This post is part of a Suicide Prevention Month blog series. Read the other blogs here.
Walking back to my apartment one night, I passed by the fluorescent lighting of the local hospital. The combination of the sight of the emergency room and the sour, medicinal smell made me remember my suicide attempt in a way that was so visceral, I started shaking, feeling my lungs tighten around my ribcage and wondering when the tears would start.
I will spare the details of my attempt because for some time I hated anyone who knew what happened that night. I hated my friends for calling the EMTs. I hated my college’s crisis counselor for holding my hand in the ambulance. I hated the nurse who gave me crackers when I woke up the next morning in a hospital bed, embarrassed and terrified they would force me to leave school for the rest of the semester.
I wanted to hate myself, too, but they told me not to do that anymore.
I was able to leave the hospital the next morning and go back to school, but not without the pain of being abandoned by friends who believed I was too dramatic. This resulted in my habit of pretending nothing happened at all. The rest of the semester was shaky, filled with constant uncertainty and regular reminders that the word “survivor” now applied to my life.
But I slowly started to learn what it meant to be a person, to be alive. I began to journal. “Dear Self,” the first entry started. “You have been pissing me off a lot lately. No, really. I try to coddle you and make you feel comfortable, and you repay me in panic attacks, suicide attempts, and an inability to leave bed. This letter is your final written warning that I will not put up with your bullshit anymore.”
This first letter of frustration soon turned into notes of love and admiration. A month later, a letter started, “Dear Self, I want to remind you that you are a warrior, that you have single-handedly fought so hard to be where you are, to be who you are, and to be alive.”
I wrote at least once a week, drafting reminders to myself that I was a fighter. I forced myself to recognize when I started feeling depressed and suicidal again, and congratulated myself on the day I finally threw out the reminders of my attempt.
At first, the entries ended “From, Self,” but these morphed; “Adoringly, Self,” “With Power, Self,” and “Lovingly, Self” became more common in a matter of weeks.
Most importantly, these letters changed from appreciating my qualities to appreciating my life. What started as compliments on the good things I did that day turned into comments on my existence. I slowly started to learn that my survival was the only requirement for self-love.
When suicidal, depressive, or anxious feelings rise from the pit of my belly and threaten to become actions, I am comforted by the things I write in this journal: the small, simple reminders that I exist.
Being is enough. Saying “I am” is enough.
And you are enough, too. I had to go through hell and back to learn this, and I am still trying to figure it out. But these love letters, as I now call them, regularly keep me alive. To anyone who feels alone or doesn’t believe in the power that is your being: pull out a piece of paper, and write at the top, “Dear Self.”
Write a love letter to your existence, and the words will fall into place.