Ashley Shoemakeris a suicide attempt survivor.
"I Survived a Suicide Attempt."
Ashley Shoemaker was 26 years old when I interviewed her in Portland, OR, on August 02, 2014.
My story is kind of odd, as I’m sure a lot of people have said of their own.
Things started going downhill very young, very fast. [It was suspected I had] autism, but I was never officially diagnosed because… what did we not like to do in the ‘90s? Diagnose. Complete contrast to this day and age. Now, you can walk in and in five minutes, you’ve got a diagnosis.
Des: I diagnosed you a little while ago.
Ashley: Did you?
Des: You’re human.
Ashley: Oh, good. I can convince my friends I’m not a witch now. Verdict is apparently still out on that. They’re very dubious.
[Everything] started with the typical ADD and all of that. [I had concentration issues.] I had a hard time making friends and keeping them. I got ditched a lot as a kid. I was also particularly smarter than the other kids, in all the wrong ways. Math and science were completely over my head, but give me a book, and I was into it. My poor mother had to dissuade me from going after her Stephen King and V. C. Andrews—which didn’t work. When they tested me, I tested significantly higher than I should have. I was reading at a master’s level in college when I was in fourth grade, so the school counselors were like, “Let her go. She knows what she wants. We can’t dumb her down.”
One of the odd parts of this story is that I don’t remember most of this time.
My grandfather (by marriage) was very close with me, and there’s suspected sex abuse in there. When he died, there were signs that it happened. I pretty much lost my shit completely and had a psychotic break at nine years old. Really young to be losing your shit. It’s getting more and more common, and frankly, it pisses me off. I see things on the news where you’ve got these young, young kids… when I was that age, I was like, “Kids this age shouldn’t be doing any of this. They shouldn’t have any of this.”
Des: It’s not just these days. I’m interviewing forty and fifty year olds, and they’re like, “I tried to kill myself when I was seven.”
Ashley: That doesn’t surprise me because of the amount of things that just come out—all of the darkness that people have to hold on to. It’s good there are more resources for it. Now, it’s being acknowledged as a problem, but it’s going to take generations and generations before we can actually make a dent in the damage that it’s done.
So, I had a psychotic break. I was committed for about two weeks. They didn’t have room for me in the child program, so I got put in with the adolescents. To be fair, it was not a bad idea in retrospect, considering my mentality was probably more along their lines anyway. I completed my treatment program.
It was not a fun time for my parents. I was the exact opposite of a human being at that time, and you can see it in the pictures. Any picture that had me in it, I tore up, hid, threw away, or burned. There are a few. I showed one of my good friends, and she’s like, “Yeah, there’s no one there. You look in [your] eyes, and you can tell there’s no one home in there. [You’re] gone.”
The whole reason I got committed in the first place was because I drew a picture of myself putting a gun to my head, and that scared the shit out of my mother. Going into the hospital didn’t really help. I learned how to act in a manner that would get me out. Once again, that’s the problem with being smart and catching on quickly. You know how to get what you want.
After that, I did regular therapy and was put on a lot of medications. Really heavy stuff that probably contributed to memory loss. [After] a combination of the intense stress, emotional everything, and the [psychotic] break, my brain was like, “Nope! Shut down. That’s it. Delete it.” My memory of me trying to kill myself was going into the kitchen when everyone was asleep at night, grabbing a knife out of the knife block, and going outside. I always had the plan. I would go outside, usually wrapped in a sheet like a dress, walk out in the backyard, and just stand in the backyard. I would always stare up at the sky, and I would have the knife right there.
One of my friends asked me, “Why did you always used to go outside?”
I was like, “Because then there wouldn’t be much of a mess to clean up.”
A variety of reasons usually stopped me. I heard something and thought my parents were awake, so I’d have to go run in the house, put the knife away, and hide in my bedroom again. My cat would come outside and scare the ever-loving crap out of me, so I’d pick her up, go back to my room, and that was that. Or I’d just stare out there, and I would kind of come back, and say, “Nope, not tonight. Okay.” I would be back the next night like, “Okay, this is the night I’m going to do it.” Nope.
