Written by Olya Nakonechny for the Paul G. Quinnett Lived Experience Writing Contest: Sharing stories of survival, hope, recovery, and revival from suicide attempt survivors.
Eight years old. I didn’t have a name for that feeling, but Nameless and I have lived together since I can recall my memories with spirit and color. At times I confused it with boredom and tried to bury myself in books; the folk tales were a wonderful subtle way to sail away from the reality of pain. I read even on my breaks in school, all the while other children joyfully played and ran around with their friends. My friends were my thoughts, but they weren’t always friendly. Eight years old and all I could think every passing day was that the world was too strange for me, I couldn’t comprehend it, I wasn’t sure of my place among others. “I don’t want to live!” I screamed silently into myself even though I was unable to fully understand what was happening to me. The Nameless feeling is not something that I have ever shared with my close friends or my brother or my father. The feeling wasn’t in me – I was in the feeling. I was swimming in a bottomless lake – appearing calm and collected on the outside, but paddling for my life underneath it all. It was this invisible, at times unbearable, pain. A pain that was neither in my mind nor body, it was vague and yet somehow so concrete. Now I could best describe it as a hazy fever, where each part of your body – bone, muscle, and soul – ached with a dull yet profound pain that required you to lay down or sleep it off; you knew that you’ve survived it before but this time seemed just as if you wouldn’t make it through. What ultimately helped me feel better was taking care of myself and letting my body heal. And it did, given time. The Nameless fever was at times so strong that for me existing was exhausting. I wanted it to let go. Suicide seemed like the only answer. I spent many years secretly contemplating and vividly imagining the things that I wanted to do to myself. There were numerous things. It was difficult growing up in a broken family in a country across the ocean. My father, who was the sole caretaker of me and my brother at that time, has himself struggled greatly with alcoholism. There were many times where he would be gone for two or three weeks – he’d just sleep the whole day and night, while all we had to eat was a loaf of white bread and sometimes milk chocolate. I felt bored and the Nameless feeling kept creeping in. After I turned ten years old I tried to run away from it by smoking and drinking – that’s what my father did. That’s what my eyes saw all around me. I also started spending nights walking by myself in neighboring towns while listening over and over to my tape player and crying silently into my pillow before sleep or upon waking more often than not. Sometimes it seemed that I had understanding friends and other times I would find their loyalty wash away completely; I was even called names and physically assaulted by peers whom I trusted. I was the ugly duckling.
I can’t remember that single startling moment when I realized that my father, a person for whom a love greater than mine couldn’t be felt, stopped being my buffer against my decision to die by suicide. I realized that I just didn’t have the strength and capacity to imagine and care for what it would have been like for him to find me gone. “Nobody would care anyways, what a relief it would be for those around me,” I thought at those times. For years it was an image that I had in my mind – of my father’s heart breaking into a thousand shards, like a fragile glass vase dropping to the floor and shattering loudly. I have experienced very colorful images of all the details of the circumstance. I frequently found myself staring into space while imagining the least painful way that I could take my life, how it would feel like, whether I would regret the decision a second after. I imagined who would find me and what they would say. Most often I imagine my father’s reaction. At first, I’d see his eyes, the windows to the soul. Glassy, frozen, cold. Then I’d hear screams, sobbing, muttering. No, I could never do that to him. I had to just go on, whatever that meant, even though life seemed to be endless suffering. I think this has happened in my mid-teens, the shift of perspective. This important disappearance of my protection, the downward spiral. Teenage years are tough for everyone and that didn’t differ for me. They were like my childhood, but the magnitude of Nameless was doubled. I started living in a different country and was bullied by the new classmates for not knowing the language and for having short hair as a girl. My family composition has changed as well and it was extremely tough to follow new rules, something that I haven’t had to do in the past. I did great academically in school, but my personal life was a disaster. I ran away for a few days when I was fifteen. I still remember how cold those nights have gotten; I found a rug that someone threw into the garbage and rolled myself in it in an attempt to stay warm and sleep on the ground for my first night. I couldn’t. My eyes were closed but the ears were shocked by hearing constant noise from people’s boots passing by, the sirens, the wind, city sounds that I haven’t been mindful of in the past. I felt freedom that I have missed, but my thoughts didn’t abandon me. When I took a train back home, things at home have gotten much worse. I have struggled to find myself; I was constantly drowning in the black lake, which kept sucking me in deeper. For every good day, I had ten bad days. I found myself spending time with friends who were just a bad influence and not good for my soul. There was a lot more of substance use and putting myself in numerous risky situations. At those times I also started writing really morbid poetry and short prose, the creative outlets which have aided me in relieving my head from the pressure of racing thoughts of death. I have rediscovered music and
fashion when I switched to an art school, however it was frequently used against me by family since it was not aligned with popular opinions. On several occasions I’ve locked myself in the bathroom with bathtub faucet running and a kitchen knife or razors in my hand, thoughts racing, and the dull ache of Nameless spreading through my body. The ounce of hope in the darkness has allowed me to hold on and cry for an hour. What if…I hold on?
