It’s National Suicide Prevention Week. If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-
When I was fourteen, I tried to end my life. I had been deeply depressed for a long, long time. I felt nobody understood, and even if they did, they didn’t care enough to try to fix whatever was wrong inside me. I believed there were many things inside me that must be wrong. I believed the world was as broken and unworthy of love as I was. I believed the pain of continuing to live could have no purpose at all.
Sometimes, I imagine myself talking to that fourteen-year-old girl. I imagine myself arguing with her while she patiently and adamantly tried to explain to me how pointless it would be to hold on for the future she might have.
When I tell her the world is inherently good, she points out that eighteen years after 9/11, we are still fighting two wars started under false pretenses. When I tell her about the dedication of individuals to improve their communities, she points out that twenty years after Columbine, the massacre that marred her first birthday after somehow living despite her attempt, school shootings are so routine that architects are designing new buildings around the expectations of firefights. When I tell her that she will find love, and have children, she deflects by reminding me that mere hours after getting engaged, the man I love will fall ill to brain cancer, and I will live out the rest of my days either waiting for him to succumb or mourning him.
She is consumed by a grief so large she cannot imagine a world that is not encompassed by pain.
There is no reasoning with her. She is beyond reason. She is anguished, she is wounded, she is trapped, and the bonds restraining her, the enormity of the scars paining her, these are invisible. She is cutting herself, giving her eyes something to focus on, to connect what is real– her pain– to what is tangible. Each tiny cut is validation. It hurts, the angry red lines say. Of course it hurts, everyone can see how much it must hurt.
I want so badly to hold her. I want to wrap her up in my flesh and let her feel how good it is, how good this overweight, over-exhausted, unrepentant body can feel. I want her to know how long it can go between bouts of depression, how capable it can be in a crisis, how its heart breaks for any child that feels alone, any child that feels so cut off from the world that they cannot see there is a future worth belonging to.
I imagine myself holding her, holding me, and weeping. I would not tell her I’m sorry. I’m not sorry. I’m not sorry I tried to end my life. I am not sorry I have made the decisions that have brought her to more grief. I am so happy in my life, so happy with a husband who has brain cancer, and three exhausting children, and debt, and worry, and indignant rage at the state of our country and the world, and grief, and PTSD, and everything. I’m not sorry for this.
I’m not sorry for still caring enough to feel the same grief she feels. I want to tell her I still feel it, will never stop feeling it. I want to tell her it doesn’t go away, it doesn’t get smaller, and she’s right– her whole world exists within this grief, this pain and suffering. And I want to tell her without condescension or reproach how small her world is. How much bigger it will become.
I want to tell her it is big enough to carry the shock of being cornered on her fifteenth birthday and warned to remove a black cloak that is suddenly a symbol of teenaged mass murder. I want to tell her it is big enough to carry her horror at watching New York City descend into chaos and terror through clouds of toxic dust. I want to tell her it is big enough to swallow another sexual assault and survive, to muffle the grief of Mike’s diagnosis, to smother the despair of watching the resurgence of Nazism, to quell her hunger.
The world is so much bigger, I would say. And you are so much bigger. You are so, so close.
I would hold her and cry, and she would whisper in my ear, “What if you’re only delaying the inevitable? What if all of this ends?”
She’s right, of course. It will. All of this ends. All of it.
Mike will die, someday. The children will break my heart, over and over again. The world will burn. Everything eventually succumbs to the pull of entropy.
That’s the secret, I’d tell her. It doesn’t matter. That’s how big the world is, your world. It’s so big, and so good, even your grief is dwarfed by the enormity of the joy.
It doesn’t go away, I would say. I still live with it every day. I still hear it whispering in my ear, mocking me, threatening me, breaking me down. It’s still right here. But I am so much more, and that means you are so much more.
You don’t deserve this, I would say, You don’t deserve to suffer this way. You don’t deserve the weight of a world that is against you, and I would be lying if I told you it wasn’t against you, because often, it is. And you deserve a better world. But you have that world, too. The better world is here. The better world comes from inside you.
You don’t even have to believe it, I want to tell her. You just have to live.
Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era, featuring yours truly, is available for pre-order now! Type “fury_lg” in the coupon code field when you order!
Read more reflections on Suicide Awareness Day, September 11th, and finding happiness despite the chaos of the world here: “But also,” an annual exploration of September Grief
Read my most recent post here: The Exhaustion of the Brain Cancer Bride
Type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is spam-free, and you can opt out at any time.