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Struggling For Words
By Ren Martinez
Editor's Note: This piece first appeared in On The Grid Zine and has been republished here with permission.
I first attempted suicide at eleven years old.
Wait—let’s start again.
I’ve been a writer as long as I can remember. When my life was tearing apart at the seams, words were a constant, golden thread. In a room full of closed doors, I could always write myself a window, just open enough that I could crawl out of it.
At eleven, I didn’t know there was a word for the sinkhole collapsing in my gut and the black hole pressing against my ribs. I didn’t know there was a word for the frozen numbness that stretched for miles within my own mind, claws of wind whispering of a way to escape.
I thought that this was the way I was made and, in a way, I was right.
So, after slowly taking pill after pill the night before (a bottle of acetaminophen that my parents kept in their bathroom closet), I woke up the next morning to my mom reminding me it was a school day and thought, Well, I guess that’s it. Then, I got up and got ready for school.
I didn’t learn what depression was until later, and I never thought to examine that word for my own. What I heard about depression was in snippets from news reports after a string of suicides in the local middle school or when my dad mentioned that his sisters took “happy pills,” shaking his head as he huffed a laugh. In high school, the era of the anti-depressant commercial was in full swing, colored with images of adults staring out rainy windows and a small, cartoon blob with a gray cloud hovering over its head. It was a word for grown-ups that cried all day – it wasn’t for a teenage girl who could still smile and dance and laugh.
Even if she had reams and reams of paper covered in black ink and embedded with thorns.
I was seventeen when I attempted suicide for the second time. It was my junior year and my parents no longer could look at me (my sins were too great). My boyfriend told me he loved me as he forced me down and ignored my tears and called me selfish when I asked him to stay. My best friends were oblivious to anything but their own struggles, and cursed me as pretentious and condescending if I tried to help myself rather than them. My older sister was away at college, far removed from what was happening, and my younger sisters were exactly that--too young.
Another school night and those pills burned in my gut as I slowly swallowed the whole bottle, my hands shaking as they repeated the motions from six years before. But, I still woke up the next morning, my stomach growling in pain, and that was what convinced me: I couldn’t die.
Not because I deserved to live, but because I deserved to suffer.
It wasn’t until my last year of college that I decided to get counseling. As a psych major, I was learning the words that made up depression (irritability, anhedonia, insomnia, low self-esteem, suicidal ideation), and they were fitting into the jagged spaces inside myself as if made for them. Six sessions barely touched the surface, peeling back the first layer of scarred skin to reveal the pus-filled wounds beneath, but it was the first time I saw those wounds for what they were. I could trace along parted skin and throbbing muscle and scorched bone and recognize the blade that caused such damage—the serrated edge that had been torturing me since I was eleven years old and wondering if pain was what I had earned for being made wrong.
In a way, the worst of these revelations was refusing to hide them from my family.
It’s a delicate balance between bearing my scars proudly and scrubbing salt into their own wounds. I think about my parents, how they must have whispered about their fifth grader and if the bullies at school were just jealous of her being gifted, or the shouting matches about what to do with their angry, sullen teenage daughter whose tongue had only sharpened and never seemed to cry. As an adult, I say the word depression and watch them wince. No parent wants to confront the reality that their child has mental illness; no parents want to remember how they had done nothing about it.
You can’t do anything if you don’t know something even exists.
Words are everything. They alter and create realities and shine light onto shadowed spaces that no one dared look. They give context and provide meaning and color formless lines until they create vibrant images. They crack open windows and reveal what’s behind closed doors. They give voice to things that would remain silent otherwise.
A few years ago, my mother was sorting out old stuff in my childhood bedroom when she came across one of my middle school notebooks. I turned to find her in the middle of the floor, flipping through pages and choking back sobs.
“Mom, are you okay?”
She looked up at me, eyes wet with salt water.
“I didn’t know.”
“…That you were so sad.”
I didn’t either, Mom. I didn’t have the words then.
#Real #StrugglingForWords #OnTheGird #MentalHealth #MentalIllness #Suicide #Strength
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