I did try to drown myself in the hot tub once. I tried to put the cover over my head, but it scared the shit out of me. I was like, “Yeah, that’s not a good way to go. Let’s not do that. That sucks too much.” When I was riding in the car with my mom, I would think about how I could get around the child-proof locks, if we had them at the time. I’d be like, “I could probably throw myself out of the car. I probably wouldn’t survive that.” I thought about throwing myself in front of a car, especially the fast moving ones, or jumping off a bridge. Pretty much, if I saw something that looked like it would probably kill me, it was like, “I could do that.” It was mostly the knife thing until it died off for a little bit.
I was in a treatment program from about sixth grade up until eight grade. We lost a couple of kids to suicide there. It was an inpatient-outpatient thing for emotionally fucked up kids, and for kids who suffered sex abuse. Bonded really hard with a couple of the staff members and couple of the kids. I followed the older ones around, ridiculously so. I was a little myna bird. Whatever they said, I thought it was cool. But we lost a couple there. Not anyone I knew well, just [people I met in passing] or at meets. It always kind of confused me. I didn’t know what I was doing. I just knew that this is how people went away.
From middle school right up until I graduated high school, I attended an alternative school. We lost a couple of people there. One of them was a really nice guy. That was my first time actually having suicide hit close to home. I didn’t understand it or why it invoked the emotions in me it did. It confused me because I was like, “I don’t know why I’m angry at him, but I’m very upset. I’m very angry.” My therapist and my counselors were always there to talk about it—it had a big impact on a very small school. We had about one hundred students total, including the night shift program for the kids who were working and had to take care of families and stuff.
I was really confused when he killed himself. I remember asking, “Why?” but not understanding what I meant… Probably, at the time, I was like, “I’ve been through all of this, but I’m still alive. I’m not dead yet. I haven’t been able to do it. Why did he get to go and do it? Why was he able to do it when I haven’t been able to?” So, I was angry at him, basically, for being brave enough to do it, I think is what it was. It wasn’t a very comforting thought.
There was another one. I didn’t know that one very well at all. That was another night shift kid. The first guy we lost was my 8th grade year, shortly after I started. The next one was sophomore year. Sophomore year sucks for everybody, I think. There’s nothing good about being fifteen. You are three years too damn old to be acting like a fool, and you’re three years too young to be considered anywhere near an adult. That’s a really shitty age. Pattern-wise, I’ve noticed, that’s really where things tend to get worse for a lot of our generation, and even the newer generation. Fifteen is a bad age. You are stuck in between being a kid and being an adult, and no one takes you seriously. Even though, as we obviously know, there are some very serious, very real problems we’re all facing… age doesn’t necessarily matter in that regard. You’re never too young to be something. The people who say you are, that’s just wishful thinking, I think. People would rather not believe that this could be happening to someone so young.
I think that’s why a lot of the tragedies that happen, especially with kids who were bullied, tend to hit so hard. You’re like, “Well, what were the parents doing?” Everything they could. They figured it was a spat between kids. They don’t know how ugly [it can be]. They say, “Kids can be cruel, but the adults will take care of it.” No, kids are sneaky. They’re not dumb. I think that’s a big thing people really need to get over. Kids aren’t stupid. They’ve been getting smarter by the year, even though the actions we take kind of contradict that. They’re smart. [They] know how to get away with shit. [They’re] sneaky, unfortunately. Very sneaky. When you look at the environments we’ve grown up in, are raised in, and exposed to, it’s kind of a, “Now you know why it makes sense.” We had to learn to be [sneaky] in order to survive a lot of times.
The next thing I remember from high school is that one of my good friends, [who] I had a crush on, tried to kill herself. She did not [die], thankfully! I lost my shit because of her reasoning. At that point, I was still on the fence, like, “Okay, life sucks right now. I’m frustrated. Everything sucks,” but I was like, “Everything sucks, so that means it might get better.” Half being optimistic about it, half fatalistic like, “Oh, everything sucks right now. It can’t suck that much worse, right?” Then my friend tried to kill herself because things were going too well.
She came back to school eventually—I got in trouble because I told. I said something to a counselor because [her] foster parent got in trouble over it. The foster parent was trying to cover it up, [which was] not a good thing. I let my counselor know because I was a wreck over it. My teachers knew that, if I was losing my shit over something, that usually meant it was bad. I don’t cry or get upset very easily. I don’t really display very strong emotions a lot of the time. I feel very deeply, I just don’t tend to show it often. When I do, it’s bad.
