So wake me up when it’s all over
When I’m wiser and I’m older
All this time I was finding myself
And I didn’t know I was lost
Two weekends ago and fresh out of completing fourth grade, our son discovered Avicii and he latched right on to this song. I sat with him for a few minutes and watched his intense consumption of the YouTube video. I explained that Avicii wasn’t doing the vocals; that his approach was to collaborate with other artists through writing and sound mixing. I should add that the boy has become quite the YouTube connoisseur, so I’m not certain how he finally stumbled upon this one and why he hadn’t yet before. He loved what he had discovered and asked if there was more.
Me: Yes, there are lots. His music was very popular around the world. Sadly, he’s dead now.
Me: [incorrectly] I think it was an overdose.
C: Did a doctor do it or did he do it?
[I cringed a little when he said that, knowing we have lost so many amazing artists and realizing that he knows details because he is a sponge for both history and pop culture.]
Me: He did it. He was only in his 20’s.
C: [a wave of disappointment flooding his face] Awwww, he could have made so much more great music.
Me: Yes, he totally could have. *hugs*
That moment with C stoked even more memories in me and served to uncover a topic I don’t think we don’t discuss often enough as a society yet one that I know intimately: suicide.
When I was 14 years-old, I allowed my undeveloped brain to decide in a moment that I didn’t want to live anymore. I didn’t want to do this life. So I could just methodically take around 200 Tylenol pills (one by one) and the pain would go away. I cannot tell you exactly what I was thinking or feeling in the moments that preceded me swallowing all of the pills. I emptied a nearly full bottle, though. Some memories ingrained relay that it had something to do with a pull to ‘punish’ my mother. ‘I’ll show her. She’d be sorry she said what she said or did what she did.’ She’d be sorry when I’m gone. Maybe she would grieve for eternity. Maybe she will live the rest of her days wishing she hadn’t said shitty things to me. Yes, I would win in the end.
Except thankfully, it didn’t go down like that. It turns out that OTC Tylenol didn’t have the potency of the prescription drugs that later followed and of which I didn’t have access to. As my blood thinned over what felt like hours, I donned my heavy winter coat and wrapped myself in multiple blankets while I shivered and waited to go to sleep forever.
Only I was too cold to sleep and far too restless to wait. And so it came to pass that I stumbled downstairs and woke Dad who had fallen asleep on the coach with the television still on. I announced my predicament calmly, coldly, and in with a matter-of-fact tone.
“I just took all of the Tylenol from the bathroom cabinet. I’m cold and I can’t go to sleep.”
He snapped awake immediately, shoving me into the car and driving like a bat out of hell to the nearest hospital (a good 40 minutes away from the very rural area in which we lived at the time) while yelling at me to stay awake. By this time, I was ready for the sleep and had to fight it.
Not as hard as I had to fight the nurses in the ER who held me down while they shoved a tube up my nose and told me I had to swallow that same tube so they could pump my stomach with charcoal. I remember screaming, crying, and flailing. I remember one female nurse coldly announcing that if I didn’t take the tube, I would have to drink the thick, black substance that she shoved in my face as a visual that I could take another way so that I could puke out the poison. I remember how foreign it felt to have that tube shoved through my nasal cavity and down my throat. I remember losing my voice from screaming and the rawness in my throat as I jerked the tube out time and again because that physical sensation was absolutely horrible.
None of them cared that my throat was bleeding. They were just trying to save me.
I remember how no one let me sleep for the longest time and I was so pissed about that because I was rightfully emotionally and physically exhausted.
Most of all, I do remember waking up and seeing my mother’s face with red, swollen eyes from her tears as she held my hand and told me that she loved me.
I also recall the utter shame that I felt in having to return to school a few days later. I saw in the eyes of all of my friends and classmates that they knew. Perhaps they thought they knew even more than they did and perhaps they made up their own stories about me and my family as a result. I can never be certain. No one talked about it…such a taboo subject. I lived in a fog of denial and regret through the aftermath. I truly just wanted to crawl under a rock and hide for the remainder of days.
So why share this now, so publicly and decades later? Because I feel it’s intensely crucial that we are open with one another with our struggles to cope as fallible humans. I feel it’s especially important in that awkward space between childhood and adulthood where we are trying so hard to be grown, to make grown-ass decisions even when we aren’t yet capable of doing so, though we would never admit it.
I have since watched both seasons of “13 Reasons Why” and it takes me back, though not to a space that I can fully identify. In my days of teenage angst, we wrote bad shit about one another on the bathroom with permanent markers and proudly signed our initials. That was our form of early social media. Instead of hiding behind the keyboard, we crouched in a locked stall and voiced our bullshit to one another that way. There was just no delete function for the writing on those walls. The crude graffiti remained until a custodian was assigned the thankless task of painting over it all. I am so grateful that we did not all walk around with video-capable cameras in our pockets back then. I was beyond stupid as a teen girl. I latched right on to all of my judgments and let them fly. Including those imposed on myself.
I realize that “13 Reasons Why” is very controversial, yet I watch it anyway to remember that we all play a role in this thing we call life, and that our words and actions matter in the moment. I don’t take that in without a fair amount of emotion. I find a time to watch it alone and recall that this is a hard and extremely raw topic. I struggle with the critics that opine that it glamorizes suicide. I don’t find anything about suicide glamorous. Not the act itself (or the attempt) and certainly not the pieces of the soul that are left behind when ‘success’ is obtained.
I want to have an open dialogue about the deepest fears and intensity of pain that lead us to make snap decisions that ultimately create a lifetime of the very emptiness for our loved ones that we seek to escape in that moment. For all of you who believe I living my best life now, I would agree with you. Yet I almost didn’t make it past age 14. How fucked up would that have been?
Tim Bergling (aka Avicii) was yet another amazing talent who left behind a legacy of his talent that will be enjoyed for many years to come. Just 14 months later (yes, 14), there’s a little boy who is just discovering and loving his music.
Tim’s family wrote in part:
He really struggled with thoughts about Meaning, Life, Happiness.
He could not go on any longer.
He wanted to find peace.
Tim, you will forever be loved and sadly missed.
The person you were and your music will keep your memory alive.
We love you,
Indeed his memory is still alive, as I learned two weekends ago. I took some time to process this which is why I didn’t post last Sunday. I have really been digging deep into my own psyche, my memories, and my current thoughts about all of it. And I’m putting my story out there so that everyone knows that you have your own gifts to share. Whether far and wide as an Avicii or compacted to just family and close friends, you are a gift.
Above all else, always, always know that help is available in your darkest moments and so here is where I will include links to support if you either don’t feel that you have it or don’t feel comfortable reaching out to loved ones. This is the raw part of humanity, and we need to acknowledge its existence every single day.
photo credit: Paul-W EIL-negatives035 via photopin (license)