By Teddy George
The first time I ever had a diary I touched pen and paper and wrote about wanting to be dead, and imagined all the different ways in which it would happen. Then I read Tom Sawyer, and Tom Sawyer also candidly imagined his own death, and so therefore I assumed that it was something all children quite naturally did out of spite towards the unfairness of parents.
The first time my mother read through my diary full of hypothetical suicide notes, she laughed it off, that I was only too little to understand the vast emptiness behind the idea of death, and I too laughed with her, though a part of me felt horribly wounded like something awful had happened that I didn’t quite understand, and it was the idea of her laughing at my suicide notes-filled diary that made me never want to touch a diary again.
All I write about is death. I clutch it to my chest. I go back to that afternoon now thirteen years ago, walk into my room. Seven years old, I am crying. Give it back, I say, while my mother reads my unpracticed first grader hand writing, how I wish I could melt into the dark, how I wish I could quietly give my last breath, and when I die, I will become a stork, and with my long wings fly into heaven and into my grandmother’s arms.
I remember now. When my grandmother died, I wanted to join her, so simply, so ardently. I can’t ever imagine reacting to her absence with anything else.
I pluck the diary out of her laughing hands. No, I say. This isn’t yours.
This is mine. I hand the diary back to myself, and watch me take the pages out and hide them, and promise never again, except all the other times. My mother is laughing, until I am old enough that it isn’t funny anymore.
Sadly, it did not make me stop imagining being dead, or writing about death in all its capacities, though I had, by then, realized that I must be incredibly sneaky about it, lest some adult find it and mock what they would perceive to be shallow childish strife at great literature.
But I wrote about death a lot, and I thought about death a lot, and I made it so that all my characters would die beautiful tragic deaths, borrowed from the greatest movies of my generation, so that their cold bodies would be found on the ground under the weeping rain by lovers and relatives struck by sudden remorse for having said something quite awful to them in their last exchange.
Indeed no one had ever written, or would ever write death scenes as tragically beautiful and metaphorically haunted as the ones produced by me at the tender age of thirteen when the Internet offered me far more access to various methods of suicide than any child should be able to view.
All you write about is death, is not something any mother should have to say to a teenage daughter who considers herself a writer, and to this day I will never not regret making mine say those words.
But it was true. All I ever wrote about was death, and it prevailed through every single aspect of my life, because, ultimately, all I thought about was death, and there was an unspoken kind of understanding in me that everyone else thinks about death too, that people who say they aren’t are lying, that ultimately, with some part of their consciousness, all people always quietly imagine their own passing.
That part of me that was seven years old and putting up with having just been laughed at for writing those thoughts down, insisted that I keep them a secret.
Annoyingly, all I wrote about was death. Namely, my female characters who were always my age, but thinner, dying tragically and being mourned.
My thirteen year old self, left unsupervised on the Internet read a lot about suicide, and a lot about depression, and the connection between the two, and self harm, and that depressed people sometimes self-harmed, but sometimes just ended their own lives with no warning, just like that, and to this day I remember not feeling the shock of someone who would be shocked when exposed to the idea of suicide for the first time, but rather a quiet sort of “why not” attitude that should have alarmed me, but didn’t.
And while I continued writing about death, I switched to third person, and removed the characters from myself, made them older than me and thinner, and spiced it up a bit my making them boys, and changed their hair colors, and they started writing beautiful suicide notes, and I thought I was being brilliant and innovative, and I continued thinking about death when I started seeing my school therapist, but not a single part of me thought to tell him that there was a part of my brain that would not shut up with the idea of walking out in a busy street. When he kept saying he was going to call my parents, I informed him that I don’t require his help anymore, and stopped going. I was never going to live through being that open again. I was fine.
At nineteen I was able to admit to myself that I am suicidal, that I never stopped writing the stories, that I picked up having a diary only when I moved to university so my mother would not have to read my suicide notes again, and again and again—
In December, right before going home for Christmas break, my friends were worrying about how all the good houses will get taken up, and we need to act quick. I thought hollowly to myself—I don’t have to worry, because I won’t be alive by next year.
“I don’t have to worry, because I won’t be alive by then,” had become a constant refrain in my head since a little before high school graduation, because it had never occurred to me that I might make it to my eighteenth birthday, let alone to my UCAS application dates, to my five conditional offers, to my top ten university, to my accommodation room, to having to worry about a house for next year. Everything that was happening to me, from a certain point onward, had become an accident, and I was an unwilling spectator to my life unspooling before me in a colorful tapestry coming together in a picture, that I had little to no control of.
