When I heard about the suicide of Sawyer Sweeten earlier this week, the stories were littered with Tweets, Facebook posts, all sorts of general exhortations to make sure a suicidal person knows how much they are cared for.
I understand the idea behind it, and it really is not a bad idea to internalize overall, but it lacks nuance. People may attempt suicide for all manner of reasons, and feeling unloved may not be one of them.
Three times in my life I’ve planned my own death. Twice I was perfectly aware that I was loved, or at least liked or tolerated by people who would be surprised by my suicide, at a minimum.
Feeling so loved was part of what was driving me to suicide in the first place.
I have a husband who loves me, a puppy who loves me, a mother I’m very close to, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, all of whom are fond of me. But in my fog, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had tricked them into these positive feelings, without even meaning to. I was a phoney. What good they saw in me was false, and none of them saw how sick and twisted my true self was underneath this facade I maintained out of sheer reflex. One day, I knew, I absolutely knew, it would crumble, and they would all see how deceived they’d been, how they’d wasted their time and the limited capacity we all have for social relationships on me, this sick, horrible thing.
I couldn’t live with this deception anymore. I knew ending my life would hurt them all in the short term, but in the long term, everyone would come to understand what a favour I had done them. Their hearts would be free, they would be free. They would all find someone to replace whatever space I had once occupied in their thoughts, someone who was true and genuine and in all respects better.
What stopped me?
Truthfully, I was browsing a website detailing what household medications to mix when I came to a line insisting that medications…medications to die, let’s be clear…should be taken with a fresh fruit yogurt smoothie.
Thoughts of probiotic zombies and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Guide to Suicide made me laugh, breaking the fog enough to make me realize that spending three hours Googling ways to die was not a typical Sunday afternoon activity. I called a suicide hotline, actually several of them, only to find that three out of four no longer existed, and the fourth one had a three-hour hold time. Thoroughly pissed, I slammed the phone down and lived just to spite the anonymous hotline volunteers I never actually spoke to. I’d be damned if I let my existence or non-existence hinge on my ability to talk to those assholes too busy with a bunch of other people in exactly the same pain as me who deserved the helping hand just as much and were all calling the same organization that had limited resources.
I still think I’m a horrible person. Expressions of love still fill me with enormous guilt and shame, but the crest of the feelings has gone away. One day it will rise again. Since I really hate fruit and yogurt smoothies and I’ll be damned if some cup of vomit from Booster Juice will be my last meal, I’ll probably Google a different method next time. And next time maybe some tasteless joke will snap me out of it again. Until then, I carry on in permanent penance to the people I love so fiercely to make up for them wasting their love and kindness on me. And I know feeling this way is irrational.
At thirty, I say with confidence that I will never not feel this way.
People who don’t suffer from depression or some other form of mental illness can almost never understand what it feels like. I can’t understand what it feels like to not be in a state of low-grade (or high-grade) terror and self-hatred every moment of every day.
I don’t know what prompted Sawyer Sweeten to take his own life. Maybe he did feel unloved or unwanted. Maybe hearing it more would have helped him. Or maybe it wouldn’t have. What I realize more and more as I look back on my own story, and hear the stories of people around me, is our society is suffering from gross misunderstanding of depression and every kind of mental illness. For what little good it will do, I will talk about my own experiences. If I can offer someone even one more facet of understanding of depression and suicide, who knows. Somewhere down the road, it might prevent the premature ending of another life.