I have been wanting to talk about my struggles with suicidal ideation for months but have never been able to find the words. However, as I sit in my bedroom on the night before a birthday I never planned on seeing, I physically cannot stop writing. As a close friend said to me recently, “you’re a writer, write about what you’ve been through. It will heal you.”
[Much like my emotions these last several months, this writing is very messy, intimate and raw. I didn’t worry about grammar or trying to be poetic, I just had to write. If you read it, be kind.]
Last winter, I made the decision to end my life. At that time, I was six months into a state of constant, severe terror. Each night, panic attacks would wake me up and leave me shaking for hours. My mind was so unwell that I developed such crippling dysmorphia that I couldn’t even walk into a room with a mirror in it, had to shower with the lights off and wore gloves, long sleeve shirts and hats at all times because I could not mentally handle the sight of my own skin.
While I have always struggled with mental health problems, I kept them at bay through constant social activity, ensuring that I was never alone for too long. Then COVID-19 hit and I lost all of my avoidant coping behaviors in an instant. I couldn’t go to a girl’s house, I couldn’t travel to a new city, I couldn’t visit movie theaters. I was forced to spend every single day in my home, trapped in the confines of my own mind.
The isolation from COVID-19 forced me to confront decades of trauma and serious underlying psychological problems that I had no desire to face.
At both 13 and 21, I spent two years unable to leave my house because my mind and body were so unwell. From 2003 to 2005, I had a serious infection and crippling OCD that resulted in me experiencing such severe trauma that my brain literally fragmented. I spent all my time in doctor’s offices and would go months without seeing a single friend. This was a time before phones, social media, online communities or any manner of digital connection with other people. I missed 101 days of school in a single year, lost every single one of my friends and spent each day in my room, alone. The profound loneliness I felt in those years haunts me to this day.
That was the first time I thought about suicide and it is where my lifelong struggle with self-harm began.
I began to improve mentally and physically during my freshman year of high school and developed the misguided belief that I could put the trauma of being 13 and 14 behind me if I just never got sick again. Unfortunately, my anxiety over avoiding sickness manifested in an intense fixation on food and illness. I convinced myself that eating at certain times would make me sick and that I had to starve myself to ensure that I stayed well.
This mindset almost killed me when I turned 21.
On July 20, 2011, I had my very first POTS attack at a Taylor Swift concert (stream Red Taylor’s version on November 12 ;)). My already undernourished body quickly deteriorated. I lost 20 pounds in a month, completely stopped eating because the tachycardia was so substantially worse after each meal, did damage to my vital organs and got so sick that I spent a year and a half unable to stand for more than 15 minutes at a time. I couldn’t walk up any steps, I had to crawl to the bathroom for months and couldn’t sleep without my heart skyrocketing to 160bpm.
Despite my health anxiety’s best effort to keep me safe, I was in the same position I was at 13: sick, suicidal and alone.
I spent two years extremely ill with POTS but, with the right treatment, I slowly began to recover. I started eating regularly, despite the adverse effects, started an exercise program and eventually regained the ability to stay upright for more than a few minutes. As I continued to improve, I started achieving things I never thought I would be able to achieve. And I thought maybe this time I was really free of my past.
Then I turned 30.