The Danger of the Wave by Shirley J. Davis - Trigger Warning
There have been a lot of high-profile people dying by suicide in the past year or so. Kurt Cobain, Chester Bennington, Kate Spade, Robin Williams, and Anthony Bourdain are only a few of those who left us behind to wonder why they died so soon.
Their deaths by suicide have left the rest of us stunned to silence. What were the thoughts of these people when they decided they no longer wished to live? I have a front row seat into how that feels, and today I’m going to speak openly about it.
My purpose in writing about my experience with suicide is simple.
I wish to open a dialogue, to get people talking to each other about suicide and the real reasons people decide to make this permanent step to end their pain.
In 1995 I took an overdose of medications to end my existence.
The day began normal enough.
I got up, made breakfast for myself and my husband, then began to clean the house and paying the bills.
Just an ordinary morning.
Later that afternoon, I helped my husband, who was a truck driver pack his things, and after he and I had some intimate time, we kissed goodbye. I stood calmly in the doorway and watched as he got into his truck and drove away.
Just an ordinary afternoon.
A few hours later, I went to the kitchen to make my supper. I reheated a piece of pizza, grabbed a diet soda out of the refrigerator and my medication box off the dining room table. I then sat down in my recliner in the living room to eat. It was my full intention to sit and watch television after I took my nightly medications, then go to bed.
Just an ordinary evening.
I had not felt depressed any more than usual that day. I was always full of anxiety and an overwhelming sense that I was not supposed to be alive. I had fought that sensation for years, but it was very strong that night.
Sometime while I sat munching my pizza, I decided that taking my medications would help and that I would soon feel okay again after they took effect. The next thing I knew I was staring into a completely empty medications box. There were all sorts of empty bottles, but not a pill in sight.
Once I understood what I had done, I wasn’t afraid or panicked. Instead, what I experienced was an enormous wave of relief washing over me.
I had struggled my entire life with depression and anxiety that had resulted from experiencing severe trauma in my childhood. I was in therapy, desperately attempting to understand what I had been through and place it in the past where it belonged.
The horrendous and exhausting pain of therapy, having to look myself and my past straight in the face, I cannot describe in mere words. Many times, my heart became weighed down and I felt I had lost any ability to ever reach my dream of a peaceful and fulfilling life.
I was a victim, a person who was of no value.
When that huge wave of relief hit me, it made me smile and I think I even laughed out loud.
My long fight was finally over.
I had felt the wave before while taking care of elderly men and women when they took their last breath. I’ve seen with my own eyes the acceptance and watched that same tidal wave of peace wash over them.
I recognized that the pain, sorrow, anxiety, fear, I had been experiencing were all done. My struggles had finally come to an end.
I then went to bed fully intending never to wake up again.
Obviously, I was not successful in my leaving this world, and the repercussions of that evening still echo to this day.
When I awoke in the intensive care unit and I was devastated. Not only was I alive, but I now had to face the flood of angry faces and voices of those who did not appreciate my attempt to escape my pain.
They felt betrayed and let me know it and because of this my self-disgust went beyond explanation.
I became seen for years after my attempted escape by family, friends, and doctors as a lost cause, as someone who was going to eventually sometime in the future die by suicide. In their eyes, I was either too weak, too sick, or too far gone to ever succeed in life.
I became even more isolated than before and almost didn’t survive surviving.
I am telling of my experience with the wave of death to give important information to both survivors and anyone else who will listen. I want to try to help those who left behind and those who, like myself, have survived but still hear the enticing sound of the wave.
These are the things you must know.
The agony I felt before I took those pills, and the relief I felt after, knowing my life was over, still ring in my mind. I’ve never felt relief the wave brought me again, and quite frankly I crave that sensation. Perhaps the minds of those who have died by suicide have also heard the sound of the approaching wave, and gave in to its call, or perhaps there wasn't anyone to pull them from the murky water. This wave is enticing, it’s dangerous, and in the cases of those who taken out to sea, deadly.
I know the agony of depression, anxiety, hopelessness, helplessness, and that sense of thinking one should never have been born. I know the thinking that says I would be so much better off dead because I wasn’t supposed to be here in the first place.
I can also tell you this.
I wasn’t angry at those I was leaving behind.
I wasn’t trying to get back at them or hurt them.
I wasn’t crying out for someone to help me.
I wanted to die.
I felt that warm wave of relief and knew I wouldn’t ever have to hurt ever again.
How can we help those who hear the sound water rushing toward them?
First, we need to offer them something more enticing than the power of the wave of death. We should offer people like myself, who have experienced the warmth of the wave, a chance to make a life for themselves and help them move on. I don’t mean just therapy, I mean boosting their self-esteem by not ostracizing them because they have mental health problems.
We also need a plan that does not put people in the position where they must hide their despair for fear of treatment as damaged goods. We all need something to live for, and to be frank, in today’s world there just isn’t much there.
People call others like me consumers, users, and falsely looked down upon as someone who takes but gives nothing back. Some call us worthless and even some deem us wasted space that is not worthy of life.
Without support and seeing the disgust and experiencing the discrimination of fellow citizens, my mind often returns to the warmth of the wave.
Me and others like me are continually treading water near the shore feeling cold and alone, hoping that our life jackets won’t be ripped way by the angry forces that surround us. We are always ready to allow the sea to sweep us away and cause us to disappear.
For those reading this who have lost loved ones to the wave.
I grieve with you over those enticed away. I wish I could have held their hands and told them I care. I wish someone had found them in their moment of desperate decision when they heard the enticement of the wave. Perhaps a loving presence would have outshone the siren song of the oceans roar.
I understand the isolation and loneliness that drove them to the shore in the first place.
As I sit here in my room at the back of our apartment, I know I spend far too much time isolated with my computer. I always try to put on a good front, but inside I am harboring such strong emotions that the wave is only a few yards from me all the time. I’m treading, kicking hard to stay afloat so that I too do not become another statistic, but it’s hard some days.
The statistics of suicide in this country are astounding. In a recent release of information by the CDC, the rate of suicide in the United States has jumped 30%. The saddest fact of all is that 27% of these ordinary human beings who take their own lives have not received a diagnosis of a mental health condition. The problem has grown so large that suicide has become the second biggest cause of deaths of teenagers and young adults.
The wave is winning.
Until we begin to speak truthfully in public about suicide and have marathons and dinners to defeat it like we do cancer, it will continue to kill. Suicide isn’t something that happens to somebody else, it is happening to our neighbors, our friends, and to our families.
If the sound of the wave coming to take us away remains stronger than the voices of those who care, then the wave will continue to win.
If you are feeling suicidal when reading this piece, then I urge you to seek help. I know the sound of the wave is calling and it seems like such a wonderful idea to give into it, but it isn’t.
I know. I’ve been where you are.
Your loneliness, fear and hopelessness will end, but if you die you will snuff out a marvelous creature, you. There is only one like you, you are unique in the entire universe. Humanity needs your light.
There are people like me who do care.
We love and respect you just as you are, with all your flaws and shortcomings. God knows, all humans have enough of them. We need you, we want you, you are invaluable, and you are beautiful just as you are right now.
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths.”