Updated: Sep 9, 2020
Three days ago, I boarded a plane to Baghdad, as the kick-off point to leave Toronto for an extended period of time. It came around a pivotal time where I had spent the last five years contemplating suicide on-and-off sometimes for days at a time, sometimes for months at a time. Sometimes, 32 seconds would last 8 years when I was in a long suicidal funnel.
So, about four months ago, after what I felt was a reasonable time after years with therapy and meds, I started to pack up all these loose ends and thoughts with my life ‘as it stood’, got the blessing of the person I love with all of my heart, said an equally heart wrenching good-bye to him, and decided to get out of the bubble that has made me figuratively and in many ways, literally, go crazy. All I knew and know is that I wanted to experience humanity - the good parts and the bad, see resilience through said good and the bad, and through both of these connective experiences, find my way, find my answers through talking and connecting with others, and just finally, be a good and perpetually improving human being. I am not exactly going to safe places, but I knew that if I went to safe places, I may as well just stay at home.
It was not a rash decision. I have tried a plethora of meds, all the therapy under the sky, and met enough doctors for what I feel is justifiably awhile, that I decided that this time, it had to be something outside of the book, outside of our regular psychological and logical ideals. And, until I have experienced whatever it is I need to experience in order to stop this suicidal train, I will not know if it is the right or wrong decision. In the months and deep down, years, leading up to this day, I worried the experience would be tainted with loneliness, anxiety and fear. I know still, I am going to experience all those feelings. I feel those feelings right now. I am so incredibly scared. But sometimes, the right decision is never the conventional decision, and for once, I am going to throw logic out the window and put my current life on pause (my relationships, my job, the unrealistic 'milestones' and 'expectations of myself', everything); because logic has only resulted in further mental instability.
This is not eat, pray, love (as I tried to explain to everyone in my life...). And, as much as everyone has asked repeatedly and insensitively, how "excited" am I to "take this adventure" or "when I am going to write the book" (their words, not mine), or "have so much fun", it has been a bit of a mental nightmare getting this messaging across to some of my loved ones. Everyone thinks I will come back - "I'll see you later" - but how do they really know? I know I would come back out of my own volition for sure, but what if I am at the wrong place at the wrong time? What then? Well really, it's actually my own fault, because no one forced me into this but myself and my un-wired brain. But right now, and maybe it's the tunnel vision, I cannot see another clearer way. There are more things to try, but this can be the first one on that list.
I unfortunately left home ruminating about all these goodbyes that did not go the way I wanted them to, because to everyone else, I was doing Elizabeth Gilbert, "finding myself". Well no, this was is about something else. The truth? I copped out and left again, because probably the next clearer alternative was to wait another two months, try more therapy and try to commit suicide again because I am a literal dirtbag who does not appreciate her life.
But, I am ranting now, and I want to talk about all that later. There is a nicer point to the story below, that's not all about trying to get away from being suicidal.
So, where do I start?
The story behind this was a bit of a dream that extended from childhood; but more so lately, because I strongly believe that this is the place to start my unconventional journey (it may not be unconventional for others to travel for long periods of time, I get it) to ‘find my way’ out.
When I was seven or maybe eight, I took a National Geographic from my dentist’s office (yes, I had kleptomaniac problems already; did the same with Readers’ Digest recipes). Every time I went to the dentist’s office I flipped through said magazines, turning through all the pictures without understanding the context behind what the magazine was trying to profile. And, I never actually wanted to take a magazine until one day I saw this picture of a little boy, standing in front of a reed house, in what I know now as the Mesopotamia Marshes of Iraq. I do not know if it was something about the boy’s haunting eyes, or the reed house, or the fact that said reed house was on water (my fascination); but, I felt connected to this place, and as cliché as it sounds, I knew one day I was going to visit there. I dreamed of visiting there. I dreamed of sitting in that reed house, naively playing with that little boy as a little girl. Mind you, I would later learn that the article was profiling the marshes because they were devastatingly almost fully destructed in Saddam Hussein-related (and other) political conflict; but to me, it was this whole other mesmerizing world the first time I locked eyes with that image. I kept that full magazine in this pile of miscellaneous, mostly ripped out articles I wanted to hide from my mom in my clothes closet, underneath dolls. Chinese parents deconstruct houses all the time, so along the way, it got thrown away I guess. Anyhow, I kept that image still in the back of my brain, and when I needed it most for inspiration and help (i.e. this year), I finally took it out from its rightful compartment. And, that’s partially why I am here in Iraq (in the more positive sense)– out of a naïve childhood dream.
