My Un-Attempted Suicide
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My Un-Attempted Suicide


Although not many things in life are as universally certain as death, hearing that someone’s time has come is rarely well received—and when it’s someone as publicly adored as Robin Williams, it affects people. Some of us want to elevate the conversation about mental heath, some of us want to criticize his choice, some of us want to make jokes to alleviate the sadness and some of us are compelled to reflect upon how much we can relate.

One morning, when I was 25, I woke up and started to cry and didn’t stop for an entire month. I cried in the shower, in my car, in the bathroom at work, during lunch and during sex. I was in so much emotional pain I started thinking about suicide—not just about killing myself but about brutally stabbing myself to death. I had vivid fantasies about being sprawled out on my bed—a picturesque mattress on the floor of my cheap nylon carpeted apartment—with an almost comically large knife protruding from my abdomen and a blood splattered, Pollack-like crime scene for the world (okay, North Hollywood) to see. And as much as this would scare me, it also brought me great joy. Whenever I was feeling bad, I’d envision the headline: “Not So Great in The 818—Valley Girl Commits Fatal Harakiri to Escape Quarter-Life Crisis.”

No one likes to talk about suicide. I suppose that’s understandable—it’s a pretty morose topic—but sometimes I wonder if we are perpetuating the problem by continuing to allow it to be so socially taboo. Like why does it have to be drama when someone says they want to kill themselves? It’s just a feeing. And if there is one thing that 12-step and psychotherapy have shown us, it’s that talking about feelings and thoughts helps take the power out of them. For whatever reason, things can get really distorted when they only live inside your brain. So why can’t we joke about feeling suicidal? Is there an argument that this will somehow make matters worse?

Because I am extremely self-deprecating and didn’t have good boundaries at the time, I started talking openly about how bad I was feeling. Someone would innocently and rhetorically ask how I was doing and I would respond with, “Well, I would sure love to take a machete to my solar plexus and then catalog all the ways I have screwed up my life while I slowly bleed out over the course of several hours.”

I always hated the people that didn’t get my twisted but real humor and would respond with the super judgey, “O-kay…” Ugh. Lighten the fuck up. I much prefer the people who respond, “Oh cool, so when you are dead, can I have your vintage Levis?”

“As long as they aren’t covered in blood,” I’d tell them. And then we’d have a good laugh. Those are the kind of people who helped me through that difficult time.

Of course, suicidal ideation and actual suicide are two very different things. I am not saying we should make light when someone has committed suicide—quite the opposite. But I am saying that by talking, listening, sharing and yes, even joking about the pain of depression and our experiences with people who have taken their own lives, we might be able to lessen the shame of wanting to kill yourself, which could encourage people to get the help they need before it’s too late.

The upside of this dark period is that I started seeing a therapist, got on medication and eventually quit drinking. Sometimes it takes serious pain to make serious changes. Things were coming along nicely until I decided—after a couple of years into getting sober in Alcoholics Anonymous—that I didn’t need to go to meetings anymore. I had moved to the west side of LA and wasn’t into the AA over there—plus I felt pretty good anyway (this very much deserves an LOL).

In 2009, when I was just over five years sober, I hit a wall. Literally. I was in the underground parking garage of AT&T and was so riled up by their pitiful customer service that I angrily threw my car in reverse and backed into a concrete wall. I was probably only going three miles per hour but it was fast enough to demolish my rear bumper and warp the frame of my Rav-4. I started crying so hard I thought I was going to vomit. Of course, it wasn’t really about the accident. For the years since I’d stopped going to regular AA meetings and doing 12-step work, I had developed a growing sense that the world was against me. I was negative and pissed off all the time. I hated my job, my boss, my artistic pursuits, my friends, my lovers—I had a level of disdain for everyone and everything around me. The subterranean accident was actually my crashing into the proverbial wall of untreated alcoholism. My lap might have been wet with tears but when it came to alcoholism, I was as dry as the Sahara.

This is when things got weird. Because of the way the disease works, I had no idea I was sick—I just thought I was a loser. Fear of living became so overwhelming I was knocked into submission; days were spent in pajamas and not showering, confined to my couch, killing time with back-to-back episodes of Law & Order SVU—I was beyond depressed, I was immobilized. The danger of feeling this way in sobriety is that you can no longer blame alcohol and drugs and all that goes with it for your problems. When you are five years sober, all you can think is that you have done everything you can and this is the best it’s going to get.

I started thinking seriously about suicide again but this time, instead of fantasizing about how I would look when I was found, I started to wonder what would be found when I was found. I began obsessively surveying my apartment—rummaging through drawers as if I were a stranger trying to learn about Danielle Stewart, wondering, “Who was this tragic and mysterious woman?”

I know we can’t control what people think about us—especially after we are dead—but I figured I’d at least try. I started tossing away old junk and trinkets I’d kept because I thought I’d find them useful one day, since as far as I was concerned, my days were now numbered. I graduated to getting rid of old CDs and movies I felt might give the wrong impression. I shred old journals and unflattering photos, overly personal letters from ex-boyfriends, cards from people I didn’t want to be associated with and anything from my dad. I tossed clothes and shoes that were not from at least last season as well as old make-up, expired medication and unopened mail. I got rid of any underwear that cost less than $20 and then—as with the rest of my remains—I Gap-style folded them and arranged them by color.

This project took a total of six days of straight, uninterrupted work and instead of taking the seventh day to rest, I took it to dust my bookcase and all my shelves and scrub every nook and cranny of my apartment. By the time I was done, my place was pristine and I was ready to die.

Except that I wasn’t. Now that I had gotten into action and was surrounded by cleanliness and order, I suddenly wasn’t so hot to peace out on life. Imagine that. I figured if action was the key, I should take more actions—and in typical alcoholic fashion, I made an appointment with my shrink, joined a gym, called my sponsor and got my ass to a meeting of Alcoholic Anonymous.

As much as I hate feeling so hopeless that suicide seems like the only answer, I am so incredibly grateful for having had the experiences I have and coming out the other side of it. As we all know, some of us don’t. This can be due to a myriad of unmitigated circumstances, like finding out you have a degenerative illness that will likely cause you to be a physical burden on others (there is nothing an alkie dreads more that having to ask for help) or perhaps being on a medication that can lead to suicide, but either way the result is the same—we lose people we shouldn’t. I’m so very glad I wasn’t one of them

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About Author

Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.