Plagiarising Virginia Woolf : why I'm glad that I outlived my suicide note

I hadn’t remembered writing a suicide note - I didn’t remember very much of the 24 hours surrounding the overdose. My handwriting made me cry, it was clear I had written it just before I lost consciousness, it was jagged and pained, on the back of the envelope of a bill I hadn’t paid.

Sep 21, 2012 at 2:00pm | Leave a comment

In response to Mandy’s post ‘50 Reasons Not To Kill Yourself’, an XO reader commented that the primary reason she had found to stay alive in times of darkness was because 'someone will have to find you'. This resonated incredibly strongly with me for days, because it’s precisely what frequently kept me from active attempts to end my life throughout a ten year stretch of depression. The idea that my mother, my sister, my boyfriend, a stranger, would have to find me hanging, or lifeless, or bloody, repulsed me. I used to think a lot about how to make it appear accidental but I could never quite get the thought of my mother’s face out of my head for long enough.

It also made me think a lot about when I did try. About 14 months ago, I walked out of my job in Paris in the middle of a shift and hailed a cab home. In the taxi, something happened. It felt like a switch had been flicked, that the part of my mind, or body, or soul, or whatever it was that had kept me from giving up for so long, had collapsed. I knew with a cold clarity what I was going home to do and felt deeply disconnected from the world around me. I walked into my house and took a large overdose.

I had someone staying with me at the time, the son of one of my father’s friends. He was a really great guy who had just moved to Paris from London as part of his university degree, he’d been staying with me for a few days and he didn’t enter my thoughts for a second. It wasn’t until days later that I found out he had watched the paramedics wheel my unconscious body into an ambulance as he came home from work. It wasn’t until then that I realised if it hadn’t been for a suspicious friend calling the emergency services who broke down my door, he’d have found my body.

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Alive and well in the park. Oh, how things change.

Weeks before, I had found out that a friend of mine had jumped off a building and died. When I had mentioned her to my mother, she asked me to promise I would never do anything like that. I promised - and I meant it. I remember how I felt saying it, I remember knowing that I could never do that to my family, I remember feeling deep compassion for my friend who hadn’t had the understanding that she was worth living for. I remember feeling angry at her blindness to those who cherished her and I remember determinedly thinking that would never be me, that I would never take that path. A few weeks later, I was on a drip in a hospital.

I don’t know how to explain how I had felt for a very long time, how dark and hollow and helpless. It was like I was living in a nightmare, like I had no agency in my own actions, like I needed to sleep, and sleep, and sleep. It didn’t always feel like that; sometimes I was okay for a few days, for a few months, for an hour. Sometimes I was particularly bad for a period, unable to find the energy to open my eyes.

I remember lying in bed for twelve hours once, feeling paralysed, desperate for the bottle of water next to my bed but it was as if my limbs couldn’t work, as if I was frozen. I would long to get sick, for something tragic to happen, so that I could make sense of the devastating sadness that overwhelmed me but when it did, which it did often, it scarcely touched me. I felt so broken that when one more friend died, or I was assaulted one more time, or whatever it was, I couldn’t feel it. To me, depression was less about the sadness I have felt that has been tangiable, and more about the impenetrable grey cloud that surrounded me.

I would hear other people’s stories of depression and take no comfort in them, because I thought I was different, that I deserved my misery, that nobody could understand where I was. I was protective around my varying diagnoses because they felt like a shield, an excuse. I justified my drug habit as legitimate self medication- I needed uppers to get me out of bed, downers for the aftermath, hallucinogens to get me out of my mind.

Often I didn’t care what I took, I’d just grab handfuls of pills and powders out of my bedside table and stuff them in my mouth before I had properly opened my eyes in the morning because I didn’t know how to get through the day. I couldn’t even think about trying.

It feels very alien to me what happened because it was so irrational and yet so logical. I had wanted to stop living for so long and that is not my reality today. I was lucky enough to get put into a treatment centre to address both my mental health disorders and my addiction problems - a lot of people don’t get that opportunity.

A lot of people would have died in my situation. I made sure I took enough to kill me; if I hadn’t built up such a tolerance to benzodiazepines over the years, I wouldn’t be here today. My drug habit seems to have saved my life in a strange multitude of ways. A lot of luck, or serendipity, or fate, or however I choose to name the facets of my journey, have come into play over the past year to keep me sitting where I am (and a lot of effort, too).

A few months after I returned to the UK, I started to unpack my belongings that had been shipped over in boxes by someone else. It felt very confusing; some of my stuff was missing, some was broken, there were baggies and wraps and pills hidden in linings of coats and secret compartments of boxes and inside books. Someone else, a stranger, had gone through it all, decided what was worth keeping, what wasn’t. One of the things they deemed important enough to ship was my suicide note.

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As is to be expected, Virginia Woolf's note was better than mine.

I hadn’t remembered writing a suicide note - I didn’t remember very much of the 24 hours surrounding the overdose. My handwriting made me cry, it was clear I had written it just before I lost consciousness, it was jagged and pained, on the back of the envelope of a bill I hadn’t paid.

The note was also an embarrassing plagiarism of Virginia Woolf- I’m glad it didn’t serve as the world’s last memory of me; I spoke of not being able to fight any longer, of spoiling others’ lives, of not being able to read, or write, of everything having been gone from me. It was cliche and it made me cringe, but something about the desperate scrawl, the agitated lines, the frustration of the shapes on the page, broke me.

Psychological theory often speaks of depression manifesting due to anger turned inwards, and that’s what the note looked like. It looked like it had been written by an angry little girl, and I suppose it was.

I turned one in sobriety the other day, and my housemate told me that she was watching me grow into a woman. I think it was one of the best things anyone has ever said to me, because it is true. I might still be angry, but I am learning to express that anger and through communicating both with others and, most importantly, with myself, I am growing up.

Through learning to be honest in therapy, I am getting the help I need, through learning to be honest in relationships, I am getting my needs met. Through food plans, and 12-Step fellowship, and abstinence, I am securing my weak spots. I take my own prescription, not someone else’s these days, and I am less medicated than I have been in a very long time - but this time through working with a consultant rather than flushing all my pills in a fit of existential angst.

I wanted to write this because I wanted to reach out to those who are where I was and say that if it got better for me, it can get better for you, too. I can’t tell you what will work for you, but I can say what has worked for me - whether it’s new beauty products or rallying protest marches or watching too many box sets. It’s not always perfect, but who is? I woke up today and I was happy to be alive, and that is a gift that I am beyond expressing gratitude for.

Olivia is still alive, and on Twitter. You can find her feminist plagiarism @oliviasinger