I continued, obsessively, to read articles about suicide survivors on the Internet—that is, first person accounts of friends of people who’d killed themselves. “I didn’t see it coming because so-and-so was making long-term plans” was a prevalent phrase. I picked it apart with all the diligence of an English language student. Wasn’t I, too, making long-term plans? My graduation, my prom, my going away to university had all been long-term plans that had commandeered my entire life, almost as long as the idea that I wouldn’t live long enough to see them through. Would my friends, laughing now in the brightly-lit kitchen of their flat, one day, have to sit down and force themselves to remember that I had been there too, laughing about prospective landlords, thinking “How could it happen, when she was making long-term plans about living with us?”
“But all she wrote about was death.” I didn’t like imagining it anymore. I wasn’t seven and spiteful. I was nineteen and weary.
I came back from winter break hollowed out. I felt keenly a lack of accomplishment in my field—I had no good grades to boast of, no publications to redeem the expense of my being here, nothing that might suggest I was doing anything other than being a waste of space, money, supposed talent. Fights with my parents had left me feeling like I didn’t deserve the place I occupied. I remember spending most of Christmas filling up my locked twitter account with so much bile and vitriol I scared even myself.
I filled out a self-referral form. I knew that I needed help, like I had always known that I need help, but I couldn’t force myself to write the words that would get me that help out.
I hated the word, suicidal, as much as I used it for myself privately, because we’ve been thought to think that it is something large and dramatic, but it isn’t. We think it’s some kind of sweeping declaration, this is the image of a suicidal person, who is tragic and isolated and so, so noble, in their quiet suffering until they are gone, and it’s some type of large cataclysm in life that pushes them into doing something so, so permanent but—
Some mornings I wake up and I go the whole day without thinking about death even once and some days I think to myself about the bleach under the sink and the set of kitchen knives with a sinking sort of feeling that there is nothing to stop me if I were to walk into the bathroom right now and lock the door, and this is the thing people don’t realize, and it’s that I’m not going to do it all of a sudden, the slit wrists, the stomach full of pills, the bruises around the neck—
But it’s at the back of my head always.
Sometimes it’s weeks until I think of it, some weeks it’s every day. Sometimes it’s a quiet, cold, calculated little thing like—if I dismember the shaving razors, and sometimes it’s all vague and uncertain like—I don’t need to worry about university, because I am not going to live that long, and sometimes it’s ultimatums like, if I don’t get accepted in university I will kill myself, playing on repeat at the back of my fucked-up head every time I opened my email, and I was always scared of the word, and I was scared of the word for the people who did it, and the word depression too, it also scared me.
Being scared had its own name, that I never used, though I knew the word, and though I experienced the ugly symptoms, replete with panic attacks, and vomiting, and shaking every time I had to speak in public. Words are important to me, as a writer. There words—they were not allowed.
But here’s the thing—some days I am especially suicidal, and I call them my danger days, and in January I didn’t leave my room for two weeks, and sometimes when I read articles on the internet about people who did it, I try to imagine if they were still alive and how no one would write articles about them, and think back to being seven years old and not understanding why my childish writing about death would prompt laughter from all the adults around me until I was eighteen when saying the word that wasn’t allowed made them just scream at me making it up, attention seeking, lying, trying to get out of trouble, and—
Sometimes I do think maybe yes, I’m making it all up and no one spends twelve years of their life with constant thoughts of death in the back of their head, but—
The summer before university, cleaning out my room, I found my old diary, and the pages that I had ripped off from it, where embarrassed of myself I had tried to erase the proof of all the ugly thoughts I constantly had back then, and then I remembered a notebook full of stories where girls my age but thinner killed themselves and how I threw it away for fear someone would find it and I thought maybe it happens. Maybe people like me can spend twelve years of their conscious lives thinking about how they would like to be dead, and imagining it, but never quite taking action, and would I not have spent weeks in bed if I could have afforded to miss school the way I can afford missing university, and so the first time I tried my hand at creative writing academically—
I wrote a poem about death. And then I wrote a poem about suicide. And then another one. And another one. And I thought, like splitting my forearms open elbow to wrist, maybe this, too, will bleed out on its own, but it hasn’t. Annoyingly, all I can write about is death.
