Need Help?

David Pajo

is a suicide attempt survivor.
this is his story

David Pajo

is a suicide attempt survivor.

"I survived a suicide attempt."

David Pajo is a New Jersey-based musician known for his work with bands like Slint, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Interpol. He was 46 when I interviewed him in New York City on March 11, 2015.

Des: I have Google Alerts set for “suicide” and “suicide attempt,” and the picture in the hospital? You never see someone be like, “I’m here, and I’m shaky, but I’m here,” [after a suicide attempt].

David: I mean, I kind of did that because I’d made my suicide note public, you know? And all these people reached out. They were concerned.

I did it for them, just to be like, “It’s cool.”

To be honest, I was forcing the smile… It relieved a lot of people just to know that I still existed.

People don’t want to think about the kind of hopelessness and despair that drives a person to do something awful like that.

David: I had a few haters who were like, “Cry baby, attention,” or, “What a selfish dick to do this to his kids,” or whatever… It’s just fear that makes people think like that. People don’t want to think about the kind of hopelessness and despair that drives a person to do something awful like that. And the person doing it thinks they’re doing the right thing for everybody. It’s not selfish. You have this really dangerous thought that the world’s a better place without you. They’ll be sad, but they’ll get over it, and without your presence influencing people negatively, everyone else will be fine in the long run. [There are] a lot of untruths in those dangerous thoughts, but you get this tunnel vision where you really believe it.

David: I had this suicide attempt, and then it was maybe a few hours after it happened where it really felt like a rebirth or something—a total turnabout in terms of my attitude—to where I just didn’t feel the way I did before, just a few hours earlier. I’ve stayed on that path… [There were] all these hands that were extended out to me right after it happened. I just didn’t know they were there before. I thought I was alone. That’s another dangerous thought—thinking you’re alone. So, now I’m aware of the red flags, the thoughts that you fully believe that just are not true.

Des: Had you had those thoughts before? You said your brother died by suicide. How did that affect you growing up?

David: Yeah, yeah. I was always, at a young age, into darker things. I was into metal and punk and stuff, and I loved horror movies when I was like seven years old. I was always on this death trip or whatever. My brother was always the good student, more balanced and whatever, so my parents were always worried about me. Then he was the one who [died by] suicide.

I remember my mom saying that—and I know she meant well—but she said, “We were always afraid of it with you,” which kind of affected me…

I grew up with that as a presence. I had friends who [died by] suicide, from when I was fourteen and my brother was sixteen, and every few years after that, it seemed like somebody else would go that way. It just seemed like a constant presence and I think it also became an option, you know?

David: [After my attempt], I remember my feeling of just like, “Aw, fuck. I’m still here, and I still have all the same problems.”

I remember feeling really bad about what actually was the greatest thing that could have ever happened to me. I got into the ambulance, went to the hospital. I hadn’t really said anything the whole time. I was sort of playing possum. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I was pretending to be unconscious and stuff. I remember, in the ambulance, the guy was pinching me really hard and trying to get me to wake up, because they knew I was breathing and I was totally fine, but I was [thinking], “I’m just not going to show it,” because I didn’t want to talk to anybody.

I really was playing possum. When I was in the hospital, in the emergency room, I had to get some stitches.

The woman, one of the nurses, while they were giving me stitches, she said, “Is there anything you want to say?”

I said, “I wish I was dead,” and it kind of took her aback a little bit.

She said, “Well, I’m really glad you’re here,” and I started crying.

I think her concern, and then immediately following that, seeing all the concern from everybody, all the love that I got from everywhere, made me realize that I was also glad that I was there to feel all that. My parents took the 5 a.m. flight from Kentucky to Philadelphia to be with me. That’s when my mind started to change, where I was really, really glad that it wasn’t over and I had a chance to watch my kids grow up. I had a second chance. If anything would have been a second different, I wouldn’t be here to have that second chance. I’m just really, really grateful.

Des: What did your mom say?

David: She was a champion. It was so hard to have her second son do that. It was devastating for her.

But she said the same thing: “We’re just so glad you’re here.” That was basically her feeling.

It was not like, “Psht! Don’t ever do that again! You’re freaking me out!”

