When my husband Jay came home that day, I was cowering in the darkness, backed into the corner of our closet wishing for complete erasure. I had spent the better part of the day perched on top of our shoes and crouching under the hems of our hanging clothes with my body attempting to fold in on itself. I wanted to escape without leaving a trace.
During the year that led up to that day, I had seen all sorts of doctors and tried multiple psychotropic drugs without any success. I had watched myself disappear. The sadness and despair had so thoroughly abraded my sense of self that my compulsion to hide and turn inward—to search for something that was mine or for something that felt right—was constant. But there was nothing left to discover. The disconnectedness had become unremitting and vicious, the resulting isolation all-encompassing.
Still, despite my inexorable hopelessness, Jay somehow managed to coax me out of that closet. I can’t recall anything about how he tried to distract and soothe me in the hours that followed. The look on his face, though, has stayed with me. His jaw was tensed in frustration, his brow furrowed with worry, and his eyes seemed as though they had clouded over with fear and disappointment. He was trying and he had been trying for a long time, but he was exhausted. We both were so tired—tired of living with the person that I had become.
After a few hours, I couldn’t bear to see how drained and spent Jay seemed. So, I told him to go to bed. We had opposite sleep patterns; I often stayed up way past Jay’s bedtime, he always woke before dawn, and I struggled to get out of bed before nine. When Jay got up, he would tiptoe out of the bedroom, dress, and leave well before I was even awake.
That night, Jay was hesitant about going to sleep. Eventually, though, he could barely keep his eyes open. When he finally relented, he told me that he loved me and asked if I would be safe before kissing me goodnight. I nodded reflexively and told him that I loved him too. I really loved him, but I didn’t know how to be safe anymore.
I had reached a still point where I could only imagine one way to give us both permanent freedom from our misery. I saw the claustrophobic choicelessness pressing down and closing in on the unraveled and nearly empty me. I knew it was going to crush me, and I believed that if I continued to try to hold onto the people who had been forced to standby helplessly watching me deteriorate, I would surely cause their destruction too.
Once Jay had gone to bed and the house was quiet, I considered my options. I knew that Jay was a sound sleeper and that in the dark when he woke up in the morning he would not be able to really see me as he quickly padded out of our room. He would then go off to work without suspecting anything was amiss, and when he got home later that afternoon everything would be over. With this in mind, I filled a glass with water from the kitchen sink and walked over to the bathroom cabinet where I stored all those failed antidepressants and sleeping medications. I hadn’t planned to squirrel away so many drugs, but there they were.
I left the bathroom with the glass of water in one hand and a couple of bottles of sleeping pills in the other and found a corner spot in the narrow, drafty hall by our bedroom. I slumped down onto the cold, tile floor, pulled my knees to my chest, and cried quietly.
At the time, we lived in the Santa Cruz mountains in a house that we couldn’t afford to heat properly. On that rainy night in January, the hall was particularly chilly, and I was shivering. Even so, the tears rolling down my cheeks felt uncomfortably hot. Our dog sat beside me licking the salty wetness off my face. I thought about how he wouldn’t know where I had gone, and I wondered if he would keep looking for me until the day he died.
I worried about the people I loved. They probably would never truly understand why I needed to escape. But I couldn’t change that, or I didn’t know how. I told myself that any issues that arose from my death would only be temporary problems. I was certain of this. The people I loved were all stronger and more competent than I could ever be. I felt weak and scared and cold. The ability to put an end to the devastating force that seemed to be coursing through me was my only remaining power. I shoveled the pills into my mouth, drank the water, and swallowed three times.
My heart fluttered as I stood up to walk back to Jay for what I thought would be the last time. I wanted to be with him and to feel the warmth and comfort of his body up against mine. When I reached our bed, I paused and noticed my mittens and hat on the nightstand. I realized that I didn’t need them anymore. I would not have to feel the coldness for much longer, and soon I would never have to feel cold again. I slipped under the covers, pressed myself up against Jay, and melted into the warmth of his body. Sinking easily and quickly into the softness of the mattress, I imagined Jay no longer struggling with the toxic person that neither of us wanted. I felt relieved; we would both be free now. Then I closed my eyes and let go.
* * *
When I started this blog, Jay felt that I was leaving out a big part of my story. He thought that readers needed to know that I had tried to kill myself multiple times for them to truly understand the severity of this illness. For the first nine months of this blog, though, I couldn’t bring myself to write about my suicide attempts. I felt ashamed of those experiences, and I didn’t want to revisit them.
Jay saw it differently and decided to write about his experience of that night. That way, if and when I felt the time was right, I could let people know the truth. While I didn’t have the courage to post it then, something totally unexpected happened when I read his words. A piece of the story that I had shuttered away from for 18 years became clearer. Jay’s story began,
Francesca tried to kill herself once since we’ve been together, not long after we got married. She took a bunch of pills that were supposed to help her sleep and then crawled back into bed, maybe because it was so cold in the house. I remember waking up to her moving restlessly in bed next to me and moaning loudly from way down in her throat. I remember asking if she was okay, then getting scared when I shook her and yelled at her and still couldn’t wake her up properly. I remember that a policeman who arrived with the EMTs asked me questions that were meant to discover whether or not I had done harm to her. I think I remember that they would not let me come to the hospital with her, that I was told to stay home, and that it was light outside when they finally left. I don’t remember much else, and I’m not confident that what I’ve described here is accurate. Make of that what you will.
In all our discussions about what happened that night, I never asked Jay why he didn’t go to the hospital with me, and he never mentioned the police interrogation. I assumed that he got back into bed that night because he was furious with me for abandoning him. And I was so grateful when he forgave me that I didn’t want to question his decision to stay home that night. I thought Jay—just like other relatives of mine—had been protecting himself by creating distance between us. I was sure that he left me alone in the hospital to punish me, and I was convinced that I deserved any and all retribution. But I was wrong. Jay wasn’t furious with me and he didn’t want to punish me, either.
I was wrong about so many things: about the way my body would respond to an overdose of sleeping pills, about why Jay did not come to the hospital that night, about whether my mind would ever be mine again, about how people would, should, and did respond to my suicide attempt, about what I deserved, and about whether I should be ashamed. The list of my mistakes from that night is long, but my greatest regret is the pain that both my depression and my suicide attempt have caused Jay. And yet, I have finally started to see that blaming people for depression and suicide is as illogical as blaming them for any other potentially fatal illness. I suppose the policeman from that night was just doing his job, but the truth is no one was at fault.
In writing and sharing my stories on this blog, I have been consistently surprised by what turns up. I’ve learned things that I never would have imagined and things that I’ve struggled to understand and accept for most of my life. I have begun to actively refute ideas about how I am bad and deserve to be punished. I am no longer denying my past. More important, I am starting to believe that I shouldn’t have to.