There were times I felt like I needed to hit the “Reset” button.
You know, just like in that game you’re playing on XBOX or Nintendo. There’s that level you can’t get past- that part where things went terribly wrong and it seems impossible to go forward. You need a do-over, another chance, a fresh start.
The thoughts would come on impulse. Sometimes, driving over a tall bridge. It would be so easy, in this moment, right now. I can see it happening in my head, a morbid speculation of deliberately flying off that edge into a black abyss, into oncoming traffic with just a jerk of one arm or aiming at that massive tree. This is where I check out. It’s that easy. This is my exit.
I never did it, obviously. Whether it was a fleeting madness or simple cowardice, I didn’t do it. Do you know what people would think of me if they ever knew that these were, sometimes, the secret thoughts I kept under the facade of a smile? I tell myself “Somehow, keep sparkling in this darkness like there’s light anyway.”
The temptation that presents itself so readily in any number of scenarios isn’t foreign to me. It doesn’t happen every day or even every month, but the fact that I’ve had them at all left me feeling like a fraud. People, even strangers I barely knew believed I had it together. I was smart, motivated, I had measurable success, I knew how to navigate the rough terrain of social situations without anyone realizing I was screaming on the inside. If anyone ever knew my shame, I would never again be entitled to my own pride. I also knew there would be those who would revel in my perceived failure.
In my town, there were adults in my own community who had a seat in the rafters during the show that was my peripheral life. They didn’t know me, but they told people they did. I was arrogant, pompous, strutted around like someone who expected others to lay wreaths at my feet. My emotional distance may have lent itself to that narrative. I have, since my teenage years, kept my walls high and my circle small. Many knew of me. Few- very few, knew me. There was Phaylen the character who presented herself with the confidence I only wish I really had… then there was the reality I lived with behind closed doors.
And then there was the girl who missed out on so much. The girl abandoned by her family due to a mental illness. A girl who lived in a retirement village with 80 year old friends until she was 30. A girl who lost her childhood and adolescence due to agoraphobia. She lived in very controlled environments, situations, and didn’t quite know how to function in the greater world beyond the fragile, iridescent bubble that protected her. She was afraid of all that lay beyond that place where certainly, people like her- like me- didn’t have a place. So many years were gone. So much potential was lost. So many windows of opportunity had closed. I envied people in my teens and twenties as they floated through life, getting married, having families, holiday dinners with loved ones, selfies with friends at fancy restaurants. Then, there was me. I’d inadvertently taken a wrong turn. I was inexplicably different from “Normal.” I didn’t love myself, and was unloved by others. I remember thinking “I can’t wait to start again.” I would do better. I would be better. I’d break down those walls, the prison of my own mind and reclaim my control. My life would possess some value, some purpose in moving forward. I knew what to do now.
Reset because it hurts. Mistakes I made that gnawed at me like an angry beast from the inside. Regret… My first love, a girl named Amy, I bet she’s happy now. I wonder if I look happy enough to convince her I am too if she ever cared enough to be curious and look me up.
Sometimes trying isn’t enough. I resented people who made it look effortless. I wasn’t equipped with those facilities to walk through life without resistance. I was transgender before I knew the word; All I knew was that it rendered me lesser… and for anyone to like me, I had to try twice as hard to keep it that way because I felt I didn’t deserve that. Anyone kind to me was doing me a favor because, after all, I was the social reject that most would easily dispose of. It manifested in many ways, a repeated pattern of individuals who would walk into my life, take what I had, exploit my eagerness to please and when I had no more to give… disappear.
There was that bottle of pills. They calmed me down. They quieted the world around me, and one time I searched how quickly I would die if I just took them all. Would there be pain? I was scared of pain. I didn’t want to suffer. Just slip away, quietly…
…Like I was never here. No one would miss me. Shit, no one would find me until the smell of my corpse began to infuriate my neighbors.
I thought I could do better next time. Like a bad hand in poker, I wanted to fold and hope the next deal would be better. You tell people that, though, they call you selfish. They scoff at you. They tell you how great you have it. You could be some starving child in a third world country, or a homeless elderly veteran sleeping under a bridge at night. There were people who have it worse than I do. I’m not entitled to feel like this. And then I hate myself.
So, you stay quiet. You fight those demons under the cloak of darkness where no one else can see. You cancel projects, you cancel plans, you withdraw and have a million excuses and you simply say “I’m sorry for myself. For who I am.”
You get tired of being strong. You start growing numb. The world can make you mean. It’s moving at the speed of light and you’re trying to keep up. But, someone jumps in your lane to break your heart; A friend, one of the few you confided your weakness in, tells you “Everything everyone said about you is true.” And, although, you know no one ever knew you well enough to assess any truths about you because they aren’t there when the lights go down, the silence sets in. When regrets, insecurities, fears and anxiety grabs hold you find it aches all over. You wish there was some medicine to hold it all at bay; You’re always alone, anyway. So much easier when you don’t have to explain.
