Brilliant afternoon sun danced on Sedona’s red rocks as I rode with a friend through Oak Creek Canyon for a meditation and writing retreat. As we crossed the Midgley Bridge, my friend said “A woman jumped off Wednesday—third one this year.” She shook her head. “I don’t know why anyone would do that.”
“I know why she jumped off the bridge,” I said. I have lived in that dark place before, planning and fantasizing my escape. She asked why, but in that moment my words couldn’t convey the misery and desperation that leads someone to throw it all away.
It’s true what they say about suicide—it’s not a sudden, impulsive, reckless choice. It’s a well-considered decision born from a pain so long-standing and so intense that the will to live is worn away like the walls of the Grand Canyon.
If we’re born full of bliss and innate curiosity, how does this joy de vivre drain out of us? Is it someone’s fault? In my youth and naivety it was comforting to lay blame. My parents were unfair, the kids at school were mean, my dog was indifferent. The @#%& dog was my best friend and HE BIT ME!
So I wanted to die. I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t know how to navigate the currents of life and come up for air. Feeling good was so fleeting and far away I thought it only belonged to the beautiful people. I tried to fit in for years and years and years and years. I went through the motions of life. I went to school, I played sports, I joined clubs. I kept so busy I left little time to sit with myself and deal with my sorrows, my suppressed anger, my emptiness.
Yet the urge to escape crept up regularly. I tried to quiet that dark voice with more activities, with flirtations, with cocktails. Sometimes I indulged the death monger with strategies. I wanted it to be painless, not messy. I wanted to die in my dreams.
I never told anyone my secret plans—except the indifferent dog. I kept busy, I pressed on.
When the big day arrived I wasn’t expecting it. The choice to kill myself in the end WAS sudden, impulsive, and reckless—in that moment. It’s not important what pushed me over the edge. What can I say; I had a bad day. I swallowed a bottle of pills and sat in the bathroom and waited. And waited. I hadn’t planned on so much time to think. After a while my sister came to the door and just as suddenly as I wanted to leave I wanted to stay. My heart burst open and I let her in and confessed. We rushed to the hospital and spent the night removing the poison from my body. It was painful. A friend’s mom was the nurse on duty that night. They told each other everything. And my friend never kept secrets. I lived in a small town. I was afraid the whole school would soon know. I wanted to crawl into my shell and hide. My stomach turned and turned.
My parents forced me to go to school the next day, and under my eyes were all these pinprick red spots. I looked freaky. I had to explain to my best friend why I looked so strange, and instead of compassion, she was angry and called me stupid.
Once I got through the day I clearly realized that she was right. Life is too precious to throw away. I vowed to myself that no matter how bad I felt I would never give in to that death impulse again. Believe me, that was not the last time I wished to leave the planet. For years I drove over bridges and fantasized about driving off. But there’s power and comfort in having a commitment to keep going, and to not allow myself to give up.
For a long time I didn’t understand how people jumped. Painful. Messy. Jumping is scary. I remember as a teen canoeing around a lake with friends, and the excitement of discovering a tire swing hanging from a tree on the opposite shore. Everyone swung over the lake and jumped in. Except me.
I still don’t like jumping. Recently I took a “lead test” at the rock climbing gym. This involved climbing a strenuous overhanging route and clipping my rope into pre-set quick-draws hanging from the wall every five or six feet. Upon arriving at the top, instead of clipping into the anchor, I had to let go to demonstrate that I knew how to fall correctly. The fall was over 15 feet, because one falls to the last clip, plus the length of the rope, plus the stretch of the rope, plus the foot or two of slack in the rope the belayer keeps to soften the fall. There was little risk of injury because the climb was so overhanging that a fall sends one swinging into space rather than hitting anything. I’d done plenty of leading outside on real rock, but had only taken one small lead fall ever, because I only lead climbs I’m fairly certain I won’t fall on. The tester guy suggested, “When you get to the top, let go immediately. The longer you think about it, the harder it will be.”
I climbed. I clipped. I felt exhausted. I touched the top. I let go immediately, executing the pre-determined plan. I fell through space and swung. I felt sick. But it was over. I passed the test.
It is easy for me to understand why people jump off the bridge. Now I know how they do it. In a bleak moment they follow their plan.
Fortunately for me, the escape plan went astray. Every day I feel deep gratitude to be alive, and I make time to notice how blessed and lucky I am. I have two amazing children and experience with them a depth of love I thought would never come my way. It’s difficult to imagine now a time when I doubted I would ever experience love. I am well past giving up on life. I do still face challenges, and often feel overwhelmed with the tasks I have chosen. But amidst my frustrations, low moods, and unpleasant experiences I now realize that all this will pass. I can choose how to feel about the events of my life, and I can opt out of things that don’t nourish me.
I still want to escape when life feels unmanageable, and I have discovered that time alone in nature, meditation, a yoga retreat, or a cross-country road-trip sets me straight. Life feels fresh again when I travel away from my busy routine, like a reset button for my mood. It’s a wonderful life.
No matter what you are dealing with or how much emotional pain you feel, there is help out there. It might not be easy to ask for help, and your problems won’t magically go away, but in time, things will get better.
No matter what problems you are struggling with, hurting yourself isn’t the answer. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to talk to a counselor at a Lifeline crisis center near you. Call Now.
Suicide doesn’t just happen. Watch stories of hope and recovery, told through the voices of people who have survived and recovered.
No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.
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Photo Credit: Melissa Karolides © 2012