[After she came back to school, my friend apologized]. I was so upset with her. I’m like, “Why didn’t you come tell me?”
Part of my problem was that I never had closure [with anything] that happened. It was all sudden. That was it. No chance to say goodbye. No chance to have any kind of resolution. Everything that always happened, just happened. There was nothing I could do about it.
She kind of apologized. She said, “Things were going too well. I wanted to be happy when I went. I would rather not go through life knowing, at my happiest, that as much bullshit as I know is out there in the world, I could be back in that really ugly, awful place again. I wanted to die happy. Isn’t that what a lot of people say they want… to go out knowing that you’re at peace?”
It was probably the first time I’d heard something like that, and I couldn’t argue with it. I was like, “That makes a lot of sense.” That always kind of stuck in the back of my head.
There were a few other times I went out and did the wrapped-in-the-sheet thing, and had the knife again. [There] was a [particularly] bad night. I don’t know what it was that had caused it. I was just in a bad place that night. One of the things I always thought was kind of weird on a spiritual level was… that night in particular, I got the sense of someone trying to tell me no. [Someone] trying to push back, saying, “It’s not time. You can’t do this. You can’t do this to me yet. I haven’t met you yet.”
I’m like, “What the fuck is that supposed to mean? I’m a teenager. I’m not stupid. I love to read. I’ve got a great imagination, but that’s just stretching it to me. Am I really losing my mind right now?” I obviously didn’t do it. I went back, and I’m like, “Okay, whatever. You better show your ass up soon because I’ve had about enough of this. I can’t deal with all the therapy. I can’t deal with all the stupid hormonal conflict. I can’t deal with the fact that I’m different from everybody else. And I don’t understand why teenagers do the things they do because that seems completely asinine and pointless to me.”
That always used to make my mom laugh. She’s like, “You are too old. Even as a baby and a young kid, you were just too old. You would look at things that other kids did, and say, “Why would you…? This doesn’t make sense.” Old soul.”
When I was about to graduate high school, I got scared. For the first time in my life, I had friends, even though most of them were online. I was pretty happy. Things were going pretty good for me, but I didn’t like the pressure of being forced to choose what my path would be when I [wasn’t sure if I would be alive in five years].
One night, it got too much. I had some [medication]… [It] didn’t work. I got the side effects, and none of the real benefits. I hated the way they made me feel.
My mom was like, “Well, that’s because they’re making you feel better.”
“No, my head’s full of cobwebs. I can’t think. I’m existing; I’m not living.”
At one point, I got tired. I’m like, “I’m done. I’m done. This is how far I go.” I took the pills.
A best friend of mine popped up on [the computer] not even five minutes after I did that. [This was] back in the days of MSN Instant Messenger… god, that makes me old. He says, “Okay, I’ve gone through every one of my contacts. It’s not them. So, it’s you. Start talking. What did you do? What happened? What’s going on?”
He and I are notorious for doing this to each other at times. We are really, really strongly connected in that way. I told him, and he’s like, “Okay, I know you have a mic feature on that laptop. You can go ahead and put a piece of tape or whatever to hide the camera if you’ve got one,” and then he said one of the worst things ever to me. Oh my god, it was awful. He said, “You’re a girl. You know how to make yourself throw up.”
It made me laugh. It was like, “What the fuck kind of thing is that to tell me?”
He’s like, “Well? Are you calling me a liar?”
“Then, go do the girl thing, and make yourself throw up.”
“I hate you so much right now.”
“That’s good. You can hate me even more because of what you’re going to be going through next,” and I did. He was like, “I’ll know if you fake it out. I know what puking sounds like by the way.” He sat there on MSN with me while I threw up the pills—every last one of them. “Okay, that sounds like mostly dry heaves. I haven’t heard anything hit the toilet for a while.”
“Thanks. You’re really being attentive to this.”
“Yeah, pretty much. Go ahead and drink some water. Get the nasty ass taste out of your mouth. I’m going to make you do it again in thirty minutes.”
“Yep. This is the way this is going to go.”
“Okay, what do you want me to do in the meantime?”
“Well, you’re going to sit here, and you’re going to talk to me.”
“Everything. I don’t care. [Tell me anything about] what’s going on, related to why you were going to kill yourself.”
