Nora Lastis a suicide attempt survivor.
"I survived a suicide attempt."
Nora Last was 25 years old and working as an office manager when I interviewed them in Minneapolis, MN, on April 24, 2016.
I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone the complete, full story.
I was a sad, weird kid, as many people are in junior high and high school. I was really struggling with the sense of a lot of depression and anxiety. I had been diagnosed with ADHD at a very young age. I was in elementary school at the time and medication had never been really successful for me.
I got to about junior high and high school, and my support network just kind of disintegrated. I was very much in a role that I still play today. I did a lot of emotional labor, and it’s something I still really pride myself on. I think that I’m very good at it, but have figured out how to introduce that in a balanced way in relationships, rather than a one way flowing-out of support. I felt exhausted, drained, and like I didn’t have anyone who I could tell what was going on with me.
I went away to summer camp. For many confused, weird, queer kids, that’s this revelatory moment. You find your people, you have this great two weeks, you connect with them, and it’s great. That was what I was hoping would happen, but instead I had a break. We were in these dorm rooms in a college, and I pulled out all of the pills I could find in the room. I was not even thinking clearly about, “Will this work? What will combining these do?” I had a pretty long history with self-harm at that point and hadn’t brought anything to harm with. Which, say what you will about self-harm, I think that that is part of what helped push me over into, “Well, okay. Fuck it. This is it.”
I downed all of [the pills]. By chance, my mother called me. She wanted to check in and see how I was feeling at camp. I just started sobbing. I said, “I need to come home. I can’t be here. I need to come home.”
I didn’t tell her what I had done, but she said, “Okay, your dad’s going to get in the car and drive.” I was in Iowa City.
As you do, when you have put between two and three bottles of pills in your stomach, I immediately needed to vomit.
I would say my first attempt was very impulsive. I still don’t remember it very clearly. I remember throwing up. I remember packing, getting in the car, and driving back with my dad. I slept basically the whole way. My parents and I have never talked about that since. We have never talked about that phone call or me needing to come home, what they might have thought, or what the camp counselors thought.
That is the only time that I would say that I’ve done something that might have actually ended my life. People borrow language from cancer and terminal illness to talk about depression and suicide, and I have a lot of complicated feelings about that, but I do think the recognition that, at least for me, it’s not ever something that’s stopped or that’s gone away… I’ve related to it in various ways, and it’s really fundamentally shaped my world view.
For me, the knowledge that, “Oh, I could die tonight. I could die in ten minutes. Actually, that’s a decision that I could make”—I find deeply comforting. I find that that level of certainty about my mortality and the eventual end of my life, whenever that is, is actually at the core of a lot of the political and social justice work that I do.
I don’t know, and will hopefully never know, how much time I have living in this world. As far as I’m concerned, you live your life and then you’re done. Why not make however many years I have here the best that I can? Do as much as I can for other people. Try to be the person who, if I had seen as a terrified, sad, fifteen year old, I would have been like, “Oh, okay. Maybe there is something past what I’m dealing with right now. Maybe there is—I don’t want to say something bigger—but maybe there is something worth sticking around for, for another week, for another year, for another five years.”
My little sister is four years younger than I am. The summer before she went off to college—this is like four years ago, now—we had this totally unexpected heart-to-heart moment in a car. We had all driven to go see a play or something. She looked over at me and said, basically, “I am really worried that you are wasting your potential.”
I was a gifted, intelligent student all through elementary school into junior high, then got the ADHD diagnosis, and the medication didn’t pan out. I didn’t know how to deal with that level of fracture between what my self-image was, how very tied that was to academic performance at school, and what was actually happening in the world. I didn’t know how to separate, “Oh, this is my ADHD. This is my brain chemistry, not an intense personal and moral failing.”
Anyway, she was like, “I’m worried that you’re not living up to your potential. I just want to make sure that you’re happy.”
I told her, “I have a job that I like, I have a partner who supports me, I’m not living at home with my parents, and I’m alive. I’m twenty years old and I’m alive. I could not have imagined that future for myself.”
