First trigger warning. This post is going to discuss suicide attempts and PTSD.
I went shopping with a friend last Friday. We hit the mall and Costco, starting with lunch out. I spent too much, which I tend to do when I’m with her. Competition and compensation hurt the bank balance.
On the bright side, it’s Visa’s money. Plus, there was a sale on candles. And I found some previously-referenced cute earrings.
We had a couple of tense moments. The second occurred when she was blaming most of the ills of our area on Indo-Canadian immigrants. It’s a problem that’s gotten worse since she got together with the man who’s now her husband. Great guy. I like him. Except for the bit where he’s a little bit racist.
Bo Burnham once sang, “Everyone’s a little bit racist,” and I don’t think he’s wrong, but there’s recognizing our intrinsic nature, and embracing it, and my friend’s husband seems to do the latter. It’s partially caused by simplistic thinking, but I don’t like it. He tests me with his language when I visit, as do his friends.
I slap them back. I’m not interested in that slippery slope. But I’ve given her too much leeway. This time, when she ended the first salvo with, “I know that makes me sound a little racist,” I confirmed. “Yup. I little.” She changed the subject shortly after and we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon. At least until I snapped at a woman who snapped at me first. I am a toddler.
But I digress.
I’m not sure my friend knows about the first tense moment. It happened at lunch when she asked me if I ever thought about going back to work as a paralegal.
It’s not the first time this has come up. It’s not the first time the question made me tense.
I explained to her, once again, that my brain’s broken. The break makes working for other people ill-advised. I may be wrong. My psychiatrist may be wrong. But I don’t think so. I’m different since my most recent nervous breakdown.
Then again, it was a doozy. But she doesn’t know the details. She doesn’t know the details about much of my stuff. She never asks.
There’s some imbalance in the relationship, and yes, I’m aware. [i]
The aforementioned friends also worry about people who are on disability. Mostly about paying for people who are on disability. They talk about the disadvantaged like they’re leeches. I could’ve set her mind at rest as to where my money comes from, but I didn’t.
One, because I’ve told her before and I’m tired of people who don’t remember, and two, because I consider financial matters to be private unless someone chooses to make them otherwise. I didn’t choose. [ii]
So, we don’t talk about the day that broke my brain. I don’t get deep on that with most people, and never with her. For all that people say they want to know, they mostly don’t. But the lack of discussion means my broken brain is then beyond their comprehension.
In my experience, people are mostly unready to listen to these stories. Sometimes they think they are, but only because they have a Hollywood vision of what mental illnesses, eating disorders, and suicide attempts look like. It’s not my job to burst their bubbles, especially when I know it would hurt them and end friendships.
Truth can be a lot.
Second trigger warning. Though I do feel a little pretentious. I’m going to put this section between separators. I going to discuss the day that broke my brain in some detail, mostly because I haven’t and discussing things is how you learn to let them go. This is a sore spot I don’t poke at enough. It hurts enough for me to know that it’s not healed.
November 24, 2014. This is the date on the email I sent to Cedars at Cobble Hill, the rehabilitation facility I picked. It was one of several treatment centres that had been presented for my selection. My friend had put together the list after I’d called her a few days before, after she called my parents and told them I was dying.
I’d called her to tell her that I hadn’t jumped. Not jumping was a good decision. At one-hundred and fifty feet, if you jump, you don’t worry about sticking the landing.
Things had been going badly for me. Things were going very well for my eating disorder. I was finally at double-digits. Not bad for five foot seven. I was tired, all the time. It’s because I was throwing up all the time. I threw up breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’d eat three doughnuts at work and throw up in the bathroom. I’d throw up in my office. I was bingeing and purging nearly constantly, but “binge” had been redefined to include anything I ate.
I was an absent parent. I was an absent friend. I was an absent employee.
I was desperation walking. I didn’t know to stop. I didn’t know to tell people. They always assumed I was better, for no other reason than I didn’t talk about it constantly.
