Ever since I was seven years old, when I first put my head on the classroom desk and longed for death, I’ve had what they call “suicidal ideation.” When I was eight, I created “suicide pills” by crushing up some of my mother’s medications and funneling them into empty Paracetamol (Tylenol) capsules. I kept them for years in a tiny drawer of my Bobby and Kate pencil set as a fallback plan. It turned out if I’d taken them all, the only thing I would have achieved was no pregnancy (I was a virgin) and a drop in some of my pesky eight-year-old water weight.
Anyway, who even knows what suicide is at eight?
In my teenage years, I came to see obsessive thoughts of suicide as a kind of hobby; this was before I discovered sex. I regularly wrote suicide notes in my journal:
“Dear Mum, Dad, Babushka, and all the family,
I regret to inform you that I have killed myself. I know that sounds overly formal, but I don’t want you to think that I acted on impulse and didn’t give it any thought. I know it’s dramatic, but this year we read Albert Camus’ The Stranger in the original French and I realized that life getting better is an illusion. (Please don’t blame Monsieur LeBlanc, he’s a really nice man and an excellent French teacher.)
Anyway, I’m dead now so I will no longer be a burden to you all, especially you, Dad. I’m sorry I have disappointed you but now you can just go back to…”
On and on. These suicide letters were so boring I often fell asleep in the middle of writing them, let alone stayed awake long enough to complete the final act.
No, it was the idea I was most fond of and it kept me going for years.
I would daydream happily about different scenarios—hanging (belt, scarf or rope), pills, razor blades, plastic bag over the head, jumping off a building, cliff or embankment and the ever-popular gunshot to the head or chest, either self-inflicted or by someone you’d have to pay to kill you (because how else was I going to get myself killed in the middle of Melbourne suburbia?)
I thought about drinking window cleaner but I couldn’t imagine that it tasted very good; if I smelled it accidentally, I would sneeze about 30 times in quick succession. It seemed a pity you couldn’t die of allergies.
By the time I was a teenager, I was old enough to take the good stuff for my hay fever. I medicated at night with anti-histamine and in the daytime with cigarettes (which I was also allergic to). I was never a “cutter” (too squeamish) but I indulged in self-injury pretty regularly throughout my late teens and early 20s. I would hit and punch myself in the face, stomach or arms until I made bruises and sometimes pulled chunks out of my hair (to be honest I had plenty of it to spare). It wasn’t constant and compulsive, the way trichotillomaniacs are—more like a quick way to regain my composure, the way some people had a mantra. Then I would stick the hair into my diary. Like fucking Kafka, I was.
I also fantasized about stabbing myself—it would be in the temple or stomach or sometimes my heart, depending on where I felt you’d hurt me. And by “you,” I meant anyone who had so much as looked at me blankly. I was also colossally over-sensitive to any kind of pain, which for some years actually kept me from trying any of this crazy shit, and I could only hurt myself when I had plenty of adrenaline running through me. Even then, knowing my luck, I figured I would fuck up suicide and as much as I hated myself and my life, I suspected that ending up being fed by a tube with half my face blown off might be a just a tad worse.
The reality of my health was bad enough—I had had bronchitis 10 to 20 times as a kid and had been hospitalized for asthma twice a year since I was seven. They would pump me full of steroids, then release me, puffy-faced, to resume my smoking and self-injury career.
Partly because I smoked instead of eating, I was willow thin, with dark circles under my eyes and bruises where anyone could see them. I accentuated the look with pointy-toed suede boots and leopard print stockings. And yet I must have exuded a certain bohemian je ne sais quoi because boys, guys, dudes and men were never too far out of the picture.
By the time I was living in New York City alone at the age of 23, I wasn’t much better but I had learned to cover up my insanity a little better. Or really, I was a stand-up comic so I could just lead with it. How one man looked at me and thought, “Yes, this is the mother of my children” remains one of life’s great mysteries. But he married me and if anyone ever wonders the secret of why my ex-husband and I are still beyond amicable, it’s that I will never, ever stop being grateful to him taking that chance.