As I said before, for the past five years, I have been on-and-off suicidal. Some days have been really good, and the next few months have been so intense that some days I would just rather stop feeling. Some days of course I would just rather stop living. I have tried to kill myself several times now through overdosing and cutting my wrist, but a part of me only goes into it with, maybe about seventy or eighty percent commitment. And so, luck would have it, the remaining twenty to thirty percent drives me to figure out reasons for why I need to live every time after I end up waking up in the hospital with a second chance or someone talks me off the literal ledge. Somewhere deep down inside my indignant brain, I know there is nothing wrong with my life. I am desperately lucky for all my privileges – for where I live, the opportunities I have access to, and the people who love me for who I am despite all my faults. Somewhere deeper down inside my indignant crap of a brain, I want to be a regular person – experiencing life normally - building a family, working on a career, and just being a good wife, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend...maybe one day, a mother. I do want all those things, but my brain unraveled, and now all those things feel desperately out of reach.
Five years ago and sometimes even before that, I felt mostly in touch with my world as it-is. I had, in my mind, some sense of purpose, some sense of meaning, and I embraced happiness a lot of the time. There were off-days and there were off-periods, but I could always see something at the end of the road. I, for the most part, felt connected to the people and places around me – my world as I saw it, even if it was a bubble to everything else that is so much more important in this world. I was never outside looking in, but I always felt like I belonged somewhere, even if it was just under some naïve pretense (i.e. “are they really my friends?”). Everything around me was enough.
But, somewhere along the way, I lost all of that. It was not that I never experienced painful transition. But, something about my mindset and attitude forced me to experience said painful experiences more intensely, and more negatively. And gradually, I lost it, and I changed. I do not know, maybe I was always ‘changed’, but at some earlier point in time, I was better at hiding it to myself. I could no longer let things go, and I allowed said things to affect me to the point that I would question my own existence, sometimes daily. My husband would often say, even now, that the girl he fell in love with and married, disappeared. She went – “Gone Girl” – true story.
I never think I lost all those ideals that I was raised with – to be motivated and to be ‘someone’, to even be just a regular ‘vanilla’ person. For the longest time, all I could think about was being ‘someone’, even if I didn’t even know what that actually really meant (and that’s probably the problem), without just trying to project manage my own life in some bubble of an unrealistic milestones chart – get married here, have a kid there, get to this position then, save the world [heh] there. But, day by day, I felt like I was putting on a façade for everyone in my life. I literally started to feel in every room like the odd one out, and that one outsider looking in, gradually just fading further and further away. I could no longer resonate with everyone else’s capitalist ideals and unyielding sense of normalcy with how we all live, and the ‘milestones’ no longer made sense. I felt vastly inadequate with who I was, and I could no longer, at this time, identify with how everyone else around me was living their lives – pursuing their careers and building families as the only means of connection and survival, going down this road where we are raised to believe that that said road is the only right option - those things that are parents would be “proud of us for”. Everything to me started to feel pointless and mind-numbing.