My face was a disaster. As the bulimia raged, so did the cutting. My face remains my favourite target. It’s a heinous mix of obsessive-compulsive disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, and cutting. I was in and out of the hospital for IV antibiotics. Self-harm comes with infections.
Every moment of my life felt like hell.
I told this to a counsellor once. She didn’t believe me. I don’t think counselling was her thing. She simply couldn’t comprehend feeling like that about life. But, I did. My reality was a hellscape. Sucking me in, drinking me up. I hated everything about myself and my life, save my son, every second of my existence. Death was all I could think about, no matter how I tried to escape it.
The ideation was everywhere. [iii]
Dangerous when you work in a mill.
I remember talking to the operator. Part of my job was inspecting paperwork, safety system, and hazard controls. I was going up, I told him. I didn’t do it often – the elevator was a claustrophobia-inducing misery. That seemed less relevant when I was planning on leaping from the top floor, however.
In my memory, it’s dark. The mill, the elevator, the open room that I stepped out into at the top. It wasn’t. It was sunny, and I had a lovely view – blue skies and white clouds with the stark contrast of colour that comes with cold temperatures.
The safety chain hung across the opening. It’s the size of a double garage door. I could never figure out why you’d need an opening that size at the top when the only place to go is down, but there it was. Perhaps they helicoptered some of the equipment in.
I’d call and ask but I burned that bridge. A different story. Not in a bad way, but I won’t go back.
The chain was heavy when I unclipped it. It was loud on the floor.
I stepped back to sign the inspection form. I’d forgotten to do that.
Might as well do my job while I’m here.
The opening seemed wider without the chain. I could see some of the guys I worked with across the way, working on the walkway that connected some of the other buildings. I walked to the edge and looked down.
People say that when you’re high up, those on the ground look like ants. I guess I wasn’t high enough. They looked like people, merely small. I hated them. I hated them for not being miserable, for not being here on the platform, ready to jump, for not seeing me on the platform or even better, before I got to the platform point. That I hid my reality from everyone seemed irrelevant at that point.
I lean out, cheating gravity. Testing my balance. Rock out, rock back. Maybe you fall and the decision is taken out of your hands. Forward and back, onto the heels, onto the toes.
I think about my son.
I’m frozen. I don’t know how to go back. I don’t want to go forward, except I sort of do. And don’t. Live or die – both seem like valid choices.
Not beaten, as it turns out. I thought I was, but not yet.
I sit down, I almost fall then, because I just drop, but I throw myself back. My heart is racing. I lie there like that for a long time, on my back, one foot dangling. I’m afraid to move, afraid to think, afraid to breathe. Terrified that if I do anything, I’ll send myself soaring.
I have no idea how much time passes before I’m able to crabwalk myself away from the edge. I keep going, scrabbling back on my hands and heels until I’m pressed back against the elevator cage. I stay there for a long time. I don’t remember what happens when I come down. I don’t remember leaving.
It was a bad day.
It will be eight years this November. I’m so much better in so many ways. But I broke something that day and it doesn’t appear to be coming back.
This is what my friends and family don’t understand. I’m reminded of an episode of “Friends.” “When you picture Phoebe living on the street, is the entire cast of Annie there?”
I don’t know what my friends imagine when they imagine the reality of the stories they know, but based on the things they sometimes say and do, I’m going to guess that the picture they have is wrong.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please reach out.
In Canada, the number to call is 1-833-456-4566.
[i] I’m not sure how many I’ve had. Two for sure. Two that incapacitated me for a prolonged period. I’m sure there are some breakdowns-light along the way. Mini-collapse I was able to drag myself back from.
[ii] I know I sound petty, but I don’t think it is. Making an effort is important in all relationships, including friendships. People too often coast there.
[iii] I could fill pages with what the misery was like. Think months of vomiting forty-plus times a day. Think massive laxative abuse. Think a face covered in odd bandages and an IV port that might as well be permanent. Think collapsed finances, because bulimia is expensive. Think absolute desperation as I became convinced I was destroying my son.