Itis a very surreal feeling, the feeling of wanting to end your life, especially in urban terrains such as New York City — there are no quiet places in this town, the town with a million and one buses and cars and windows and stories; a city with people and lights louder than the next thunder scream; there are no closed, clear spaces for suicide. Everything and everyone jammed in, all in earshot of each other, each one privy to the next one’s pain and suffering. Almost every death will be done in public, every suicide by another body living, breathing, being, and coexisting alongside the brick and steel and concrete crowding the pathways.
You will be on a train looking for exits, trains full of other bodies, all commuting to a home, a place, an escape route; you, you are leaning against the doors, hoping they open on accident and you fall through— can I pry these doors open with my hands? Will anyone stop me? Will I hear my body break before the breaking happens? How would it feel to jump onto the tracks? Would it be quick? If I survive, how much damage would I have already done to my body in process? How much pain can I take to die?
You imagine getting off the train and jumping right then; you remember the crazy Latinx brother on the train the other day, oozing patriarchal stereotypes and machismo, him looking to break someone’s face, and you ask what if you had indulged, engaged that day…wanting to numb yourself, be in pain, or die quick and hard enough to make what still lives, disappear.
When you finally grab a seat, a majority of the train has now emptied, and a child of nine years or so sits beside you, her father standing in front of her; their talk gravitates towards a cousin who, ironically, committed suicide (only in New York will someone think of committing suicide, only to wind up near a family talking about someone who committed suicide. God is a comedian, I believe.) The young girl asks her father a series of questions:
“Why did he jump in front of the train?”
“Was he unhappy?
“Maybe he had good days, but he had more bad days than good, maybe that’s why?”
Last stop, and look at the father and let him know “your daughter is smart.” Being above ground, everywhere you look, you are scanning for ways to do it, but recognize you are far too scared — scared of the pain, of not seeing your daughter grow, of missing out on the dreams and things you promised of yourself, for yourself. This too, feels cowardly: the thought of ending your life but being fearful of actually ending it. What spectrum of the suicide wheelhouse is this? You resolve yourself to an intake at a hospital. Calling 911 and saying you want to harm yourself is an ambulance, and ambulance’s are expensive. You have worked in social services, they will not keep you overnight. You know the checklist: do you have a plan, are you carrying a weapon, are you a threat to yourself or others? At best, they will schedule you a follow-up appointment to see a psychiatrist. You just want a room where you have to remove your belt and boots, no shoelaces please. You need a break from people and work and co-parenting and expectations. Death feels easier. But, too much depends on you, on your life and shoulders (these thoughts also further the suicidal ideations), so you THEN decide to call a suicide hotline.
Nothing will gnaw at you like conducting a Google search on “suicide prevention” for yourself. NYC Well is a hotline and text-based service created in order to assist those looking to speak to someone. Texting will feel most appropriate, because even though you are suicidal, you still have responsibilities: you still need to buy groceries, you still need to see your daughter. You do not want to openly cry in public, on public transportation. You are a man, there are stigmas here, people will judge you. This is the weight of suicide, of self-harm. You do not want to be shamed on the surface, so you will text first. You will get on the bus and text the number, only to be prompted via text for the “press 1 for English” option.
It is two minutes before the “How can I help you today?” text arrives. In those two minutes, the blood moves in all the directions it can inside of you. Those two minutes will see you wanting to jump out of your skin, off of the bus, and into moving traffic.
“Im sorry to hear that your feeling this way,” on top of being a grammatically awful and poorly structured text, was too automated, too inhumane and too impersonal for someone looking for a ledge or a rope or a reason not to survive (NYC Well needs to address this issue ASAP.) At this point, the bus has pulled up by a hospital, and the decision is made to get off the bus, call a trusted hotline source, and be prepared to go into the hospital if need be to save your life.
You call and wait to be connected, and after that minute or so wait, you speak to an elder Black woman, elder because you can hear the age and timbre of her experienced voice, and hear her breath while you cry and sob and weep in public, and hear her breath and listen and tell you how good you are, tells you to pat yourself on the back, and tells you you are a great father. She asks your name and she tells you hers and you hope she knows she saved your life, that all that was needed was someone to not want from you, to not want to take anything from you; not to demand or question you or your thoughts or your actions; only giving, only offering, only loving.
There are great days, good days, not-so-good-days, and “It would be so much easier not to be here” days. Suicide is not a “selfish” act, and attempting to categorize it as such is demeaning of the layered ways in which one who IS suicidal sees their life, and their role in the lives of others. When you feel worthless, taking your own life will feel far better than the pressure of living for others. Despite the self-help, spiritually-awakened craze that has been the topic of many a yoga mat over the past few years, a simple “change in attitude”, change of diet, and Buddhist retreat are not the cure-alls for some. Life is hard, very beautiful and grand, but hard. Sometimes, kumbaya and holding hands and ohm and chanting will not absolve the pain, will not minimize the broken dangling inside of you. The responsibilities of this generation, one can argue, are by far the most complex we’ve seen in the history of modern civilization — the advent of the internet, social media and the like has created an influx of new and previously undiagnosed disorders affecting the way we speak, feel, and interact with one another. With that, our approaches to mental health and mental health treatment, have also shifted. However, one thing that has yet to change, is our human need and desire to be heard, to be listened to, to feel like our voices and hurt and wounds and scars matter to someone other than ourselves. This is why hotlines will always be important, and will always be an important service in the fight against suicide.
So, thank you National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for saving my life, and countless others lives. If you or a loved one are under emotional duress, and need someone to talk to, please call 1 (800) 273–8255 immediately.Your life matters, I promise.
By Joel Leon