Over the past week, I've had two different people share with me their stories about when they were on the precipice of committing suicide.
Seeing these amazing human beings before me now, it's difficult to fathom such thoughts ever crossed their minds. But, I suppose the same could be said for me, because I thought about killing myself a lot in the past, too.
By the time high school rolled around, things at home had digressed substantially. My relatives, especially my parents, continued to use me as an emotional whipping post and my growing eating disorder was becoming more of a problem than I could comprehend.
My only purpose in life seemed to be to take the brunt of my family's burden and if this was all the future I had, I no longer wanted to be a part of it. I could only see two options: (1) get into a university where I’d finally live away from home, or (2) kill myself.
This wasn’t me being dramatic — this was me not being able to handle the hurt of being alive anymore, a pain that had flourished since I was a young girl. I don't remember what I wrote in my college admissions statement, but I do recall that my senior year AP English teacher, a woman notorious for her criticism, offered to read our applications and later pulled me aside. “Judy,” she said softly. “I want to tell you that your essay was by far the best college application I’ve read this year.” I was shocked, but not quite surprised, because I felt that what she read was the subtext beneath the context. While I wrote about how invaluable it would be for the eldest of four children from immigrant parents to get into the best public university in California, what got me into Berkeley was the invisible intention behind every word: Please save me.
And they did. Yet, even after moving away, the depression, sadness and fury I held within continued to fuel an addictive bingeing and purging pattern that created a slow and more lethal way of dying. Parts of me still wanted to give up completely, I just hadn't committed to one grandiose act. After years of running away from myself, only to find I was always there, I finally began my outpatient treatment program. Every experience and memory I tried to tamp down rose to the surface, so that anguish spread through my cells until hope turned black. I had just returned from Shanghai from a promising editorial position, and had to start my life again from scratch. Furious that I could not be better, that I could not keep it all together, I felt like a fat failure. Fat, to me, had always been an expletive. Failure was simply a synonym. My friends couldn’t comprehend what I was going through. I was living back in the house that broke me, and at 26, it didn’t seem like anything was ever going to get better. So, one day, I drove myself to the cliffs in Malibu. While the ocean had always been a comfort to me, this time, it didn’t offer me reassurance as much as resolve. I walked to the ledge, cars zipping behind me on the 1 Highway, and plopped down. Look, I told myself. I could jump. I could do this right now and no one would miss me. I dangled my feet over the edge. For some reason, I turned around to look back at my Jetta. I felt like it was sitting there, waiting for me.
Who would take care of my car? I wondered. And then, I started to cry. At this point, everything in my life was extremely painful, and nothing felt safe. I was in a hell of my own creation and had no idea how to get out. Yet, there was a small echo of soul within me that wanted to live, so it did whatever it could to pull me back towards the road than step off into nothingness.
That force projected feelings onto an inanimate object, because in that moment, I just needed to know that one thing — anything — cared that I stayed alive to see the next day and then the one after that. Eventually, I got up. Walked back to my car. And drove home. My life is now filled with so many blessings that my heart feels like its brimming over in gratitude. Just the other morning, I practiced yoga during low tide in front of the Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas with the sun basking on my body and surfers gliding on waves before me.
It was miraculous.
From the lowest of lows, I’ve learned how to experience the highest of highs. Often, when I visualize my sanctuary, it’s in a cave. I like the feeling of being covered and protected, where I can look out from a dim place into the light.
The closest physical place that creates a similar feeling is when I’m in my car, where I drive long distances and find myself again and again. These days, I take my Audi to a different cliff. I bring a cozy blanket, recline my seat, open the sunroof, and lie back to stare at the stars and the moon. The water sways in the distance… and I am at peace.