I’m turning twenty-six in three weeks. Every year now, I just take this moment, and I’m like, “I could not have imagined that I would still be here at twenty-five, at twenty-six, let alone living the amazing, happy life that I lead now.” It’s something that is hard to explain to someone who hasn’t tried to kill themselves… I am thankful to some degree, but every year it feels like a revelation that I’m still here.
Des: I want to know more about your happy life versus this depression. You mentioned that it still happens—you still have these thoughts. Say more about that.
Nora: They’re very calm. It’s actually really interesting to me how different they are from what I can remember of the sort of frenetic, panicked attempt that I made, which is part of what, for me, differentiates them. But I was standing, waiting for the train to go to work, and I was like, “Oh, I could step onto the tracks right now. That is a thing that I could do. I’m not going to. That would be terrible for everybody on this platform, but I have the agency to do that thing.”
I have this moment I remember very clearly. It was in New York. I think I was visiting a college. We were staying at the top floor of this dorm and the windows opened out into this beautiful flagstone courtyard, but there were no screens or bars on the windows.
Des: This is at NYU.
Nora: Yeah. I remember standing there thinking, “Oh, it would be really easy to just kind of climb out and fall.”
Des: That has happened many times. That’s why I know exactly what you’re talking about.
Nora: This is actually probably the closest that I’ve ever gotten to a second attempt. I was like, “Well, I don’t know that I am high enough up. I don’t know that it would work. I think it would be worse to fall and to have to admit that I had tried to kill myself than to not try to kill myself right now.” I had a lot bound up—a lot of my self-image bound up in performance, success, and being unable or unwilling to accept failure.
I feel like part of building myself this beautiful, happy, successful life has been figuring out how to change from a person who sort of fragmented when faced with failure—or it challenged my self-image—into someone who was able to bend with that pressure, instead of letting it just completely shake who I was.
My mother was very Catholic and she had this habit of saying, when I was a kid, “Things work out. Things work out where they’re supposed to.” For a long time, I thought it was total crap. I did not believe it at all, but I’ve sort of come around on it a little bit. Part of building, both internally and around me, a more resilient support structure has been realizing that life generally goes on. For me, that sort of takes the internal mantra of: life goes on until it doesn’t, and then you’re done. But life generally continues up until that point. It’s sort of the bleak German farmer in me: “Life continues until you die.” I guess I just find it very calming and comforting that there will be a day after this and there will be a day after that one, unless I decide that there shouldn’t be.
…There is life after an attempt. I am employed. I love my job probably eighty percent of the time, which is more than most people can say about their day jobs. I have a loving partner. I’m engaged. I have a great apartment. It’s super cute. I have friends. My family cares about me. All of these things are possible.
I think that’s something that doesn’t get talked about a ton. One thing that I super love about this project is that there is life after an attempt. I am employed. I love my job probably eighty percent of the time, which is more than most people can say about their day jobs. I have a loving partner. I’m engaged. I have a great apartment. It’s super cute. I have friends. My family cares about me. All of these things are possible. There are bad days and good days, bad weeks and good weeks and weeks that are mixed, but it goes on.
Des: Yeah. That is really important to me in this project—the honesty. Life goes on, but it’s not easy.
Des: I feel like, in the past when you would see a story about somebody who’s attempted, they were like, “Oh, but I’m okay now.” And it’s just… it’s not real.
Nora: No. I think there is a fundamental paradigm shift in your head once you’ve entertained killing yourself as a reasonable course of action. For whatever reason, it just shifts a little bit, the way that you think about things. I will say, for me, and for a couple of friends who I’ve talked about this with, it becomes a more appealing option once you’ve entertained that thought the first time. It’s similar to self-harm, in a way. It becomes very, very easy to spin it into a situation where you think, “Well it’s my body,” particularly in the case of self-harm. It doesn’t impact anybody else, so why not, if this is what’s gonna help me cope?
Des: Tell me about the self-injury. Tell me about your experiences with it, because it sounds like you valued it as a coping mechanism.
Nora: Yeah. I think that when you’re in crisis mode… anything that you can grab onto, anything that feels like a piece of wood in the ocean, right? People frequently conflate self-injury, self-harm, and attempts, and for me, they were very different. I was very careful about it.
