In 2011, I was in a terrible, dark place.
Hollywood, to be specific.
I was on the raw end of a break up I didn’t even know was happening, and I was hurting.
Alone again for the holidays, I did what any sensible gal does when she’s bored on Christmas Eve, and called a Suicide Hotline. Not because I needed it. I just… needed to talk. To someone. Over the last few years, I’d developed a nasty habit of hurting myself and I had a sneaky feeling I might take it a step too far if left to my own devices. I just wanted to know someone out there cared.
The dumb thing is, I KNOW someone out there cared. Lots of someones, in fact. I’m lucky like that - I’ve never been at a loss for friends, and my family is incredibly supportive and kind. I knew I could easily get the love and assurance I needed from anyone I reached out to… But here’s the thing:
These supportive, kind, amazing friends and family who love me fiercely?
I love them fiercely, too. They’re the last people I wanted to burden with my problems. And not on Christmas Eve for God's sake. I needed an impartial stranger, who could hear me out, say what I needed to hear and tell me goodnight so I could continue making whimsical holiday magic for the masses at work the next morning.
I live in mortal terror of the Giving Tree Factor. You know the story about the tree who gives literally everything it can to make this kid happy, and the child just takes and takes and then one day *poof* the tree is used up. I’m always keenly aware of these invisible social bank accounts and scared shitless that one day I’ll need someone/something and it won’t be there.
There are people who have been Giving Trees to me. My brother. My mother. Tiff. Erika. Rissie. Greenwald. My boyfriend. Time and time again they’ve rushed to my rescue and I still feel the deep pang of a debt I owe and can never repay. It’s a unique kind of weighted shame, like a breezy-looking shawl that’s somehow heavier than it should be. Time and distance makes quid-pro-quo impossible, so all I can do is try to be the best friend I can be to whomever I can.
I could’ve called these people. But instead I dialed a stranger.
And that fucking stranger never picked up.
I called some easily-googleable Suicide Prevention Hotline and sat while it rang a few times. I felt those hot stinging embarrassed tears rim my eyes, and I was glad no one could see how weak I was. I look at the tiny tree in the corner of our apartment, and my tears obscure the lights, kaleidescoping them into a small rainbow. I think about how pretty it looks.
Then I realize no one’s picked up. I’m on the floor next to the couch (we still had furniture at this point) and listen to the Holding Pattern loop for a while. It’s not even Christmas music, just some crappy classical piece that’s been played to the point where it’s more static than Schubert.
I listen to the loop. I listen as drunken neighbors argue out in the courtyard, on a loop of their own. My tears dry and the tree looks boring again, and I remember that I hate that tree because Jenn gave it to us and I’m fairly certain Jenn is sleeping with my husband.
The loop continues and my phone beeps. I think someone might be about to pick up, but it’s just my battery letting me know it’s dying.
I think about how odd it is that my battery can reach out to someone and let them know it’s possibly about to die, but I’ve been on hold for 27 minutes.
I unplug the tree, cursing Jenn under my breath, and head to the bedroom to plug my phone into its charger near my nightstand. Then I lay down and just listen. I just listen to the sounds of Christmas Eve happening to everyone in the world except for me. It’s happening to my husband, wherever he is. It’s happening to Jenn. It’s happening to my shitty neighbors. It’s happening to whoever is supposed to be on fucking PHONE DUTY at the hotline.
I picture them having a big office party. Mistletoe, tinsel, eggnog. Whatever the hell figgy pudding is. They’re all there, stuffing their faces with figgy fucking pudding while the phone lines light up - well, like a Christmas tree.
I’m unaware of how much time passes when I get into these states. This is usually the time I’d use to cut tiny chunks out of my skin with razors or scissors. It’s the time I’d use to destroy my finger nails so I’d be hesitant to write on bloody stumps, or cut into my toenails so walking the next day hurts. It’s a Lost Time, when I am lost. And when I felt lost, I’d hurt myself until enough blood was spilled that I felt I deserved to stop. It’s a loop of my own, just a massive negative spiral.
