On Suicide: Breaking the Habit

Warning: Given the title, the suicide warning is obvious. Graphic (somewhat, but best be safe) depiction of child abuse, mention of animal abuse, self-harm discussion throughout, mentions of prescription and street substance abuse. If I’ve missed anything that needs a warning, please let me know and I’ll add one here.

I’ve been hesitant to talk about suicide all year. I’m not a stranger to suicidal ideation, attempting suicide, or 72-hour psych holds. Been there, done that, currently doing my best to take care of myself so I don’t have to go again. Suicide is a delicate subject, one I see from both the suicidal perspective and from being left behind to deal with the fallout.

In the early hours of January 9th, someone on their morning run found my Dad’s body in a public park. He bled out after stabbing himself a few hours before sunrise. Dad had a long history with self-harm, which I’ve inherited, and Paranoid Schizophrenia, which I (fingers crossed) have not. When I was a toddler, he became paralyzed from the waist down after a tree-trimming incident and used a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He was reckless and paid a steep price instead of bothering with safety gear, but he was alive. That accident defined the rest of his life, an immovable object he never was able to accept in his path. I think he thought he was an unstoppable force, before. He’d begun using somewhere around fourteen and I don’t think he really had much clean time since, so drugs certainly played a part in that perceived invincibility. And he was an Aries, to boot, embodying the masculine features of Mars for better or worse. I’m a Scorpio myself, utilizing martian yin to Aries’ yang. Unstoppable force spawns immovable object, apparently.

Dad was deeply sick by the time I came along. Not long before he broke his back, he put his fist through a wall inches from Mom’s head while I was in her arms. She decided to leave and raise me herself, with support from both families. For this, I am grateful. Mom fucked up a lot, but she did her damnedest to raise me as best she could, which is more than I can say for Dad. I did have to spend a few months living with him when I was 9-10 or so, after Mom lost custody of me, though. My memory of the day-to-day is very foggy, but I recall being “home” alone often while Dad was at his girlfriend-at-the-second’s apartment with her kid(s). I remember being sad and feeling lonely a lot, I had to switch to a different school and don’t remember making friends with anyone in particular, but even then I preferred being at school. It was more fun than being alone in an apartment I’d only been in once or twice beforehand.

I remember being jealous of his pet fish, because at least Dad treated it like he cared. One of my deepest regrets as a child is killing that fish. The fish didn’t deserve it, he was just swimming along stuck in the same shitty situation as I was. Hurting myself never got Dad’s attention, but hurting something he seemed to care for did. I’ve always been an animal lover, causing outright harm to an utterly defenseless creature is still hard for me to wrap my lobes around. I was an aching child looking for some semblance of control, I think. It did get his attention, just not for the better.

He was great with kids, apparently, as long as they weren’t his. He liked to scare the shit out of little-me, seemingly for his own entertainment, especially when I didn’t do exactly as he wanted me to. One way I knew to piss him off was to give him the silent treatment, which usually got me a one-way ticket home, at least until he felt bad about not being a Dad in any meaningful way six months or so down the road. Until “home” was his apartment, the silent treatment worked beautifully. Then he’d just leave me “home” alone. Dad wasn’t “home” much, even when I lived with him. Sometimes I’d hear him playing his guitar through the walls. He was a talented musician, once upon a time.

I remember going surprise off-roading with him in some shitty old truck he threw huge tires on for no practical reason. He could barely get in the wretched thing from his wheelchair, but his hand brake/gas adapter worked so he was satisfied. He’d floor it, taking steeper and steeper inclines while screaming at me. Once I ended up puking all over his dashboard, and he took it as a personal offense rather than a direct result of his lack of give-a-fuck. I’d think that sobbing and squeezing my stuffed Pikachu as tight to my chest as my little arms could would be an indication of me having a bad time. If I closed my eyes, he’d demand that I open them, and I would. What the fuck else could I do?

I still have a faint scar where the shoulder strap gave me a wicked friction burn every time he’d shove me in the truck for this exercise in forced “fun.” Surprises still make me nauseous, nearly fifteen years later, and being in a car makes me anxious. Our relationship was strained at best, and there are long periods of time where I refused to acknowledge him at all. Until I had to start taking care of him, at least. Even then, I’d use as few words as possible.

Mom and I were at my aunt’s house babysitting when we got the call about Dad. I remember feeling a dull pang of anger, which faded as fast as it came, and then I scooped the baby up in my arms, deciding to keep her busy while Mom talked to Yaya (Dad’s Mom). I was just happy to have something to do, y’know, keep my hands busy for awhile with someone who didn’t feel uncomfortable laughing and being happy. I’m good with kids, and taking care of kids makes me happy, so it seemed like the thing to do. Mom didn’t have to tell me what happened, I could see it in her eyes. It was a matter of time, one I’d often thought of before on my way to work, or anytime someone would mention going to see him. I thought one of us would find his body in his apartment. Of Mom, Yaya, and I, I believe I’d have been the least damaged by finding him post-suicide. Maybe that’s why he pushed himself to that park so late at night. I have trouble believing he’d bother being considerate of us, but it isn’t impossible, I guess.