The biggest challenge for me has been recognizing patterns, or ways that it still manifests. It’s not just that I go pick up an X-Acto knife. That’s not what it is anymore. It’s not feeding myself for fourteen hours because I find the hunger and the discomfort satisfying. I find that, at least for me, it interfaces in a way that is both very interesting and very challenging to handle with body image, with the way that people who are raised as girls are told to eat, with diet culture. The biggest challenge has been trying to really examine if and how it is manifested in an unhealthier, distorted relationship with food, rather than any kind of active injury.
I guess self-harm through inaction rather than action is where I found it at a little bit more. Again, I can understand rationally that finding hunger comforting is not a place that I should be going. It’s bad for my body. I love food. I love cooking. I love all of these things so much. So, that’s a really, really good indicator that maybe my mental health is going someplace where I really need to check in with myself and say, “Okay, how long has it been since I’ve eaten? I know I’m not hungry, but time to get some cheese and crackers and really do a self-inventory.”
Des: Yeah. It’s tough. That’s another conversation that I like to have, because people just don’t get it at all. They can’t see how it can be valuable in terms of getting through a hard day.And it’s scary, but it’s better than various alternatives.
Nora: I will say, for me, it helped me feel embodied. It helped connect me to my physical reality, which is sort of the opposite place that I went when I was in an attempt. Something that could ground me was crucial.
Des: I don’t really get the connection between hurting yourself and attempting, but…
Nora: I think it’s superficial.
Des: They really are just two different animals.
Nora: Yeah. I do wonder if it’s a connection that gets made by people who have either only experienced one or the other, or who haven’t at all. I think it’s generally people who haven’t experienced either, because many of the visual tropes surrounding both of them are very similar in pop culture, right? I really think that that’s what it is.
Des: Oh, yeah. Likely. Pop culture has really fucked us up about suicide.They’re also the only ones really digging in with it. Well, not everyone, but some people are actually digging in. I’m really fascinated with that. I pay a lot of attention to it. I spent eight months last year tracking every time I would come across a suicide reference in my pop culture travels—my natural travels, not including the internet, because then I’m usually seeking something out for the website or whatever. But from watching TV… Mindy Kaling makes a suicide joke and I’m like, “What, exactly, does it mean that this is so deeply embedded in our cultural psyche and yet we can’t be better about it?” It’s really interesting.
Des: Tell me more about your parents. You mentioned they never talked about it.
Nora: Yeah. So, I want to load right up front that I love my parents very much. We have an amazing relationship now—especially my mother and I. But, I think, particularly growing up, we didn’t know how to relate to each other. I internalized from a very young age that making mistakes got my dad really mad, so I shouldn’t make mistakes. This ultimately manifested more as trying to hide whenever something wasn’t going according to plan, rather than us figuring out a way to be like, “Okay, so I didn’t pass this course or whatever, what’s our plan moving forward?”Instead of lying about it, trying to cover it up.Which, I think, definitely played a role in my attempt.
It’s something that also, in that way that teenagers have, I thought I was being super subtle about. I thought nobody knew what was going on with me. It was very important to me that nobody knew how depressed I was or that I was self-harming. But talking a little bit with my mom, she was like, “We knew something was going on. We didn’t know what it was, but we knew that something was up.” I don’t know how they feel about that. I don’t know if they feel like they should have intervened—if there was something that they could have done.
It screwed up my relationship with my sister for a long time, because I was a child in crisis and they were trying to figure out what was going on. She, in many ways, excelled in the areas that I did not. She is a stellar student, she studies hard, she works hard, she gets great grades. [She] didn’t need attention in a lot of the ways that my crisis was demanding from my parents, which I couldn’t realize at the time.
I think a part that I wish was talked about more is that depression, particularly my depression leading up to my attempt, ate up all of my emotional resources and my ability to parse what was going on around me. It’s like it completely cut away my ability to understand that somebody else might be worried, and what actual impact it was having on my family, on my parents, on my sister.
I wish that I had a better memory of that time because I’m curious. I’ve tried to bring it up a couple of times, and my mom doesn’t seem super interested in talking about it. I do want to respect her about that because I’m sure it was incredibly painful for them, as parents, to watch it happen, and also to have the several subsequent discoveries that I had been actively lying about how bad it was. [I was] actively avoiding seeking their help. The last thing in the world that I wanted to do was to go to them for help. Not because I didn’t think that I would have gotten it, but because that would have been failure.
