I’ve always been a thoughtful, cautious person. Ever since I could remember I’ve taken great care with my actions. My family used to jokingly call me the alien child because I wasn’t carefree and careless at times like everyone else in my household.
Then when puberty hit and my hormones raged, I started to be more reckless with my life. I still wonder why no one told me about hormones and the moodiness that accompanied them like a haunting old flame? I think a semblance of awareness of the changes happening to my brain and body would have saved me loads of pain and inner-struggle, and perhaps even transformed my life.
At 13, I actually started taking my life for granted and got into self-harm acts like cutting. Being in my teenage body was too much at times. It felt like I’d been cursed. I questioned my okayness — daily. I looked for answers in all the wrong places, wondering if I’d been a horrible human in other lives, so horrible that Life was taking its revenge on me, one horrible mood at a time.
I thought about killing myself back then when my body felt like a pressure cooker filled with a haunting mix of emotion.
I was desperate to find the steam-valve. When cutting at my arms with a protractor didn’t release my inner-steam, I fantasized that suicide would. I attempted it once by taking too many of my anti-depressants. My dad brought me to the ED where they made me drink charcoal and vomit it up, then, after a few general mental health questions, they let me go home to wallow in nausea. Because no one told me how to handle my intense emotions, I just assumed that most humans expected some kind of physical release would make it all go away. Puking my brains out definitely released some of my repressed sadness and rage. It made me feel a little better, that is, until I started to feel worse. But this time I tried something new. I went to the drugstore with my best friend and bought the brightest, hottest, pinkest lipstick. When I started to feel worse again, I smeared that stuff all over my lips, admiring my reflection in my tiny compact mirror with a mix of amusement and contempt.
I could have turned goth. I was starting to get sad like that. Eventually, the pink lipstick lost its entertainment value and black became my favorite color to wear, day and night. Cutting stopped feeling chic and not doing my homework started to have undesirable consequences, like bad grades and ongoing lectures from my teachers and parents.
Death became her.
And then he died; my grandfather. The man whose face lit up the moment I walked in the room. The man treated me like a princess and made me feel that maybe I was a human that had something go for her. Died. I actually felt it seconds before I found out it happened. I was walking up a flight of stairs at school and suddenly lost my breath. I couldn’t breathe. I thought of my grandfather in that moment and his 10 year battle with emphysema. When I got to the top of the stairs the office paged me to come down. My father and sister were waiting for me, their heads hanging low. Grandpa is dead, Sarah. He died in his sleep this morning. As my dad spoke these words, he had a tear in his eye.
He was the first significant loss in my life. I didn’t know how to handle loss, just like I didn’t know how to handle puberty — so I experimented with different coping strategies. I stopped rolling my uniform skirt up above my knees and started wearing the right color tights to my all-girls Catholic school. Following the uniform-rules meant I stopped getting written up for inappropriate behavior, which meant no more detention, which meant much more free-time. Playing by the rules made life a lot easier, which meant I was angry a lot less and enjoyed many moments of my days a lot more.
Death taught me to love myself.
Without realizing it, I started to appreciate my life. Instead of going up to my room to hibernate after school, I hung out with my siblings and helped my mom with dinner. Instead of starving myself like all my junior high friends were doing, I started eating healthy meals and savoring the taste of food instead of counting the calories. Instead of giving up on my studies, I started applying myself, even staying after school to get help with the subject I struggled with the most: math. Math was my grandfather’s favorite subject. Maybe it made me feel closer to him to embrace it with gusto. Maybe, knowing he could barely taste for the last five years of his life, I savored every bite for his sake. Maybe, knowing I would never hear his infectious laugh again, I began to find joy with my family again. Maybe all of it was for him.
And now, having lost 3 significant people, I can say, I never take my life for granted. I live each day for them. My body, the people in my life, and every moment I spend doing all the things life requires of us are an endless blessing.
I’ve learned to love myself, not for the sake of my own self, but for them.
Perhaps the most genuine self-love is born from a love for others. Perhaps a life well-lived is a life being lived for the memory of loved ones lost.
. . .
If you’re feeling suicidal, please reach out for help. Suicide is a serious thing. If you are feeling lost, alone, afraid and have thoughts of harming yourself, call The National Suicide Prevention Line. There are also local suicide hotlines and mental health professionals you can seek out. Sometimes we need the help of professionals to get us through our darkness. I did.
This post was previously published on Living Mindfully and is republished here with permission from the author.
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