As kids we learn a lot from our parents about how to get through life: how to love and be happy, how to cope and be sad. When I was eight I learned from my dad that when things get hard, one of your options is to kill yourself.
When my mom sat me down to explain what happened to my dad, I had never heard the “s” word, and she didn’t use it. She talked about his hard life and his chronic illness and told me his mind was sick. I was surprised that pills which can kill you could be sold in any store. Mostly, I was shaken by the knowledge that a person could just decide to die.
My mom cried when she told me all this, and I realized I had a new fear. If this was what happened to sad people, what was my mom going to do? But somehow, she knew my question before I could ask it. “Laura,” she promised, “I will never kill myself.”
In the years since, I have tried to promise myself the same. That I will never choose suicide. But it is an option I can never unlearn.
Thankfully, it’s not at the forefront of my coping strategies when I’m feeling down. There are plenty of healthy options I look to. Spending time with friends or family would be my Option A. Option B would be going to therapy. Option C: antidepressants, or exercise, or prayer. Option D: journaling, or meditation, or going to the dog park. Options E and later are less healthy: social media, dissociation, staying in bed, alcohol. Other, darker options go further down the list. At the very end is the choice my dad took. Option X.
Most of the time I’m not thinking about it. Most of the time I’m able to choose the healthy routes. But Option X haunts my subconscious, in intrusive thoughts that come when the nights get darker, in the anxiety that’s plagued me since even before I lost Dad. Option X whispers into my toughest moments, what if…?
I don’t want to do it. I’ve never made a plan. I’ve never been in serious danger. There was one season after a bad breakup when I’d commute thirty minutes to work, alone with my thoughts, and always end up sobbing in the driver’s seat. When I drove over bridges, glancing over the guardrails, my fingers would twitch on the steering wheel, and I’d think about how easy it would be to not be sad anymore. These moments scared me, so I asked a good friend if I could carpool with him. The dark thoughts eased up.
For a long time, that friend was the only person I’ve ever told about those struggles. I haven’t really known how to talk about it because I’ve never actually been close to the brink. How do you ask for help when you’re not sure you even need it? What’s the hotline number for when the word die echoes in your brain so blandly that you almost don’t notice it anymore?
And what if a loved one got angry with me for even thinking about suicide?
At first I was furious at my dad for what he did, but that anger dissipated. Now I understand him because the cycle of his sorrow continues in me. I admire how strong he was to live with such hurt for fifty years. I’ve felt how depression becomes such a myopia of pain that you forget how suicide is something you do to other people just as much as yourself.
I’m not going to do it. But the option is there.
I had a small crisis recently after my husband and I discussed our timeline for having kids. Realizing I’m in the typical life stage to get pregnant terrified me and I couldn’t figure out why. I found myself obsessively cataloging every story I’d ever read about postpartum depression, maternal psychosis, or kids being traumatized by their parents’ mental health issues. I finally realized my subconscious fear: that I wouldn’t be able to handle the struggles of parenthood and would leave my kids the way my dad left me. What if I’m not strong enough to even make it fifty years?
At this point, I finally told Josh about these thoughts. I was afraid he would freak out, but he didn’t. He listened and nodded, and he told me we’d weather it together. That if and when things get really hard, we’ll figure it out. It wasn’t anything miraculous, but I felt lighter knowing that I wouldn’t be facing Option X on my own.
I’m not going to do it.
The option is there.
But I’m going to fight it like hell.
Laura graduated from Calvin in 2015 with a degree in art and writing. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, with her husband Josh and dog Rainy. She works as an IT support analyst and enjoys painting, rock climbing, and exploring the city.
Sending you a huge hug, Laura <3
Sending love, I’m so glad your sharing your feelings and have made a plan when your feeling down.
I am not a therapist, but I believe if your dad’s childhood had been different his mental heath would have been something he could manage.
Thank you for being so honest with yourself and others, sounds like you have a wonderful husband.
Wishing you and Josh a blessed Thanksgiving.
This is such a beautiful, thoughtful piece—“myopia of pain” is a phrase that will stick with me. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you so much for putting your thoughts into these words and sharing them. Sending love ❤️
This must have been incredibly difficult to write. Thanks for sharing. Sending you lots of love!
I love your heart, thank you for sharing where you are. Thank you for your honesty, I’m sure your story and journey will speak to others.
Sending hugs, Kellie N
I spent 40 years of my life with clinical depression. I went through some horrible things and worried about my kids. It was scary for Fran because I would just check out for a week. I just didn’t get dressed and sat in the dark. But….God heard Fran’s prayers and healed me. I knew the moment it happened.
Laura, you are wonderful at allowing people to look at your soul even when you wish they wouldn’t. Your post helps me to understand that dealing with these types of life struggles are a daily grind and we should avoid judging others before we know their stories. In the end we have to choose what makes us happy first so we are free to make others happy. Miss you. Take care ♥️
I love reading your words, you have such an incredible gift. I’m so glad you choose to share your story with others, it does more good than you can know. If life does bring you into parenthood, I know you will be a fantastic mother. You know how to create space for and accept all emotions even the scary ones and that is exactly what children need.
Wishing you a White Christmas,
That fellow redhead gal that played your sister in a show that one time….
Wonderful essay. Thank you for sharing so frankly.
It’s beautiful that you’re acknowledging all of this, Laura. I too deal with driving anxiety. It can feel embarrassing. As far as parenting – it’s hard! If you decide to conceive, never be afraid to ask people for help. Going for a walk around the block or grocery run alone is sometimes all you need (I also like Prozac)!
Your Dad is so proud of you.