Des: How do you feel about having “failed?”
I feel like this is one of my good outcomes, having attempted and failed to kill myself.
Nora: I am so comfortable with it, honestly. I feel like this is one of my good outcomes, having attempted and failed to kill myself. Failure isn’t scary anymore. To some degree, it’s like, “Well, what’s the worst thing that could happen, right? Am I gonna die? No? Okay, well… let’s try it. Why not?”
I am still a deeply anxious human being. If I can embody my anxiety, it’s like one of those little dogs in a sweater who’s constantly shaking, who doesn’t want to touch you, but wants to see where you are at all times. That’s my anxiety. To some degree, I’ve been through and am now mostly wrangling depression. I’ve been in toxic relationships. I’ve been sexually assaulted. What else? What is the worst thing that could happen? I might as well go talk to that stranger. The worst thing that happens is we don’t get along. Fine. Okay. Then the sun will rise tomorrow and I won’t be friends with them and that’ll be okay, too.
I don’t think it’s me being reckless, I think it’s me being more comfortable with non-success. It actually made me very comfortable with—I don’t want to say mediocrity—but a quite non-exceptional life. That sounds amazing. I want a house with a yard I can grow some tomatoes in, season tickets to the theater, and that’s it. I’ve packed enough excitement and drama into my first twenty-five years on the planet. I just want quiet and comfort. Those are my goals.
Des: Yeah, I’m with you on that.
You still deal with depression and anxiety. How does your person support you? What is it like for them, or what do you think it’s like for them? I’m really interested in that, because my wife is pretty open about how scary it can be, what I’ve taught her, and how I’ve taught her to help me.
Nora: He lives about an hour south of Calgary right now. We’re engaged. It’s definitely been a challenge [for] both of us to figure out how to support the other, because he also has depression. He has never articulated it to me this way, but I think he has found it scary when I have been completely open with him—that I have tried to kill myself, and how comfortable I am with that thought and that knowledge. Like I said before, those thoughts do still occur. It’s still a thing that I think about.
He has been really, really great in terms of letting me take the lead and ask for what I want in terms of support. Like, “Do you want some physical support right now? Do you want some space? What can I do for you?”
But, he’s also been really great just in terms of, like, I can be a little prickly sometimes. If I don’t want a thing, I’m just like, “You need to stop right now.” He has been really, really great in terms of letting me take the lead and ask for what I want in terms of support. Like, “Do you want some physical support right now? Do you want some space? What can I do for you?” He does a lot of really good support work around not taking it personally when I’m kind of a jerk to him. It’s not anything that’s ever his fault, but some days I just have really low energy for personal interaction with people. I’m a little bit cross, and I’m like, “Hey, I need to not be around you for a while.” He’s pretty good about rolling with that, which is great. I think a lot of it is that he lets me take the lead, which is what I need.
And he gently reminds me that I need to eat food. Just the very basic check-ins. Like, “Hey, when was the last time you ate? Should you stand up and go get a glass of water?”
Des: That’s been coming up a lot. I was having a conversation about it last night. I forget to eat, too. How do you change that? How do you fix that? It’s not intentional, it’s just that there are a million other things that I could be doing, and thinking about what I want to eat, as much as I love food… I don’t want to make that decision. I don’t want to deal with that.
Nora: Yeah. I don’t want to interact with that decision tree right now, because it’s not just one decision, it’s a bunch. You have to disrupt everything else that you’re doing.
Des: Then if you’re a person who’s not really great at life, like I’m not, it’s just, like, “God, I don’t want to make something. Can I just have it there?”
Nora: Right, what if it just appeared?
Des: Thank God now I live in Philly where we can go grocery shopping and have a fridge full of food. It’s like, “Well, get me the stupid little Lean Cuisine and I can put that in there for three minutes.”
Nora: Yeah. And it’s food.
Des: It’s food and it’s easy. But it’s still hard. If it came down to making a sandwich…
Nora: Yeah, I completely understand. My partner, bless him, is not comfortable cooking. I feel like he knows a little bit more than he gives himself credit for, but he is not comfortable with it. He has actually self-identified, “This is a thing that I need to fix so I can feed you when you have crashed.”
