Sunshine is gently warming the tip of my nose and I can make out different birds chirping.
I will myself to stay under the duvet a while longer and focus on the sensation of warmth on my face, on the sounds outside, and on how exhausted I still am. Perhaps if I resist wakefulness the birds will lull me back to sleep so I can try to start the day again a little later, with better thoughts.
No sooner has the possibility of more rest entered my consciousness that a train wrenches me out of my reverie again.
Every single detail of last night comes back to me, how I stood still gritting my teeth so I wouldn’t run, how I stood under the shower so I wouldn’t run.
How I stood staring at the kitchen counter so I wouldn’t run, how I stood staring at the page and months of work so I wouldn’t run.
How I stood my ground in the face of a brain that urged me to destroy absolutely everything, including the pain of being alive.
You can’t destroy pain without destroying yourself, can you?
Your pain may end but it doesn’t disappear, you’re just passing it on to those who are left behind; as much as I’m hurting, I couldn’t possibly do this to my parents.
My father can’t bury a daughter while cancer keeps trying to kill his wife; my mom can’t bury a daughter before she’s even arranged her own funeral. And because my mom has this strange radar that makes her contact me when I’m in the throes of the unspeakable, she texts to remind me I have paperwork to sign. All to do with her funeral, something she has been planning for a while now.
The universe, at least the corner which I inhabit, has the darkest sense of humor.
Parents aside, if I choose to die by my own hand, I give someone else permission to die by theirs and tonight they’re sitting across the room from me.
Fighting their demons while I fight mine; this darkness isn’t just my own, no depressive has the monopoly on misery.
So I stand.
I wonder how many trains go through this station every day.
I could ask the internet but I don’t need confirmation of what I already know as I’m staying by the station and hear them all. Countless times a day, prospects of deliverance zoom past; some stop, many don’t.
But if there was a body on the line they probably would, at least until someone cleared the mess.
When I hear trains, I hear solutions; during a previous stay, I remembered standing on the train track would always be a solution.
The first time I understood this, I was 11 or 12 and this is how our family doctor chose to exit life. My mother was extremely distraught by his suicide while I marveled at how easy it was to end pain if only you could find the courage to do so. Although she and I never discussed it, this was the moment we both became aware relief was possible.
Every now and then she’ll still ask me if I remember Dr G from all those years ago when we lived in the Alps; this is shorthand for “I’m struggling.”
It could be over in minutes if I moved, ran down the stairs, and out the door for good. So I stand, collapsing a little more onto myself every time a train goes past; I clench my jaw and close my eyes as tears run down my cheeks.
The pain is making me dizzy, I want it out of me but I can’t speak. Or scream. Even blood letting wouldn’t help and I’ve never been a cutter so now isn’t the time to start something I wouldn’t be able to control. This is what my brain does and I have no choice but to take the abuse.
Later in bed, trains are still taunting me but I don’t pull back the covers, I don’t get up.
I am still reeling from yesterday and will be for a while.
When I asked myself upon waking if I still wanted to die, the answer was yes, a sure sign the episode isn’t over and my brain isn’t done yet.
I couldn’t get back to sleep, I seldom can, so I got up, brewed coffee, and set about to examine the bizarre compulsion that is self-destruction, how common it is.
Last night, I went back to the Dutch suicide prevention website and spent a long time wanting to launch the chat function. This morning, the tab is still open and although tears come and go, I’m out of danger for now, we all are.
Although I desperately needed to, I didn’t reach out for many reasons. One was that I didn’t want to trigger geolocation and have someone turn up at the door, another was that the kindness of strangers always undoes me. Suicidal ideation remains a societal taboo; enlightened and open conversations about it are as rare as they are cathartic.
I jotted down the website address on a pink sticky note and handed it to my friends before I disappeared under the shower for a while.
Only then did I begin to understand what was happening.
Coming back to life is a lot more difficult than it looks or sounds in print.
Transitions and transformations are seldom painless, whatever medium we choose. Writing, the very thing that is saving my life and has completely upended it is also a double-edged sword; words can build but they can also destroy.
Your work can also consume you; it does me. That’s how vocation works, a blessing and a curse all rolled into one.
Last night was a crisis situation but I very nearly didn’t identify it as such because I was blinded by my own pain; depression is a solipsistic disease. It makes you barricade yourself inside your own head and woe befall anyone who dares approach.
Sometimes, battening down the hatches is the only way you can contain an episode and not become a danger to yourself. Other times, it is the only way you can protect those around you from the fallout. Often, going into turtle mode and disappearing back into your shell is an act of love even if it initially comes across as rejection.
Parsing all this information while in the midst of a crisis presents quite a challenge, which is why standing still or sitting down is always best.
This is one of the rare situations when doing nothing can save your life.
Despite the above, I am functional again after losing five years to major depressive disorder and lead as normal a life as I can under non-standard circumstances.
But suicidal ideation is the one thing that stuck around and won’t leave me alone.
I am neither embarrassed nor ashamed of this fact; I’ve resigned myself to living with it as I seek new ways to deflect it to the best of my abilities.
Witnessing your fight play out in the mind of another while it is happening to you is a singular experience, however. And one that underlined the need for more openness, more gentleness, more reflection about what love is and how it works.
If I feast on crumbs of joy instead of focusing on the chaos that is my strange and often reluctant existence, it is because happiness isn’t a continuum anymore than it is a permanent state of mind. The reason it’s so impossible to define is because it is derived from myriad data points we collect throughout our lives.
And for data collection to be effective, we have to make a conscious effort to ground ourselves in the incontrovertible and tangible realness of the present moment.
Last night, I stared at a very silly object for a while that seemed to stretch into forever, long enough to take in its full ridiculousness and let it crack me up. Who knew a golden stork bearing a disk of smoked glass on its head could be such a joy-inducing sight? This side table is so unusual I can’t help but giggle every time I set eyes upon it, much as I did the very first time I saw it.
I don’t think the novelty will ever wear off, which is one argument for decorating one’s home with weirdness. Or wearing yellow clothes that make you look like a live emoji, something I’ve started doing to liven up the monotony of my black, white, and gray attire.
Like the yellow parka that always makes me feel cheerful, the stork side table is one of my happiness data points; as I explain this to my friends, something in their eyes changes.
“And here’s another data point,” I say when we stand and hug for a very long time, still hurting but resolutely, defiantly alive.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.