It's Been One Year

It’s been a year.

One year since I stared at a train bearing down on me, due in moments to pass mere feet from my face. And then, for the first time in my life, I thought not just about how easy it would be to step in front of it – I also thought I wanted to step in front of it.

That thought scared the hell out of me, and I sought help. It was not a quick process, nor an easy one. I left school for two weeks in physicality, and much, much longer in terms of my mental state.

I discussed it a lot then. Suicide is this dark, scary thing that we don’t talk about, and that scared a lot of people. I understand that. Once I realized what discussing it was doing to me, I stopped, too. My need to help others had to give way to my need to survive. It’s in many ways the most selfish thing I’ve ever done. It’s a choice bothered me a lot – and it still does in some ways.

By burying it in darkness and shame we give suicide a power it does not deserve. So many people live with suicidal ideation, live with the knowledge that at one time they considered it an option. And they say nothing. They fear how others will react; as in my case, they fear how they might react. Self-awareness that you at one time considered overriding your basic programming to LIVE is disconcerting at best.

If that seems strange to you, I don’t blame you. It seems strange to me – and I’m one of the people who lives with it. I’ve more than once entertained the notion of suicide in the past year, the past month, the past week...Yes, it was a fleeting one. No, I would never do it.

But here’s the thing: when you’re processing a day of pain you can’t just pretend a certain option isn’t there. It is there now because it was there before – and it will always be. I know that now, and so I live with it. It doesn’t scare me like it used to; in fact it’s my canary in the coal mine.

I’ve discussed with very few people why I spent so much time in the dark places I did last fall. I will not discuss it now, except to say this: It was not because I’m transgender. Was that part of it? It was. But it was more like an accelerant to an already burning fire, or maybe a catalyst. It made worse what was already destroying me, without really changing what was causing me so much pain in the first place.

I’ve come to realize that’s a pretty common thing with transgender people. So many of us that have considered suicide, so many of us that have tried it: Being transgender was not what necessarily defined our pain, but it certainly made it worse. It made it something others might try to be empathetic to, but will never truly understand.

I’ve learned this as a result of my research into transgender people and the reasons they consider taking their own lives. That guilt I live with because I can’t – won’t – discuss it? This is how I keep it at bay. If I cannot write about it, I will study it. I will deal with it in the only way I know how to do so many things these days.

And so I discuss with other transgender people what we often cannot talk about with anyone else. That pain no one else can understand, at least not entirely? We do. That’s one of the reasons I chose to research this pain: so I could better understand my own. A lot of people were worried when I did that; I was one of them – but it’s been a good thing. I’ve learned a lot, some of which might even find its way into my dissertation. And if it doesn’t? Well, that wasn’t really the point, anyway.

I understand now why I call it my “Black Rabbit Hole.” Not because I truly understand everything there is to know about myself. But rather because so many people I’ve talked to describe it in physical terms, too. “The cliff,” “The abyss,” “the brink”: I suppose all of those are kind of the same – and perhaps that’s the point. That so many of us give our pain, the knowledge of our choice, a physical manifestation, is telling. It’s as if it’s something that can only be understood and respected if we can somehow make it tangible, make it real beyond just our own psyches.

I know for me it makes it more manageable, it gives me the belief that just like any gaping maw in the world, I can make sure I don’t fall into it. Yes, I know it’s there, I even peek that way at times; pretending it doesn’t exist is foolish. But I don’t have to fall in to it.

I don’t have to give in. I know that now. Maybe I always did. My research tells me that, too. But that’s for another day.

One thing I can tell you I know, however, is this: None of us come back from that cliff, that black hole. I certainly didn’t. My family, my friends, my school: each of them gave me not just what they could, but everything I needed to make myself whole again. Everything. They are why I am here, and it’s as simple as that.

And there is one person in particular, one place, that saved my life. When I could retreat nowhere else, I retreated there. When no one else could help me face my pain, they did. And when it came back, again and again and again, they were there and gave me the courage to face it. Indeed, it has been particularly brutal these last few weeks, and they’ve helped me face that, too.

The pain I feel is a good thing. It makes me realize I’m not burying it anymore. I’m facing my fears, my regrets, and my decisions with a clarity that only comes with feeling everything you’ve spent a lifetime trying to deny. It’s awful, it’s horrible, and it’s the kind of thing that pulls me closer than I’d like to the Black Rabbit Hole.

But it’s OK. For as surely I know and accept what takes me there, I know what path brings me back. It’s been a remarkable year of illusions shattered, dreams fulfilled, reality clarified, and I’m looking very much forward to the next one.

And may my life continue to be as wonderful as it can be.