Life After A Suicide Attempt: How I Keep Hanging On

by Kimberly Zapata
Originally Published: 
suicide attempt
epicantus / Pixabay

When I was 17-years-old, I tried to kill myself with a bottle of Tylenol, four Advil, and a 12-ounce can of Coke. I wrote a four-page suicide letter in mint green “gel” ink — a note of explanations and apologies — folded it up, placed it in my right back pocket, and headed to the park, where I sat at a picnic bench and poured the red and yellow capsules into my hand.

I still remember the names on that note: Mom, Nana, Dan, Amy, Nessa, Jason, Diane. I remember wanting them to know I was sorry. I remember wanting them to know how desperate I was, how much pain I was in. I remember wanting them to know it was not their fault.

I took four, five, and six pills at a time.

Handful of pills; gulp of soda. Gulp of soda; handful of pills.

I took so many pills I gagged as they went down my throat. I took so many pills I thought I would surely get sick from the sugar in the soda before I was finished. I took so many pills a phantom lump formed in my neck, in that spot where you feel the fluid push through after a hard swallow.

It wasn’t a half-hearted attempt or a cry for help. I thought I would die. I wanted to die, but I didn’t.

I didn’t.

You see, my body fought for me when my mind no longer could. My body forced the pills up, and while it took nearly two days of throwing up at hourly intervals, I came out alive. Five pounds lighter and a million times more depressed and confused, but alive.

I was alive.

But I didn’t wake up because I was strong or smart or had some secret will to live. I woke up purely by chance. I woke up purely by luck. I woke up because I got the formula “wrong.”

What happens when you “wake up alive”? What happens when your eyes open minutes, hours, or days later? How do you pick up the pieces?

How do you find the will to live — the will you’ve already lost?

I wasn’t happy to be alive. In fact, when I opened my eyes and saw our nicotine-stained drop ceiling hanging overhead and felt the bile race through my stomach and into my throat, I tried to swallow it. I wanted to lie there and swallow it — I wanted to drown in my own vomit — but apparently it is impossible to asphyxiate yourself if you are fully conscious, i.e., if you are trying.

I felt like a failure. Nothing more than a “suicidal failure.”

Fuck, I thought. What good am I if I can’t even kill myself correctly?

But after 48 hours of violent heaving, after emptying myself of every food and fluid you can possibly imagine, I was exhausted. I was numb. And while I moved forward and kept going, I kept working, kept going on dates, kept preparing for my senior year. I was simply surviving, at the most basic level — eating, sleeping, surviving.

And while today I see myself as a “suicide survivor,” I am more than that. Today I am someone born from the ashes of suicide. Today I see my life and my ability to live it as a direct result of my attempt on it. And while I still struggle with depression, today I see myself as lucky.

But it didn’t happen overnight. I wrestled with suicidal thoughts for years — and as recently as one year ago. I have never followed through as I did that day 14 years ago, but I still worry that someday it will be what takes me.

I will be what takes me.

Know if you are considering suicide, you are not alone. It sounds so cliche and so stupid, but you aren’t alone.

I won’t tell you it will get better, because I can’t. I won’t tell you not to do it, because I can’t. But I will tell you I know how you feel. I empathize. I understand. And I know that if you are reading this, you are considering maybe, just maybe, suicide isn’t the answer. Maybe, just maybe, there is a reason to hang on. So hang on to that. Not to life or to hope or to things getting better, just hang on to the doubt. Hang on to the uncertainty. Hang on for the sake of hanging on.

Know if you have just “woken up,” you are not alone, you are not a failure, and you are not your suicide attempt. While you may be like me — functioning at the most basic level — you are functioning, and that is something (even if you feel like a dysfunctional mess). So keep functioning — getting dressed, taking showers, eating meals — because it may get better. It can get better. Someday dysfunctional may become functional. Someday you may find your happy, not storybook happiness, but moment-by-moment happiness — little things happiness.

Someday you may find hope.

And know that whoever you are, there is help. While circumstance and mental illnesses can make problems seem insurmountable and permanent, they may not be. There are many people who want to (and will) support you during this difficult time. Read Suicide Help or call 1-800-273-TALK in the U.S. or visit IASP or to find help in your country.

For additional mental health resources, click here.

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