I saw my new therapist yesterday. She’s a wicked nice 30-something who seems to have her head on straight, and genuinely wants to help in my next stage of therapy work. At this point in my treatment, after several years, I’ve mostly resolved and closed the books on a lot of my past and the events that occurred that scarred and shaped me in my adult life. Our work will be more focused on symptom management, maintaining appropriate boundaries for myself and others in my life, and communication.
However, there are some events in my history that need to be told to whoever I’m working with, so that they have a clear understanding of where I’m coming from. So yesterday, I spent most of the session talking about the events that led up to my moving back to New Hampshire from Washington before my freshman year of high school was over. Retelling that week used to make me cry, but now it’s mostly something that happened in the past that I have a lot of distance from. It no longer hurts me to discuss or explain, but it still remains a defining moment of my life from that period of time.
Reflecting on that history reminds me of just how miserable I was at times in my preteens and teenage years. I was suicidal, and even made a few halfhearted and mostly uneducated attempts to kill myself between seventh and ninth grade. I remember sitting on the floor with a knife in the kitchen of my sister’s dorm suite, sobbing and trying to stay quiet until our dog, Pandora, walked over to me. I remember skipping school in eighth grade and rooting through the cabinet under the sink, selecting a bottle of wet-vac shampoo and drinking anywhere from half a cup to a cup of it.
My life got better when I moved in with my dad and stepmom in New Hampshire after the events in Washington in my freshman year. They were extremely supportive and caring through the three years I lived with them. When the internal barriers that had been keeping my self harming urges in check began to erode, I confessed to them that I had started cutting, and they got me help. I was hospitalized the first time for five days during my senior year of high school. This was the first time that I heard of “borderline personality disorder” though I wouldn’t be diagnosed officially with it for several years. I was given medication, and continued therapy until finishing high school and moving back to Washington.
The next few years were ones of denial, bandaging emotional problems by ultimately refusing to acknowledge they existed. Suicide was always in the back of my mind when things got bad in my relationships. I had friends and very few were allowed in to see what sort of chaos my emotional states put me in. I withdrew and hid from most people until I could put my facade back together and behave normally. I never wanted people to see just how damaged I was, even in text in online chat, where it’s easy to pretend.
In 2006, five and half years after the first time, after a string of terrible and brief relationships following my breakup with my second boyfriend in November of the previous year, I was hospitalized again, this time for eight days. I scared a friend with something I had said, and he called not only the Seattle PD, but my sister as well. Cory found me in my extremely messy and frankly, disgusting apartment, the implements of my latest suicide plan on the counter lined up with perverse care. She brought me to the hospital, and I spent a lot of my time reading about DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) and the problems adult children of alcoholic parents face in their lives due to their upbringing. This is when the borderline diagnosis was becoming more prevalent, though an official diagnosis wasn’t immediately made. I was medicated.
I was also homeless, and spent four months in a shelter, choosing to stay in Seattle for the treatment there, instead of moving in with my sister and her family. It was a very long, uphill road from there, between transitional housing, to permanent, low income housing. During these few years, there were plenty of thoughts about suicide, because at this point, the option was always there. Things got too hard and the idea of killing myself sprang up and clamored for attention. It wanted to be heard. I obsessively would count my medication, and Googled for information about lethal doses of over the counter drugs. Things were better than they had been, and I had been in steady therapy treatment since leaving the hospital. I was in DBT, and learning skills to help manage these symptoms, but it was always still an option for me.
That changed in early 2010, with the death of my niece’s godfather. I had only met him a handful of times in my adult life, at my sister’s wedding where he stood as best man to my brother in law, and probably later when my niece was born. From what I understand, he had struggled with many of the same black holes of depression and suicide since high school, attempting at least once before to kill himself. He lost that struggle, sadly, that year, and my sister and brother in law flew back to New Hampshire to say good bye. They asked me to house sit for them to take care of the cats and bird while they were gone, and I bussed down to Olympia a day or two early before their flight.
My sister, niece and I were sitting on the big bed while my sister packed for herself and her daughter. She and I were talking, but I no longer remember what about when my niece spoke up: “My Uncle Chris is dead.” She was nearly five and knew that she would no longer be seeing him, or receiving cards or gifts from him at Christmas and her birthday. I don’t know if she really understood what happened, or what it meant, or even what prompted her to say that at that time. But for me, that was a life altering moment.
It’s amazingly profound when you realize just how much of an impact your life has on others around you. My niece rarely saw him because he lived on the east coast, but she knew that had changed. At that point, her aunties were very active in her life, and saw her once or twice a month for weekends at a time. I did not want to make my sister ever have to explain to my niece why Auntie Margo was no longer around.
Since joining Facebook around that same time, I have seen family friends mourn the loss of their son and brother. Every year, they remember their loved one who killed himself, and every year, that wound is fresh again. There is a hole there that will never be filled. It’s a sobering realization to know that I could be the source of that pain for my family and loved ones. I nearly put them through the same experience.
It’s a selfish option, and it always has been. Knowing that doesn’t change the appeal of suicide when I’m in the depth of my pitch black pit. But there are other options, and there always has been other options. My family will never exactly understand what it’s like to deal with my mental health problems, but they love me. They’ve done some pretty amazing things for me in my darkest hours, when I finally let them in. I had to learn to let them help me, and it all it took was once.
Just writing about these memories reminds me that I kept a lot of this hidden, and have never really told these stories to many people. Talking to my therapist yesterday about this pivotal and defining moment in high school was something that had to be done. She needed to hear that story from me, because it’s an important one. My epiphany about the impact of my suicide on my family and friends is also an important story, and it’s one that I still carry with me to this day.
This essay is nominated for The Flounce Non Fiction Writer’s Award 2015. Reader feedback in the comments section will be taken into consideration by the judges. Contest Rules.