It wasn’t like that at all. She was just so glad that [I lived]. It was really hard on my [younger] brother too, because we had started to get closer before that happened, and I hadn’t been really close with him since we were little kids. Everybody was really courageous. I don’t think they wanted to show a lot of sadness around me. I think they wanted to show support and help me to heal.

Des: Talk more about being a public figure and making the note public. Talk about what it feels like to have had all of it out in the public, especially after.

I think the number of people who could relate was stunning. I thought I was alone, and I’m not. Nobody really is. Nobody is.

David: I didn’t think I would have to see the effects of my note, like what effect it would have on my ex-wife or my parents or my kids or fans or anything. I didn’t think I would have to deal with any of that. So I wrote this ultra-personal thing, all these specific things that people who are in the public eye just don’t share. I just didn’t care because I didn’t think I’d have to deal with it, but it was really amazing, the thousands of emails and comments that I got. All these people showing love and support, and also people who could relate with the suicidal ideation, with their own attempt, people sharing their own experiences with that, their own divorce experiences that were awful, and just how they coped with big stuff. I think the number of people who could relate was stunning. I thought I was alone, and I’m not. Nobody really is. Nobody is. That all just blew my mind afterwards.

I’m really glad, because it’s actually brought me closer to my family, it’s brought me closer to these strangers. I try to reply to everybody and I’m still working on it, but that people could connect with it, I had no idea.

Des: Isn’t it fucked up that this terrible thing that happens can make your life better?

David: It really is. I don’t recommend that people do that to improve their life, but it’s really true. I think I also want to see the good in it. I want to see the positive in my life now, and I do see that, as horrible as that was and how hard it was on me and everybody around me, it really had a lot of positive effects. It sucks that you have to hit rock bottom, it sucks that tragedy has to bring people together, but it’s really that it’s human nature to have compassion…

Des: What happens when your mind decides to sabotage you again?

David: You know, I’m glad you said that, because it’s hard to shake off that much—six months of driving the same point home. I mean, when I got out of the hospital, I came out with this treatment plan with medication and therapy and stuff, and all that’s been super helpful but I think… I’m a loner by nature, and I thought I loved to be alone, but it’s really dangerous for me to withdraw that much, knowing me. So I’m just socializing as much as I can, one-on-one, not partying or something. You know what I mean? Even if it’s just calling somebody to talk about nothing..

I’m more aware of—I call them dangerous thoughts. I’m more aware now of when the red flags come up. My priority right now is to heal, and that’s about me, personally. Like when my thoughts start to go to my [my personal life], when I start to obsess, get that kind of cyclical thinking, I have to just pull myself back and be like, “You know what, this isn’t about [that]. This is about me and my own healing. What can I do right now to make that happen?”

It’s this kind of constant pulling back to your purpose. I love my kids more than anything in the world, and I’ll start to dwell on them, but [then I tell myself], “You have to be a stable father to them, so this really is about you. If you really love them, you’re going to be present and you’re going to be stable for them, so let’s just work on healing.”

I think the healing is something that maybe—I mean, you tell me—is it something that lasts forever?

Des: I think it’s dependent on the person but what I’ve found with myself is I still do have suicidal thoughts, and they’re kind of impulsive thoughts. I could be riding the bus and be like, “It would be better if I was dead,” and then I go, “Wait. This is not healthy.”

When it gets bad, I definitely have those thoughts. It’s definitely very much about letting people know—my girlfriend, my mom, my friends—like, “Okay, shit’s getting real over here.”

Some people say they don’t have them ever again, but a lot of people say that it can be a struggle…

David: That’s awesome to hear, because you’re absolutely right. That’s another thing I’ve heard—don’t just keep it all up here in your head. With anything like that, just try to externalize it. Try to share it with people—people you trust with that kind of information, because there’s some people you shouldn’t talk about those thoughts with. The people you trust? They want to know. They do. They want to hear what you’re thinking and feeling, so the more you can get that out there, it really is like releasing a valve. All that pressure through the act of telling, it helps you, I’ve found.

I haven’t had any suicidal thoughts since then. It hasn’t been that long, but I have this sort of been-there-done-that kind of feeling: “I tried that, I hit rock bottom, I thought that was the only option, and I did it. Let’s look at some other things now.” Things have been awesome. Things couldn’t be better… All these things that I thought were insurmountable have just gone my way…

Take it one obstacle at a time and don’t think about all of them at once. Just keep jumping the hurdles one at a time and know that it can go either way, and be ready to accept whatever the outcome is. One thing at a time, it’s almost like the AA slogan, “One day at a time.” It really is. It really is. Just deal with one conflict, because you can’t do it all at once.

