Content note: frank discussion of suicide, abuse, disordered eating.
I don’t know how old I am. I think I might be 6. I sink beneath the water in the bathtub and wait. How does drowning work? I don’t know, but I know that drowning means death, and death means I won’t feel anything anymore, so that’s what I want to do. As my lungs scream for air, panic overwhelms me, and I resurface, sputtering and ashamed.
I am 9, and I try the same thing, over and over again, always losing my nerve, always afraid. I confess to a friend, and that evening her dad knocks on my door. My parents sit with me and ask me why, Dani. Why are you doing this? I have no answer other than bullying at school, because bullying has made me miserable for sure, but I have no words for the constant sorrow I’ve carried for years and so I do not speak of it.
When I am 12, my class is broken into groups assembling a cardboard recreation of some historic landmark. I am entrusted with the knife and the cutting. While no one is looking, I draw the blade across my wrist, making small equidistant notches, shallow. I claim that the knife slipped, but soon I’m discovered. “It’s only a phase,” I am promised, while the word “selfish” is bandied about me, and I am sworn to never try to harm myself again. I outwardly agree, but secretly continue, exchanging cutting for pinching and scratching and punching and wrenching, all in places that my clothes will conceal from public view.
At 13, I am not eating any more than I have to in order to avoid suspicion. I sleep too late for breakfast, give my lunch away, skip dinner as often as I can. My diet consists of water and all the pain pills I can find. I don’t know why pain pills, unless it’s because somehow I think they might dull emotional pain. When I start blacking out at school, I am discovered. I learn that I am selfish, I am cruel, I only want attention so you should ignore me and I’ll learn to get over myself.
At 15, I endure my first romantic heartbreak, and I don’t know where to turn, but I am resolved to be selfless, resolved to be kind. One tear-stained evening when I reach for tissues, I find a pair of scissors instead. I confide in a friend, who confides in his father, who notifies my parents, who send me to counseling. I don’t remember a thing, only the overwhelming betrayal and rage I kept bottled as tightly as I could. “It’s only a phase,” everyone keeps intoning. “It’ll pass. You’ll see.”
From 18 to 21, I convince myself that they were right, that I was selfish and the phase had passed. I convince myself that begging God to take me home isn’t the same thing as being suicidal, that my depression is merely a lack of faith, that if I just count my blessings and think of everyone around me before I think of myself, I will be okay. I am determined to be okay. I am determined to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good Christian. But please, God…please, God, take me home.
I am 21, and I am 500 miles from home, submerged in an atmosphere I tell myself is heaven on earth. But I cannot stop myself from gazing lovingly at my art knives, from steeling myself against twitching my hands as I drive across bridges, from refusing to feed my body because my soul itself is starved. I am still determined to be selfless, but I don’t know how much longer I can hold out. I fill my time with newfound friends and constant escapes, and in return I am rewarded with the lowest GPA I have ever heard of. I hold on to my love, the person who makes me feel safest, but my solace becomes physical and we are discovered and we are expelled. I have failed my classes. I have failed my family. I have failed my God. I am a failure. Oh God, take me home.
I am 23, and I tentatively share with a coworker, a friend, that I am depressed. I brace myself for the inevitable assurance that it is a phase and I have nothing to be depressed about and everything will be okay. Instead, she says, “It’s really brave of you to say that. There’s no shame in needing help.” I am confused. Brave? I am a coward. No shame? I am the embodiment of shame. I don’t understand her words, but I recognize the kindness in her voice. I am confused, and yet also encouraged.
I am 25, and I cannot keep the flashbacks and nightmares at bay. I devise as many strategies as I can to fight the sadness, and for the first time in my life, I’m proud of myself for indulging in self-care. It is a battle, and I don’t always win. But I fight. I fight.
I am 26, and it is the night before 2014 will break upon us. My throat is raw from screaming at people long since forgotten, my body is weak from trauma inflicted so long ago. I can do nothing but repeatedly list off why I cannot die. Every reason is for the financial burden that would befall others. I cannot find a reason of my own for four long months, until I am surrounded by friends who gathered with the purpose of loving me and celebrating the fact that I made it to 27 years old. And there it is, that reason I needed: not only am I loved, but I am worth loving. (Am I worth loving?)
Now it is August 11, 2014, and a voice, a face, of my childhood, is gone. I am shocked, and read on to find what has taken such a man from the world.
And there it is: suicide.
I am 6. I am 9. I am 12, 13, 18, 25, 27. I contain all of me, the sadness and shame and fear of an admittedly small lifetime, and all of me is grieving the loss of one who couldn’t fight the sadness anymore.
It was never a phase. It was never selfishness. It was never a ploy for attention. I was never a failure. I must tell myself these things, over and over and over, and I must tell you, too.
Because Robin Williams is dead, and I am not okay.
If you need help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also call 1–800-273‑8255. You are not selfish. You are not a waste. You are not a failure. And you are not alone.