It came upon me in two significant moments, the understanding that I had survived, and then, the realization that I was alive. It was like resuscitation: jolting, beating, breathing, feeling. I had not actually died, but my heart and brain felt comatose for months.
Mothers, they say, should stay away from the darkness hiding in their insides. Depression drags you to the depths; only the weak succumb. And it goes without saying – because no one ever wants to talk suicide – that only a monster would find herself lured by the silent relief of letting go.
But I am not a monster.
And neither are you.
The first true breath I pulled back into my lungs occurred at dusk. June, though I had been airless since winter. Away in the country for a family reunion, and yet again I was held captive by a life on hold. Distancing from the happiness because their joy cut too deeply.
Maybe it was the wildflowers stretching out of the weeds, or the tangle of the trees that went on forever, maybe it was simply that enough time had passed; whatever it was, this time the solitude was changed. The sounds faded until I was standing in the hills alone, my feet bare on solid ground. I felt the moon vaulting into the sky behind me as the sun melted slowly into the horizon before me.
Light and dark; somewhere between them I stood, suspended.
Only this time, I was breathing. Clean air rattling into my lungs. I was aware that my children were running through the grasses, laughing. Suddenly, it was comprehensible that suicide was something I had survived, like cancer or a pileup on the freeway.
What if I had missed this moment?
The breath rushed with gasps and sobs. Survivor.
Weeks later as I was sweeping it crashed into me, the understanding that I was coming back to life. Parmesan scattered across the tile; pizza night. Sounds I couldn’t hear before, I heard them. Everything the darkness kept shrouded, I saw clearly. Little, shirtless boys chasing, their tomato-sauced mouths in wide-open grins. Babbling songs rising with sweetness from my tiny, precious girl. Running water and clanking dishes, my husband, methodically washing and rinsing.
The sunset filtered in redder and brighter until the ordinary and I – the broom and the dustpan and the glorious, goddamned mess all over the floor – stood wholly illuminated in radiant light.
I almost missed this. I almost missed my life.
Over and over again, I am meeting myself in the ordinary. I want to drink it all in with ravenous gulps, like someone found who has been lost without water at sea.
Cheeks warm in the daylight. Arms weighted with grocery bags. Basil and garlic, heavy with heat, rising in my kitchen. Her tiny hand pressed against my leg, searching for safety only I can bring. Bath-times and bedtimes and aching back-pressed-into-the-old-rocking-chair book-times.
Every single minute of my ordinary life, I take in like salvation and find her. The woman I lost and mourned. The woman returned; I meet her.
And I am learning to love her, as she deserves to be loved.
(As you deserve to be loved.)
I don’t know why you are hurting, and maybe you don’t either. But I do know this: mental illness is the monster, not you.
Your pain is real. The agony of feeling both everything and nothing at all is real. The exhaustion paralyzing you is real. You are not at fault, and you can make it out alive.
With breaking the silence.
With truth and vulnerability.
With the help you don’t feel you deserve.
With hospital beds and therapists’ couches and little, orange pills.
With talking and sharing and letting others hold you.
With tears that come to cleanse.
With paintbrushes and journals and pens.
With tiny steps that grow steadier day by day. First clinging, then grasping. Fighting and clawing, then surviving and living.
Whatever it takes, I am begging you to hold on, because the ordinary is out there, kindly waiting for you to come home.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text “START” to 741-741. You matter. You are loved.