I spent at least a year wanting to die.
I figured I should just come out and say it, because it is true, and because it has been a long time since wanting to die was a thing I felt, and because I want you to know that I know. I really, really know.
I am telling you so that maybe you will believe that I understand and that you can talk to me, and maybe let me hold a little candle or a match or a minuscule LED light bulb for you in the dark.
The first few months of Ollie’s injury were too crazy for me to feel much of anything. Life was a series of impossible, critical tasks that were performed through the miracles of coffee and adrenaline. We fell in a rabbit hole for a while and our family was spread out across the country. After a few months we came back together and that’s when I began to despair. Life didn’t get easier very quickly. Every day was a marathon of appointments for Ollie, school, daycare and extracurricular activities for the kids. The drugs made him angry, distant, closed down, and juvenile. He kind of hated me for a while. I lost hope.
I tried to document as much of our experience as possible, in a million scribbled and typed notes. Here is one:
“I am in the commissary and I want to die.
What’s next on the list?
I want to die.
I place the death bananas in the basket and move on to the next item.
I want to die.
Sometimes I interrupt myself.
No, I don’t want to die. I want to live.
I am not in physical pain but I move like everything hurts. Everything does hurt. I am an open, gaping, nasty, rotten wound from head to toe. I smile at everyone I pass. I check things off the list.
Ooh, butter’s on sale!
I want to die.
No, I don’t want to die. I want to live and eat butter and clean the toilet.
I want to die, but I don’t want to kill myself. There’s a difference that not many people would understand. And, if possible, I will step out of Death’s way. But I’m tired and I want to be done. The voice that wants to die is the very same one that was more than a little jealous when my friend’s race was done. She could sleep and not worry about all of this. About fucking bananas and butter and toilet cleaner, week after goddamn week.
I have one friend who understands the nuance of wanting to die without wanting to kill myself. We haven’t talked in weeks because she is mad at me. I have betrayed her. I understand why she feels this way. I don’t feel that I have betrayed her. Our best friendship is at a standstill.
I call her. I know she’s not doing so great either and I miss her and this is stupid. Plus, there’s no one else I can tell that I want to die without freaking them out. I am just tired.
‘Hey. When I called earlier I was going to ask about how you were doing but now I want to die.’
She chuckles the way we do and asks why.
We talk for a while. She’s having a mother crisis—that one where you think you’re completely incompetent and they would be better off without you and maybe you should send them somewhere better for them because you’ve gone and fucked the whole thing up.
We catch up and both feel better.
Later she helps me rephrase the whole wanting to die thing.
‘It’s not that you want to die, it’s that you don’t want to live like this anymore.’
Brilliant. Epic. Lifechanging. Yes, I can do that. I can say that. It’s positive and allows me some space to make some changes so things are more bearable. I don’t have to buy death bananas if I don’t want to, and I can have a career and education and I can change the world, bitches. I don’t want to die, I just don’t want to live like this anymore.
For a couple of days it works. I stave off that boa constrictor of panic with the talisman of my new mantra. I am able to wash the dishes, talk to my children and cook dinner (mostly) without wanting to die.
I know I am in trouble, though, when the anxiety ramps up so much that I can’t complete the thought.
It’s not that I want to die, it’s that I don’t want to live…
It took many more months of personal work, the team efforts of a therapist, a chiropractor, my friends (most of whom didn’t know how badly I struggled), and some dietary changes before my desire to live rekindled. I eventually stumbled, crawled, (dragged myself by my fingernails) along the path to a better place.
I’m not really sure how or when it happened, but one day a couple of years ago I was driving along and I realized, “Hey! I don’t want to die!” It was rather anticlimactic for a moment I wasn’t sure I would ever see.
Your life and experiences are not mine, but I still offer my story as a tiny beacon of hope. Hope that it doesn’t always have to be this difficult, hope that you will find your way out of the darkness, hope for healing.
Hope that you will defeat your own death bananas and find yourself enjoying a brighter day.
Until then, I will sit with you in the dark.