How powerful is shame? How powerful is the feeling that overcomes you when something you thought you handled has bubbled to the surface to remind you that, perhaps, you weren’t okay with it to begin with?
This week, for the first time in a very long time, I have felt shame. I didn’t recognize it at first, like a distant cousin you only know through old photographs.
This week, I remembered that suicide is part of my identity now. That I was a person that had attempted to end her life, begged God to do it, and when he wouldn’t, decided it would be a good idea to end it with a handful of sleeping pills one hot July evening.
I am a suicide survivor. Survivor? Is that a good word? How did I survive if three years later, when asked if I had ever thought about it I had to answer “yes”, I had to whisper it like a dirty secret.
My attempt isn’t a secret. I’ve written about it before. In fact, it’s part of my memoir. I’m a bit of a mental illness advocate. I find the idea of not talking about it as a great disservice to humanity. The more we talk about mental health, about depression, about the overwhelming need to end life as a solution to pain, the more chances we have to save and help people who really need it.
I don’t understand why I still feel ashamed of my attempt. My attempt was that, an attempt to solve something I didn’t see a solution for. An attempt to help myself out of a way out but when I am asked that next to questions like my name, my age, my sex — it takes another meaning.
“Have you ever attempted suicide?”
The question is like a punch to the gut. I am used to this question:
“Have you ever attempted to harm yourself or others?”
That question is begging for a lie. That question is a warning. That question is automatic inpatient service in a mental hospital.
But the first question? Well, it’s like an accusation. It’s like asking a question that you already know the answer to. Confirmation is the only thing that’s needed. Not lie can absolve you from it. So I answer:
And it’s written down on a clipboard. Seared into my history, my past, part of my DNA. I am defined by it. The girl who attempted if not for that phone call from her mother that one rouge summer night…
It’s funny how shame builds on check bones, how it latches on to you, makes a home in between the spaces of your ribs.
Brene Brown, a researcher, once said that …
“shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”
Have I changed from that night? I want to say yes, that I am no longer that hurt woman. That I am still breathing and that I am happy to be. That I am stronger (whatever that means) and that I live a life void of that debilitating desperation.
Perhaps that shame is a reminder that I have only gone so far. I haven’t left it all behind. There’s a bit of me that has built a shell around that episode and only talks about it as a cautionary testimony for others and not for myself.
That reminds me of another thing Brown said about shame.
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”
I hope that when I write about my attempt that people respond with empathy and understanding. I hope I have it for myself.
Working through it,