Some clatter outside (read: NOT Santa) jars me from my melancholia and I look at my phone. I’ve been on hold for 3 hours and 37 minutes. I hang up. I go to bed.
And I get up and go to work the next day. The toes of my socks are sticky from blood.
Over the next few months, I start to decide that I’m done hurting myself, and I’m done hurting period. There is no break from the sensation of pain. My entire body aches and I’m tired, and I can’t really let on to how bad I’m feeling. I don’t even want to tell my Therapist, because I don’t want to make him feel bad, like he failed to fix me or something. I sure as shit don’t tell my dad, or especially my brother or my mom. They can’t ever know - I am ashamed and it’s my responsibility to abate my hurting. No one else’s.
I tried to tell my husband. I desperately wanted him to fix me, and in some small way I am certain I allowed myself to get worse so he’d feel like he had to save me. Ha, turns out he had no such sense of obligation.* And so I came up with The Mexico Plan.
(You can’t steal this, by the way. It’s patented so don’t even try it.)
I wanted a fool-proof way to kill myself that wouldn’t burden anyone or make them feel sad.
I’d googled overdose recipes, and it turns out that it’s super easy to screw up and take too much or too little and wind up in a coma. Also, even if you do it “right,” you leave a nasty-looking corpse for someone to find. And that’s not nice. That’s not my style.
So I had to find a way to disappear without leaving a body, and I had to make sure people thought that I was happy and fine. I also knew unless I created a window of time, my family would come looking for me, so I figured out how to throw everyone off my trail.
I composed an introspective yet upbeat email to my mom, telling her that I was doing OK but needed to take some time for myself. I told her that I wanted to go camping up in Canada and do an off-the-grid thing I’d been reading about, and reconnect with nature for a while. She knows I’m a nature girl, and I think as worried as she’d be about me being out of reach, she would at least know how happy and excited I’d be about this upcoming adventure. I told her I just needed to recharge my batteries (see what I did there) and then return to Hollywood and work on my career and my marriage. I saved a draft to my desktop with only the dates left blank.
Then I started researching towns in Mexico. My plan was to tell EVERYONE about my Canada trip, then point my car South and cross the border. Once I was a significant distance South, I intended to file or use acid to obscure the VIN number on my car, and leave it in a bad part of town with the keys in it. I’d toss my ID and any passports in the trash.
I’d take a cab to the bus station, then take a bus South down the coast to this adorable seaside mesa overlooking the Pacific. I’d spend the rest of the afternoon loading my pockets with rocks, then leap from a cliff into the ocean and, with any luck, drown quickly.
"Like Casa Bonita, but Deathier!"
By the time my body washed ashore, it would be so messed up by the tides and the rocks that only DNA testing or dental records would identify me. Mexico is not known to be a paragon of Criminal Investigation Integrity, and a dead white girl is the last thing any town needs if they rely at all on tourism fallout.
Plus, remember: no one is looking for me dead. They think I’m alive. In Canada.
After I don’t come back when I’m supposed to, my family would start a search, but they’d be looking in the wrong spot and the only logical conclusion would be that something bad had happened to me, or maybe I was fine and just decided to stay lost. I knew they’d hold on hope for the latter, and any pain from my vanishing would slowly, over time, be forgotten.
See? No cleanup! No funeral! How considerate am I?
I sat on this plan for a couple of months, and when I was alone I’d work out the details. Which town? Which bus route? How much gas would I need?
At one point, my husband used my laptop for something and for whatever reason needed to delete his search history. Deleting his search history pulled up my search history, and even though he isn’t the most observant of people, “how many ambien to die no coma” was enough to rattle him. He and I had a long chat with our marriage counselor / my Therapist, and I told them it was just ideation, that I wasn’t actually going to to it.
‘Cause I wasn’t, right? I like to think so.
I took a trip home to visit my family shortly after that, and during that visit, my husband and I agreed to separate so I could “work on myself.” It was my idea, but he all too quickly agreed and immediately moved in with his girlfriend that I didn’t know about.
(Ready for a shock? It wasn’t Jenn! Merry Christmas to all!)
Later that week, on Valentine’s Day, he’d file for divorce.
