When Dying Was Better

CONTENT WARNING: What follows is a personal story involving depression and suicide.

 

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In June of 2012, I decided that dying was better than going to work.

Some context might be necessary.

I was in the Army at the time, in my 8th year of service. I had 2 deployments to Iraq under my belt. I was a squad leader in a medical unit at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

I was sleeping between 2 and 4 hours a night. I was awakened by nightmares and kept awake by flashbacks. I was irritable and angry much of the time, and drunk much of the rest of the time.

My entire life was fueled by grief and rage (a phrase that I took from my first attempt at therapy after my deployments.) I was grieving losses from my first deployment, feeling guilt from just being alive, and angry at God and the Army for killing my comrades and making me miserable. I was ashamed of the uniform that I put on every  morning.

So, a few days after my anniversary and another sleepless night, I decided that I would rather die than spend one more day feeling like that.

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This is the part where a great chorus of voices cries out, “But you had so much to live for! You had a wife, you had 2 kids, you had a good job serving our country! Why would you think of killing yourself?”

Last post, I mentioned that suicide felt like a selfless act to the person considering it.  That was true for me on that morning in 2012. I had spent weeks convincing myself that my family was better off without me. In fact, in what I thought was an absolute fit of selflessness, I planned how to kill myself in such a way that it would look like an accident. That way, my family would still get my life insurance money.

The road that I took to work every morning is lined with utility poles. Without really thinking about it, I had spent weeks staring at these poles, deciding which one would be easiest and best to drive into at high speed. What speed would I have to reach to break my neck on impact? Would it hurt? Would it mangle my face so much that my kids wouldn’t recognize me?

When I finally made the decision one morning, it felt like relief. I got dressed for work like normal, took a last look at my wife and kids, and drove away from the house.

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When I’ve told this story before, particularly in front of religious audiences, I always add God as part of the reason I decided not to wrap my car around a pole. I always say that it was the presence of a church on the way (a church that my family still has membership at) that changed my mind. “God said no,” I proclaim to Christian listeners.

The truth is much less mystical: I just didn’t want to die.

I spent so much time thinking about killing myself, planning to kill myself, and I had never really considered the actual dying part. What was that like? Would it be like I had always been taught, a flash of light and my dead grandparents at the end? Or, would it be eternal fire for not leading a moral enough life? Or, would it just be nothing – no light, no flames, just a crash and a sleep that I never woke up from?

God, that was fucking terrifying.

Seconds before I swerved my car into the pole that I had chosen, I decided that I’d much rather figure out another way to stop hurting.

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I checked myself into a hospital, which was the worst ten days I’ve ever experienced outside of Iraq. The only thing that I learned there was how to stay out the hospital in the future.

I came out of the hospital expecting to be better, which almost makes me laugh now for all of its naivete. I came out expecting to experience compassion from my friends and family, and while I certainly experienced it from some, I mostly experienced indifference and confusion.

I came out of the hospital expecting that I would never feel like killing myself again. In fact, I thought about it almost every day, and I made at least two more plans – including a really scary hour being parked on a hill overlooking a river.

I’m mostly better now than I was back in 2012, but some days almost feel as bad. It’s hard to remain around when the world is constantly kicking you in the nuts with how awful it can be.

But, the awfulness of the world is part of what keeps me kicking around. I’ve met so many people since that morning in 2012 who feel the same way that I did, and it’s easier now to see the plea in their eyes to help them stay alive. I’ve managed to talk a few out of wrapping their cars around poles, or jumping off bridges, or shooting themselves in the face, or swallowing a bottle of pills.

Some days, I don’t know why I’m so keen to keep them around. Maybe it’s just the need to show some of the compassion that I didn’t experience. Maybe it’s that I need the company of people who recognize how awful a person can feel, who manage to live through all the ways that the world tries to break us.

Or, maybe it’s because I still hold on to the idea that there is something about life that makes it worth trying.

Or, maybe I’m just full of shit and scared of the actual dying part.

Who really knows? And, if it keeps some of us alive, do the reasons really matter?

 

COMING SOON: I Clench My Fists While Reading the News