Last week was a bittersweet sort of anniversary for me: Friday, June 22 marked a full year since my suicide attempt. Coming so swiftly after the highly publicized suicides of Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade and Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit, it felt especially tender. How was I supposed to reckon with the enormity of a day during which I both did my best to die and then did my best to live? Especially coming as it did right after deaths of three people I greatly admired, three people who apparently reached a place so dark that it felt like there was no coming back.
I’ve spent the past few weeks reading hundreds of hot takes about suicide; they’ve ranged from the self-righteously furious (“how dare she kill herself when she has a child to take care of?”) to the well-intentioned but ill-informed (“help is just a phone call away!”). As with every celebrity suicide, there has been endless sharing of salacious details, ranging from detailed descriptions of how they died to gossip about who left a note and what it might have said. There has also, as always, been plenty of speculation about why. Why would a person who seemed to have everything do something like that? What unplumbed depths of grief were they secretly carrying? Didn’t they know how loved they were? Didn’t they care?
I know these questions intimately, because I had to field them for months after my attempt. In my experience, why isn’t necessarily a very useful question; it has both too many answers (mine were: because I hadn’t slept in two months, because I couldn’t work, because everything felt unbearable, because every mental health service had a months-long waiting list, because I was sure that I must be a burden and a drain on my family), and one single answer: pure hopelessness. In my case, I became convinced that I didn’t have a future anymore; when I tried to imagine what I would be doing the next week, or the next month, or the next year, all I could picture was a horrible blankness. At first, the thought of that blankness made me panic, but the more I tried to fight it with projects and plans, the more it consumed me. Eventually, I started to believe in the blankness; there didn’t seem to be anything else left.
One morning, I woke up from a miserably brief sleep and knew that I was going to kill myself that day. I can’t explain it, I just knew. In a weird way, the knowing was a relief—finally, a course of action after months of terrible inaction! It also felt like I was finally accepting the inevitable; suicide, I thought, was how it was always going to end, and by getting the worst of it over with I was saving myself from more pain.
For the first time in ages, I felt a sense of purpose. I got up and brushed my teeth. I put on a nice dress. I wrote a note. I downed a bottle of sleeping pills with a chaser of whiskey. I crawled into bed, sobbing over what a failure my life had been.
Then I got up, called a cab and took myself to the hospital.
There, the staff there asked me over and over again why I’d wanted to die, and while I understood the importance of the question, it felt strange that not a single person was interested in knowing why I’d decided to live. To me, that seemed—and still seems—to be the far more important question, especially since the answer contained the only truly rational thought I’d had all day: that I couldn’t do this to my son. When I’d decided to kill myself, I’d genuinely thought that his life would be better without me. Then, in a flash of insight—true insight, the first I’d had in months—I knew how wrong that was. I hadn’t been able to imagine the future for months by that point, but suddenly I could imagine someone telling him that his mother was dead. The thought was absolutely gutting, to put it mildly. I knew that if I couldn’t live for myself, then at the very least I had to live for him.
This is not an easy essay to write, and one of the reasons for that is because it mentions my son. I know that I have the right to tell my own story, but then again, so does he. It’s tricky to know how much I can or should disclose in the places where our stories overlap. Right now, of course, he doesn’t know anything about my suicide attempt, except that I was sick and in the hospital. Writing this increases the odds that he will know more someday; I’m not exactly sure, yet, how I feel about that.
So why write about it, then?
Because not many other people are, I guess. Because I saw so many people opining about what a horrible, selfish mother Kate Spade must have been. Because mothers live with depression too, an illness that can be just as deadly for them as for anyone else. Because talking about motherhood and suicide still carries such a taboo. Because silence and stigma have never been a good way to approach any illness.
I have a lot of feelings about my suicide attempt: sadness that it happened, profound gratitude that it didn’t work, frustration at a medical system that didn’t take my mental health issues seriously until I literally almost died from them. Mostly, though, I feel shame–deep, abiding shame. Some days it’s not so bad, but on other days the weight of it is nearly unbearable and I don’t know what to do about it. Usually when I feel ashamed about something, I can get some relief from talking about it. But who can I talk about this to?
Maybe that sense of isolation is, then, the real reason I’m writing this: I both want to feel less alone, and to let anyone else experiencing the same thing know that they’re not alone.
More from Anne Thériault:
Treating My Depression with Magnets: Not Cured, But Cautiously Optimistic
The Way I Was Treated at a Hospital After My Suicide Attempt Was Humiliating
People Who Die by Suicide Don’t Forfeit the Right to Privacy