3 weeks later, he’d tell me he’d been thinking and had decided to file for divorce.
I’d beg him not to change his mind. When he refused, I’d reach for a bottle of pills and try to lock myself in a bathroom. He’d jam the door open and wrench the pills out of my hand.
And in these two ways, I guess he saved my life. One in stopping me short of the cheap way out that night, and two, ripping open a wound that would’ve never healed if I kept counting on him for bandages. I bled and bled (metaphorically and not-so-metaphorically) and cried and crashed and burned for a thousand days. Then, by my own choice, I got better.
I’d like to say my recovery was an entirely healthy process, but there were tons of terrible, delectable mistakes that I needed to make. I had a lot to learn, and as my thoughts unhazed, I began to think about The Mexico Plan. I thought about how within 2 weeks of him discovering my dirty little secret, he was all too willing to let me go.
Maybe he thought I’d go through with it and it wouldn’t have happened on his watch.
*I should take a moment here and clarify that I'm not mad at my ex anymore. I was pretty pissed off for a long time, sure, but there are other blogs you can read for those stories. This isn't a story about what he did or didn't do, but he was part of this story and so he bears mentioning. Don't worry about him. He and I are square.
I don’t blame him for bailing. Having a suicidal wife is scary shit and he is a coward. I should’ve known, but at the time I couldn’t have. It was fine for a stranger to leave me hanging on Christmas Eve. But my husband leaving me (maybe to actually hang) gave me the rage. This rage provided the gasoline for the fire from which my Phoenix emerged.
In the time of my healing, my wonderful, kind, amazing friends and family showered me with love, and food, and safety. My body healed, my mind healed, and it took quite a while, but eventually my spirit came back swinging. So now when you see me smile, it’s the real deal.
When I’m grumpy, or butt-hurt over something, sure I’ll be grumpy and butt-hurt. I’m not ecstatic 100% of the time, and I have my off-days. But it’s been over 3 years since I’ve needed (or taken) antidepressants, and my feels, good or bad, are genuine and manageable. I haven't harmed myself (or wanted to) for 4 years.
It took a LOT of effort. It took a LOT of help. It took 10 days at a Buddhism Retreat, 2 days of a Landmark Seminar, and a night in a tree house. It took pasta, and motorcycles and ups and downs, but the point is, IT HAPPENED. AND I AM HERE. And I am happier than I ever dreamed possible. Bad things still happen, sure, but everything from here on out is baby town frolics compared to what I’ve been through.
I’ll leave you with this:
One day, about 6 months after I returned to Los Angeles, my friend Todd and I decided to have a picnic on a Malibu beach. We packed a healthy lunch, and laid the blanket down on the sugar sand. Eventually my eyes adjusted to the dazzling brightness of the sun dancing across the water, and I stared into the cerulean blue and felt the most intense gratitude that I was alive to enjoy it. That I hadn’t poisoned the pacific with my problems.
As we snacked on avocado and strawberries, I realized how immaculate everything is and I exclaimed “it’s the best day ever!” And I meant it.
Then, for the first time in my life, I’d see wild dolphins playing in the waves.
“It’s the best day EVER!” I’d shout, clapping my hands excitedly like a child.
A V-formation of pelicans swooped right above us overhead.
“It’s the BEST! DAY! EVERRRR!” I’d squeal as the rush of wings ruffled the beach breeze.
Later, shaking the sand out of the picnic blanket, my bikini top popped open, exposing my breasts to my roommate, who, without skipping a beat, shouted:
“IT JUST GOT BETTER!!!”
And that’s kind of how life has been since I decided to stick around.
Later, that very same evening, I’d go on my very first date with the love of my life.
Boom. Easy, right?
OK, not really, but you have to stick around long enough to see.
I know for the rest of my life, whenever something really awesome happens, (like pelicans or busted bikinis) I will be doubly grateful because I’m aware of how I almost missed it.
So maybe you don’t want to call your friends when you’re going through shit. I get it.
And maybe you don’t want to sit on hold waiting for a stranger who may or may not pick up.
I get that, too.
But don’t you dare give up.
Besides, have you been on a bus in Mexico? They totally suck.