An Insomniac's Rain Dance
Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
Imagine a rainforest and a whole valley of waterfalls, with Argentina on one side and Brazil on the other. Water, tinged brown from the jungle floor, so big and so fast and so loud that it feels more alive than your own beating heart. A rickety footbridge reaches high across islands of solid ground, much too close to an edge of the falls. You could reach out, a straining-calves-tip-toed reach, and feel closer to the squirming wall of water than you have to any wild animal. Soaked right through from just the mist of them, you hold onto the bridge and feel the joints of your legs and hips melt into the wood. These are the Cataratás del Iguazú, the place where I first offered up my life.
It was only a month before I was to return to Canada after a year of International Exchange, and I stared into the waterfalls with a feeling I couldn’t recognize. I wanted to jump. I stood there, holding onto the rail, and imagined my body being pulled through the water and disappearing into the depths of the jungle. I imagined my mother having to travel to this place to feel connected to me, and I felt some kind of deranged pride. I could become a part of this place forever, and I would never have to return to my isolated northern Indian Reserve, a place I never felt I belonged. I could die knowing I had accomplished living in a foreign country and would never have to travel back to that me again.
I was born a weird, chubby “half-breed” with no self-esteem. My father, a hockey player with green eyes and curly dark hair, was a drug addict who left when I was still an infant, and died when I was 14. My mother was the first female Chief of our First Nation, and she worked long hours at the Band Office, leaving me to be raised in part by my grandparents. Teasing and bullying was a daily pill to swallow, and every word and every rock thrown stuck deep inside me. Hating myself seemed to come naturally to me, and it’s a trait I have developed to genius levels. I was assured by authority figures that my inability to gel easily with peers was because I was different, and that someday I would graduate school and be able to leave it all behind. Someday I would find a place I belonged.
I arrived in a country at the bottom of the world with a desperation and a dream that I could be a completely different person. I could be beautiful and smart and popular; I could be the complete opposite of the introverted, shy, self-loathing person I had been. In spite of the brand new wardrobe, new blonde highlights, a foreign country and a lifetime of being told it was my environment that alienated me — I arrived to a devastating truth. I was exactly the same. The same hesitation and fear in a crowd, the same tongue-tied horror in social situations and the exact same disgust when facing a mirror. Except in Argentina I was thousands of miles from all of my friends and family and greatest supports. I couldn’t speak the language, and I had become a fat, rolling mascot in a country with one of the highest rates of anorexia in the world. My name in public crowds was “gorda,” fatso. My entire body became an entity I feared.
I was so shaken. I trembled there overlooking the valley of waterfalls, taken stock-still by the beauty and danger around me. I slipped my fingers over the wood of the rail and began to grasp it tightly. Words to vocalize my fear seemed crammed into the back of my throat, fighting to be heard. “Ven, ven!” The tour guides began to yell and direct us to the tour bus. I walked slowly, stiff and jangled, with warm water and tears streaming down my face, feeling like if I began to scream I would never be able to stop. I boarded the bus and wished I had someone I could confide in. I was scared of my own brain for the first time. I was only 18 years old, and I wanted to die.
Almost two decades have passed since that day, and I still just don’t know how to be in the world. My body feels too large, too clumsy, too hungry. My brain is clinically depressed, lacking the right finesse of juice and synapse. I always feel separate and apart from everyone else, like my presence on this earth takes up too much room. If you can imagine being seated on a crowded city bus and that stranger’s shoulder or hand invading your personal space — that creepy, icky feeling on the edge of you — that’s me. I live in that space every day.
The insomnia and hospitalizations started in my 20s. At times I get so severely depressed I cannot function, and all I can think about is death. Death everywhere, all over me. The impact on the friends and family who love me is paramount, and so I continue getting up each morning. I live day by day, often moment to moment.
I feel guilty and ashamed by my depression. There are so many in this world who have nothing. I have a roof over my head, milky tea and food in my stomach and a family who loves me. I have so much, and yet when I consider my life all I can feel is the sorrow that has scraped and flayed at the meaty parts of my brain and heart. My sadness sits on my forehead like a warm, sweaty palm.
Dealing with the here and now, I acknowledge my depression as a responsibility. Through years of experience, I know I must take my medications in the morning and at night. I must confront my anxieties and lows with a comforting voice. I must confront the bad voice, the one that repeats over and over again with messages of self-hate, with an authoritative mental smack. I must seek the guidance of a counselor every week and touch base with my doctor every few months. Sometimes I feel like a sickness that needs to be isolated and medicated, but I am grateful for the sinew of medication that tightens my thoughts and my will to live.
I have traveled the world, loved, grieved, sang out loud, graduated from a university, bought coordinated throw pillows — but a part of me will always be waiting there on the ledge. Now determined not to end my life but desperate for answers. Imagining confronting the face and dance of death beneath the waves. To meet my father, hear my grandfather’s belly laugh. To look deep into the abyss, and realize my purpose, my value, my joy all exist inside of me. To look away, up into the light of my life, and kick my hardest for the surface.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo via littlehenrabi