December 18, 2015 was a pretty cold day. It’d been a cold week. That Friday evening was warmer than the previous nights I’d spent sleeping in my car, but it was still cold. And dark.
Many things led up to my suicidal actions that night (I won’t call it an attempt – this wasn’t a mere attempt, these were dedicated actions) – homelessness, poor health, feeling a burden, and much more. And then I did it.
But something quite different happened this time – a feeling that I’ve never before experienced: I didn’t want to die alone.
I’ve put my body through so much in the past in very similar situations. In the past, I’ve hidden from many when I’ve been in the hospital – not wanting them to even know I’ve fallen yet again. While others have known of my suicidal actions and called for help, I never wanted them to find me or send help and I absolutely did not want anyone to be near me when I died. In fact, in the past, I thought through elaborate plans of where to kill myself just so that people I love wouldn’t find me. Each time I wanted very much to die alone.
I wanted to die alone when I began that Friday night. I was in a parking lot outside one of the busiest Targets in the state just a week before Christmas. It was dark and I had sun shades over my windows. People were hurrying in and out of the store – anxious to get presents for parties and children, rushing to get chores finished at the end of a long week, dashing from their cars to the store and back to escape the cold. No one should have seen me.
As I was overdosing (insulin and multiple medications) that I needed to make sure that I didn’t puke in the car so that when someone eventually found me, they would have less to clean up before they donated the car and the belongings to the needy (as I’d very much want). [Side note: the thoughts remind me in retrospect of this Moth podcast which I encourage you to listen to.]
So I threw a blanket on all the things to my right in the passenger’s seat so I wouldn’t throw up on them and opened the car door on my left to throw up. But I couldn’t pull myself back in. And through all the chaos of the parking lot, one lady saw me.
I never saw her face or even what she was wearing. I don’t remember if I said anything to her. But she saw me, and she knew something was wrong and she called an ambulance.
I would normally have been very upset at being found – my plans thwarted. However, this incredibly visceral notion came over me in those moments:
I do not want to die alone.
I couldn’t speak to her. I couldn’t move. I didn’t want her to see me die. But I didn’t want to die alone.
I wanted to tell her, “Please, please don’t leave me. Please stay with me while I’m dying.” I couldn’t say anything. She stayed with me. I’m not sure how long she stood with me, each second felt like a decade. In the biting frost, she stayed with me.
In the ER, I still couldn’t talk. I could hear and see and process most everything that was going on (and it was painful – more painful than you’d want to imagine) – but I couldn’t really talk or move. I couldn’t seem to form the words that were in my head. As the doctors and nurses were all shining lights in my eyes and commenting on how dilated they were, busying themselves with getting IVs started, and trying to figure out my story, one person had their hands on my boot. I could feel the weight of her hand (I think it was a her) resting on my foot – connecting me to something in this world. An incredibly human and compassionate touch that she likely did not know how much I wanted in that moment. I did not want to die alone. I didn’t want her to take her hand off my boot.
I reiterate, I did not take these steps for any sort of attention. I could have had no idea that anyone would find me at all that night. And even when the lady did, I didn’t want her to see it. I did want to die. I very much in those moments still wanted to die. I just didn’t want to die alone.
And I didn’t know I didn’t want to die alone in a parking lot until she saw me.
I didn’t know that I didn’t want to die alone in a hospital until someone put their hand on my boot.
I’ve never had that feeling. For now I’m not going to search for meaning in it, I’m just going to let it be.
I sincerely apologize to anyone that has had to see me in that state (either this time or any previous time). I realize that if I really didn’t want to be seen, I could probably have done things differently (this or any previous time) – but I wasn’t thinking all that rationally at that moment.
Yet I am grateful that had I died that night, I would not have died alone.
The irony of it all, as I came back to life, I was very much alone. The immense pain that comes with a failed suicide attempt and all its raw intensity consuming every ounce of me. No one to comfort me, to sit with by me as the potassium scorched my veins, as the headaches pounded, as the blood sugars went from 31 to 93 and back to 29 and so forth, as my hands swelled with neuropathy brought on by amp after amp of glucose, as my stomach kept spasm even though it was so empty not even bile would come up – forcing myself not to cry so the spasming and headaches wouldn’t get worse, as I was being poked and prodded and couldn’t even express how much it all hurt.
The hospital assigned a sitter – someone to watch me so I wouldn’t attempt suicide in the hospital bed. The sitters were nice for the most part, the good ones made sure I had an emesis basin and held back my hair when I needed to use it. But mostly, I was alone through those long hours. I didn’t want to die alone, but I was going to have to make it back to life alone. And the only way I could get through that was to remind myself minute by minute that I deserved every bit of the pain I was suffering. I deserved it in more ways than I can count for being a burden and for putting others through so much. I deserved to be alone and I deserved to feel the pain.
As I look back though, the most intense emotion that I remember was not the pain or the feelings that the medical recovery was my deserved punishment, but that I did not want to die alone. I wish I could tell the two who were there that night how much it meant to me that they did not leave me alone. They saved me in a way they didn’t intend to that night. They meant to save my life. They ended up saving my heart.