Trigger warning: This post contains mention of suicide ideation.
I was sitting on my bed on one of my first days in Ireland, half-numb with jet lag, scrolling through Facebook on my phone, when I saw the post. One of the mental health-related pages I follow had uploaded a photo… that I can’t seem to find now, but it said “you’ve made it this far” on a pastel background.
Any other time, I might have dismissed that message relatively easily. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate encouragement and need as much as I can get. It’s just that normally, I see things like that and they float out of my mind as easily as they came in.
This reminder was different, though. Although I came across it more than two months ago, I still think about it.
Because shortly thereafter, I put down my phone and wandered into the kitchen to make myself lunch. As I stared out the window at the houses on the quiet suburban street next to the University College Dublin campus, I thought about how far I’d come both physically and mentally.
Not only had I traveled some 3,600 miles to be where I standing right now, but I had gone on quite the mental health journey to get there. I haven’t talked about it much here, but I tried to kill myself in 2013 and have come very very close a number of other times. I’m in a much better frame of mind now, but things were BAD for a while. I couldn’t see a way out.
Things have changed since then. My mind is still… difficult, but I’m getting better. I can see a way out now, at least most of the time – and when I can’t, I try my best to remind myself to look for one. I’m crawling out of the hole that I didn’t dig for myself, but that mental illness dug for me.
Standing there in that kitchen, hungry and sleepy, I still felt proud of myself. And I felt grateful to my past self for being so strong, for holding on and holding out even when I thought I couldn’t.
In that moment, I felt so happy to be staring at an ordinary, even nondescript street because of what it represented.
I wouldn’t be there if I hadn’t made myself turn in all the required essays and forms to apply for the Irish Writing Program even though just getting out of bed seemed overwhelming some days.
I wouldn’t be there if I hadn’t made it through high school and into college despite wanting to stop existing.
Most importantly, I wouldn’t be there if I’d killed myself four years ago.
I suppose I could have had that moment anywhere: In bed, on the way to class, sitting in St. Stephen’s Green, you name it. Perhaps I’m lucky that my sudden rush of gratitude for simply being alive didn’t happen somewhere more embarrassing, like in the tiny bathroom attached to my dorm room.
At any rate, throughout the trip I’d step into the kitchen and feel the same way. Maybe not as strongly as I had the first time, but every time I saw those quiet little houses and the people who lived there, I was reminded that I could never have made it this far physically if I hadn’t made it this far mentally first.