How My Childhood Cat Saved Me After My Suicide Attempt
Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
I was sobbing by the end. I had tried to die. I began to shake. I tried very hard to stay quiet. Hands pressed to my hot face, trying to hold the crying back. I was tired of crying in the grocery store and crying in the shower. Tired of the visits with the black dog. Tired of existing between what only felt like morning and night-time medication. Thinking over and over that I was undeserving of this spectacle of life. Bipolar depression making it impossible to ignore the schizophrenic hallucinations which frequented my head, hallucinations which often told me to kill myself. I wondered how well this would work if I couldn’t manage to stay still? How long would it take until I died? I focused on my breathing. In and out and in and out and in and out. A cellphone clutched in my right hand now, knuckles white. My left hand on my chest, below my heart. An inconsistent madness settling at the back of my throat, my pulse beginning to skyrocket. I could feel it beating in every part of my body, tight as drum.
I tried to wait for death but I was too scared, too impatient for the silence.
“My nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad. Stay with me.” “Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.” “What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?” “I never know what you are thinking. Think.” “I think we are in rats’ alley Where the dead men lost their bones.”
I recall, jug jug, A Game of Chess. Next comes, The Fire Sermon. The Burial of the Dead. “April is the cruellest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/Memory and desire,/stirring/Dull roots with spring rain.”
My brain is twitching now, spasms at the bottom of my brain stem. My entire frame begins to tingle and it is then that I call for an ambulance. I don’t want this. I don’t. I don’t. I don’t. I messed up. I started having a hard time breathing. The next part happened in pieces. Police appeared. Flinging back the door. Only to see me now, my left hand still near my heart, my other now wrapped around a crinkled suicide note. My eyes, I imagine, filled with tremendous pupils as round as the full moon.
“I didn’t mean to—” was all I could manage before falling to the ground like a sack of laundry.
Then it was the paramedic’s turn to arrive.
At some point my bladder released.
After that, I don’t remember much.
I do remember all the kids in the dorm looking at me as they carried me away. I should’ve thought about this part; even in my incoherence, there is a sense of embarrassment. Laid out on that stretcher, arms restrained at the wrists. That nervous hot air pressed close to my face. My chest hurt.
I remember the bright insides of the ambulance. Tubes and wires and needles and cuffs and lots of nitrite gloves all bathed in argent light. Rainbows of colored lights painted on my skin like watercolors.
Then the hospital.
And then a nurse. “This could do some damage,” she said.
She seemed huge and looming, like a taciturn giant at the foot of my bed. Her hands wrinkled and she wrung them together as if trying to squeeze water from them. Was she too a hallucination? Was nothing real anymore? Even the nurses were fake and huge like cartoon characters. Between the suicide attempt and schizoaffective disorder, I knew very well that I couldn’t be sure of anything.
Then she checked my IV and was gone. I lapsed into a deep sleep, and every second sleeping there was a sense of regret. I had strange dreams. Dreams of Christmas lights. Of dog-eared thrift store books, of dust settling in sunlight. Of my childhood cat somehow there with me, in the hospital — I could hear her purring but I couldn’t see her. I dreamed about hot coffee on cold mornings. Of second-hand baggy sweaters and used tennis shoes. I dreamed of silent snowfall and of deafening summer thunderstorms. I dreamed of cold and warm air colliding in the upper atmosphere. Of autumn and carving out the slippery insides of jack-o’-lanterns. Of pulling weeds and growing things. I dreamed of incandescent bodies, lit like candles. I dreamed of street lights, and skeleton bones and copper cups. I dreamed of cold river water and sharp river stones on the soles of my feet.
All the while a sense of urgency grew inside my stomach, pressing at me from the inside.
Why didn’t they pump my stomach?
I could feel my mistake growing at the back of my brain like a warm blanket pulled over my body. Sleep. Stay. Stay. I can see my cat now, stretching her way up my legs and midsection. Purring onto my chest and then collapsing into a sleepy heap of night-time fur. Her gray body and white chin pressed to my face. I hadn’t seen her since I buried her under the lilac bush. I dreamed of lilacs, of pine trees, of sunflowers and of pinwheels spinning in the sun.
And then I woke up to a terrible pain in my head. I had an IV in my arm and oxygen pumping into my nose. I was wearing a hospital gown and no longer the pants I had soiled.
Everything was quiet and clear.
And all I could think of was my old cat, sleeping bony and ancient under that lilac tree. Someday we’ll be fossils together, but for now, I just pulled on the restraints at my wrists and sighed quietly, knowing now that the only things we see at death are the memories we made while living. I wasn’t ready to be a skeleton yet; I wasn’t ready for my body to be in pieces, for those memories to vanish when my brain unraveled and my nervous system fell apart. There were still people I wanted to see again, still things I wanted to do. I wasn’t ready to give up breathing. Being human isn’t easy, and being a sick human… Well, that’s another story. Three years ago, I tried to take my own life, and I almost did. I was exhausted by my own illnesses and the sickening stigma I faced as a young adult with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (otherwise known as schizoaffective disorder). I lost myself to it, and some days still I find myself drifting knowingly toward darkening skies. Voices are still demeaning, depression still stalks me like animals in tall grass. I don’t suspect that to ever change.
But I do spend my time and most of my little energy trying to change others. I write, I blog, I make art and normalize conversation about mental illness and mental health. I think that’s the only way I’ll ever beat this thing. That’s the only way any of us will beat it.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
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Photo by Alex Jodoin on Unsplash