From the Heart on World Suicide Prevention Day
by Addison Darrow, Flatiron Location Leader
CW/TW: SUICIDE; SUICIDAL IDEATIONS; PANIC ATTACKS
If you could write your own story from the beginning, would you change anything?
I love that I speak French because I chose to study it. I love the connection I have with my body and I feel extra grateful for how that is informed by my journeys through the constructs and ever-evolving spectrums of gender. I love how I experience music and how I think about food and aesthetics (every meal is an event). I love that I chose to move to NYC two months ago. I love that my work at Fhitting Room allows me to constantly meet humans who have chosen themselves in that very moment. I’m thrilled that I’m even able to sit here and write about the things I love about myself. Before I began the adventure to learn how to live and be at balance with my mental illnesses, I would have said this is all about perspective, and perhaps there is still some truth there, but silver linings fade and the storm that preceded remains. I didn’t learn to love the storm. I learned how to control it.
Mental illness can become a comfort zone. The isolation of chronic anxiety and manic-depressiveness has at times been the only consistency I could recognize in my life. My mental illnesses can twist and distort my world; my environment can become a living, breathing threat, and when it feels like there is no solution, no way to realistically defend myself, fight or flight instincts take over and I retreat into the only familiar territory I can find. It doesn’t feel great, but it feels safe.
In January of 2020, a little under two weeks after my 31st birthday, the distortion became too much for me. My mental illness invaded the very comfort zone it had helped create; my last refuge, and this time, I didn’t have anywhere else to fly to and I felt that continuing to fight for fragments of a fractured existence was hopeless and finite. I thought I had reached my capacity for joy, and I began to make plans to remove the conflict by removing myself from the world that had become so unwelcoming. There were humans who love me and who wanted to help, but it’s very easy to feel like an immovable burden on others when you feel unworthy of your own space. How do you ask someone to care for a shell, a concept of you that you can’t even see clearly or validate for yourself? Why reach out when you know you’ll only let someone down?
Feebly clinging to the last whispers of control in my mind, I wrote a letter, a set of instructions that began, “Please remember me this way.” Through tears and panicked breaths, I wrote my own eulogy. I would at least be memorialized in my own words, in the light that I so longed to see myself in, and I could leave with the peace of returning to the earth on my own terms. As I addressed the humans whom I imagined would read these words, I tried not to apologize, which is a challenge for me, and I tried to make sure no one that I loved would feel blamed. When I was done writing, I reread the letter over and over again until I stopped crying. It made more and more sense and I got what I thought would be my last glimpse at something beautiful: the life I wished I had gotten the chance to live; the story I wished I had been able to write.
Because it felt like the right thing to do, I texted the human I had been seeing romantically. My intention was not a third date. She came over and managed to get me out of my apartment where I had been, hardly leaving my bed, for two days. We sat, mostly in silence, for a few hours until she convinced me to let her drive me to Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital. I don’t have a conscious memory of what I said, if anything, that spurred her to refuse to leave me alone, but I get to know what it’s like to owe someone your life. I get to believe in angels.
By the time I had handed over my personal belongings to the hospital staff, I was slipping in and out of the remnants of self-awareness, fully conscious of little besides why I was there. The triage nurse asked what brought me in and I answered plainly, “I made a plan to take my own life.” Eventually, I was taken up to the fourth floor and shown to my room.
A lot happened over the course of the next week that I was there. I understand that chapter now in two ways: the functional, and the formative.
The functional is what I learned about my physical form. I learned that the reason I ball up and try to make myself small when I have a panic attack is because my brain is responding to a threat that is so inconceivably terrifying that it can only respond instinctively - by literally trying to protect my vital organs. I learned that my connection with the natural world is a life-line and a fragile spirit that I need to nurture. I learned that I own the truth of my body, and that I don’t have to go to war with everyone who does not or refuses to validate my identity or my womanhood. I learned that there are medicines and treatments that can help me and that I won’t ever be “cured” of my mental illnesses.
The formative work is a little more challenging to describe as it continues today, and I hope for the rest of my life.
What began on that hall was the rewrite of my story. I first learned that while I am fabulously and brazenly original, my story is inspired by and adapted from so much more than myself. I learned how to interpret the chapters I had already lived, even the really scary and confusing ones, and that gaining that understanding allows me to pick and choose which sections make which edition. And that’s just it - there’s no final cut. There are novels, epics, comic strips, music videos, satires, an early 2000’s amount of romantic comedies, and a whole lot of poetry. My life is a library without walls and with just enough broken glass ceilings to make a statement. I intend to spend the rest of my mortal life filling up the shelves and reading and sharing the recommendations of others.
So if I had written the story from the beginning, would I change anything? Yes.
I would be sure to cry a little louder when I was born - just so they know I’m gonna make a lot of noise.
Lastly, the careful, selfless humans who looked after me during my stay at Vanderbilt helped me in ways that are not measurable or repayable by any earthly means.
Here are some resources for when the help that you need outweighs the hope that you have:
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
O llame a Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio: 1-888-628-9454
Crisis Text Line (24/7): text HOME to 741-741
Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860
BlackLine (crisis resource with priority focus on BIPOC humans): 1 (800) 604-5841