“What’s the point of talking? I’m done talking because talking about it hasn’t done anything.”
“Yeah, but you’ve been talking to a bunch of idiots. You’ve been talking to a bunch of professional people who only know the professional things. You didn’t talk to me about it. Before you get to make this decision, you have to talk to me about it.” He’s so bossy. Bossy, stubborn jackass. That’s why I love him, though.
For the next eight hours, he and I talked. I spilled out every gut I could onto him. Every petty little thing, every huge thing. Every time I would go quiet, and say maybe I needed to stop, he would go, “Okay, and what else?” That would get it all going again. I probably repeated myself about four or five different times, which usually drives him crazy. When I said there was nothing else I could think of, he would go, “Okay, do you still want to [kill yourself]?”
At this point, we weren’t actually talking, we were typing to each other. He proceeded to address every single point I had, even the ones I repeated, and the end result was that he pretty much convinced me [not to kill myself]. He said, “I can’t convince you not to do it. If you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it, but I’d like you to reconsider. I’m your friend and it would suck to lose you. It sucks I can’t be there. Think of it this way: what more could possibly happen to you? You already had most of the bad happen to you. What about all the stuff you haven’t experienced that’s good? What about all the stuff you said you wanted to try?” He had me to the point where I was considering a bucket list. He was basically wagering with me at that point. “Well, if you meet this criteria, then okay… and if you still feel that way afterward, then go ahead and do it. Obviously, you can.”
That was kind of surprising. He didn’t flip out.
I think that’s probably one of the biggest problems I have with the way we respond to people who are suicidal. It’s not an unreasonable response. That’s the potential permanent loss of someone you care about very much. It’s natural to freak out, but by freaking out, you drive them away or trivialize things. The things that don’t seem like they matter very much are a big deal to the other person, and we can’t shame them for it. Don’t shame them for feeling like they want to die. If you shame them for that, then it’s a confirmation that they’re “wrong” and shouldn’t be here. That’s not what you want. You don’t want to give them that message.
That night was the last night I ever tried to kill myself. That was, ironically enough, the time I almost [did die].
It hit me partway through that eight hour conversation: “You’re keeping tabs on me to make sure none of the pills took effect on my system.”
“Yeah, pretty much. I didn’t know if I got to you in time.”
“For all eight hours?”
“I don’t know how long that shit takes. I assume it would take less time than that if you had overdosed.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right about that.”
So, he saved my life. Things kind of changed for the better after that last time. I don’t know how to really describe it. There was this tension that was there—a really thick tension on the inside. It was the deciding factor: “Either it happens this time, or it’s no longer an option for you. That door is closed. Locked. Sealed. Whatever you want to call it. It’s no longer there. That was your one way out by your own hand. Now you have to wait for whatever else takes you out.”
That was a joke that came up between my best friend and me: “No one is allowed to take you out of this world but me.”
There was a lot of stuff that went on in my family. Struggling with mental illness is never fun. The behavioral patterns that happen because of it, the shit you put other people through… it’s not fun. On one hand, it’s not an excuse to continue behaving in a bad manner. At the same time, it’s also something that happens. I guess, don’t use it as an excuse to continue being a jackass or a little monster to people. It’s okay to feel bad and to have your bad days. Just know that it’s okay for the other people to respond accordingly, too. It’s not just you who is hurting. They see you hurt, and it affects them, too.
That was probably another reason I wanted to go. I was like, “I’m tired of putting my family through it.” I think that’s something a lot of people who are suicidal think, too. “This is how I am right now. I don’t see it getting better.” Sometimes they see it getting worse. Sometimes they don’t want to put their family or friends through any more than they already have. That’s probably why a lot of them do choose to go through with it. They’re like, “It’s an end to the pain. It’s an end to everything.” This is the final chapter; they can move forward. They can’t really see outside the broader scope of that. They’re focused on one narrow window when they need to be taken outside the window and shown the whole picture. This is one black spot—one really, really black spot. This is going to suck to get out of, but when you do, it goes from black, to grey, to everything else. It’s overwhelming. It sucks when you live with people who don’t get it.
That’s been a point of contention in my family a few times. People are like, “Well, I’ve been depressed, and antidepressants have worked for me.”
