08 May 2014

Fade to Black | Surviving Suicide

I wrote this while I was in bed recovering from the surgery I had over the summer for my endometriosis. It was something I wanted to write for a long time. In the spirit of returning to writing it's time to share, I think.


I survived my suicide attempt.

...to black.

But I never talk about it.

surviving suicide, surviving suicide attempt, life after suicide
 I was me, but now she's gone.

But staying silent doesn't help anyone. I'm ready to share.

The end--let's start there.

My brother saved my life that day. I was in stupor and called him to say goodbye since we used to talk every day; share everything. He'd need to know I was leaving. I hardly remember that call, but I'm lucky I made it.

Luck. It was the only thing that saved me. I've battled with depression and self harm for years. When my family switched coasts midway through my freshman year of college a switch was flipped. I've written about how much I prefer the east coast now but that wasn't the case then. I was devastated. It was one of those sliding door moments where if I'd missed out on that life event everything else would have been different. I won't say better, or that some things wouldn't have happened because of different situations in a different atmosphere, but that's when I knew what despair felt like.

I never actually wanted to kill myself. I wanted to hurt. I started to cut and then scratch by the time I was 15. Scratching hurt more and it was the release of pain I sought. If I could turn my mental pain into something physical maybe I could feel again.

Years went by. I went up and down. The pattern of moving continued. If something upset me I'd leave.

Then the true downward spiral...

I moved again, except for the first time I wasn't running from something - I was running to it. There was a job that I believed in and they wanted me. I had no idea what kind of pressures or demands that particular job would have but I was so happy to be there that I would have done anything. It was very hard to get that job. I was wanted. Badly at the time. I'm not really sure why the job made me feel more validated than my friends and family who always said they believed in me - but it did. I was in the news quite often and people wrote me fan mail. I felt like I was making a difference in the world and that my contribution mattered.

The relationships I had with people deteriorated as I became consumed. I hurt people who loved me. I lost touch with my family and friends. I was busy all the time.

...and then the job didn't want me anymore.

Two weeks after a glowing meeting and review with a less-than-bottom percent raise I was let go...

into nothing. I wasn't living in an area I liked or knew well despite my extended stay. My boyfriend had left; he'd given up and moved. I chose my job over a person.

...and so I was truly was alone. Deservedly.

Immediately I decided to fling myself as far from that location as possible. No, I wouldn't go back to Boston - I'd move to Portland, Ore. City of Roses, why not!? Had I ever been there? No. Not even close. It was random and kind of insane. I found an apartment on Craigslist and threw myself into another relationship with someone I met online. I didn't even need to leave the house until the day I moved into a little nook in SE PDX.

New life. New job. But I lost that one, too...and then the next.

I took my cat on walks and tended to my roses. I knit a lot. I had a ton of energy and yet none at all.

This wasn't new. I was in therapy the whole time I was out there. I've gone to therapy since I was 15 - even when I haven't needed it, if insurance covered it I was there. I thought the outside counsel was helpful...and I never knew when something would knock me off kilter. I figured it was like a controlled atmosphere.

Portland was me entirely off kilter, though. I went on medication for the first time in many years. There was a new drug called Cymbalta and it helped. However, as with any medication there was a long list of side-effects. It was also very hard to stop taking when I was ready so please pay attention to the fine print and research what you take before you pop the prescription.

I ran out of pills. I missed a few doses. Side effects of that include risk of suicide.

Something happened at home. I splintered. There was no plan, no premeditation. I think that's the scariest part.

People who have lost loved ones to suicide are left with so much on their shoulders. How could I not see it coming? Why didn't they talk to me? What were the signs? they ask. I am left here to answer some of those questions, though every case is different of course. For me: you couldn't have; I didn't know; there weren't any. I don't think those who knew me truly and deeply were surprised. They knew I battled with depression and panic/anxiety disorder.

But I was shocked.

I took about 500 mg of Clonopin and a fist full of prescription strength sleeping pills knocked back with a bottle of vintage whiskey that was left over from my grandparents. I'd thought to put something airtight over my head, too, but then it occurred to me that I should call my brother before the last step...

...to say goodbye...and then the room wouldn't stop spinning and life faded to black.

...and now we've come full circle. From Pennsylvania he routed through dispatchers across the country and they found me in time. In time for what? another chance.

It was too late to pump my stomach. I was going to have to live through the consequences. Fight. I didn't want to fight, though. I was mostly upset that it hadn't worked and afraid to try again and fail. So I just existed. My doctor told me that I'd have memory loss for about two months while the medication worked out of my system. My existence that summer is foggy at best.

Naturally I had to move again...but where? Philadelphia. It's closer to my family and on the east coast again. When people ask why Philly? I give them the short answer - the clean answer. This is the complicated truth.

