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I Finally Want to Live, but I Don’t Always Believe I Deserve To

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. If you need support right now, you can call, text, or chat the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988, or text HOME to 741-741 to reach the Crisis Text Line if you are in the U.S. A list of crisis centers around the world can be found here.

“Do it. See if anyone cares.”

I was 9, standing in the kitchen holding a kitchen knife.

My then-stepdad — who had just spent hours arguing with my mom — was watching. I knew he hated me. I knew a lot of their arguments centered around me. My idiosyncrasies. My needs. My meltdowns. My trauma from childhood sexual abuse and my dad disowning me because I was a “bad girl.” The care my mom poured into me. That was probably what he hated most of all.

I burst into tears, and tried… but I physically couldn’t do it. I put the knife down, and ran into my bedroom, angry and ashamed, knowing at some level that my reaction would add fuel to his arguments that I was just “attention-seeking.” (So what if I was! Children seek attention for unmet needs!) I dumped my coin jar into my backpack, and ran out the door. I think I put some underwear and maybe socks in the bag too, but that part is fuzzy.

My mom had gone into the bathroom after their argument, and so when I came out and he started arguing with me, she didn’t hear anything — we weren’t yelling — and didn’t know anything was happening until the door slammed behind me.

We were living in Winter Park, Colorado, where my mom and stepdad worked in the restaurant at one of the fancy resorts. All of our family was across the country. It was the dead of winter and I pulled on my snow boots with no idea where I was going or what I was doing, but I knew I didn’t want to stay somewhere I wasn’t wanted. I knew I couldn’t stay there.

I made it halfway down our snow-packed road — the little lights from our second floor shared unit still visible — when my mom came running to me, barefoot and wrapped in nothing but a towel.

She grabbed me and pulled me close. She didn’t try to force me back inside the house, she didn’t complain about the cold. She walked with me and cried with me, and tried to understand what exactly prompted me to leave.

I finally turned around and went back with her, because even at 9, I knew she was risking her life being out in the weather like that. I felt my life was expendable, but hers? No.

We didn’t stay with him much longer, but that’s another story for another time.

These days, I can hear a chorus of voices calling me back when it gets too dark inside my head. My mom, my siblings, my husband, my son — I let them call me back. I choose them.

I wish I could say that’s the only time I wanted to die, the only time I tried to die. But it wasn’t even the first. I think it stands out starkly in my memory because of my mom. The image of her sprinting through the dark, snow coming down around her face and flying up from under her feet — a love that I’ve never felt worthy of. How could someone love me so much? Me?

I’ll be 37 soon, and the ghosts of my childhood haunt me less than they once did. But death walks alongside me. The idea that I could. That it’s available. That maybe the world would be better off without me in it.

These days, I can hear a chorus of voices calling me back when it gets too dark inside my head. My mom, my siblings, my husband, my son — I let them call me back. I choose them. Which is different from choosing to live. But also, a part of me does want to live. I’ve only realized that in the last couple of years.

It’s a weird thing, to walk beside death so frequently and yet also want to live.

And the in-between space… wanting to live but not fully believing I deserve to… allows other people’s voices in too. And sometimes it gets to me, adding to what’s already in my head.

Maybe they’re right. Maybe I don’t deserve to live. They’re just confirming what I’ve always known, right?

Sometimes, when the premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) rolls through — adding another layer as the world inside me dims — and I wake up with that catch in my throat and that feeling, I text my husband. “It’s here. I’m safe, but it’s here.” And he sends me a funny meme, or tells me he loves me. And I take the dog out, and I pet the cats, and I drink a cup of coffee, and sometimes I crawl back into bed. Sometimes I lose myself in work. Sometimes I stare at the wall and lose hours of my day. Maybe that inaction is what saves me.

People like to think of suicide as black and white, like you’re either suicidal or you’re not. There are lots of resources about what to say and not to say to someone who is suicidal. To think about what you live for, or how things get better. And these are good and useful.

But sometimes when you’re in it, you can’t always think about your reasons for living, and you don’t believe it will get better. And maybe, like me, you don’t believe you deserve for it to get better.

Maybe it will. I hope it will. For you. For me.

Until then, all I can say is — you’re not alone. You can stand still in the darkness with me, if you’d like.

Getty image by Justin Case

Originally published: September 13, 2022
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