Lucky comes later- on surviving suicide

This is not the post I intended to write. I had a separate post planned, something wonderfully nerdy and interesting and ED-related, but then I logged onto Facebook and Twitter tonight and was floored with the news that Robin Williams had committed suicide.

It immediately brought me back to when I attempted suicide, not long before I started this blog almost seven years ago. Hearing of other’s suicides stirs up a turbulent mix of shame and guilt. How could I have possibly thought this would have been the best option?

Then I remember that girl, the one who was so desperate and scared and trapped and hurt and I empathize with her. I force myself to sit on the cold tiles of the bathroom floor with her as she sobs. I watch, wordless, as she makes her final preparations. I watch her completely dissociate, watch her watching her, watching her.

Empathizing with the aftermath is harder. The awkward pauses in the conversation that you know YOU’VE caused, how no one will talk about it directly. “You need supervision in case you…you know…”

Yes. I know. Believe me, I know. I can’t stop thinking of how much I know. That, theoretically, I’m one of the lucky ones. That I probably should have died. One less-than-helpful nurse points that out on one of my many intake forms once I’m transferred from critical care to the psych unit. “That’s really dangerous. You could have died!” That was kind of the point, lady.

I tell her this because I realize I have nothing left to lose. She stares at me long and hard when I say it, rather wryly.

I don’t feel lucky then, and I won’t feel lucky for a good long time after. Lucky comes later.

Lucky comes when you have a family to support you, the money and insurance to pay for therapy, the ability to find medications that work. Lucky is the slow re-building of everything you lost. It’s applying to your dream school from the freaking psych ward because hey- nothing to lose.

Lucky doesn’t mean that you will never return to that dark place. You will. Time and time again, and you never know if this wave will pull you under. Instead, you learn how to swim, carry the damn life preserver and try to call for help. You know, all too well, that this storm won’t last forever. You will cling to life with the flimsiest of things- how the Harry Potter books end, the fact that you haven’t yet fed the cat today, that you promised a friend you would help them move next weekend. These won’t hold forever, and you know that, but you keep desperately trying to string them together, one after another, in a sequence of seemingly pointless moments. Then you figure out that you have started living life again without even realizing it. There’s no miracle moment, here, just the slow stringing together of small moments into a narrative called your biography.

I know there are other people like me, who have survived their own suicide attempts, and yet there is not much said about how we can move on from our own loss and trauma. If mental illness carries a stigma, the one hanging over suicide is even greater. I generally don’t like to talk about it. I’m ashamed and embarrassed. We talk of people who complete suicide as being ‘selfish’ that they couldn’t sense their loved one’s pain. Yet when those feelings of utter despair washed over me, all I could think about was the pain I was causing others. Maybe it was selfish of me, I don’t know, but it didn’t feel that way to me at the time. It felt like the only option I had left. I had tried everything else.

My experience didn’t leave me with any physical scars. There’s nothing I can point to and say, hey, this happened that night I… But mentally, it shattered me. It scared me. It still does. You don’t get over it. You don’t forget.

Hearing of another’s suicide is always tragic, whether I know them personally or not. There’s always a part of me that realizes that could have been me. There’s another part that knows the pain and anguish they were experiencing in their last moments all too well.

Then I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and remember that my story didn’t end there. It goes on, still.

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15 Responses to “Lucky comes later- on surviving suicide”

  1. Thank you Carrie. I’ve been crying all day. While I’ve never attempted suicide, I know severe depression and suicidality all too well. My heart ached for him today and what he’s been going through. My heart literally hurt.

    It’s a very tragic thing when this happens to anyone.

  2. Your words that ‘lucky comes later’ resonate so well with my own history with an ed and suicide and the work I do supporting others to reclaim their life.

    I too close my eyes, breathe and remember. In doing so I honour my own story, the lives of others and the spaces between that connect us all.

  3. It is so not about being selfish. It is about being in such deep despair that you might actually think the world would be better off without you in it. It’s about being confused. About being so. Exhausted.

    The terror doesn’t come until much, much later (if you’re lucky enough to have a later). If you make it to later, that’s when you see straight and you realize the pain you could have caused and you have terror, panic attacks, post traumatic stress, grief, and shame.

    I love what you said about stringing together moments. On my bad days, I self talk all day: I’m doing the laundry; I need to be here. I paid the bills; I need to be here. I answered that question/took that phone call/gave that hug; I need to be here. On my really bad days, I remember that baby monkeys were able to develop appropriately when they even had a wire frame mother wrapped in soft terrycloth. So even if I can’t do anything, I just need to be here.

    I’m so sad that Robin Williams didn’t find his later. I’m so sad that he wasn’t able to string his moments together tightly enough to stay with us.

    I’m so grateful that you, Carrie, found your later. I’m so glad you made a picture out of your moments and stayed here in it. Love to you.

  4. Carrie
    Thank you for still being here and for sharing. Think about the people you are helping with your insights and caring, without forgetting Robin Williams’, of course. Thank you for forging ahead.
    Indeed stringing together our meaningful moments makes them part of our greater whole.
    We are on this earth for such a short time, so make the most of it while we are here, together!