That, to me, was one of the moments in our relationship when I was like, “Yes. You are in this long-term and you want to take care of me. I feel so cared for and loved right now, but you’re in the bedroom crying because you fucked up frying me an egg. You’re so stressed out about it. You love me so much, you little nugget.”
Nora: I know. Then I fried us both eggs and it was better.
Des: I love it.
Being willing to show up and do the work, for me, is a big part of what love is in any relationship.
Nora: The fact that he is willing to try this thing he finds really scary and intimidating and feels like he is a failure at, to try to support me better… [It’s] showing up and doing the work, regardless of if it results in a really terrible egg sandwich that neither of us are going to eat. Being willing to show up and do the work, for me, is a big part of what love is in any relationship.
Much like making the choice to live every day. Making the choice to show up and be in a relationship every day. That, to me, is what love is.
Des: It’s a lot of work.
Okay, subject change. You said you’ve never told the whole story before, but you are so comfortable with it. What’s the deal with that?
Nora: If you’re going to do the thing, do the thing. I’ve thought a lot about it. Shame, doubt, and hiding things have been such a destructive force in my life. It feels really good to sort of actively flip the script doing this.
Des: Yeah. It takes a lot of weight off.
Nora: It does. I think it’s important that there’s a wide array of people and stories that are represented out in the wider world. Why not add my totality to that? Why detract from the thing I think is really important?
Des: Being able to talk about this sends you down paths to other conversations we don’t have, which is an unintended and amazing side effect. I didn’t realize how much we don’t talk about until I started talking to a bunch of people about suicide. Sexual abuse, especially with men, men hurting themselves, postpartum depression, miscarriages… they’re all painful things to talk about, but they’re all so important, so what are we doing?
Nora: Right, what are we doing? There is this line in Ivan E. Coyote’s spoken word piece. They dedicate it to the fans in their life, and it makes me cry every time I watch it. The line is something along the lines of, “You come out over and over and over to your family, to the PTA, to every person you meet, to your doctor—but my closet was always made of glass.” That’s the line that just twists in my heart.
Sharing your story can help. Coming out as a survivor—it’s important to say all kinds of people experience this. All kinds of people go through this. It’s not just who you think it is.
Des: You’ve already talked about this, but since I usually explicitly ask everybody, is suicide still an option for you?
Nora: Probably, yeah. It’s not something that I actively desire, but I think a lot about the vast, unknown future, so to some degree, who am I to say no? I don’t know what the future holds for me. It’s not right now. It probably won’t be tomorrow. That’s about all I can say.
Des: I love that answer. I love that it’s consistent across almost everybody I ask, because it just goes back to “it gets better” being a pile of horse shit. You’re setting people up for failure when you perpetuate that narrative.
Nora: Seriously. Right.
Des: Once you’ve had these thoughts, I don’t think you can go back. I don’t think mine will ever go away. I think people should know that, you know?Especially younger people. I’m always like, “I get it, but you’re going to get older, and it’s going to get a little easier. A little. You’re going to know your body better. You’re going to see it coming in ways that you can’t now because you’re just dealing with it for the first time.”
Nora: This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but thinking about killing yourself isn’t necessarily a nine-alarm emergency. Just having that thought isn’t like, “Stop the presses.”
Maybe for some people it does stop, but I think seeing a complete and total cessation of suicidal thoughts as the way you get through it, as what progress and healing looks like, is actively harmful.
Des: I mean, that would be great, but it’s not going to happen, I’m pretty sure.
Des: What about medication? How do you feel about it? Are you doing it?
Nora: I’m not now. I have never been on medication for depression or anxiety. I’ve been on various treatments for ADHD. I actually just emailed my doctor like, “Hey, let’s sit down and talk about something for anxiety.”I think that, as proud as I am of where I’ve gotten with a combination of therapy, building personal strategies, apps on my phone, and all the other tools that I added to my self-help arsenal, why not use every tool that is potentially available to me?
