip would release and I’d be able to breathe once more. It’s hard to think clearly when all you want to do is die.

That was the first time I tried to kill myself. Over the next decade I’d try or begin to try many more times. I tied belts around coat hooks and door knobs and attempt very slow and ineffectual hangings. I’d linger for a while at the edges of cliffs or on the top of the Salt Lake City Public Library, while a small voice would say “Jump!” In September of 2011, I drove my mother’s car into a rocky slope on the side of a highway in Idaho, going 87 miles an hour. I survived with just a few scratches.

These urges were overpowering before I transitioned, before I started treating my ADHD and my bipolar disorder. They’ve reduced over time, but sadly they haven’t ever completely gone away. I’ll go a week or two now without considering it, which was unfathomable to me only a few years ago, but the urge still crops up from time to time. I think the reality is the urge may never really go away.

This morning I found myself pondering it a moment. Some voice in my head says “just end this sordid tale, here and now.” But I managed to ride out the impulse. There’s no one magic fix to suicidal ideation. Having supportive people to talk to helps, certainly, as does therapy, but the ideas will still crop up, and they are alarming and discouraging, especially when one is otherwise on an upwards trajectory.

So, how do I cope with occasionally and persistently wanting to die? Ironically, I’ve embraced Death as a kind of deity, and a source of joy.

I had a realisation walking in the Salt Lake Cemetery (which is my favourite place to stroll); that all of us are fated to die, and that is a very good thing. Death gives life its meaning. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “it is the scarcity which makes anything precious.” Death is the one true unifying characteristic of life, and indeed of the universe itself. Everything will eventually decay and die and run out of energy. Our story has an end.

Knowing this, accepting it, I realised that more than anything I want the story of my life to be an interesting one. It doesn’t have to be a happy story, and hell it probably won’t be, but I’ll be damned if people don’t have a lot of good tales to tell about me at my funeral.

So how does this help when I feel suicidal? My life’s been pretty interesting so far- what would be the real harm in writing that last page myself? Setting aside the grief it would cause those who love me (because once I’m dead that won’t really affect me), it would make a bad story if I took the shortcut to the end. It’s not how I should end my story, plain and simple. I may die the second after I post this from an aneurysm, later today in a freak accident, or in 75 years in a bed surrounded by close friends and family, but all of those, I believe, would be better than if I’d killed myself this morning.

Death is universal and unavoidable. She will take us all into her cold and tranquil arms one day. But I firmly believe that the moment anointed should belong to her, not to me. So I breathe deep, I text or call some friends, and remind myself that the urge will pass. That I don’t have to take that grave responsibility onto my shoulders. Because Lady Death is the one who should write those closing words- “And then, Beatrice died. The End.

Until those words are written I need to live, to write, to laugh, to love, to cry, to drink, to dance- all the pain and joy of life is still mine to experience. I’ll keep writing my story, and when Lady Death comes for me, I’ll embrace her as an old and cherished friend. When she wants me, she’ll have me, but the choice will be hers, not mine. What peace it brings me to know that.

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