Guys, I’m not going to lie to you: This is some heavy shit.
I’ve written and deleted about three other lines, so that tells me that I actually have nothing else to say. I’m going to let this post speak for itself.
You may not kill yourself when drunk.
You may not kill yourself while listening to the “sad songs” cassette.
You may not kill yourself in direct reaction to anything someone says that is hurtful.
Later amended to add: You may not kill yourself over a guy. Ever.
When I was a teenager, I knew the rules. They were important: a promise to myself. I would *never* promise not to kill myself. That option needed to remain open, an escape from the pain. I knew it would be a selfish act, turning my back on my life and the people in it. I also knew that it would be a relief – for me and also, I believed, for my friends and family. Maybe not immediately but in the long run, certainly. But it wasn’t really about them, it was about me. About the constant effort to just make it through the day and acknowledging that I might not want to keep making that effort. I might choose the peace and quiet of giving up.
I knew other people weren’t like this. I devoured books on crazy women: Sybil, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, The Bell Jar. I wondered if that was who I was.
In my twenties, I changed the rules into one simple one.
You must give twenty-four hours notice before killing yourself.
I remember standing at the top of a sheer drop, on the edge of a cliff, staring down at the waves dashing onto the rocks. It was a long drop, a few stories high. I would probably break my neck in the fall. If not, well, I would be too broken to swim, so I’d drown, eventually. The neck breaking would be better, though. “So fine,” I thought. “tomorrow evening, if I still feel the same, I’ll come back here and I’ll be allowed to do this.” Because that was the rule: 24 hours notice.
I wasn’t so sure, when it came to the next day. The broken drowning option sounded pretty awful. Maybe give it another day. Maybe do it then.
And the day after that, my clouds lifted and I saw the beauty of the cliffs and the sea and the sun setting low across the mountains. And I was glad that I hadn’t jumped and I renewed the promise to myself again: that when I felt that way, I would wait the twenty four hours. I never promised that I wouldn’t kill myself, that was a step to far. But to wait a day, that I could do. I promised myself, again and again and again. And day by day, I made it forward.
This is what life was like for me. Weeks of normality, of happiness even, and then it would start. The first sign would be bruises. I became clumsy. “The ground is uneven under my feet,” I wrote in my diary, code for the depression descending again. Then the overwhelming hopelessness. Everything was futile. I couldn’t cope with the world. I was a waste of oxygen. People stared at me in the street. On the bus, no one would sit next to me, people would stand rather than get too close to the crazy. I felt nothing, I felt everything. I burned my soft skin so I could feel something comprehensible. I regularly took time off work, unable to get out of bed. When it got bad, if I couldn’t retreat, then I would lose the ability to speak. The words pounded against my throat but I couldn’t get them out. When it was bad, I knew I wouldn’t kill myself because I was too useless even to do that. And I hated myself for it.
That’s what depression was like for me. And now, twenty years later, I still thank fortune every day that I don’t feel like that anymore. Every time, I pray to gods that I don’t believe in that I will never feel that way again.
And still the promises remain. I live on stable ground now, the sidewalk rarely shifts beneath my feet. But if the darkness descends, I can’t promise that I’ll be strong enough to keep fighting forever. But I do promise I’ll make it through one more day, to give the light a chance to break through.