When I got here I had nothing. I stayed at a friends' home until I had enough to rebuild my life in my own apartment. I went into therapy and was diagnosed for the first time with PTSD. I was agoraphobic. I wanted to be invisible. Going into a new CVS literally took me months. Stuff like that. When I needed to get anywhere I rode my bike because it was as close to alone and flying as I could get. It also put me in the danger-lane. Traffic is killer here.

I rode by churches and wondered if I should go in. Was anyone out there? I contacted "suicide survivor" groups but found that those were intended for survivors of a family member who'd done it right.

By then I'd found a new job. I started waitressing again because it kept me so busy and I didn't have time to think while I was there. I started feeling better as I built a new routine. Less numb. I opened up about myself a little bit.

Even with all this progress when Christmas Eve came around and I was alone with the dark and silence I thought about it again. I didn't think I'd make it. My family came to see me the next day.

Prior to that my dad had taken me out to dinner on Thanksgiving.

They were there for me but only at arm's reach. I thought it was cruel at times but now I know it wasn't. They had to let me work myself out; they had their own lives to attend to. Their own joy to experience and life situations to work through. I couldn't become a flailing anchor.

I think that is very important to helping someone. You can be there but you have to know when it's time to let go. That might be the hardest kind of love there is...it goes against all instinct.

More months passed.

When spring came a new hope followed. I clung to it. I don't know where it came from but slowly I started letting myself feel again. I know a good part of that is owed to an amazing therapist I'd been seeing. She helped me find the closest art store and wrote down the address. I didn't go for weeks but eventually I did...and then I went more places. I got back into photographing graffiti and urban decay. I nested my apartment into a frou frou treehouse that I shared with my cats.

I still had work to do, though. I had to stop cutting and scratching...but I haven't done that in over three years now. There are other ways to cope. One therapist told me to hold ice packs until the cold bit through me and I couldn't hold any longer. Pain into numbness. Eventually I stopped using them.

I don't think about suicide anymore.

We are all irreplaceable. 

It might feel like you're insignificant and don't matter in the greater scheme of things but you do. Our lives are microcosms. It's OK to not make history. It's enough to love...and yes, let others love you. It's OK to be twisted...but untwist until you find that healthy balance. Find yourself.

Remember that it can take time and you might hate every minute of it for a little while - or a long while. It can be a struggle but the pain is controllable. You can find healthy releases. Alternatives. I like to craft. It was knitting before the fire and I had like 900 scarves from it - but that was OK! My friends could be gifted with more. They deserved it...and still do.

Your friends might not get it but there are people like me who will. Sadly, there are many of us. I still remember how it felt in the dark. Reach out online - you don't have to leave the house, look at anyone, or even know their real name.

To Write Love on Her Arms


American Association of Suicidology where they even have a new place for survivors like me.

One of the little things I did right after surviving was keep my final appointment for my right tattoo. My artist had put so many hours into creating exactly what I had in mind that I remember thinking, how rude of me - I almost erased his art from this world. That day he even added some of the ink he makes by hand. Each of my tattoos are special but this one carries little pieces of my family and life within it. Having handmade ink in a few places made it feel complete...like, I have been gifted this art so take care of it and the package it's on. Tattoos are living and somehow the idea of my artist/s hearing I'd killed his canvas made me think of other people in my life...like, stop thinking so selfishly. Silly-sounding, perhaps, but whatever your realization is, hang onto it. If it's significant it isn't silly.

atomic tattoo portland, places to get tattoos in pdx, my last tattoo
Finishing touches on a living canvas that almost never was...

We all have hard times. You can't tell by looking at someone. My hair was done, my make-up in place.

There's help if you want it; if you don't, you can still help yourself. Don't close your eyes; don't let go. You'll leave hearts bleeding in your wake...passing your pain onto those who love you.

...and that isn't fair.

I started this blog before my attempt but I deleted every entry until some time when I was in Philadelphia. I even had posts from the summer-I-will-never-remember. Sometimes I wish I hadn't done that, but every single post I've made since is proof to a life worth living.

Oh, and here's something else: that job I wrote about? The one that chewed me up and spit me out sideways? That is where I met my future husband. Without all of that there would be no Brandon or Tristan. I wouldn't live closer to my family and I wouldn't have the amazing friends I've met along the way.

Sometimes the life you feel you're missing is happening right before your eyes...
...open them.

1 comment :

  1. Your story gave me goosebumps, Julianne. Never stop putting yourself out there. I understand the PTSD and agoraphobia too...the hoop is what helped me get better. I'm glad we connected through hooping. Ps. I love your tattoos!


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