It’s a pretty big shift in position from where I was, particularly when I was depressed. When I was depressed, the idea of going on medication, especially to help with depression or anxiety, was just the last thing I wanted. But I think I’ve really come around. Part of it has been some really brave women in my life talking about how amazing [it has been] to talk really frankly with their doctors and get on medication for anxiety, for ADHD, for depression; how much mental and sometimes physical energy it has suddenly freed up now that they didn’t have to spend it coping with whatever else was going on in their heads. That sounds great.
Des: Yeah, I definitely drank the Kool-Aid after many years of actively putting up with it. The process is just so painful if you’re depressed and you’re trying to use that as part of your answer. You get on something and you can’t have an orgasm, or you’re just depressed anyway—or, like in my case with the bipolar diagnosis, being put on a mood stabilizer took away the one good thing about what I was dealing with. I’m sure you’ve heard that. People who live with bipolar, the mania is the only thing that makes the depression okay—assuming it’s hypomania and you’re just productive and having creative thoughts. I fucking love that. Having that taken away from me sucked, and then continuing to go through all the things anyway… I gave up on meds for a long time.
But a couple of years ago I got really suicidal again. My wife was like, “You have to try something else, man. This isn’t working. You’re not good at taking care of yourself with just therapy. Therapy is not enough. Can we try something else?”
I went and talked to a psychiatrist. The great thing I think a lot of people don’t really experience is that she was collaborative. She respected me and she didn’t patronize me. That was just so incredible. She validated me. She was like, “Well, it sounds like you’re resistant to SSRIs.”
I was like, “That’s allowed?”
Nora: That’s a thing?
Des: That was really incredible. It changed how I view it, and the medication I went on has been really great. It’s helped for three years now.
Des: I fear the day that it stops helping, you know?
Des: But when you’re seeking out therapy or when you’re seeking out meds, not being taught how to advocate for yourself, or how to figure out what it is that you need in those services, is a disservice to us. It is an industry, just like any other. The doctor is not always right.
Nora: Right. They don’t have any sense of your interioriority. There’s only so much description could ever do.
I will say, I’m a huge proponent of therapy, but I don’t think that it’s the panacea that it often gets sold as. I don’t think that it’s a magic bullet.
Des: It can be, but I think more often than not, it’s really not. Finding a therapist that works for you is one of the most difficult things that I’ve done. It goes back to that advocacy and knowing what you need.
I was having this conversation with a friend the other day. She was like, “How do I find a therapist?”
I was like, “Well, you look at the insurance websites, but also you think about what it is that you need.”
She was like, “Well, how the fuck do I figure that out?”
I was like, “Do you need skills? Do you need someone to process with you? Do you need more positive validation? What is it that you need? What are you looking for?”
She was like, “Oh.” Because people just go and expect things to happen.
Des: But it also requires you to do work, to be vulnerable and honest.
Nora: You have to be in a place, have the energy to do that, and to meet your therapist part of the way.
Des: Yeah, and that’s scary. Talk to me more about emotional labor.
Nora: It’s another thing I spend a lot of time thinking about. I started and loosely organize a private Slack channel that started as a bunch of awesome women and femmes that I knew from geeky space. We all wanted to connect a little bit more. We have a channel that’s called Emotional Labor. That’s where you go when you want to talk about something that’s pretty heavy and you want other people to be able to opt into it. It’s not something that you want to just put out into the general chat. It’s like, “Here’s my thing, deal with it.”
I think that helping people process and supporting them as they process on their own is labor. It’s work. Therapists get paid for it, but girlfriends don’t. As someone who’s been in a lot of straight reg relationships over the course of my life, the amount of work and the degree to which our relationship was a space in which my male partner learned how to be better by continually fucking up, and then I provided absolution, then we talked it out, and they got better until the next time they fucked up… it’s really exhausting. I think that there is this expectation, particularly of women, that that’s what you do in a relationship. You provide that support and safe space, and if it’s not a two way street, it can be incredibly exhausting and toxic.
Like I said before, a big part of being in a healthy, meaningful relationship is actively showing up. Being mindful about it and saying, “I am choosing to show up and do this work with you.” I talk about emotional labor because it’s important to pay attention to.
Des: Yeah. It’s also being a good friend. I think that’s even harder to show up for in some ways. For me, definitely. It’s easier to show up for your person.
Nora: I can see that. I think, on a fundamental level, it’s just realizing it takes resources. It’s not just effortless. As much as it might look like it if someone’s really good at it.
