I was not in a good place when I went to “Trauma Camp” in New Mexico. Given the choice, I would rather have died than continue to live. A lot of the people I met in there felt the same way. One of them was Cathy. She and I hit it off. We were both a part of the “Sad Pandas” group… the group primarily made of up people with Major Depression and Bipolar Disorder. She loved nature and being outside even more than I did. We would often sit in the Non-Smoking Shed with our backs to the campus and watch the sunset in silence. She worked for the National Parks and, well, it showed. Cathy new every tree, every rock, and every animal.
We both left the Life Healing Center in slightly better places. We didn’t have killing ourselves as the Primary Entrée on our menus but we definitely both kept it in the Chef’s Special categories. As a result, we kept in touch for support and friendship. She had a land line in Alaska that I’d call because her home on the Park she served on was in the middle of nowhere and out of cell range. Supporting each other worked well for both of us. Neither of us was low at the same time so we were able to help the other see outside of the Depression. We also leveraged our lives for each other. I’d often tell her that she couldn’t commit suicide because if she did it would give me permission to do the same thing.
Cathy had to admit herself into another psych hospital in early 2018. Another Trauma Camper and I convinced her that she wasn’t in a good enough headspace to be out in the world. She spent a week at some mental facility in Alaska and then was released back into the wild. However, I held out hope for her because Cathy finally saw that she couldn’t keep living isolated in Alaska and had taken a job back in the Lower 48. The new park would put her closer to family, therapists, and friends. All she had to do was make it a few more months in Alaska.
In April of 2018, not long after she was released from her inpatient stay, Cathy and I both had the dice come up snake eyes and hit depressive episodes at the same time. It had been about half a year since leaving Trauma Camp and most of us that kept in touch started to unravel around this time. I texted her one night and said “I don’t think I’m gonna make it, Cathy.” She responded saying “I don’t think I’m going to, either.”
We’d both lost the support of each other.
When I came out of my funk a few weeks later I started texting supportive messages to Cathy like “I miss you,” “I’m here for you even if you don’t wanna talk,” and “I know that you’re hiding right now and I’ll still be here when you’re ready to talk.”
I kept texting Cathy messages for two weeks without a reply. On a hunch, I went over to her Facebook page and saw a message from her brother on her wall. He was expressing his gratitude for all of the sympathies and support Cathy’s friends had given him. My heart was replaced by a heavy emptiness as I realized that Cathy had killed herself. I had been texting a dead woman’s phone for two weeks.
My friend, Johanna, called me weeping when she heard about Cathy. She was scared that I was going to copycat Cathy and kill myself. I lied to her and told her that I was fine. I turned off my feelings, turned on my codependence, and comforted Johanna. I explained to her that, statistically, we weren’t all going to make it. When we hung up, Johanna felt better and I felt absolutely nothing.
I got pulled over for speeding twice the next week. I wasn’t driving aggressively. I was just completely checked out and was merely a computer mindlessly driving a route. I told myself as the blue lights blinked like a fucked up rave in my car that I would kill myself that night if I got a ticket. I guess the cops could tell I was off because I got warnings both times.
I smiled for my patrons at work while I tended bar. I made my coworkers laugh. But I was looking at dates on the calendar to take my own life. I saw that, even though I missed Cathy tremendously, the world just kept fucking spinning despite the Cathy shaped hole in it. Surely, it would be the same for me, right?
Over and over again, I didn’t kill myself because of one haunting question: What if I’m wrong? What if things will actually get better one day? I hated the doubt that question placed in my mind. I hated myself for believing that the misery I had known for two consistent years might disappear one day. I genuinely believed that I was a fucking idiot on a quixotic quest for happiness.
A little under two years later, I can say that I’m really fucking happy for the doubt… I was wrong. Things got better. Not all at once but slowly over time. First, I started to enjoy my job. Then, I started to have fun on dates. Now, I genuinely smile. I sigh as my girlfriend holds me while we watch TV. My kids and I have a better, more honest relationship now than we ever had before. I love my job now, even though I’m still poor as fuck.
I’ve made it out of the other side of the darkness.
I’m convinced that Cathy gave up too early. I really do believe she’d be in a better place right now if she’d held on for a little while longer.
If you’re suicidal or hopeless, you can make it out of the darkness, too. The world already has a hole in it where Cathy used to be. It doesn’t need another hole shaped like you.
If you need help right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You aren’t as alone as you think you are and you’re not as hopeless, either!