What didn’t also help was the fact that I had a flawed mindset (which, although I complain about the usefulness of therapy often, was where I came to that realization). Despite ‘not caring’, I still died a thousand lives if I did not receive external validation for a life that still felt pointless and mind-numbing. I have always been afraid of being judged, and I have always wanted validation, even as a child because I had never felt like I amounted to anything even when I did reach successes and overcame challenges. In truth, the “social media generation” maybe turned me into even more of an extreme validation-seeker – consciously or unconsciously. I truly think though that if we just wanted to share our good news to someone close, we would do so by picking up the phone and arranging to see said someone in person. Yet, all our photos, and deepest, “happiest” (not darkest) ‘secrets’ end up on the web, for daily validation. And well, the bad news, and the deepest, darkest secrets just stay repressed.
I needed validation because I never ever felt good about myself. I always had to be better, even if I did not even truly understand what 'better' meant to myself.
If I did not get validation from certain people (certain girlfriends, an ancient long time ago - my mother) especially, I did not feel like I was ‘someone’, and I self-projected onto those individuals that they were judging and attacking me even if they were not. The need for daily validation murdered my insides in many different ways. For example, I felt suffocated when I shared the outputs of a hobby, and someone asked repeatedly why I had not turned it into a business. I felt suffocated when I wrote my heart out on a day where I felt incredibly unstable mentally and needed an unconventional parade of an outlet, and someone would suggest to me the ways in which I could publish a book. Because in truth, I would then turn around and ask myself - if I have not done those things yet in life, am I not an adequate human being? And so, I could not process anymore why I could not just love doing things for the sake of loving to do said things without feeling judged because I did not monetize them and turn them into a capitalist enterprise.
But then, it became a vicious cycle. If I did not post it to Instagram for validation, I ruminated to myself, did it really even happen? So, as horrible and sick as social media made me feel, I still ‘lived’ with it, because I just could not let go of needing external validation – good or bad. It was and is a vicious cycle that I could just stop with deleting everything or maybe throwing my phone into an ocean. My psychiatrist has torn apart these thoughts, essentially alluding to the fact that as usual, I am a f'd up idiot – i.e. if someone says you should turn something into a business, it is because that is what they would do, not because you are any less of a person. But, when you are used to viscerally beating yourself down until the point that you are crying until your eyes feel beaten, and you feel suicidal, it is still hard to process.
Call me weak, but after several years of therapy, I do realize all my personality and character flaws, even if I have been resistant to change; but unfortunately, therapy has done nothing to actually correct those flaws. Am I treatment resistant? I do not know. When someone says repeatedly, you have the capability to “train your mind”, and stop “thinking certain ways”, (and read to me the glorious ways how) I truthfully think they are acting naïve, and just have the innate capability to hide things better. Truthfully, I think it is crap. But, they are still thinking the same kind of thoughts, ruminating incessantly, and judging themselves the same way. However, that’s just a generalization. It’s probably not true – not everybody in the world judges themselves to the same extent, or cares what anyone thinks of them. I mean, I look at my husband, and he could care less if someone judged him. And, because of that, his mind is free. I wish everyday that my mind could be free. I tell him daily I wish there was a process in which we could erase the memories we do not want like content on our phone.
Getting back to why I am in Iraq, and the journey that ensues from here - I know that the need for external validation just does not go away instantly. I think a part of me hopes that whatever I find in terms of connective experiences, the situations and those particular experiences help me to let go of that specific need, and let go of all other negative things in my life so my mind can finally stop ruminating.
I just want to learn to let go and breathe.
I can post a thousand pictures of mountains, lakes and architecture for the next few months, and tell intricate stories of the various experiences that are changing me whether people care or not. But maybe that’s just it, I just want one final story. I hope for it to be transformative. I hope for it to be connective. I hope for it to open my eyes to humanity wholly and completely. I hope that I finally realize how incredibly privileged I am. But when I come home, I want to delete social media for good. And from there, I just want to fully live my life, as vanilla or chocolate as it ends up being, and just be happy with it, especially before I have a kid. Whether that happens or not, I am not sure, but I want to at least learn to let go.
And man, I cry again when I write this, because I really want to move on because I just don't want to be suicidal anymore. I don't want a whole bottle of pills, or the condo balcony railing, or a train track to seemingly be my only options. I want the incessant attachment to death to stop.