I revisited a private and intimate passage from my journal last week – moments before I attempted suicide two years ago. This week, I’ll be continuing this discussion on the broad topic of having a will to live and what it means.
I asked a number of questions last week because I wanted us to really reflect and explore our thoughts on what it means to live. Back then, I didn’t know what “a will to live” was for me. All I knew was that I didn’t want to live because I didn’t see any other way out. I felt trapped. When someone asked me if I was alright, I always replied with “yes” because I didn’t know how to re-live the pain I was experiencing over and over again. In contrast, having a will to live can be quite obvious for others. My grandmother has terminal cancer and rejected treatment given that she is in her nineties. In January, they predicted that she would have 6 to 12 months to live. There is a flame inside that woman who decided she was going to live at least 2 more years. She told me that she wasn’t ready to go yet. All she wanted was 2 more years. The year isn’t over yet and she’s still fighting the odds. Regardless, her will to live has provided her with a je ne sais quois essence to her quality of life, which has is keeping her alive, happy, and as illness-free as she can be.
In my case, well, all I wanted was to stop the painful horror from swirling in my mind after I was discharged from the hospital two years ago. I couldn’t die though. I had too many people around me who were on high alert if I tried anything. If I tried something and ended up half alive – literally – I’d just be torturing myself even more. At least I was logical? So I just held on and tried to have faith in the future. Having faith in the future, combined with a few magical words my patient shared with me, was my light at the end of the tunnel; it was my will to live. I remember that this little 10-year-old boy asked me to find something in his room. I searched everywhere and I couldn’t find it. He asked me if I had looked up. I made a joke about being short and looking down for things. He innocently replied with, “You should always look up and forward.” It just clicked in that moment. For me, it alluded to keeping your chin up. For me, it meant continuing to look up and walking forward even if I was doing it blindly. If I kept looking down at my feet, I’d be sure to walk into something and hurt myself. I naturally do that daily as part of being clumsy anyways.
All in all, that short phrase defined my will to live as having faith and looking ahead even though I didn’t know what the outcome was. It meant learning courage and bravery in order to push through all the challenges and barriers. It meant letting go of my type A personality and the control I needed in life. I constantly saw all the fights that my patients had to endure through their recovery, and that inspired me to see that I could do it too; it was motivating. We would share stories of their sibling rivalries, school drama, and girl/boy heartbreaks while I was at their bedside to provide different medications and treatments. Yet I knew that wasn’t enough. Even though I was there more often than not, I couldn’t truly capture what every moment felt like for them. I know this now because it’s taxing to always be brave and courageous – to always push, to look up, to look forward, and to stay positive. Life pushes you down and can place giant cements wall in front of you. Remember those cement blocks that would come down hard and fast in the Haunted Mansion level of Mario Kart from the N64 system? First it squishes you and makes you small. The second time it happens, you just die. That’s the level of difficulty for someone to continue to push through those cement walls. Thus far, my saving grace has been to just have faith and manage my expectations appropriately. And that ain’t easy.
I’ve now independently discussed the topic of having faith & grace here, and managing expectations of yourself and others here. To me, they all contribute to this very broad subject of having a will to live. I constantly feel this unsteadiness in my mind and body. I try my best to embrace the present and look forward to whatever might come in the future but this is the one feeling that has been the hardest to shake. Do any of my survivors feel like suicide would be there end game? Because I do. It’s morbid but deep inside, I know I could try my best 24/7 as I do now but there is going to be that one fall where I won’t get up and I’ll bury myself into the ground instead. All my health care professionals tell me that I’ll start to escape that risky zone when I’m out of my twenties, but I’m not sure how I really feel about that.
For now I’ve found this will to live for myself and I hope it stays. This longing to stay alive has allowed me to withstand all the ups and downs since then. I wish to never go back into that suicidal hole. Trust me, I don’t sit around and wait for something bad to happen so can act on any suicidal thoughts just to say, “Haha – I proved you all wrong – I am going to die from a suicide. Bye.” But the fear is there despite my eagerness to fulfill all my dreams and aspirations (of being an Oscar Mayer Weiner).
My family and friends hate when I talk like this. I know they don’t mean to, but they try to remind me of everyone I would leave behind and how much they need me. If you’re a family member or friend reading this… I hope you know that it is nothing personal. I hope you try to mediate any feelings of guilt, like you haven’t done enough to help them. Or like you weren’t there enough or didn’t love them enough. Finding a will to live is so personal and when a mind has said enough is enough, and has given up, there is nothing you can do to turn that around except to just love them. It is equally important for you to challenge your worst ego and thought just like they have rivaled with their worst enemies too.
All you can do is try your best to have faith and hold on. Maybe that will to live will come crawling back. It did for me, and I hope it does for you too. If you need a listening ear or some advice, you can contact me through this link. I’m here and I get it.