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How My Body Remembers My Suicide Attempt Anniversary Even When I Don’t

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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 741741.

Eight years ago, I was given another chance at life; it wasn’t the first additional chance I’d been given, nor would it be the last, but it’s the one that sticks with me the most. Suicide and suicidal ideation have been a part of my life for the last 15 years; I can’t really remember a time when it wasn’t something on my mind. But since 2013, every year in early September, I think about it differently. It’s not even that I consciously have it top of mind — I often forget the exact anniversary and don’t think of it much, but my body remembers. My body’s clock is more accurate than I am. I start to experience nightmares, flashbacks, and my mind and body start to re-experience that suicide attempt like it’s happening in real-time.

It’s something I think most people don’t realize; that suicide attempts are inherently traumatic. We treat other near-death experiences like car accidents as traumatic events, and suicide attempts are no different. Every September, I begin to relive the trauma of almost dying — and I relive the trauma that subsequently occurred as a result of being hospitalized. Sometimes it comes as vivid flashbacks so strong that I could swear I was right back in that hospital room. The smells, the sounds, the sights; they all come flooding back to me. Sometimes, the memories come as distorted nightmares — a mixture of my current life and the life I used to have.

In one particularly difficult nightmare, I’m in the back of an ambulance, being taken to the psych ward, but instead of there being the people from that night, my best friend is there. She’s screaming at the top of her lungs, confirming all the insecurities I had — and sometimes still have — about myself. She keeps screaming, “why are you like this? Why do you burden my life like this? Just leave me alone. I’m better off without you. I don’t want you here anymore. Stop seeking attention. Stop being so desperate.” She screams every single fear I’ve ever believed in my most vulnerable moments. I often wake up shaking and gasping, alone with my thoughts.

Because the flashbacks and the nightmares and the memories (real or distorted) feel so real, I start to shut out the people closest to me. Every time I think of them or speak to them, I don’t think of them in that moment — I think about the traumatic memory of my suicide attempt and the insecurities that came with it. It’s hard because trauma anniversaries, and particularly my suicide attempt anniversaries, are the times when I need my friends the most. I need them to show up and say “I see you. I hear you. I love you. I’m with you. You are not alone. I want you here. I need you here. You matter.” but all I can do is push them away. I exacerbate my feelings of isolation by isolating myself because it takes all my energy just to try and process the past while moving on with my day-to-day life.

I’m not proud of my suicide attempts, and I’m not proud of the fact that I still contemplate suicide regularly. I always thought that by now, eight years later, I’d be OK, and those violent wounds wouldn’t feel so fresh anymore. I expected a distant memory, not a vivid flashback. But trauma doesn’t work like that — it creeps up when you least expect it, and it almost never works on the timelines you want. In those moments, when the trauma takes over, it’s like eight years of progress is instantly washed away. I no longer feel in control of my emotions, my thoughts or my experiences. It’s absolutely terrifying.

The wildest part to me is that I never consciously think about it. In fact, I often forget that I have suicide attempt anniversaries in August and September until my body and subconscious reminds me, and then it hits me like a ton of bricks. In August, late one night, I started to get a “buzzing” energy and decided to go for a quick walk to shake it off. I ended up walking to the place I had my first attempt, just a couple of blocks from where I live now — I hadn’t thought about it in years, but as soon as I found myself back there again, everything came flooding back instantly and I felt sick to my stomach. My body remembered even when my conscious mind didn’t. Every September, without consciously realizing it, my depression gets worse and thoughts of suicide become louder and more frequent. It wasn’t until last year that I finally connected the dots. It’s funny how on the surface I never knew what was happening, but the rest of my mind and body had an internal clock, and reminded me of it every year.

While I become more reflective around this time of year and think of all my growth and progress, I also get profoundly sad and scared. Suicide is a horrific experience whether you’re the one attempting or the one losing someone you love. It’s ugly and it’s heartbreaking and it’s confusing. It’s an experience I wish on no one. It’s an experience I wish to forget. But I can’t because it profoundly shaped me into the person I am today. And I’m not ashamed of the struggles I’ve had, and continue to have. There’s no shame in feeling suicidal and there’s nothing wrong with being scared.

I hope that one day I can begin to let go so that I’m not plagued by the traumatic memories of that time in my life. I hope one day, September can come and go just like any other month. I hope one day I can honor the gravity and seriousness of these anniversaries without them bringing me down. But more than anything, I hope that suicide and suicidal ideation can become a distant memory from my past, rather than a recurring character in my present.

Image via contributor

Originally published: September 8, 2021
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