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The Promise That Holds Me Accountable When I'm Feeling Suicidal

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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 741741.

When someone dies by suicide, people are often left asking, “Why didn’t they call me?” It’s an understandable sentiment, but it is often far off the mark of what being suicidal feels like.

From my experience, people who are suicidal know they “could” call someone, but they might not want to. If someone attempts suicide but lives through it, loved ones frequently say, “Next time you feel this way you can come to me.” Yes. We know we can. But what do you do when someone you deeply love is in tears, begging you not to leave them? How do you look at their pain, and know that you are the cause? How can you look at them and think (at the time) that ending your life would be ending their’s too? This was the situation I found myself in — and it changed my world forever.

For more than 15 years I have struggled with treatment resistant depression. I have been in a private psychiatric facility three times because I was severely suicidal. I called up my psychiatrist one night at midnight and begged him to help me because I couldn’t take living any more. He told me to go to the psychiatric hospital — and somehow I managed to get the strength to do it. I had no idea that I would end up meeting my best friend there.

Over two years later my bestie and I still joke about our “psych ward friendship.” It grew to an amazing, unconditional, eternal love. A love I had no idea existed. Love that actually embraces all of you, no matter how broken you feel. But there was one thing that we struggled with together — I was still suicidal. Some days it was passive thoughts. Other days it was sitting in my closet, one breath away from ending the pain. I needed to be able to end my life. It was my safety net, my relief, my escape plan from the torment of life. But one day everything changed.

I was depressed, I was down, and I was talking to my best friend about suicide. He broke down. He cried harder than I ever knew was possible. I held him tight, uncertain how to make him feel better. He asked me if I understood what me dying by suicide would do to him. He told me how taking my life would destroy his world. He told me that he would be on the floor crying like that, but he would be alone with his pain. It shattered my heart. It felt like my fault he even had to think about such pain. And it would be my fault if he had to endure it forever. The pain he felt was excruciating — and I understood that level of pain. How could I let myself do that to someone I love so much? How could I destroy his life and his heart like that?

It weighed on my mind heavily. I thought about him drowning in tears, gasping for air, breaking apart — alone. And it crushed my soul to think about it. To picture him like that, without me to hold him and comfort him. Just, alone. I couldn’t take it. I make a promise to myself — I would never do that to him. Never.

I had a necklace made with the date we met, and our nicknames engraved on it. I wrote a note on the box, “I promise I will never leave you.” It was code: It meant I would never take my life. It wasn’t an empty gesture. It was a promise, an unbreakable promise. One I had thought long and hard about. I was making a promise not to end my life — but where did that leave me?

At first it was terrifying. It seemed like every day I wanted to end it — but every time I was stopped by the thought, “You promised, and you don’t break promises.” I was in tears almost every night. I simply couldn’t end my life now. The option was off the table, it was no longer available to me. My safety net was gone. There was no relief from drowning in darkness. I was stuck with it. I was stuck struggling to keep my head above water. I had no choice, I had made a promise.

I thought I would never be “OK,” I would always want desperately to end my life, and I no longer had the option to do so. I was suffocating in my new reality. But slowly it changed. Slowly I learned to live in this new world. A world where I had to live. Days and nights got easier, and slowly I was starting to be OK with not having the choice to end my life.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be bad days. That doesn’t mean I’m never going to want to end my life so badly it hurts beyond words. Yes, those days will still exist. But it means I have someone to hold me and keep me safe from those thoughts and feelings. It means I am learning that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It means I am starting to realize that those thoughts and feelings may be painful, but they truly will pass. They may not pass quickly, and it may feel as though they never will — but they always do eventually.

This new reality is not always easy, but I’m starting to think that maybe living is worth it — even when it takes more strength than I have left. Other people will use their strength to make up for what I lack and get me through it. I am not alone. No one is ever truly alone. And understanding that, using other’s strength, can absolutely be the difference between living and dying.

Getty image via nadia_bormotova

Originally published: May 21, 2020
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