Penny For Your Thoughts Confession: I Think About Killing Myself Every Day

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Living While Suicidal

The thing about depression (or, in my case, bipolar depression) is that it can bring about recurring despair. And you never really know if or when you’ve seen the darkest despair until the time that the next despair comes.

I’m actually quite paranoid about the recurring nature of despair, and particularly fearful about the appearance of the next moment of despair in my life.

I have worried aloud to my psychiatrist that in my future there might be a hopelessness beyond the worst hopelessness I’ve ever known, a darkness that’s exponentially greater than what I’ve calculated in my imagination. I’m afraid that on the day of unimaginable hopelessness I will forgo whatever it means to “try” to kill myself and I’ll just, you know, “do.”

The very tragic fact is that about 105 people “do” every day. Nothing makes me sadder, or sends more shivers up my spine, than hearing news about someone who did “do.”

If the headline says, “died by apparent suicide,” or even if there’s just a whiff of speculation about the s-word on social media, that person’s death always scares the s**t out of me and hits very close to home. This is especially true when that person is a black woman; a black woman whose name I know or whose genius I’ve admired.

And yes, I considered inserting some hyperlinks in that previous sentence, but revealing the identities of those women isn’t the point. The point is that dying by suicide scares the s**t out of me, because I know what living while suicidal feels like.

Every week, one of my psychiatrists asks me (and yes I have two of them), “Any thoughts of suicide this week?” And I tell her approximately how many suicidal thoughts I had, what those suicidal thoughts were and approximately how long those suicidal thoughts lasted. Some days I tell her “a few.” Sometimes I say “a lot.” Sometimes I grasp for a number like, “I might’ve thought about it four or five times.”

What I almost never say is, “Nope. I didn’t think about suicide at all.”

I can already hear the freaked-out responses:

–There will be the “this is a cry for help!” or “somebody save this sister!!!” intervention-esque pleas from strangers (i.e., online commenters). 

–There will be churchfolks on Sunday morning who will give me that bless your heart, you’re-more-of-a-sinner-than-I-am look of pity. And you know the look I’m talking about. It’s that look we churchfolks sometimes give each other right before we say, “I’m praying for you.”

–There will be painfully concerned phone calls and emails from friends and family members who love me. I can already hear my brother saying to my dad, “Did you read that story Penny wrote about how she’s suicidal?” Except the word “suicidal” will be dramatically drawn out to sound like Soo-eh-syyy-duhhll.

In fact, when anyone who has read this story sees me or hears my name, they probably won’t be able to keep those four syllables from clamoring in their heads.


But it is what it is.

I sometimes get pissed and a little jealous when people tell me they have no idea what not having the will to live feels like. I mean, really, no one should know what it feels like. The will to live should be a naturally occurring resource. It should spring up everywhere so everyone can have it.

But that’s not how it goes.

Some people skip around in the world not realizing that the bounce in their step is caused by a sheer desire to be alive. And some people limp around in the world painfully aware of the fact that they lack that desire. I’ve fought back tears while listening to a girlfriend talk about the pros and cons of a hypothetical hairstyle, though earlier that day I’d stood on the subway platform considering whether to jump in front of an incoming train and fought like hell to resist the impulse.

I know that by saying all this, I run the risk of sounding at risk. And I don’t mean to cue up any blaring sirens. All I really want to cue up is The Color Purple and Celie shouting that dispirited yet triumphant refrain:

“I’m poor, black, I may even be ugly, but dear God, I’m here! I’m here!”

Except, in this case, I’m cueing up the dispirited part of the refrain that is my own: “There was that steak knife when I was 15, and then there was Tylenol nine months ago…”

But the second part of the refrain–the triumphant part–is Ms. Celie all the way. 

Yes, there was that. Yes, there may still be that. But dear God, I’m HERE.

And if you know what the kind of living I’ve been talking about actually feels like–any small bit of how very uncomfortable it feels–then dear God, you’re HERE too.

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