I was going to do it on October the 3rd, 2016, in our brand new bathtub. That was three days after I turned 20. The sheer surprise of making it this far knocked the breath out of me, and sent me spiraling into a violent panic. I had never planned on making it this far. On not being a teen forever. In my mind, somehow, always, something happened to me before then. But I had failed to make something happen. Instead, I had made long-term plans. I had a house. Rent. A freelance job. Responsibilities. I stared at the bath tub. It had dust in it. I wanted to take it up with the landlord. I wanted to see my housemates when they got home from fresher-rep duty. I wanted, I wanted, I wanted.
I put on a movie, and I drank wine, and I giggled to myself, and I wrote bad poetry.
Last Thursday I had a fight with my mother on the phone. I thought about my Swiss army knife. I pulled the blade out. I clicked it back in. Out. In. Out. In. I draw a line on my arm in black pen. I beat my wrists on the wall into bruises. I wanted to scream. I wanted my housemates to get home from the netball game, so we could all watch TV together, and then I would forget that I’ve overstayed my welcome and I’m not supposed to be here. I sat under the hot spray of the shower for two hours, scrubbing at my arm until I got all the ink off. I remembered sending my best friend a picture of my new manicure, and her asking what the lines on my wrist are. They were poorly faded lipstick swatches, but I still felt guilty that she even had to ask.
My housemates came home loudly, cold from the outside. I wasn’t with it, but I was there. I think it’s something. I think it’s everything.
The woman in the counseling department has me fill out a progress survey.
“Your risk has surged,” she says. “We need to address it this session.”
Okay, I say.
She has never laughed at me. I still hate the word. I am a writer, so I find my way around ever using it. I don’t want it to be real. I don’t want it to be what defines me.
I want to get better. I want to stop writing about death.
For now though, I can’t.
So I keep writing about it. So maybe someone will laugh at this. So maybe the slit wrists. So maybe the pills. Maybe the bleach under the sink. Maybe Tom Sawyer’s spiteful imagining of his own drowning is nothing like this. Maybe I’ll get out of bed and shower for the first time in a week.
Maybe my eyes on the shaving razor, even when I don’t have the strength to pick it up and actually shave.
Maybe the word isn’t as scary as the action.
And maybe I will be okay, because we got a house for this year, even though it was quite late. I thought, signing the contract, if I do anything now, I leave these guys stranded with my rent, and that’s just now fair.
Maybe somehow, I am smiling. Maybe the tragic laughters. Maybe a girl my age, but happier chops onions with the kitchen knife and cries. Maybe the notebooks where I’ve finally started writing again. Maybe my mother finds them.
All you write about is death, maybe. And I’m sorry about that. Maybe.
Maybe, not missing anymore of the lectures on writing about anything but death. Maybe I find a house for next year too, or move back to campus—long term plans that will stick, because they have to, because I am here to stay. Maybe I don’t have to worry about university anymore. And maybe the character will live in this one. And the next one, barely. And the one after that, with triumph.
It took me so long to realize, maybe I don’t have to stop writing about death. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe I’m okay too, or I will be. Maybe I will get better, like an unfinished poem, I find in my drafts years later, and even though it’s ugly, fat and verbose, I will take it, and love it, and rearrange it so it’s softer, and I find rhyme and rhythm and beauty.
The first time I touched pen to paper in a diary for the first time in years in a self-help group offered by my university, all I could write over and over and over again was how much I needed help.
I scrawled it in ugly unpracticed handwriting after years of typing help me. help me. help me. helpmehelpmehelpmeheLPMEHELPMEHELPME.
Maybe, taking the first step was admitting it.
I’m not okay. I haven’t been okay in a long time. I sat in my room at home, crying for hours, talking myself into filling out a second referral form and using the words, uncertain then that they would lead me to siting in front of a lady from the counseling office who never laughs at me.
“Use your big girl words,” says my housemate when I point at things on the top shelf instead of asking her to give them to me. Use your big girl words, I tell myself. Getting better is on the top shelf, that I’m too short to reach, but no one can give this to me, I have to reach for it.
I am asking for a footstool. I am asking for a hand that pushes me up when I climb the counter. I will not fall short anymore. I am tired. I am afraid. I am sad all the time. Maybe I will never stop writing about death.
But I’m ready to start thinking about all the other things too. And I think that’s what counts.