In April 2012, I attempted suicide while living in San Francisco. It was—obviously—an incredibly intense time but, in many ways, the time that followed the attempt was even more intense than the time that led to it. It was different from the territory I knew before I attempted—there felt a deeper and more unfamiliar chaos, an internal whirlwind I hadn’t known before those days. It felt really fucking scary and I almost constantly felt afraid of what was happening—of what I was feeling, and where I was seemingly going.
I have lived through intense trauma and abuse and learnt to cope with a lot going on inside me or outside me at once, but this was different. This felt different. Until then—except for the 2 years I lived on apples and became too skinny, and the years of battling acute bulimia (which I still do sometimes)—this struggle stayed internal. It was a different intensity because I couldn't hide it. I couldn't keep it shoved in and carry on regardless. I couldn't neglect my needs because saving myself (I called the ambulance) was cementing a promise to myself—I was going to do this, I was going to live, and in order to live, shit was going to get messy. Shit was going to come out from where it had been shoved in, below the surface, in order for me to cope and get through it.
But I didn’t need to get through it anymore. During the year before my [attempt], I had begun to unintentionally drift from my family, and waking up, I immediately knew I needed to cut contact with my parents. It was one of the first things I said to my therapist who sat with me as I woke up in the hospital. Until that point I had been tied to a responsibility with them—looking after my mum since the age of 3 meant until this point I hadn’t had time for me.
But now I did. Starting therapy was the beginning of that—of things coming out, of shit surfacing that hadn't surfaced and been shared with somebody before (or some things which had barely ever surfaced, except for as random thoughts in me). Introducing Post Traumatic Stress…
[My suicide attempt] was a rebirth in so many ways—I literally felt as though I was learning to walk all over again, except I was learning to walk with self-love rather than self-hatred. I was learning to walk without leaving myself behind and taking myself forward as I did, instead. (I’m still learning all of this by the way.)
The emotions, the grief, the pain, the utter loneliness and desperation that followed attempting suicide, and the not knowing how the fuck to stay alive and live through the post traumatic stress symptoms I was experiencing except by heading inwards and clinging the fuck on. And by expressing myself through writing and cartoons. I drew—and still draw—cartoons to express my feelings and to describe my internal world. It brought, and still brings, humour and distance to a world that I still almost constantly feel scared of, but a world I’m learning to trust more and more, and have been over the last 4 years, because it constantly changes so there is always more to trust and more to learn.
Despite how much my inner landscape changes, there are the familiar characters who are there throughout—the suicidal thoughts and feelings. Cartoons help with these too—they enable me to express what I feel and describe the landscape I’m living in or experiencing in that moment, without using words. Sometimes what is happening is so visual that using words or trying to describe it to someone else, or myself, feels almost impossible. Plus, when I use words to describe my experience of feeling suicidal or thinking incessantly about suicide, I feel worried about freaking them and/or myself out.
Somehow, by drawing these thoughts or internal experiences out, I get distance from it/them and I’m reminded of how it is not me, but a dark cloud, or not me, but thoughts instead.
Here are a few of my cartoons below, for more, check out my website. Whatever helps you express your thoughts and feelings, go do it. You are worth it.
Amani lives in Bristol, UK. She can be found enjoying herbalism, swimming in rivers, surfing, laughing, napping, and talking about life with friends or anyone who will listen. She is a firm believer in telling your story in order to heal. She is currently writing a book. Connect with her on Facebook or take a look at her website.