When you tell someone that your Dad has killed himself, their immediate response is “I’m sorry.” It’s what people expect you to need in order to heal. It’s polite, socially acceptable, and compassionate- a script you already know off-book for any tragic situation. But it leaves no room for what I’m really feeling and thinking.

Sorting through how this makes me feel is challenging, probably because my relationship with my Dad was turbulent at best and mutually assured destruction at worst. I’ve spent the bulk of my life grieving the father I never had, afraid of the belligerent man-child I was told to love. In a way, his death is much easier to digest than I could have anticipated, simply because any affection I felt for him dissipated so long ago that I do not recall feeling genuine affection for him at all. Excitement over plans that he’d never follow through on, or promises he’d never keep, sure. There was nothing below the surface, though, nothing to back up “I love you, baby” or “Daddy misses you.” They’re empty words. My well of hope for the father he could have been dried out.

Sorry is so far from what I feel for Dad. I’m relieved, on one hand, to be one step further removed from him. Knowing that I will never see him again is comforting. I realize this may sound callous. Please, try to sympathize. Dad did his damnedest to force everyone who loved him out of his life in favor of whoever would enable his behavior. I began to distance myself from him as a little girl because it was safer than the alternative. Toward the end of his life, three people made their best effort to keep him alive despite himself. Yaya, Mom and me. Mom didn’t want Yaya to do it all herself, and I felt obligated to help the two of them. Caring for him became my job. I wasn’t very good at it, but he wasn’t good at taking care of me either, so I think we’re on an even keel, there.

This should hurt so much more than it does, but I made peace with my truth somewhere along the way. The ache is subsiding, but I’d be okay if it doesn’t completely stop. I don’t know if there will be anything left for me to feel for him, if it stops. I don’t know which is worse, but it doesn’t really matter either way. He’d been gone for years, already, this is just slightly more permanent.

I don’t know much about how grieving your father is supposed to feel, but this isn’t it. I know it is supposed to hurt. I don’t know if I’ve killed the proverbial nerve connecting me to him, or if it’s just numb from lack of use. I feel more connected to the fantasy of the father I never had in my head than I do for the person I knew him as. Chester Bennington’s suicide hurts in ways Dad’s just doesn’t. That seems like such a sad thing to say, even to me, but I can’t change my truth to suit this narrative.

You can’t heal if you don’t honor your feelings, and healing is all I want at the end of the day. Fuck fighting it, fuck self-destruction, fuck statistics. One suicide causes a ripple effect. That Dad killed himself leaves everyone who knew him twice as likely to attempt suicide from this point forward. I don’t want to be part of that body count. Maybe just to spite him, or to prove to myself that I am stronger than he ever was. He doesn’t get to be a factor into my death. That boundary is self-contained, but susceptible to change as my depression fluctuates. Determination hasn’t failed me yet.

If I can stick to my conviction, I’m golden. I feel like that conviction is my philosopher’s stone, or it could be. Immortality isn’t necessary, I wouldn’t want eternal life if it was offered to me, but legitimately wanting to live is a very different story. I’ve spent too much time chasing an early grave. Choosing my life was unthinkable. Now that the idea is bouncing around my lobes, all I have to do is hold on to it. Through whatever may come, as long as I don’t lose my grasp, I’ll be alright.

I didn’t go to the funeral. I couldn’t find a reason to, and my therapist didn’t see a reason for me to force myself to go. Sure, he had something to do with my genes, but that isn’t justification in the slightest. I never knew whatever good may have been in him. Those who knew him when he was young may have, but their recollections hold only fragments of value to me. I have no interest in whoever he was to them. I am interested in tiny diagnostic clues and whatever bits of information matches characteristics or talents that I have. For example, I’ve got a keen ear for music and can instinctively keep on beat if I’m at ease. It irritates the shit out of my Mom, she sang in choir in high school and had trouble keeping time. Usually I don’t even realize I’m tapping along to whatever is on, and mess up easily once I do notice. I don’t have to like the song, either, which is perplexing. According to Yaya, she felt Dad kick in time with the radio while she was pregnant with him, so my bet is on his part of my lineage.

My point is, unless I can use some piece of information about who my Dad was once upon a time to parallel my own choices, characteristics, talents or troubles, I’m not interested. It’ll go in one ear and out the other, unless it is interesting I won’t retain the information. Mapping his pathology and comparing it to my own, I feel, is necessary to see where we intersect because he had no capacity to tell me all of this himself. He was too lost in his own head.