That’s great, but you’ve got to remember that suicidal thoughts and behaviors are not something that’s going to be fixed by medication. [Medications] have a black box warning nowadays because most of them tend to aggravate those thoughts and symptoms. Especially in the really big age categories—the young kids, people who are 25 and under. The other group is, I think, 35-50. It’s sad how broad that scope gets… [Ed. note: These numbers are close, but not quite right. You can find more information here.]
A lot of people sit there asking, “Well, how was I supposed to know?” Sure, there are some signs, but there are some people who take signs a little too seriously. I was one of those people. At one point, I was that person freaking out if somebody even mentioned the word suicide, because of my own brush with it. It scared the shit out of me because I automatically assumed they were at the exact point I had been during those nights where it was “time to die.” Or, “I have the thing ready in my hand,” instead of, “I’m really overwhelmed. I need somebody to help pull me up. Give me a hand. Give me a stick. Give me something that I can use to remind myself that it’s okay. It’s not just this all the time. There is something other than this.”
We need to really explore more of what the [proper methods of getting help] could be. Educating and saying that people need to seek help, in a society where help might be a few weeks away, is something we need to change. Instead of saying, “Okay, you need to wait for someone from the mental health services to contact you when the therapist has time for you,” we need to be more proactive.
I don’t know how to fix that, but we need to start going through community means. We need to start being with people. No, we don’t have the bachelors and doctorates to help us, but how many people have stated that it was a therapist who saved their lives? Probably not as many as they want you to believe. In my experience, it can be anything from a complete and total stranger who did nothing more than give you a smile or a kind word, to a friend who came over at the right time, who dropped everything to be there for you, to something that doesn’t seem all that big of a deal, but it made a difference. We need to start taking more of a personal accountability for that—not as people in the industry—but as people in the community, as a whole. If the resources are limited, you’re supposed to go to your neighbor, like in the old days. The officials couldn’t do anything about it. You had each other to rely upon, and that’s pretty much the point we’re at, I think.
I like the training we have at the 24/7 hotlines. I’ve thought about volunteering for those on a few levels. I’m still not sure if I could have the emotional distance necessary [to do that] because I don’t believe that’s always a good thing. I think people are looking for an emotional connection and something to hold on to, and we need to be giving them that while still maintaining that professional distance, just in case. But, we got to do more because it’s getting worse. The rates are going higher.
We need to talk to the people who get scared because they’re thinking about killing themselves. We need to let them know it’s normal to have those thoughts. Even psychology says it’s normal to have thoughts of death or offing yourself at times. It [becomes more of a concern] when thinking about it turns toward obsessing about it, and then toward acting on it. As soon as it becomes self-destructive, that’s when things really need to be brought in. We need to tell people, “It’s okay to have doubts. It’s okay to be scared. This is what you need to do. Now, this is how you can help that. This is how you can take control,” because that’s ultimately what suicide is about. It’s control. You’re trying to take control over a life that you’ve lost control over.
Des: What do you think of the availability of resources?
Ashley: It’s not enough. We don’t have enough good people in the industry. I think there’s a glut right now. There are a lot of people graduating with psychology degrees who are doing an absolute terrible job. They know there’s a demand for it, and they’re in it for the wrong reasons. I would probably say there’s about a 65-70% chance that 70% of the population who is going in to become psychologists aren’t doing it because it’s their calling. It’s because they want the fat paycheck.
I’ve had some bad ones, myself. I had one I pretty much fired on the spot. I was like, “I am not calling you back again.” Like, you have that nice, fat, shiny degree worth about $80,000 on your wall, and I’m sitting here going, “I could do your job a hell of a lot better than you can just by looking at my patient files. You have my record. My record is long, and you’re telling me it’s because I have low self-esteem, and I just need to quit being so introverted and go make friends…” right before he started complaining to me about how he and his wife’s relationship was on the rocks.
It takes time to find the right therapist, someone who [understands] what you need and is willing to work with you on it—in addition to looking at your history and not just going with what you want. I remember leaving that session, and going, “Who’s the therapist in this room? Why did I walk out of that feeling like I just sat down with my friends and helped them work through something?” That’s not how you’re supposed to leave a therapy session. You’re supposed to leave it saying, “Okay, I’ve got things to work on, and I’m probably a little emotionally exhausted because of it.” There are really good [therapists] out there. One of the best ones I had retired, unfortunately. He was with me ever since I was a little kid.
