In April 2012, I attempted suicide whilst living in San Francisco. It was - obviously - an incredibly intense time, but in many ways the time that followed the attempt was even more intense than the time that led to it.
The road I walked after my attempt was different to one I walked before I attempted - there was a deeper and more unfamiliar chaos. An internal whirlwind I hadn't known before then. It felt really fucking scary and I almost constantly felt afraid of what was happening - of what I was feeling, and where I was seemingly going. I had never been here before.
I have lived through intense trauma and abuse, and learnt to cope with a lot going on inside me or outside me at once, but this was different. This felt different. Until then, except for the two years I lived almost solely on apples and became way too skinny, my struggle stayed internal and invisible.
Life post-overdose had a different intensity to it - I couldn't run from my struggle anymore. I couldn't keep stuff shoved down and carry on regardless. I couldn't neglect my needs because saving myself after overdosing (I called the ambulance) was cementing a promise to myself - I was going to do this. I was going to live. And in order to live, shit was going to get messy. Shit was going to come out from where it had been shoved down, below the surface, in order for me to learn how to cope with it - and heal it - in different ways than I had been (i.e. not self destructively).
I didn't need to 'get through it' anymore, this was my chance to heal the stuff I hadn't been able to before. It was time to give myself what I needed, and continue to need. During the year before my overdose I had begun to unintentionally drift from my family, and waking up from my overdose I immediately knew I needed to cut contact with my parents. It was one of the first things I said to my therapist who sat with me as I woke up in the hospital. Until that point I had been tied to a responsibility with them - looking after my mum since the age of 3 had meant until this point I hadn't had time for me.
But now I did. Starting therapy was the beginning of that - of things coming out, of shit surfacing that hadn't surfaced in a way that could be heard and healed, before. Introducing Post Traumatic Stress...
My suicide attempt was a rebirth in so many ways - I literally felt as though I was learning to walk all over again, except I was learning to walk with self-love rather than self-hatred. I was learning to walk without leaving myself behind. Instead, I was taking myself forward.
The emotions, the grief, the pain, the utter loneliness and desperation that followed attempting suicide, were crippling. The post traumatic stress symptoms I experienced were debilitating and terrifying. It was nothing I had experienced before. The only way I could navigate it was to head inwards and cling the fuck on. And express myself through cartoons and writings.
I wrote and I drew, I wrote and I drew... Written words helped me describe my experience in ways spoken words could not. Blogging and writing for online/print magazines gave me a community in which I could connect with people who experience or have experienced something similar.
Cartoons expressed knee-buckling symptoms and overwhelming feelings in a way that words could not. They brought humour and a reassuring distance from a world I often felt swamped by. They helped me remember that my thoughts and fears are just that - thoughts and fears, not facts.
I still write and I still draw. Both mediums of expression continue to bring me a welcome relief from my internal experience. You can find a more extensive collection of my cartoons and writings, here.
There is no right or wrong way to heal. Go do whatever it is that helps you express your experience, and helps you feel heard and understood. Or it just brings you a welcome distraction from your internal experience so you can process whatever it is you need to process.
You are worth the effort and the time.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41