The Other Side of Suicide
Content warning: Suicide and associated themes
I lay cocooned in an old duvet on the hard hospital floor, drifting in and out of consciousness to the haunting lullaby of my best friend’s heart monitor. I looked at the clock perched on the stark wall above me — the only gauge of time I could find in our sterile cell. It read 4:42am. I glanced over at Rebekah. She had been whisked away to a Valium-induced dreamland.
This is my fault. The painful thought reverberated through my head as the tears I had diligently held back all night finally broke loose. My best friend wanted to die, and I wasn’t there to stop her. I wasn’t there to answer the call. I wasn’t there when she needed me most.
Rebekah and I were Yin and Yang. For years we had harmoniously balanced each other’s habits and impulses. As I looked at the bandages on her wrists and the wet patches collecting on my sleeves, I became crushed by a feeling of despair and uncertainty. How did I screw this up? I am meant to be her Yang, the peanuts to her pad thai, the condom to her one-night stand.
I looked back on the days leading up to that night and realised that I should have seen the signs: her inability to leave the house, her once fluttery sense of humour evaporated, her sudden interest in psychologists and medication. Why didn’t I do anything then?
I guess that’s the glorious thing about hindsight – it’s 20/20.
Suicide, attempted or successful, was never something that I had imagined would impact my life, nor that of the people around me. Don’t get me wrong, it was topic that was discussed in high school classrooms and with counsellors. It was subject that had a seat in the back of my mind; it just never took the wheel. We had posters scattered through the school hallways and we had read blogs posts from survivors, but at 4:42am on that Tuesday morning, I realised none of those things could have prepared me for a pain that would consume my soul.
For every book that tells you how to get a job, win friends or raise daughters, where the fuck are the ones that tell you how to know if your friend wants to die? Where are the books that tell you to keep your phone off silent at night, or help you to understand the true depth of a suicide joke or know when a friend is silently crying for help? Where are the books that could have helped me to take her pain away?
At that moment, at 4:42am, I thought the most painful part was over. She’s alive, she is coming home soon, I will be able to finally stop stressing.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
In the hospital there were plenty of nurses and doctors there to tend to her needs; give her anti-nausea for the vomiting, Valium for the stress shakes, mental health practitioners to put her mind at ease. But the second I walked her out of those automatic double doors, a flood of realisation consumed me — I was now all those things for her. I was her doctor, her medication, and her therapist. I finally understood the meaning of having the weight of the world on your shoulders.
As the days afterward unfolded, I spent every moment that I could by her side. I tried my hardest to make everything normal for her. We ordered coffee from our regular spot, talked shit over cigarettes, painted and listened to Fleetwood Mac, ate takeaway Thai on the couch, bitched about ex-boyfriends and discussed the future of our synched pregnancies. As Rebekah’s smile began to return I was ecstatic on the surface, but behind all the laughter and ‘I love you’ texts I still couldn’t shake the feeling that all of this was my fault. The emotional responsibility that I had taken on board a week ago had now drained my entire mental and emotional capacity.
In a week I was meant to jet off to Bali for a month-long writer’s retreat but since Rebekah’s existence had now become my responsibility I didn’t know if I could be selfish enough to board that plane. What is a yin to do without her yang?
Days passed, my suitcase filled, and I became increasingly giddy with anxiety. I knew that I needed to stay now more than ever, but Rebekah’s unwavering confidence in my writing abilities convinced me that she would be okay upon my departure. As I begrudgingly boarded the plane I knew that I should have been happy and ready to share my adventures with the world but all that I could worry about was if Rebekah was going to something to hurt herself again while I was gone. This is my fault.
As the safety demonstration began I absentmindedly fiddled with my safety card while the woman in front of me habitually moved through the process. And then I heard it. I heard the words that the books never printed, the advice that no blog post ever shared: “Ensure that you fit your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” It took removing myself from the situation to see clearly that there was only so much that I could do – that only Rebekah could save herself. It was so obvious that I almost missed it.
The plane began to lift off above the airstrip and take flight. I smiled and put my headphones in.
Cover by Jorge Flores
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