I don’t begrudge him for being sick. I don’t begrudge him for passing aspects of his sicknesses to me. He had no choice in receiving them, either. His actions, even, I can accept at this point. Again, he was ding-dong-ditching at death’s door for decades. There is no cure for what ails either of us. Not for the psychiatric symptoms, nor chronic pain, not for diabetes, nor for addiction. Gangrenous sores, some self-inflicted, are resolved by the subsequent amputation of limbs. But phantom pain persists, and for Dad it was on top of previous injuries and years of chronic pain already. Add psychosis. Add stimulants and painkillers. The weight of less is enough to be fatal.

Something that seems counter-intuitive to “normal” people is inflicting pain on yourself in order to force your body to release endorphins so the pain you’re already in lessens. Take comfort in the fact that you do not understand, if this is you. Bottoming out your pain threshold isn’t an experiment I’d suggest to anyone. It’s addictive, you’re fucking with your neurochemistry and inciting a punishment->reward response that serves to keep us alive long enough to return to safety. Until safety becomes a ritual requiring a sacrifice of your own flesh, at least. Short term gratification is habit-forming, especially when someone is struggling.

People who’ve never been more than idly suicidal cannot fathom how deep these impulses run. You have a parasitic twin inside of you, right beside whoever everyone else can see. Other people don’t know when they’re talking to you or your little parasite, hell you aren’t even sure where the parasite ends and you begin, but people will tell you to ignore the twin when they think it speaks. The trouble is, you can’t. You have to respond. The twin has no other function than to incite chaos within you. Living with a mental illness is living within contained chaos

How different, really, is attempting suicide outright to neglecting your health? To relapsing? Addiction kills in insidious ways, take Carrie Fisher for example. Or River Phoenix, or Prince. What about tobacco, people who just can’t quit smoking even though they require a cannula and oxygen 24/7? What about the diabetic who refuses insulin and won’t stop devouring sugar and starch with little moderation? I know these people personally. The diabetic is blind in one eye and can barely walk, the smoker can’t walk to the bathroom without being winded. Essentially, they’re committing suicide at a turtle’s pace. All I can do is watch, like an avalanche or a flood. Tell me exactly how they’re not killing themselves. Their method is indirect, I’ll admit, but the end result is the same. When you neglect yourself in favor of your vices, one relapse can be all it takes.

Robin Williams is the only person I can think of who people respond favorably to the notion of suicide being a viable solution. He is shown sympathy more often than scorn. That his brain’s malfunction was absolute and degenerative seem to be key factors, not to mention how beloved he was as a comedian. And a straight white male comedian, which very rarely will not win you favor. Still, that he committed suicide is an incontrovertible fact.

I understand scorning a murder-suicide, but I do not see a difference between Chester’s suicide, my Dad’s, and Robin’s. All were tragic, all three suffered for decades. Sometimes silently, sometimes screaming to be heard. They all left their children and families behind. It’s so easy to believe everyone you love is better off without you when you’re being eaten alive by your own brain.

I wholeheartedly believe that people don’t know how to respond to suicide. There is no justification, truly, as suicide is no crime. You can’t punish someone for successfully committing suicide. Whether they move forward in an afterlife or not is beyond our comprehension. All we have is faith, which I can’t condemn anyone for. Faith isn’t a crime either, but anyone who looks like they might be Muslim is suspicious and somehow deserves to be segregated “for security.” Faith isn’t a crime, but then again, neither is suicide. Yet faith and suicide somehow deserve condemnation, not mercy?

People are going to whinge about “making this political.” This is a political subject, unfortunately, because suicide is still considered a crime in many parts of the world. Health care is political, too, because capitalism somehow is more important than people. Only the dead seem to be beyond the current political dumpster fires of the world.

Medication and therapy help if you’re willing to do the grunt work. It’ll be a battle nevertheless, and the war will invariably end in death. I want to alter that sentence to make it seem less bleak, but I can’t find a way to without feeling like I’m trying to sugar coat what I see as the truth.

At any rate, I can honestly say that I don’t feel so low today. I’m sad for Chester, and for those who love him, but I understand why. December 2018 will mark ten years since my last attempt, so long as I can keep my head above water between now and then. Make no mistake, I’ve self-harmed since. I’ve been suicidal many, many times between then and now. I’ve been on and off dozens of medications, started and completed therapeutic programs, lost friends and family and heroes to their demons. I’m still here, and for the first time I can see a future that doesn’t revolve around self-destruction. That didn’t seem possible before. It won’t seem possible forever, but hope will have to sustain me through whatever turbulence will come. That’s enough, for today.

Rest well, Chester. I hope you’re finally at peace. Thank you for staying as long as you did. I’ve turned to you to ease the hurting, and your voice is such wonderful medicine. Your light can’t go out if I carry your torch. If there is an afterlife, expect a hug whenever I’m on your side of the veil.

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