On Suicide, Cowardice, and the Number 15

Easter Sunrise, 2014 | Photo: Emma McPhee

On the night of March 19, 2015, a Fredericton cab driver found me lying on the side of the road. It was a cold night, the temperature well below zero. I had no coat, no shoes, no hat, no gloves. I was sobbing uncontrollably and shaking from the cold. I couldn't feel my feet. When the cab driver pulled up and rolled down the window asking if I was OK, I remember thinking, "This, surely, is rock bottom."

About 15 minutes prior, I'd been standing on the railing of the walking bridge, looking down at the swiftly moving water below. The water looked black and very cold. I shivered. As much as I wanted to be dead, this death didn't look so very inviting. Leaning forward a little with my eyes shut tight I sent up a short prayer: "Please, God, let this be quick." But I did not think God would be listening.

About 20 minutes before the bridge, I'd run out of my apartment with just the clothes I had on. I'd left my keys and wallet behind; my cell phone had been flung across the room in a fit of anger. I didn't have a plan. I just ran. Without thinking, I started toward the bridge. I didn't notice the snow soaking through my socks, nor my ragged breathing and the tears that were slowly freezing on my cheeks. My brain started telling me "You need to die. It's the only option." Soon I was muttering this out loud, my voice growing louder the closer I got to the bridge. Almost as if on autopilot, I clambered up onto the bridge and stumbled my way to the middle. My shoeless feet by this time were numb and it was difficult to climb up on the railing.

Before that night, I’d had six run-ins with suicide. The first was in 2009 when I was 15. The only thing that stopped me was that I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize my despair-filled face. It scared me. Then, there were three failed attempts on the Easter weekend of 2012. Next, I tried to jump out a window my very first weekend at university. In October of 2014, there was the first incident on the bridge. So I was no stranger to that lonely walk towards death.

Twelve years before March 19, 2015—15 years ago now—I started my struggle with depression. I was eight years old, not knowing how to deal with the thoughts in my head. So I would go down to the basement of my house and hit my head off a table over and over and over again, saying, “I am so dumb. I am so dumb. I am so dumb.” The words scratched into the mirror of my elementary school bathroom, “I hat [sic] you,” were also etched into my brain. I’d whisper them to myself in secret. Twelve years later, on that night on the bridge, it was like I was eight again, not knowing how to deal with the thoughts in my head anymore, but just wanting them to end.

I didn't jump that night in March of 2015. I don't really know what stopped me—part of me thinks it was only cowardice that saved me. Regardless, I somehow made it down from the bridge and limped up the road home, crying the whole way. Eventually I collapsed. That's when the cab driver found me. He drove me home free of charge and waited with me until he saw me going into the apartment building, safe with my siblings.

I arrived home feeling like the biggest failure ever. I couldn't get anything right. Not even dying. So I decided to act like nothing had happened. I went to bed, got up the next morning and went to my 10:30 a.m. Latin class. I remember thinking that the fact that I had managed to get my homework done for the class was the biggest FUCK YOU I could ever give to my depression. In reality, translating Cicero was a lot easier than dealing with the demons inside my head. I wasn’t fighting; I was avoiding. Cowardice again.

I've had suicidal incidents since March 19, 2015—eight of them, bringing the total to 15 run-ins with suicide in nine years. I don’t know what rock bottom is, anymore. There have been other bridge railings, knives in the bathtub, nights with pill bottles, a hotel balcony in Greece. Somehow I’ve stumbled out of all of them a little more broken, a little more tired, a little more cowardly, but nonetheless alive.

I don’t know where depression will take me. I tell myself I am fighting it. I go in and out of therapy, on and off meds, up and down the highs and lows, trying to ride it out. Nothing works. But still, somehow, coward though I am, I persist. When you’ve been fighting something for 15 years, it no longer seems like a fight; it’s just your normal reality, and when something becomes “normal,” you’re no longer fighting, just dealing with it. The fight is a delusion because you don’t want to acknowledge your own passivity—that you will be complicit in your own demise.

“Coward” is something I call myself often. I also call myself “Piece of Shit,” “Stupid,” “Idiot,” “Disgusting,” “Fat,” “Selfish,” “Deserving of Death.” But “Coward” comes up the most often. It’s the first word on my lips the morning I wake up after a failed attempt at killing myself. It’s the word that echoes in my head when anxiety renders me helpless and panicking. It’s the name I give myself when I admit I need help again. It’s the word that I associate most with my self-hatred.

After 15 suicidal incidents, I’m convinced that we are hardwired to fear death. On a good day, I think that maybe we are made to be cowards, running from death and embracing the chaos of life. Why else would I still be alive, if not for cowardice? Can one be joyously fearful? Is it possible to stare despair in the face and acknowledge that we are all FUCKING COWARDS and depression will never win? I don’t know. I’m really not sure. I’m mentally ill, unstable, off-my-rocker, probably insane, after all. Yet, although it seems so counterintuitive, maybe, just maybe, there is hope in cowardice. And maybe I can live with that.