Some of you may know about the Second Day project. I had never heard of it until today, when I learned that a dear clergy friend of mine let folks know that she’s writing for the SALT blog about her own experiences as a Second Day person.
So what is a Second Day person?
It’s someone who has faced down suicidal thoughts, plans, or attempts and lived to tell the tale. Someone who has made it through to a second day, the day after, as it were. I am definitely a Second Day person, and I am going to tell you the long story of my battle with suicide.
But first, let me mention this: Are you afraid for yourself? Are you afraid for someone you love? Someone you know?
That link has not only the long-standing national suicide hotline, but the possibility for live chat, if that is more helpful for you. Use it. Find out what resources are available in your area, and reach out. It can save your life, and your life is worth saving. Trust me.
I write the following for different audiences. I write for my dear friends who have never been suicidal themselves—one of them has said as much—and who have nonetheless been a support to me in terrible trouble. I write because I know that there are those of you who don’t understand how one can want to end one’s life, but who will benefit even just a little from the description of the life of one who has struggled through for her whole life.
I write for those who are themselves survivors of the brink. Who have been on that terrible precipice looking down and who have managed, most often with tremendous help, perhaps with some grace or perhaps, like me, with incredible clumsiness and terror, to back away. I write for you, for those who share my experience in some measure.
And I write for people who think their clergy have it all together and MUST have it all together to offer good ministry. I write so that you may see that while in many contexts we must keep our suffering to ourselves.
And I write for my colleagues who strive to take care of others, sometimes at the expense of our own well-being. I know that many of you, especially those of you in congregational and other institutional settings, have an obligation to be strong and well and to care for others through your own pain…I know that you, some of you, are suffering terribly, as well. I know you are there. I perceive your pain, and I honor it.
I first remember thinking about suicide, thinking I deserved to die, when I was six years old. I was bullied in school for being a fat, mouthy, smart kid. And while that was definitely part of the equation, I don’t know that it was the whole story. We didn’t used to think that kids could have bipolar disorder, that it didn’t show itself until adolescence or later, but I have to wonder…
Throughout my life after that, I heard messages, from within and without, that I was not worthy to live. That I was a mistake. That I should never have been born. Until the age of 32, despite my having told doctors and psychologists for years that I thought I was “manic-depressive,” I would have no diagnosis.
Nonetheless, when I was twelve years old, I had the following conversation with my father:
“Daddy, I’m afraid I’m going to kill myself. I’m afraid. I’m sad all the time, and I feel as though I’ve let you down.”
I was miserable in school. I wasn’t doing as well as I thought I should, as everyone in my life had always seemed to assume I would, or as well as I thought I must to earn my parents pride and love.
I was bullied mercilessly in junior high school. I was a year younger than other kids in my grade. I was a chunky kid—by no means the undeniably fat person I am now, but bigger enough that I was a target—and I didn’t know how to fight back. I took everything those kids said to me and I believed it. I believed I was ugly and worthless, and “a beached whale who didn’t deserve to live,” as I would hear later.
My father replied to my admission in a way I know he thought might help. “Darling, when you’re sixteen, you’ll look back on this time and feel so much better. You just have to get through it.”
“Daddy, you’re not listening,” I said through tears as we at together in his study. “You’re not listening to me! I have no reason to believe I’m going to live to BE sixteen.”
My father said that conversation was one of the most terrifying of his life. He didn’t know what to do except hold me as I cried and feel helpless to keep me safe.
And as time went on, it became clear that suicidal depression was just a part of my daily life. It lurked, a shadowy, inescapable presence, around every corner, just waiting for the invitation of a cruel word, a failure, or just a bad day to remind me, “You’re a failure.” “You could have done great things, but you let everyone down.” And the ever-present, “You never should have been born. You’d be doing everyone a favor to kill yourself now. You’re just a coward.”
You’re just a coward.
I would carry that thought with me for decades.
I went to the hospital for suicidal depression I was 18 years old, and was victimized (as was my whole family) by medical malpractice, influenced by the “recovered memory” craze of the time. Like the “satanic cult” madness of the ‘80s, the idea that I had been sexually abused as a small child took hold in the minds of my “wardens,” if you will.
I was not treated for suicidal depression. I did have my calories cut in HALF because, at a size 16/18, I was apparently in dire risk of health problems if the staff didn’t restrict my food intake for the weeks I was there.
I was not treated for suicidal depression. I was not even really treated for the PTSD from an event that never occurred, that my wardens hypnotized me into believing was real. I mean literally hypnotized.
I was not treated for suicidal depression. I was, however, questioned at length about whether my professed lesbianism was a choice. I said, “I’m not in here because I dig chicks. I’m in here because I want to die all the time.” I give my young self such props for that answer.
I was not treated for suicidal depression. Despite my asking repeatedly whether I might have manic-depression, those concerns with pushed aside in favor of the diagnosis of the month.
I was the now the victim now only of my own thoughts but of medical malpractice as well. But at least I was physically safe for the five weeks I spent there. That’s all I can say for it.
I’m in my twenties. I’m still hearing voices. I still think everyone else does too, but that they’re better at managing the barrage than I am. I’m suicidal every day. Walking to class, I’m suicidal. Fearing the judgment of my parents, teachers, and peers, I’m suicidal. Hating my body, I’m suicidal.
Every day I wondered why I didn’t just end it. Save everyone the trouble, and rescue them from the burden of knowing me.
In Part Two of this blog post, the history continues. Rest assured it ends in gratitude, faith, hope, and love. Nonetheless, the journey has been long and hard and may continue to be so…