Learning to Live for Myself

Apr. 16, 2019- A decade ago I had the intention of ending my life. I was done. If I couldn’t have the life I wanted, I decided, then I was going to have the death I wanted. I wrote and rewrote several goodbye letters, each one more detailed than the last, trying to explain the unexplainable: “I love you, but your love is not enough for my brain.”

For weeks, I had barely been able to function. I was a shell, and my shell was broken.  It wasn’t the first time I had felt like this, but it had been a few years since the thoughts had been so loud.

I didn’t want people to worry about me, because if they worried, they would find a way to stop me. So I put on a mask. I smiled. I laughed. But I harbored the secret that everything I did would be for the last time. I didn’t have a specific date; I just knew that I would soon be done.

I drove on I5 from Corvallis to Hillsboro meet my nephew when he was born. I cried from Albany to Tualatin, but then I was calm, because I knew this was going to be it: the next few days would be my last. I would throw on my smile a few more times, and then I could throw away my mask for good. No more pain. No more failure. No more anything. I felt as though all my emotion had faded away, and I could breathe again.

I took care of my sister’s dog, cleaned her family’s house, brought them food in the hospital, and took as many photos as I could, because even though I knew this would be it, they didn’t. Their first night home from the hospital, my sister saw the light on in the room I was staying in. She came in, carrying her newborn baby. She handed him to me and said, “Your nephew needs you.”

My nephew – this tiny little brown-haired baby staring up at me – needed me.

I couldn’t go if he needed me.

I deleted the letter I had been writing. If I couldn’t live for me, I decided, I was going to live for him.

But the reality was, I needed him.

Before his first birthday, my husband and I moved from Corvallis to Tigard, where instead of being an hour and a half away, we were now only twenty minutes from my sister’s family. But even though I was staying for my nephew, I wasn’t able to live for myself yet.

I was miserable. I struggled to get out of bed. I could barely handle working part time. I was not a good wife, friend, or employee. My mind was making me physically sick. But I was a damn good Auntie. That was all I was capable of being, the only thing that gave me hope. A smile and snuggle from that baby kept me here. For the time being, that was what I needed.

I bounced back and forth from being consistent with seeing my doctors, psychologists, and fertility specialists – I wanted to be a mom, myself, but had been diagnosed at 16 with polycystic ovarian syndrome, which was part of my feeling I wasn’t living the life I wanted – to living in a hole. Every time a doctor told me something I didn’t want to hear, I started planning my death again. My nephew needed me, so I never acted on those plans. But they were there, as a backup, just in case.

Five years ago, I lost someone I had been incredibly close to, but had fallen out of touch with after high school. Another former classmate asked me if I would go with her to one of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Walks. Like me, she struggled with eating disorders and suicidal ideations and attempts. We were survivors. We had never been close but because of what we lived with, knew that when things got bad for either of us, there was a safe person to talk to. The day of the walk, I grabbed a set of honor beads, each one signifying a different type of connection to the cause: green (struggle personally), purple (lost a relative or a friend), teal (friend or family of someone who struggles), and blue (support the cause).

At that Walk, I saw a little blond-haired boy who wore purple beads and a shirt that said, “I miss my Auntie.”

I saw my nephew’s face on that little boy, and full-on ‘ugly-cried’ in the middle of the crowd. Complete strangers who didn’t have a clue what my name was saw me crying, and wrapped me in their arms, showing me I was not as alone as my brain had spent years trying to convince me I was.

I went home that night, and for the first time in a very long time, felt I could breathe again.

The next day, I went to AFSP’s website, found my local chapter, and asked to become a volunteer.

The first event I volunteered at was Portland Pride. I had never been to a Pride event before, and I had never volunteered with AFSP before, but the people there needed someone to listen, hear their story, and tell them they mattered. I hugged more strangers that day, and cried with a few of them. They thanked me for telling them they mattered…and for staying. I was there for them, but they were thanking me. They told me that I mattered.

I volunteered at many more Walks, attended International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day and other events, and was ultimately asked to join Oregon’s Chapter Board.  Through my involvement with AFSP, I found a purpose I had been longing for since I was sixteen and told the life I thought I wanted wasn’t a possibility.

I no longer felt like I was drowning. I went back to counseling and talked to as many people as I could about what worked or didn’t work for them. My focus shifted from what I was failing at to what I had the potential to be good at. I searched out things that brought me joy and peace. I was learning to love myself for the first time.

I was also learning to live for myself for the first time.

Some days are easier to see hope than others. The difference now is that I have a family I feel safe to reach out to when I need a boost. AFSP has given me a purpose, and shown me we are stronger together. We really can save lives, and I know this because AFSP has helped me to save my own life. We are not alone. There is HOPE!

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