I can feel it: that wide hole welcoming me to slide right into it and hide. It’s hanging out with me. Propped right in front of each day I skid on my heels into. My heels have never worked as breaks. I’m not sure why I exert the effort to keep attempting to use them as such.
It’s so normal, but every time it comes, I’m never less afraid, feel more equipped, nor strong enough to survive it. I can only curl up inside of it. Laying down into something that dark makes me feel more naked-legs-splayed-open-at-the-gynecologists-office than I can endure. So, I knee chest tuck up into it all fetus like, as if I’ve never left my mother’s womb. I bet even as a fetus, I never wanted to emerge from that sun-brewed-tea, glow of fluid motion. I’m so comfortably uncomfortable in here.
May 4th was just another benign date for me, until last year, when I retrieved my behavioral health records for the first time. I stared at matching admission dates on those records until my eyes lost all their tears. My dances with death were on the same day, just 7 years apart:
On May 4th, 1999, I attempted suicide as mightily as any 14-year-old girl could muster. On May 4th, 2006, I swallowed four fresh bottles of mood stabilizers, anxiolytics, and antidepressants, while laying in the cradle of blood I carved out of my own flesh. I begged the whole, wide world to swallow me into the depths of its earth each time.
I felt too much. Loved too hard. Cried too easily. Drowned in despair too routinely. I suffered immensely with depression as my constant. Each time, the universe became a great whale, swallowing me into its stomach of sedated blackness in the ICU, and spitting me back out into the world to endure intensive rehab sessions in psychiatric wards.
Suicide is the greatest thing I’ve ever failed at.
Extensive counseling, desperate journaling, and quiet inquiry with family and friends have left me without any explanation of why or how I subconsciously chose May 4th as the date I should die. It was an absolute coincidence. Yet, I’m not a great believer of coincidences. So, my empty search has baffled me, tortured me, and left me with only one choice: accept May 4th as my gift.
I need you to look past my scrubs for a minute. See beyond the layers of navy fabric preventing my guts from spilling out of the cavity they’re twisting in.
Do you see the entire mess of me behind my poised calm? I need you to follow the sound of my voice all the way into my lungs. See beyond the tissue constricting the air I’m no longer moving in this held breath. Did you hear the moment the air escaped me?
I need you to trace the line of my stethoscope to the bare chest it’s resting on. Hear the stillness of his heart I’m straining my ears to tune into as it sits too tired in the long stillness of his body. The tic of the second hand blurred from the tears pooling in my eyes. The way I push them to the very back of my skull to carry out my work. Continue counting each of the 60 seconds I am required to listen to the silence of his heart, echoing louder than your lips’ quiver.
56… 57… 58… 59…
It is my eyes that must lift first, from his quiet chest, to gaze up past your heaving one, and whisper an almost inaudible, “He’s gone.”
The tsunami of burning tears drop on the floor in your room until all of us are swimming in the salty air. I keep holding my breath to stop myself from drowning in the crashing waves of your family’s sobs. I step out of your room only to come up for air, before ducking back under the tide of your weeping.
I need you to hear me yelp like a wounded puppy inside when you kick those words to me at the sink, “I’m sure these are the days you wish you weren’t a nurse.”
I nodded agreement in that moment, and for that second, I believed it. Until we wrapped arms around each other in an embrace that a mere 12 hours ago, would’ve been between strangers.
There has not been a single night I’ve retired my aching body and bruised heart to my sheets and thought, “I wish I wasn’t a nurse.” Those days you see me and my family of medical workers sobbing quietly in the hallways… When you think it is unbearable to wear the scrubs of my profession… those are the days I know I am exactly where I belong.
To escort strangers through fresh grief. Guard life in ailing bodies. Resuscitate breath in tired airways. Restore hope in empty hearts. Transform Hellos into embraces, and Goodbyes into ‘I’ll never forget you’s.’
It is my deepest honor to be your Nurse. You look to me for Hope. Strength. Inspiration.
The healthy, immortal parts of my soul sparkle out from my eyes to you. My hands called to move your pain, rub tension from your shoulders and soften your suffering.
I am the guardian of your birth story. An expert at navigating pain.
Guiding mothers through their physical pain has helped me survive and transform my own emotional pain. You will never know the pain with which I move yours. The light your unfolding story bursts into my darkness. The home of my work, which I seek refuge in. A home made by you, a stranger, my patient, melting under my care.
“You are the most loved person I’ve ever known in my life. But you put everybody last, the second any human needs anything.” These words have been spoken to me by former lovers. Words that are hard to hear, sword in hand, swung at me. They are hard. I didn’t want to analyze them as much as I’ve been analyzing them. An analysis that led to much twisting uncomfortably before coming to the conclusion they were true. Hard, but true.
They sum up a beautiful fact about Shaunna Lynn Harrington Akers:
YOU are always going to come first. You and you and you and you. Strangers. Family. Acquaintances. Buddies. Foes. Loves. I don’t care what or who you are. If you are breathing, I see the light in you. That’s enough for me to drop most things to love you. Even when your stank is ripe and fur adorns your sweet skin.
I’ll love the ripe sh*t out of you.
