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.