Des: What was it like getting back to work?

David: Oh, to play music again? It was really, really great. I had zero interest in music for the first time in my life in the past six months. I just stopped listening to music. I had no desire to play guitar—and this is from somebody who played like nine hours a day from when I was fourteen or something, somebody who always played guitar. I was just bored by it, music, for the first time in my life, and didn’t play shows.

Getting back together with people I really love and who love me was just really magical. It felt like, “Well, this is what I do best, and this is what I’ve always known. This is me. I have to get back in touch with me.”

Des: What would you want to say to someone reading your story?

David: If it’s someone who has these feelings, I’d just be aware of some of the red flags that I mentioned, and also try not to be that stubborn, you know? I’m bullheaded. If I have something on my mind, I’m going to do it, right or wrong. Just try to take a step back. If you think it’s a good idea now, give it ten days and see if it’s still a good idea. If you think it’s… you know what I mean? Just keep trying to put it off or explore all your options because, I mean, I just totally understand it, buddy.

If anybody feels that way and they like me or my music, just fucking tell me. I’d love to talk to them.

Des: What about for someone who might not understand? What would you want to say to them? Or to someone who lost someone? You have a unique perspective, having lost somebody and having attempted.

It sucks and it’s really hard to do to put it out there, but sometimes you have to do the thing that’s hardest. Be courageous.

David: I think if you lost someone, don’t make it too taboo to discuss. It sucks and it’s really hard to do to put it out there, but sometimes you have to do the thing that’s hardest. Be courageous. Talk about it with people that it affects. It’ll be better for you, it’ll be better for the other person. It’ll bring you together. Take your time alone to grieve, but don’t just bury it and pretend they went on a vacation or something and deny it your whole life, because I did that for a long time.

Thanks to Whitney Rakich for providing the transcription of David’s interview.

Want to support Live Through This?

Live Through This is made possible in part by donations from incredible humans like you. If the project moves you and you have even a single dollar to spare, please consider donating. Every dollar donated goes straight back into the project. These funds allow for gear, web real estate and hosting, travel associated with the project, professional fees, conference attendance, and more.

For more ways to support Live Through This, be sure to check out the store, join in on the #STAY campaign by sharing a picture of you in your Live Through This gear, and subscribe to our mailing list!

About Live Through This
Live Through This is a series of portraits and true stories of suicide attempt survivors. Its mission is to change public attitudes about suicide for the better; to reduce prejudice and discrimination against attempt survivors; to provide comfort to those experiencing suicidality by letting them know that they’re not alone and tomorrow is possible; to give insight to those who have trouble understanding suicidality, and catharsis to those who have lost a loved one; and to be used as a teaching tool for clinicians in training, or anyone else who might benefit from a deeper understanding of first-person experiences with suicide.
More Information
Tax-deductible donations are made possible by Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization, which sponsors Live Through This. Contributions for the charitable purposes of Live Through This must be made payable to Fractured Atlas only and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
Please Stay
If you’re hurting, afraid, or need someone to talk to, please reach out to one of the resources below. Someone will reach back. You are so deeply valued, so incomprehensibly loved—even when you can’t feel it—and you are worth your life.
Find Help

You can reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. Trans Lifeline is at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada). The Trevor Project is at 866-488-7386. If you’d like to talk to a peer, contains links to warmlines in every state. If you’re not in the U.S., click here for a link to crisis centers around the world. If you don’t like talking on the phone, you can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

NOTE: Many of these resources utilize restrictive interventions, like active rescues (wellness or welfare checks) involving law enforcement or emergency services. If this is a concern for you, you can ask if this is a possibility at any point in your conversation. Trans Lifeline does not implement restrictive interventions for suicidal people without express consent. A warmline is also less likely to do this, but you may want to double-check their policies.

Live Through This is dedicated to the lives of so many friends and family members lost to suicide over the years. If you would like to add the name of a loved one to this list, please email me.
Live Through This is dedicated to the lives of so many friends and family members lost to suicide over the years. If you would like to add the name of a loved one to this list, please email me.