The Other Side of Suicide
By Leah Nelson
Suicide has been a recurrent word in this week’s media with the tragic losses of a Sandy Hook dad and two Parkland students. We’re talking about the intersection of trauma and suicide and in these stories, suicide is the unfortunate end, as it is with so many stories of suicide we hear in the news.
But there is another side of suicide that doesn’t make headlines nearly as often as it should. It’s a side where suicide is perhaps the turning point – a new beginning, where the story is just starting. For those of us who have grappled with suicidal thoughts and even attempts, there’s an opportunity for suicide to be a part of our story, but not the final chapter.
Today marks 9 years since the suicide attempt that very well could have ended my story. On March 28, 2010, I was a 20-year-old sophomore in college and had endured months of unrelenting depression, a mental illness I have struggled with since 8 years old. I remember first contemplating suicide by the time I was 12 and between ages 12 and 20 there were few periods of reprieve from the darkness that seemed to consume me.
I’m lucky; I survived what was described to me as a lethal suicide attempt, thanks to medical intervention. Every wall I had worked so hard to build up to mask the pain I was in came crashing down and I was completely exposed with nowhere to hide. During my stay in a psychiatric hospital following my attempt, I was often seen pacing the halls with a giant smile on my face, convinced that would fool people into thinking everything was fine. It took me a while to give up the act and start getting honest and letting help in. And when I finally did, things slowly started to change.
So what is the other side of suicide?
It can look a hundred different ways, but this is what it looks like for me 9 years later:
1. I’ve collected 9 years of unforgettable experiences. I’ve seen more Josh Groban and Indigo Girls concerts than I can count. I’ve traveled to and around New York City by myself (something I never thought I’d be brave enough to do). I’ve hugged a Beluga whale. I’ve gotten 4 tattoos, torturing my mother with each and every one. I completed a marathon, zip-lined, repelled down the side of a building, and got to officiate my best friend’s wedding. I’ve fostered 7 rescue dogs and just celebrated my rabbit’s 9thbirthday (he came into my life 2 months post-suicide attempt). I traveled the coast of Norway, walked to the Russian border, and visited a dozen National Parks in 18 days on the Father-Daughter road trip of a lifetime. I’ve gotten to experience more joy and adventure than I ever thought possible.
2. I still have depression. Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, Eating Disorder, Substance Use Disorder. Some of these are in remission; others are a work in progress. All of them have gotten better. Depressive episodes have more space between them and don’t last as long and I have coping skills and a support network to help me through the highs and lows. I can’t say that I haven’t had thoughts of suicide in the past 9 years, but I can say that March 28, 2010 was the last time I ever had intent to act on those thoughts and the last time I kept them a secret.
I’m living on the other side of suicide and it is beautiful and messy and painful and hopeful and completely and utterly possible, even on the days it feels insurmountable. So if you’re grappling with your own story and how it will end, I hope you’ll join me on this side and we’ll write some new chapters together.
If you are in a crisis, dial 2-1-1, in Connecticut. If you are outside of Connecticut and need support now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or, text “HOME” to 741741 to get help 24/7 from the Crisis Text Line.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit the Jordan Porco Foundation’s resources page.