  5. I feel so sad about the news that I am finding I can barely function today. I too can relate to being in the grips of deep depression. Thank God I could never bring myself to pull the trigger. You expressed your thoughts so well that you give a voice to those who suffer this unimaginable despair. So eloquently said.

  6. Thank you for writing this, Carrie. And I am thankful you are here.

  7. Wow. So well- said. This expresses so well the feelings I carried and currently carry about my suicide attempts. I’m a few years later now, with much recovery under my belt, and yes, I absolutely agree that “lucky comes later.”

  8. This is so beautifully stated, and I can relate to this completely. Last year, while in the throes of anorexia, I attempted suicide and narrowly survived. I am still receiving intensive treatment for my anorexia, PTSD, and depression, so I am still at the point where I question whether or not I was lucky to have survived. It’s encouraging to know that at some point I may stop questioning why I made it through

  9. “I’m one of the lucky ones”, too. I understand your words.

  10. Thanks Carrie, and commenter, hm, for putting this so well. It puts my own experience into context – it took at least a year to start committing to life again and then the horror and fear of how close I’d got to death kicked in in the form of nightmares and flashbacks – how could I have done that to my family?! (Because like all of us I wasn’t in my right mind and had completely run out of energy to keep struggling, of course).
    I do fear relapses of depression, each bout drains me more and I never quite feel restored. Its such a slow process – not sure if I’ve reached lucky yet!
    Its an odd place to be in, glad I survived but still not trusting myself to steer clear of relapses in future. I guess its an ongoing process like my ED recovery and occasionally I’ll stop and realise just how much better I am since the last time I stopped and checked and thought I’d achieved a functional recovery.

    Thanks for sharing, everyone, and take care.

  11. Lucky comes later. This has resonated with me, even as I face my own ED recovery journey. Thank you for your wisdom, and for sharing your story.

  12. Wow, thank you so much for this post. I never attempted suicide but was incredibly depressed and very suicidal for several years during college, which included multiple admissions to the psych ward and eating disorder treatment centers. I felt like a huge burden, was plagued by guilt for just about everything, felt completely alone (which I pretty much had made myself by being unable to function in the presence of other people), and felt that the idea of surviving another day required mountains of energy that I simply did not have. I felt that I was in an unsolvable mess, that any attempts at recovery would be futile and would again, need some motivation, energy, and hope that I could not find and that it would be easier and kinder to everyone if I just ended my life.

    During one admission, my school forced me to go on medical leave and complete an inpatient eating disorders program that also addressed my psychiatric comorbidities. I thought this was the worst thing that could have happened to me. I HATED every minute of school, but the one thing I could hold onto that made me occasionally feel I was worth the air I breathed was that I was on an academic scholarship, getting good grades. My identity as “smart” was the one thing I had not totally f*ed up, and now it was gone.

    The road back was long. Actually, that admission was five years ago today. There were relapses, there were readmissions, but slowly, without even noticing it, I started to engage again. It’s now been close to three years since my last crippling episode of depression and psychiatric admission. There have been episodes that are more like low energy, exhaustion, sadness, but none with the extreme and intense desire to end my own life lasting more than fleetingly. The eating disorder is still very much an issue, one that kicks me in the butt even as I try to fight it and then give up and give in, and then get back on track again what seems like an endless number of times.

    Now, though, I feel so lucky. So incredibly blessed to be able to have a life that I live, that is mine, family and friends that are wonderful and whom I can actually accept love from without feeling like they love me simply out of guilt or fear that I might kill myself any minute if they left. It didn’t seem like anything was changing, and then gradually, I noticed that they had, so very much. I will never lose touch with that desperate nineteen-year-old, and having been there helps me look at the world differently, in a way in which small blessings and tiny things that work out well seem like miracles. There are days when I run errands or go to work or do some other completely mundane task that is not “fun” per se, but where I am overcome by a sense of peace that comes from having a “normal” day after years of living crisis to crisis and hanging on by a thread. There are things to be overcome, for sure, but I have found my “lucky later”.

    I went to a friend’s wedding this weekend, whom I met two or so years ago, and when she invited me, I was shocked, touched, honored, and in awe, thinking, “Oh my gosh, I made a friend.” I didn’t know I was capable of socializing, of connecting, and hadn’t even noticed myself sharing moments and memories. It was not until then that I started referring to people like her, as “my friend,” and not as “this girl at school/ work/ etc.” because it felt presumptuous and vain to think that I had friends. I feel lucky for that, too, to be able to suspend some of the incredible fear of overwhelming people, of being “too much,” of being a burden, of being incredibly awkward and different, long enough to even say “hello.”

    I think of the Agatha Christie quote, “I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”

  13. I’m just catching up on your blog. I really, really relate. Would like to get back in touch!

  14. I’m just catching up on your blog. I really, really relate. Would like to get back in touch!


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