Over the years, my issues took a toll on our marriage, though I never actually made an attempt. Sometimes my husband admitted he wouldn’t know if I’d be alive when he got home; at others, I would beg him to let me go so I could get the act accomplished. He always refused and usually convinced me to call my doctor and get help. My ex-husband was, and is, a Jewish Saint.
By the time I was hospitalized for the first time a few years ago, suicide was a near constant thought in my head. Despite 12-step fellowships (I qualified for four of them) and medication and some appearance of functionality, one night I ended up punching myself in the face, stomach and arms and then driving my car into a large rock without wearing a seat belt. By the time I was taken to a psych facility, I had learned that this was called a “suicidal gesture.” How quaint. Sounded like something someone would do in a Jane Austen novel, right before they passed the tea.
My assigned doctor in the “bin” was highly amused by my re-telling of events and I thought I put on a convincing song and dance show for someone with two self-inflicted black eyes. I reminded him that I’d never made a suicide attempt and I’d been talking and writing and threatening to for the last seven years while secretly obsessing about it for another 30 before that.
“You’re the ones we worry about,” he responded in his hard-to-pin-down accent. “The people in here, they’ve tried hundreds of times and they never do it. They know how to work the system. If you do it, you won’t fail.”
Is it strange that this gave me a strange sense of pride? It was empowering, in a dark, negative kind of way. For the longest time, the suicidal obsession had been a secret that was mine and something I couldn’t get wrong. Now someone was telling me I would probably be good at it. Thanks, Doc!
Over the last two years, through a convoluted journey including a new diagnosis, group therapy, individual therapy, yoga, meditation and different meds, I have come to see that suicidal thoughts have been my greatest addiction—more than alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, men or whatever else I might be addicted to by the time you finish this article. I would go back to these thoughts as a way of controlling uncomfortable situations until they became my best idea of a coping mechanism. The last time I seriously thought of suicide was when a relationship ended and I fanned the flames by researching every means possible of accomplishing this, including how to get certain drugs online (it’s almost impossible) and putting my neck into my yoga strap to see if it would hold me; it would have, but that shit hurt my neck. Ouchy. I can’t even wear a turtleneck without feeling suffocated.
Also, I have two children, whom I could never saddle with the legacy of suicide. Amongst my obsessive Google research, I inadvertently read too many testimonials online from the children of suicides. They never completely get over it. Ever. Some get on with their lives but never find the peace that’s possible from grieving a loved one who died from natural causes. While the impulse to extinguish my pain felt like a natural response for a long time, it is the furthest thing from what the human race is programmed to do—which is propagate or, if they don’t have that biological urge, then at least survive. Suicidal thoughts are faulty brain wiring and I only pray that anyone who has suffered with them or is reading this in their merciless grip can find the courage and bravery to hope that one day, with the advances of neuroplasticity and some Divine Intervention, things will look better than they do now.
So I have the Suicide Hotline programmed into my phone and even if I have to call every day for a week, I do it. I vent to a volunteer and it’s embarrassing and sometimes I’m paranoid enough to think they can identify me by my accent (“Oh, here’s that Transatlantic bitch in Malibu, what the fuck does she have to be depressed about? What happened, did the gardener not show up on time?”) I share with people I love that things are bad but no one who isn’t a trained professional should have to handle anything that heavy. Still, a true friend will babysit you (by phone or in person) if you can get them to understand how badly you need it while some will run for the (Hollywood) hills (but I have come to understand that those weren’t friends to begin with).
No matter how humane it would seem sometimes to have me put down like an old horse, I know I have to stay here and suffer. What they don’t tell you is that kids save you from killing yourself, only so that they can kill you themselves later…slowly.
Partly excerpted from I’ll Be The Death Of Me. If you are feeling suicidal please call 1-800-273-8255 or 1-877-727-4747 and visit https://www.metanoia.org/suicide/
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