Des: It really does. You have to know where your boundaries are. More things we’re not taught that we should be.
Do you know anybody who has died by suicide?
Nora: Yes. One of my good friends in college. I made it through two and a half or three years of college and then I had to leave after another massive mental health crisis. This is actually a fairly traumatic experience for me. A year after moving back here, I started getting back in contact with my friends from college. We just had not talked since I’d left. I was talking with a guy who was a friend of a friend, and I don’t remember how I found out that my friend had killed himself, but the guy that I had been talking with had made the choice not to tell me that this other friend had killed himself. I felt intensely betrayed. Really intensely betrayed.
There is a small part of me, that little irrational part, that’s always wondered what role, if any, me just vanishing out of his support system played, ultimately, in his decision. There’s no way for me to know. I don’t know how fruitful that train of thought is, ultimately. I don’t know if that’s a productive train of thought, but I still think about it sometimes.
I’m still mad. I’m still really mad that he didn’t tell me right away.
Des: The friend?
Nora: The friend, yeah, who I had been talking with.
Des: How does having been through your attempt color your view of people who’ve died by suicide?
Nora: I get it. It’s hard for me to be mad. It’s hard for me to be angry. I hear a lot of people talk about anger as their first emotional response when someone dies by suicide, but I am not mad. I get it. I’m sad. I think it’s incredibly sad. I think it would feel really hypocritical of me to be really angry, to start throwing stones, you know? So, I would say it just makes me really sad. There’s also some element of, there but for the grace of talk therapy and supportive relationships, go I.
I wonder if part of that anger and shock comes from the cognitive dissonance of, “Someone who I thought was like me just died by suicide.” What does that say? What uncomfortable truths does that perhaps force me to consider? Like, if it was someone who was close to me, someone who seemed happy—that’s always the phrase—what kind of uncomfortable truths does that bring up about suicide, about depression, about who experiences these things?
Des: Yeah. I think the inability to confront that stuff and our fear of death is what makes our reactions so bad.
Nora: Right, yeah. I guess, especially now, my first thought is, “I am so sorry.” Not, “I’m sorry for their family,” but, “I am so sorry that you were feeling that much pain and in that dark of a place that that was your only course of action.” That’s my reaction now. Empathy.
Des: My wife and I, when we were trying to move to Philly, were riding the train from New York and we happened to see the aftermath of a suicide. My wife was really interested that my first response was, “How scared must he have been?”
Des: Sitting on the train sobbing about someone I don’t know, asking, “How scared must he have been?” In those moments I kind of thank God he chose to go that way, because it ended quickly.
Nora: Yeah. You have had way more conversations about this than I have, but a common thread of other friends who have attempted is a focus on that empathy, and also a sorrow about that person’s last experiences, rather than an anger about the aftermath.
Des: If you wanted to address someone directly who’s reading your story, what do you feel like you’d want to say—either to someone who’s lost someone or someone who’s been there?
Nora: I guess what I would say is that… I mean, it sounds a little bit hokey, but the only constant thing is change. Life changes. For me, that is an intensely reassuring thought. I can’t promise anyone that it will get better, but I can promise that it will be different.
Des: That has to go on a t-shirt: “It gets different.”
Nora: It gets different. Yeah. It’ll be different, whatever that is.
Des: I got a message on Facebook yesterday that said, “I know you probably wouldn’t say yes to this, but it just feels like it always gets worse. Is it going to get better?”
I was like, “I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe later.”
Nora: Yeah. Maybe stick around and find out, though. You are the only person who can answer that question.
Des: I was like, “I would be lying to you if I told you it’s going to get better,” you know? Like, I’m sure it will eventually, but maybe not as quickly as you want it to.Maybe it’s going to get a fuck ton worse before it does.
Nora: It’s not like this moment where light streams down from the heavens and you’re like, “Okay, from this day forward my life will be better.” It’s not that neat.
Des: Yeah. I was like, “God, I don’t think that helps. I’m sorry. I’m not going to feed you a line of bullshit.”
Nora: Yeah. To some degree, it would feel comforting to be able to do that. I think the uncertainty is more real and maybe more helpful in the long run.