Since I lived such a long time with constant suicidal ideation (as well as depression, anxiety, and then other non-mental health bodily concerns), and I could relate well to people from various walks of life, I knew that I could be effective in a helping profession. I especially made up my mind to become a helper after I had my first contact with mental health care at the age of twenty. Interestingly I have just recently learned that according to some research an average time between the onset of symptoms and someone getting help for their mental health concerns is ten years. I saw a psychiatrist for about ten minutes, which seemed like an eternity.
She was an elderly woman with pointy glasses, whose seemingly frail body was sloped in a chair behind a wooden desk that seemed so angular and large. That was not the only thing that created distance between the doctor and the patient. The whole brief session consisted of her berating and making fun of how I look (I had a nose ring) when I was so extremely vulnerable. I was given no chance to explain what was happening to me, what brought me in to her office in the first place. It crushed me; I had already crawled into the unfamiliar space alone, unprepared for the attack. I was so shocked at what had happened that I became mute, I was sitting and nodding fearfully, my voice was trembling. A thin young adult, hovering anxiously on the other side of the room. After the doctor was done throwing insults at my appearance and yelling at me for asking if there was something that I could take or do immediately to find relief from my overwhelming anxiety, I got up and swiftly walked out of the office and into the road. I called a family member, barely able to speak as my tears were choking me. I might have been yelling “I will kill myself right now! This is not fair,” believing this world is not for me I was walking aimlessly and crossing the busy city streets without looking whether there were approaching cars. The urge to die was profound, because if this is how I was being “helped”, then what next? The voice in the phone was able to calm me down, but I don’t recall what it said. It wasn’t about what it said, it was the fact that it let me scream and bellow. I felt somebody’s presence with me. I’m confident to state that it was life changing that after such a dreadful and potentially lethal experience I decided to push and try again at getting the help. Perhaps I wouldn’t have made it until now to write this story. While I have been living with some sort of mental health struggles almost my entire life, they have plummeted around my early twenties after I experienced an event that my brain recorded as traumatic. The anxiety has started spreading so slowly and cautiously that I haven’t noticed it until I became so ill that I was terrified to move in my own bed, not to mention leave the house. I reached out to a college professor whom I trusted and he aided me in coming to the campus counseling center. I was seen on an emergency basis by a counselor and provided some referrals. I felt a little bit of hope and then was able to find a psychiatrist through my health insurance. That doctor was non-judgmental and I was able to tell my story. I’m forever thankful that he also referred me to also see a therapist who worked alongside in the office. I still remember her as a kind and intelligent woman to this day. The half a year I spent coming to see her weekly has opened up my eyes on a lot of things that have occurred in my past and also how they were influencing my present. I was given the ability to see life from a different perspective, even though I was still living through my body. The help that I have gotten allowed me to continue my life journey – to figure out my dreams and actually have a chance at achieving them. It helped by giving me hope, which was the building block for everything else. I received my graduate degree with honors in mental health counseling and I now hold a rewarding job at a suicide hotline, helping people who are going through similar struggles that I have dealt with. Yes, there were countless times where I felt suicidal, yet still pushed through and as a result often had great days when I was able to mold my pain into strength, perseverance, and motivation. Every time I felt better afterwards. Every time I was so glad to wake up the next day. It takes a lot of personal strength to be able to live with such distressing thoughts and urges, but it is possible. Without my lived experience I couldn’t imagine being able to truly empathize and understand what a person can go through and how real, insidious, and agonizing thoughts of suicide are. Every action starts with a thought, no matter how small or fleeting. It’s vital to get to know your triggers (what makes you feel worse), your support system (people with whom you can talk), and your coping skills (things you can do by yourself to allow your mind to focus on something else) to help you deal with those feelings. Create a contingency plan or a list of what you can do to make yourself feel better and stay safe if you find yourself getting overwhelmed with intrusive thoughts that you shouldn’t be living. It is part of Nameless to make you feel as if you’re the only person in the world living through the pain, but there are a lot of us and in numbers we can find strength. We can overcome the hardships if we let time pass. Besides my academic and career advances, I have also achieved many other truly wonderful things that I wouldn’t have been able to experience if I had given in to the pain and despair that I have felt so often. I gave myself many gifts – a chance to get and take care of many different companion animals, I allowed love to develop for myself and for others, I have moved out to a cozy apartment of my own, I have traveled to cities and natural parks, I have continued to create art, I have nurtured the relationships with my family. I have allowed myself to live through good, bad, and everything in-between, because life is a palette and not black and white.
Twenty eight years old. The Nameless feeling is not boredom, it is a lake called depression and suicidal ideation. The weeds that surround it are anxiety, stress, and daily living issues. I navigate the waves steadily for I now have the knowledge that they are fluid, flexible, and will pass sometime soon as long as I close my eyes and float. In two decades I have learned that while this may not be the end of such painful thoughts and emotions, I can stay in the moment of the storm and the mindfulness and acceptance will push me towards the shore. If I stay, I can see the emerald green leaves sprout magnificently in spring, the yellow summer sunshine will once again feel warm on my skin, and the clear smell of fresh winter air will remind me how it’s possible to have other types of imagination which are colorful and vivid, too. I have strong wings to soar.
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