It was the smell of new mown grass that saved me. I can’t remember what led me to that day when I felt like ending my life. I was in graduate school in a program I hated; my erstwhile boyfriend was gone, yet again, for the summer; I was on my own. Money had been an issue since I started college six years earlier; my parents helped when they could but there were a lot of us and we all went to college.
I was house-sitting a mansion. Before work each morning, and each evening after, I swam laps, naked, in an Olympic size pool, before I prepared dinner in a state-of-the art kitchen, loaded it into the dumb waiter, and then climbed the three flights of stairs to the third deck to eat under the stars.
The yard had a badminton court demarcated by different colors of grass instead of chalk lines. Friends came over for badminton battles that often went long into the night. I was living rent free and the financial load was off, at least for the summer.
Depression is a sneaky adversary. Just at the time your friends and family are looking at you with envious eyes, depression starts dragging you down into the darkness where you look up at the light that seems too far away.
I had a yard man; or, actually, the house did. It was important to tend the badminton court grass frequently so that the lines didn’t invade the surrounding grass and become too indistinct to distinguish. He had been by that day. As I swam my laps in the early evening sun, I watched my shadow on the bottom of the pool. In the deep end, I imagined the caress of the weight of all that water as I faded into the darkness for a last time. I swam until my arms wouldn’t pull me through the water any more and until my legs started to ache. When I climbed out, I stumbled over to the badminton court, and, even knowing it would itch, stretched out in the new mown grass. I buried my face and let tears of unknown origin fall into the green. It was still warm from the summer sun. I breathed in the odor, and finally, finally decided I would let that be enough, for now at least.
When I moved to rural Colorado, the county I landed in had the highest suicide rate in the state. Within a year, a business associate had killed himself. Within five years, three people I knew pretty well had followed suit. From the outside they had nothing in common, not age, not gender, not economic status. They did have this one thing in common though: they saw no way out other than ending their own lives.
I had a conversation with one of these friends less than two hours before he killed himself. He was the happiest I’d ever seen him. He related his plans for the evening and for the week-end. I realized, in retrospect, that he’d made his decision, and that, for him, it felt like a big liberation was coming.
Do we do ourselves harm by continuing to believe that positive thinking and gratitude will save us from our darker thoughts and worries? I think so. Even very skilled meditators are troubled by negative emotion, and there are treatises on dealing with them. Once I came to realize that life is both dark and light, and that we have to cling to the light moments like a life preserver when the dark moments hit, I was able to weather the inevitable moments when life didn’t feel worth the effort. Some episodes are tougher than others and last longer. I am no longer afraid to ask for help, or to just admit to someone, “I’m having a tough time right now, do you have time to sit and talk awhile?”
I consider myself lucky in countless ways. But one way in which I think we are all lucky is that we live in a time when depression has been accepted as an illness; when there are many treatment options for it; and when you are unlikely to be shunned if you admit you need help.
Sometimes I pull out the memory of lying in the grass that day, my long, wet hair trickling icy pool water down my back and sides while my belly and face were cradled by sun kissed, warm grass. It was truly a life-time ago, and yet, the memory is fresh but worn into a shiny patinaed coin by frequent handling. I wish that I had been able to help my three friends find their own coin, currency to buy them one more day or one more month until the darkness lifted.
Fureyous is a writer in Colorado who felt it was very important to share their feelings on the subject of suicide prevention.