How My Suicidal Ex-Boyfriend Saved My Life


I don’t remember the first time I said “I want to kill myself,” but I do know that I’ve never meant it. I’ve wanted to die, sure. Haven’t we all? Even your friends with the most mental health in the game will admit to wanting, in some abstract way, to disappear— to be done with their own lives, if only for a short break. A lesser death.

I think I’ve had a lot of lesser deaths, short breaks that dipped into zombie states where I checked out from the life I’d gotten myself involved in: no classes, no work, no leaving my bed, small bites, no meals, no restful sleep. These were bouts of mental illness that I was fortunate enough to overcome, and I don’t feel my toes curled over any ledge of depression anymore.

Even at my worst, I’ve never felt the impulse to take myself out, to kill myself. But some people do— it’s saddening, but not unnatural. Treating suicidal people as if they’re strange and unreasonable only seems to make the conclusion more logical: “why am I the only one who feels this way? I must be broken.”

You’re not the only one who feels this way. You’re not broken.

People get close to death all the time: in lesser deaths, in suicide threats, in real attempts, in accidents. We’re supposed to be scared. It’s only instinctual to think about it, to talk about it, to get closer to it until we can handle its imposition. We watch others go. We help each other leave death sitting alone, we save each other in different ways, but they mean the same thing.

When I was 19, my blood started to go bad and my body couldn’t use it anymore. My kidneys printed an expiration date on my blood, like soured milk, and my body started to sweat and shake with anxiety. My organs stared at the “use by” and started to figure out how to dispose of the rancid stuff— a fever, vomit, feeble attempts to urinate that only resulted in more blood, unconsciousness. Before I passed out from the pain— a step on the road to the real thing— I refused to call 911. “It’s just a flu,” I spat. “Don’t you dare. That would be too much. Please don’t.” My eyes fluttered and I took a break. My ex boyfriend watched.

He called 911. They cleaned up my blood. I talked about Grey’s Anatomy in the ambulance. I asked about what heaven was like, I don’t know why. I don’t believe in it, do I?

Maybe I believe in angels, as a description, as a verb. A heroic feat with love in mind, something that keeps a person a little less dead.

When my ex was 19 he had a lesser death, he bled a lot, a left a note. It was before my 19, before my blood expired. I got a text message asking for an ambulance and I thought to myself “don’t you dare” but I did anyway, called 911. I don’t know what was talked about in the ambulance. It sure as hell wasn’t Grey’s Anatomy, he hates that shit.

You could say we saved each others lives. That lesser death felt really good, I remember the passing out felt like napping: it was the waking up that was a bitch, the consciousness and pain, the vomiting, the diagnostics, the questions. We’ve talked about it and I think he’d say the same thing, that the unconsciousness wasn’t the hard part, it’s the waking hours that go by with all the pain and no relief, without any meaning unless you apply it yourself.

A suicidal person can save your life, anyone can. Semantics allow for it, ignorant arguments of fundamental weakness aside: suicidal is a state, not a verb. It’s a thought process that I don’t know if you ever truly escape, but I think it’s okay to live with that weight. I think I will always think about my own lesser death, the brush with the fullest relief. I think it’s okay to live with heaviness. It’s okay to live with death.

You could say we all save the lives of others, sure, but I think it’s more apt to say we all help each other cope. We help each other learn how to use life in a way that doesn’t relate to death, to glean meaning, to harvest our waking moments for happiness that isn’t the happiness of relief, of sleep. We make calls. We sit by beds. We wait for consciousness.

He spent one moment making a call to save my life, but he spends the present living his own, showing me where the edge is, living beyond wanting to die, never fixed. Never broken.