"You don't seem depressed to me," she said, and she went through a series of questions to assess my overall mental state, ending with, "Are you suicidal?" she asked.
"No," I told her. "Not now."
"Promise me that you tell me if that changes?" she asked.
"Yes, I promise," I said, and I meant it.
Part 1: High School
I've never really talked about my flirtations with death very much, though the impulse to erase myself has been a part of me for almost as long as I can remember. Even before I knew what it meant to die, I felt the urge to be absent, to take a break from my life. I began to call it 'suicidal' when I was a senior in high school. My father, who had been a horrible, abusive presence in my life, was gone. I recognized my mother's pain and my brothers' grief, and I felt intensely guilty and responsible. I didn't think it was my fault, really, that he left, but I was the only one who felt the insane sense of relief that I didn't have to avoid him, to protect myself from him. I was the one who had wished and prayed for his death or his absence my entire adolescence.
When he was gone, I should have felt relief. I felt responsible. My mom confided in me the various pains her marriage had caused her -- the suspected affairs, the alcoholism, the impotence, and his constant undermining of her desires to improve our station in life. These weighed on me, with the secret knowledge of the abuse I'd been victim to. Then she began to date other men, and she told me about those relationships, and about her flirtations at work, and the married man she fell in love with. I felt each confidence. I stumbled through my last year living at home, and I knew that I was different. I knew I was queer, even if I didn't understand precisely what that meant for me. In a town of 3,500 people, in a family that prized secrecy over nearly everything else, I was intensely, painfully alone.
I began to plan my death. I wanted it to appear to be an accident, so I began scoping out likely trees to run my car into. I began to drive fast, recklessly, hoping I wouldn't have to actually make the decision. I got a Swiss army knife for Christmas, and I held the blade against my wrist, imagining what the first cut would feel like. Imagining the release of the warm blood. Imagining the floaty elation that would come before unconsciousness.
I told a friend in an off-hand way that I'd had these fantasies. I should've known she'd tell a teacher. After all, isn't that what the after-school specials say to do? My teacher took me to the county mental health department, where I had a few therapy sessions with an ernest man who asked questions about my mental state, and I lied. I didn't want my mom to know that I wasn't handling life particularly well -- I was responsible for her, of course. And I really didn't want to be locked away. "Danger to self or others," I repeated to myself as I smiled at the therapist and glibly glossed over the worst of my pain.
Part 2: Graduate School
In graduate school, the woman I believed would be my partner for the rest of my life left me. Kicked me out. Fell in love with another woman. It was a terrible relationship, all things considered. She was abusive and controlling, and she undermined my confidence as often as she could. I don't think she was necessarily malicious, but she and I were not well suited. By the time we broke up, I had no idea who I was. The pain was immense, and I just wanted it to end. I remember looking at an aisle of shower curtains and not knowing which one was the right one to pick. I began to sob in WalMart, and I left without buying anything. I sat in the tub and washed myself again and again.
It was after the initial pain, though, that I began to seriously think about the absence of myself. I looked at freight trains longingly. I drank heavily. I began to smoke. I began to see a therapist who I didn't completely trust, but I went. She suggested antidepressants, and I tried them. Celexa made me manic. Zoloft did nothing. Prozac had some effect until I lost my insurance and could no longer afford either the prescription or the regular visits to a medical doctor to get the prescription. In the meantime, I fantasized more and more about being dead. I wanted no afterlife. I just wanted everything to cease. Dead. Absent. Completely finished.
By this point, my therapist had me in the cheaper group therapy, and someone asked me if I was suicidal. I laughed as I talked about how I wanted to be absent. It's a weird paradox. I didn't want people to take me too seriously ("Danger to self or others"=locked up), but at the same time, I wanted people to understand that this wasn't some sort of melodramatic cry for attention. It was real, but I had no idea how to communicate that. The people in the group -- including my therapist -- scoffed at me. I did not return to the topic.
I dropped out of school, and I talked to my mom about caring for my pets if something were to happen to me. "Like if I get hit by a car crossing Hillsborough," I told her, thinking of the initial jolt of pain, followed by unconsciousness, and I shivered with something almost like pleasure. I moved to Asheville. I got wasted daily. I drove as fast as I could. I dropped off large sums of money in the middle of the night in a deserted area of downtown. I wanted to die.
Part 3: Now
The thing is that I didn't die. I remember lying on the couch in my shitty singlewide and thinking to myself that I knew that if things got really bad, I'd be able to end it. I had no doubt that I'd be able to take the pills or make the cuts or whatever I needed to do to make sure. None of this walking into traffic or driving into a tree. Done. Finished. Absent. I could. And, somehow, the knowledge that I could end things kept me from taking that final step.
Now, I answered Grace honestly. I answered my doctor honestly, too, though, unlike Grace, she didn't have the entire story. I'm not suicidal, though the fantasies of absence, of quiet, of escape float comfortably through my thoughts. I am in a different place now, and I know that I can never act on those thoughts. It's a loss, really. No matter how bad things get now, no matter what I go through, or what losses I suffer, or what pain I face, I cannot end my life. Too many people depend on me. I would be leaving my brother alone to raise his children, without family who he can lean on. I would be abandoning ana. I would be screwing over the people I work with and for. I would leave my nieces and nephews to grow up without the queer aunt who might be able to ease some of their pain as they grow.
I don't regret the responsibility. I want to see how it all turns out in my life. I do miss knowing how to find the exit, though.
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