Have you heard about “13 Reasons Why” yet? It’s a 2007 novel written by Jay Asher that details a teenage girl’s suicide after a series of demoralizing circumstances. It’s been adapted to a Netflix series with thirteen episodes, each focusing on a reason the girl kills herself. The series is being praised in some quarters for its honesty, while reviled in others because of its graphic portrayal of the suicide itself, the romantic treatment it gives the characters, and for a lack of information about mental health supports available in the community for people who feel helpless about saving themselves.
But I decided that instead of using my voice to denounce someone else’s artistic vision, I would use my voice to promote a more supportive and informative alternative by producing an essay that gives those of us who have considered suicide but rejected it a voice as well.
I’ve been suicidal on several occasions but always one or more of these reasons held me back from going through with it. I’ve written them down as a list that I keep around reminding me that my life is worth living. The key is to list as many reasons as your age as a way to celebrate how long you’ve spent living on this earth. So some lists may be 40, others 54, or 38 or 13.
My scariest suicidal attempt was in 2010. I’ve never shot myself, slit my wrists, or overdosed on drugs. But one day in November 2010, I did make a serious attempt to end my life.
I hadn’t been hospitalized that spring, and it was unusual for me to be depressed in the fall. But I was having trouble in my writing (I wasn’t working on a project—no inspiration) and was getting a lot of rejection from various agents and journals that I was sending queries out to. Plus the upcoming holidays usually stressed me out somewhat trying to get ready and get everything done that the American Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays seem to require. I can tell from my journal at the time that I was feeling overwhelmed, taken for granted at home, and very, very stressed.
On the tenth, I finally just gave up. I woke up that morning with no idea what I was going to do with myself. I had already been accepted for a teaching job the next spring but was feeling very, very down, so down that I didn’t even write in my journal. At some point after my husband left for work, I decided to see how well the enclosed-garage-with-the-motor-running trick would work. I went and topped off my tank in my van, then came back to the house, closing the garage door behind me.
I went inside, picked out an ocean-waves CD, grabbed my favorite quilt and a pillow, and took an extra Klonopin pill (a sedative I take for anxiety). I went out to the van, turned on the ignition, put in the CD, laid down in the back seat, and covered myself with the quilt. I was used to going to sleep in the mornings after everyone left, and I figured I’d be asleep and then dead in no time at all.
But I couldn’t go to sleep. My brain was working overtime wondering what dying would feel like. I didn’t feel the least bit sleepy—I kept trying to concentrate on the music playing, but it was hard to hear over the motor running in the enclosed garage. I went to the front of the van and turned it up so I could hear it better, but I still couldn’t seem to settle down. I tossed and turned trying to get comfortable lying down on the cold car seats.
I now know my manic symptoms were finally working in my favor. I couldn’t settle down, and by the time the CD finished playing, I was frustrated with myself and my attempt to end it all.
I stumbled to the front of the van and turned the ignition off. I was unsteady on my feet, and vaguely realized that I really probably didn’t have that long to get out of the van before the fumes vercame me. I climbed out the driver’s door and hit the button to raise the garage door, letting fresh air rush into the garage. I went outside and took a few deep breaths, then came inside, mad and frustrated with my abortive attempt to kill myself.
After an hour, I started feeling better physically as the fresh air worked its way into my system. I didn’t tell my husband what had happened once he got home for lunch—I was over the impulse to kill myself and didn’t want to ruin Thanksgiving by being in the hospital. So went my only serious attempt to kill myself.
My suicidal urges have taken different forms over the years. So it’s only right that my reasons now for living are as varied and unique as I am. Your mileage may vary. But if I remind you of one reason to stick around in this life, then the list has done its job. You can view my reasons by clicking on “Julie Whitehead” over in the Categories section of the blog.