TW: self harm, suicide
As I’ve said before, please know that before I get on Bummed Out Baker to write I always prioritize working with my family and psychiatrist to stabilize myself. I wouldn’t be on here if I hadn’t first confirmed my safety.
Last Wednesday I wrote an ode to a friend who recently died by suicide. While the following thoughts were further propelled by her devastating passing, I did not include these thoughts in last week’s piece because I wanted that to only be about her. She deserves that space, and so, so much more.
Something I do here on Bummed Out Baker is challenge mental health taboos. I crack open topics that are historically only talked about in hushed tones among one’s closest, if that. A lot of people don’t even like to acknowledge the same things I openly discuss, for one reason or another, but I’m trying to break a barrier to benefit us all. I want to remind readers of my purpose so my words aren’t confused with sensationalism or seeking attention.
I’m petrified suicide is going to sneak up on me and take me by surprise.
As I wrote about in Mourning the Living, in July I had the strongest ideation I’ve experienced since 2008. It led to paranoia-fueled psychosis and an emergency trip back home to New York. In August, my cousins’ cousin, who I knew in passing, died very young and unexpectedly. It completely wrecked my cousins, aunt, and uncle. The whole family was gutted. Then, in September I got news of my high school friend, K, a death by suicide.
I feel like, since this summer, suicide has been circling me, like something stalking its prey. First it was manufactured in my head. Then, death happened a few degrees away. Then, suicide happened closer to me. It’s coming closer and closer. Is a best friend next? Is a family member next? Am I next?
“I’m scared of suicide. I’m trying to understand the mentality of people who’ve passed, what exactly they were thinking that led them to their ultimate decisions. I want to know, because I want to be on guard for it,” I mused to my psychiatrist. My eyes darted across his book shelves while I tried to piece together my thoughts. “Because the only people who could identify that mentality would be, well, people who were successful in their attempt. Death is so final, you know?”
My psychiatrist’s brother died by suicide, the same way my friend K did. I’m empathic to a crippling degree, and was wary of triggering my own psychiatrist by working through my thoughts. He assured me that while of course sometimes it hurts, he actually thinks it helps him to muse on the subject, for us to spit out what feels like nonsensical feelings and then rearrange them into shapes of understanding.
I continued. “It’s not like we can ask the people who are gone. How do I know if I’m getting close to the edge? It’s not like there are built in alarm bells. I just can’t fathom a feeling worse than how I’ve felt, but apparently it exists. I just can’t fathom the mentality…”
“Imagine having your worst day, every day, for five years straight,” he offered.
I imagined living July 18, 2019 day after day for five years, and in that moment the great opacity of suicide began to quiver and dilute. In that moment, mercy and sadness bloomed bigger inside of me for those lost to suicide. The pain remains challenging to fathom, but the reasoning began to take shape.
I try to remain on high alert for myself and for my family, but, if we’re being honest here, sometimes that’s not enough.
In college I had an English professor who likened those who thought suicide was selfish to people who wanted someone else to walk miles every day in shoes that were tearing up their feet into a bloody, blistered mess, in order to make them feel better. The person labeling suicide as selfish is actually, perhaps, the selfish person. If someone you love is in pain that immense…
This is not provocation, but food for thought as we collectively work to understand something so horrific.
My thoughts have been fed, shuffled, and remolded as I continue to contemplate what taking your own life means. Trying to gird myself against self harm feels like choosing a random place to reinforce a protective fence when, actually, the threat is infiltrating from another area. The efforts can feel like a shot in the dark, and a feeling of hopelessness can manifest.
It’s shrouded in mystery, the whole thing.
I feel like most everyone has lost a loved one to suicide and, while this is a topic unfortunately many may relate to, it’s not one I can tie up in a bow on some idle internet post.
One of my favorite Bright Eyes songs is No Lies, Just Love, which recaps the beautiful arc of one person’s ideation, presumably that of Bright Eyes’ singer, Conor Oberst. If you prefer to listen, see video below. If you prefer to read the lyrics, which read like a prose poem, I’ve posted them below the video. If you prefer to do neither, that makes me laugh and I admire your candor. Just keep scrolling.
It was in the march of the winter I turned seventeen
That I bought those pills
I thought I would need
And I wrote a letter to my family
Said it’s not your fault
And you’ve been good to me
Just lately I’ve been feeling
Like I don’t belong
Like the ground’s not mine to walk upon
And I’ve heard that music
Echo through the house
Where my grandmother drank
And I sat watching a flower
As it was withering
I was embarrassed by its honesty
So I’d prefer to be remembered as a smiling face
Not this fucking wreck
That’s taken its place
So please forgive what I have done
No you can’t stay mad at the setting sun
‘Cause we all get tired, I mean eventually
There is nothing left to do but sleep
But spring came bearing sunlight
Those persuasive rays
So I gave myself a few more days
My salvation it came, quite suddenly
When Justin spoke very plainly
He said “Of course it’s your decision,
But just so you know,
If you decide to leave,
Soon I will follow.”
I wrote this for a baby
Who has yet to be born
My brother’s first child
I hope that womb’s not too warm
‘Cause it’s cold out here
And it’ll be quite a shock
To breathe this air
To discover loss
So I’d like to make some changes
Before you arrive
So when your new eyes meet mine
They won’t see no lies
I will be pure
No, no, I know I will be pure
Like snow, like gold
Like snow, like gold
Like snow, like snow
Like gold, like gold, like gold
I listened to this song over and over in 2008, indeed before my brother’s first child was born, to comfort myself during one of my darkest times. Maybe it’ll bring comfort to someone else now.
I wish I had more helpful words to offer, a step-by-step way to find peace with the irreconcilable. If you share my headspace or love someone who does, rest in the knowledge that you’re / they’re not alone.
Big, giant, internet bear hugs to anyone needing one today. Hugs are always on offer in person, too.
Thanks for being there for me. I’m here for you, too.
Writing through PTSD helps me name my feelings and heal, and I encourage you to share Bummed Out Baker with anyone you think may find it helpful or relatable. I work hard to create community and conversation around what are often painful topics.
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If you or someone you know needs help right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.