I was born with a brain that has never been remotely interested in things that are good for me. If my brain was an actual person, that person would sabotage me at every turn, then photoshop Adam Levine into all of my Instagram photos. For much of my life, I thought I was broken, an awkward Polynesian Peter Pan with a brain that rejected things like love, stability, adulthood, and every potential path to success. Instead, my brain embraced chaos. Unhealthy people and situations. Insecurity in all its forms. And every toxic thought possible. Add those things to what I saw as a never-ending whirlpool of failure – plus my two loyal companions, Constant Depression and All The Drugs – and it’s no surprise to anyone that I tried to kill myself.
That looks and sounds so dramatic to me now. It wasn’t like a movie, where the soundtrack slows down and you see artistic shots of running water, blood dripping in slow motion from the edge of a bathtub; nor was it a high-stakes scene where some guy hugs the ledge of a building while a helicopter hovers overhead. My suicide attempt was quiet – a word that zero people have used to describe me – and played out like a silent movie. For so long, I’d felt crushed by the hurricane I had become and, after a while, it predictably flattened me. I couldn’t see up, down, or sideways for a realistic way out of my thoughts, feelings, actions, or inactions. I was the pool and also the person drowning in it. I couldn’t trust myself to do the right thing… for me or anyone else. The moment I thought, “What if I didn’t have to do this anymore?” was like the opening of a tiny secret door in my brain that I’d pretended for a long time wasn’t there.
“I’d felt crushed by the hurricane I had become and, after a while, it predictably flattened me.”
The door didn’t open with any fanfare, it just cracked wide enough for me to know that it would not be ignored. After that, my brain had a field day. ‘What if you didn’t have to fail tomorrow? What if you didn’t have to hate yourself one more day? What if actual nothing is better than the nothing your life has become?’ I didn’t even think of it as suicide, just a much-needed break from the constant pain I was in; I was cold without a way to get warm. I wanted to stop fighting the brain that hated my guts. I wanted to stop disappointing the people around me, including myself. So l shoved all the drugs I could find into my face with the hope they would lead me to a door with less pain and more nothing. Obviously they didn’t — I’m still here, and incredibly grateful for it. My brain is still an asshole, though.
During my Faces of Fortitude portrait session with Mariangela, we didn’t talk about suicide, not really, at least not on my end. We discussed a long list of topics that I think lots of people tend to struggle with: depression, anxiety, therapy, substance abuse, rehab, sexual assault, marriage, motherhood, social justice, ‘belonging’, PTSD, and self care. It was a greatest hits list of my internal life over a mere two hours. I’m so grateful for that time, and the space Mariangela gave to my emotional rambling, and the things I learned from being a part of this project. After our session, I regretted everything I said and didn’t say – which made berating myself much easier – and felt like I’d failed in telling my story. The project is about suicide and I talked around it the whole time! I’ve always been terrible with instructions! WHY DID I SAY OR NOT SAY ANY OR ALL OF THOSE THINGS?!! Then I moved on to why I wore the wrong outfit and made the wrong faces. I considered calling Mariangela and demanding she toss my photos in the ocean. I had a couple of panic attacks. Basically I was really cool about it.
“I told her the things that got me to that painful intersection, the feelings that kept me in personal darkness, and what I’ve learned so I can continue to move forward.”
Brené Brown calls that freak-out a vulnerability hangover, something I live inside of for days after being vulnerable in a way that promotes self-growth or knowledge. Though I didn’t tell Mariangela about the act itself, that’s not what was important for me on that day. I told her the things that got me to that painful intersection, the feelings that kept me in personal darkness, and what I’ve learned so I can continue to move forward. Since then, I’ve come to see my session as vitally important, touching on subjects and emotions that led to a greater understanding of myself. It’s also allowed me to speak more openly about my experience, and connect with so many people in ways I never thought possible. .