I’m a dreamer of peace. Healing. Of the divinity inside every living, breathing thing. I will not stand by and watch a flame flicker in the darkness without moving to guard its flicker with my cupped hand. Hold it there despite the burn. Wait for it to stop stuttering in the wind. To recover in the sway and stand up tall. Grow its own intensity. It doesn’t take much to shelter a flame. Sometimes it’s only the 2.8 second shelter of your hand. There’s no excuse not to lessen the turbulence of a flickering light.
I love Hard. Deep. A little guarded and equal parts too liberally. Sometimes I can’t breathe under the weight of the responsibility. Being guarded has no bearing over my act of falling heart first into any space, of anybody’s pain. Whatever burden I can wiggle myself into the crevice of.
Suffering has all the familiarities of Home. She was once one of my closest friends. I know her innards as well as her leathered skin. Every molecule of her mighty storm has spoken my name. Most importantly, I have become humbled by her abundant presence in my life. Grateful she taught me so much about navigating her, understanding her, and leaning into the beautiful change she uniquely has the potential to create. I almost get excited when she shows up for me now. “Ohhhhhh, snap, are you carrying the change in your front or back pocket? Sit down. Teach me all the things!”
My intricate knowledge and experience with her is what causes my flippers to launch me off the diving board, into the deep ends of others’ lives, when I hear she’s rang another’s doorbell. I know my affinity for her isn’t universally shared. She’s always displaced and unwelcome. Loathed. Hated. Turned away from with staunch faces of disapproval. I worry about her like any mother of a misunderstood kid must… Run to her like that all knowing defensive Momma;
“I know she’s different, but please, guys, please just love her! I promise she’s worth your time!”
So many don’t know where to seat her at the dinner table. Even as she waits. Standing almost patiently watching you slurp up noodles during family dinner. Her hover, increasing or snuffing out the need to masticate at all. Listen, just pull her up a chair like the damn-meddling-now-you-overstayed-your-welcome friend she is.
Trust she’ll stay even if you do it begrudgingly. Even if you cuss her name as you pull out a chair. Balls of steel.
Hear this: I don’t run in to save you or them from the beautiful lessons she brings. I won’t rob you of the invitation she gives to butterfly blister in her presence. I just show up to ease the navigation of introductions. Help assign her a seat at the table. Get her a damn plate of spaghetti.
“This is my buddy Suffering and her friend Pain.” An electrical charged hand reaches out and burns your insides with the obligatory shaking of hands. You want to tell them to frig off. Read the “No Soliciting” sign clearly posted on your front door. I know. Problem is… while never invited, it’s easier just waving those little shi*s right in. Get to know them. ‘Cause oooo, Baby. They won’t leave your doorstep until you let ‘em in and hear what they’ve come to teach.
Let them teach. I’m busy owning my own lessons from Suffering. Owning me. Embracing my former and current friendship with her.
I swallow a purple pill every morning on behalf of that relationship with her. It keeps her proximity to me less abrasive.
The great aloneness in depression is the self-perpetuated isolation. Feeling you don’t belong in this world because surely, you are the only one who feels your earth quake. It is having so many people love you. Hundreds of names glowing on your contact list. Yet, being too crippled and proud to make the outlandish request to “Come hold me in this dark, gaping hole of silence.”
I used to think that brave meant ignoring that pit of darkness. Courage was pretending I wasn’t in it. Or acting like I don’t see it when it’s the sunglasses I’m squinting behind. After 12,402 days breathing on this Earth, I realize bravery is really just allowing it to happen. The darkness purges those shaking shoulder, loud sobs from my belly. The sobs that need a vessel of words to extract them from their deafening silence.
I understand my words are uncomfortable to read. I understand it is more comfortable for me and others if I sit perfectly tidy. Hands clasped. Legs daintily crossed like a better-behaved woman. Feel ashamed. Remain quiet. Hide my dirt.
But what I understand more, is the discomfort and alienation of the ones who hide their own failed suicide attempts. The ones who keep quiet about their own family members’ suicides. The ones who suffer quietly with mental illnesses of their own. I care madly about that discomfort.
So, I speak for the quiet. The hiding. The broken-hearted. The lonely. I speak in honor of the baby girl I once was. The one who didn’t know how worth it this life could be. How necessary she was in this world and continues to be.
I write despite the voice of shame that has persuaded me to hide the mess that formed my light. I write because I’ve learned that shame can only survive in dark and hidden places. I write because I don’t want to be the landlord of a house of shame. I write because it hurts. I write because it makes me uncomfortable. I write because I know suicide, depression, and struggle don’t make me unique… they make me one of MANY. I write for those we have lost to suicide, those who have failed, and the warriors who still battle the vast darkness.
I write for you.
I write to remind you that you are needed in this world. We need you. There is no one who can replace all that is you. Not a one. Your absence would leave a void that can never be filled by time or space.
Stay with me. You’re more than enough. I love you. If others leaned in close enough, they would love you too.
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Shaunna Harrington, a labor and delivery nurse in Gilbert, Arizona. You can follow her work on her blog, deliveryninetynine.com. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
Provide beauty and strength for others. SHARE this story on Facebook with your friends and family.