I was 11 when I tried to hang myself from the folding closet door of my bedroom. I was the victim of bullying. Not the kind you read about today where everybody insulted bellows about being bullied. I was beaten. I was sexually attacked. Called names I didn’t understand. “Faggot,” “Homo,” “Pervert” asked if I was wearing girls underwear. Other parents wouldn’t let their children play with me because I was a “Freak.” My crime? I was a boy who looked inexplicably like a girl. I acted like a girl. From my lisp, to my limp wristed gestures, to my soft, meek demeanor. I wasn’t what a boy should be. I was broken. I was an embarrassment to my Mother. Every single day, I endured violence at my inner city school, for years… until my middle school principal called my mother into the office after I’d been sprayed with mace and told “We can no longer guarantee his safety.”
From then on, I was home schooled, and my isolation became my best friend. I closed off the world. I didn’t leave my house for 5 years. Everything I learned, I taught myself, as my mother was sick and bedridden most of the time… but I’d seen her cry because of me. “Why can’t you just be normal?” She once pleaded. I saw the tears welling in her eyes. “I love you, but the world is going to destroy you. I want to love you so much, but you make it so hard.”
I remember that day like it was yesterday, as I sat perched at the side of her bed. Her eyes were bloodshot. She had a crossword puzzle book sitting in her lap half finished. She took my hand, her voice cracked; “I’m so scared for you.”
“This isn’t who I want to be.” I thought, over and over, again and again. “This isn’t what I’m supposed to be.”
“I don’t belong here.”
And that thread carried on for decades.
The truth is, I didn’t want to die. But, what if this game called life didn’t just start over? What if, on the instance of my last breath, I didn’t come screaming back into the world with a clean slate and a new hope. I didn’t want for anything more than to be okay.
Suicide convinces you that it’s the best alternative to fighting through another day; Taking another pill; Drinking another drink. Just admit defeat and hope… hope that it’s not an end, but a reset.
Today, I’m still not where I imagined I would be, or where I expected I should be… but I’m here. And while I’m not by some magical means cured of slipping back into that dark place with my menagerie of pains, empathy, my dread and hopelessness in humanity, the world and its barrage of tragedy that sinks into my soul like venom… I’m still here for the experience. Truth be told, I’m grateful that the sheets I hung from that closet door when I was 11 years old broke and sent me careening to the ground. The universe said “No.”
This is not your exit.
And so, in spite of it all. In spite of people, in spite of circumstances, two decades later, that’s what I do.
I keep going.
We don’t talk about suicide. We don’t want others to know that we’re breakable, that we’re human. Mental illness is a wrapped with stigma that no one ever addresses. It’s too uncomfortable, perhaps, to let the lights come up and to face the monster revealed to so many of us, but therein also we are shown this reality: We are not alone.
The stigma around mental illness is so thick and the scrutiny- even ridicule- so ruthless that no one will be likely step forward and say “I wish to kill myself today. Maybe it won’t be today. Maybe next week. Take everything from me and lock me up.”
Mental illness sufferers have been taught we are a burden already, that our contribution to the world is irrelevant, that we have no purpose, that our own tomorrow has nothing waiting. That is the lie that mental illness would have us believe. As people, we’re not going to accept being further shamed in front of nurses and doctors or people in group therapy. We’re not particularly eager to invite hospitalization and medications most of us cannot afford. We understand that should we be exposed we would be here unto forever known as the person people/potential friends are warned away from for being a drama queen, an attention seeker. A bad person looking to blame all their misgivings or shortcomings on being sick.
I know sufferers who The stigma around mental illness is so thick and the scrutiny- even ridicule- so ruthless that no one will be like “Why yes, Diane. I wish to kill myself, take everything from me and lock me up.”
Mental illness sufferers believe they are a burden already, that their contribution to the world is irrelevant, that they have no purpose, that their own tomorrow has nothing waiting. It is the lie that mental illness convinces them. They’re not going to accept being further shamed in front of doctors or people in group therapy or invite hospitalization and medications they cannot afford or be here unto forever known as the person people/potential friends are warned away from for being a drama queen, an attention seeker. A bad person looking to blame all their misgivings or shortcomings on being sick.
And I know personally those that have mentioned it to others, reaching out for for a thread of hope, were met with this: “If you were suicidal you would have done it by now.” or “Real suicidal people don’t ask for help or tell anyone.”
Shamed. Belittled. Humiliated. Discarded. Abandoned.
If we want to genuinely help stop suicide, we must stop contributing to that stigma and creating a further divide between access to help and the victim requiring it.
I saw an article that said we’re in a suicide crisis. I tilted my head cock-eyed and winced. Where have they been? As a trans survivor who broke free of the chains the world shackled me in as they taught me to hate myself, I see others who didn’t get this lucky every day. Children killing themselves due to merciless bullying, young transgender men and women walking in front of buses, jumping off buildings… people so broken there was no other option than to hit reset, because only in controlling the circumstances of their own death could they find peace at the end of life.
If this is you now, don’t look for the reset button anymore. Pass every exit that looks more inviting than the road unfurling before you. You don’t have to stop living to start over. This moment, living, breathing, can be the first again. No one can rob you of that power- they can only convince you that you don’t have it to begin with. But you do, and it starts, not with a reset, but a first step forward.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1–800–273–8255.