I had a good support net in comparison to what a lot of other people have. It’s not about how many people you do or don’t have. It’s about the quality of it. I had good professionals and teachers looking out for me—and my folks, of course, wanted to help. It’s okay to say they’re not enough. Sometimes, they’re too close. They’re too invested. They’re too busy being blinded by their own relationship to you to understand what you need or to even hear or see it. That’s why a lot of time you hear about it being a perfect stranger or a good friend who is the one who helps pull the breakthrough out completely, who helps get your feet back up where they should be.
We need a lot more research and resources for preventative measures. We need more solutions. When the people do finally call for help, you don’t know if it’s going to be the last [call]. You want to give them as many potential solutions for them to try as possible. If they come back saying, “I tried these. They didn’t work. What do I do now?” You need to have more ready. You need to treat each person as if they’re going to be coming back, not as a face in the crowd you’re going to forget about. You have to actually treat them like a person instead of treating them like a disease to be dissected.
That’s probably my biggest issue with the mental health industry. You can’t just squeeze people into a box. Yes, they may share a common set of symptoms, but you can’t rely on the medications to fix it all. When you’re dealing with psychology, especially with suicide and depression, you can’t treat it like a pill can fix everything. The medication is supposed to be a short term thing for a long term fix. It’s supposed to get them stable enough so you can begin working on the emotional aspect of it. For the most part, suicide is emotions. It’s heart. You need to treat the heart, not necessarily the head. Give them more control instead of having them rely on you to tell them what to do.
People want something easy. It’s not going to be easy. Mental illness is never easy. As soon as you’re diagnosed with it and it’s a surefire thing instead of a dubious diagnosis, it’s a long haul. You’re going to have your wins, you’re going to have your losses, but you’ve got to go for the win every time. You have to prepare them as best you can and help with steps they can use to have some control over a life they felt they’d lost control over completely. If more therapists took that angle and ran with it, I think we’d have more success cases.
I have nothing but respect for the people who come in [to work at crisis hotlines] on their own time—whether or not they’re paid—and do this because they want to help. I know how hard this is. I’ve been on the other end of that phone. I’ve been in their seat, too. We need more compassionate people who can do this. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s not for everybody.
Des: Do you still have suicidal thoughts?
Ashley: On occasion, yes. Sometimes, it’s a bad day. Sometimes, I’m having one of the best days of my life, and something will go, “Oh yeah, if I threw myself off this now, it probably wouldn’t hurt for too long,” or, “If I stepped right in front of that train, it would probably hurt for a little bit, but then I’d be gone and that would be it. End of story.” I’m like, “Hmm, yep. I could do that. Not today. Probably not tomorrow or next week either.”
It happens, especially in the low points, and that’s one of the things that people do need to realize. You’re going to have these thoughts. Acknowledge them. Acknowledge and accept. As soon as you can do that, it’s like, “Yep. Boy, that would be easy, wouldn’t it? But you know what? If I can get through the day without doing that, I’m going to go get an ice cream cone. I’m going to go see that movie I thought looked good but I wasn’t sure about. I’m going to go home and take a bath instead of a shower today. I’m going to cheat on whatever diet I might be on, because I deserve to.” Something small and simple like that to redirect your own thoughts. It’s like, “Okay, that impulse is there. The thoughts are there. Sure, I could do that, but what if I did this instead? Would that be more fun? Probably. So, let’s go ahead and do that instead. There’s still stuff I want to do.”
That’s one of the things I’ve actually used to help. “What do you want to do? Have you done it all?”
“Well, no. I haven’t done this yet.”
“How can we go do that?”
“Well, I’d have to do this.”
Break it down. Sometimes the big picture is too overwhelming. If you break it down for them, it’s something small, and it’s kind of a step-by-step thing. People are creatures of habit, and we like having steps to do things.
Des: How has your family reacted?
Ashley: My mom was devastated when I finally said something. She lost it. That didn’t feel good. Dad didn’t really say too much about it. I don’t think he knows how to handle the emotional aspect of that. I think he just can’t.
He had an experience. There was an incident on the freeway where someone [jumped] and landed behind his car. That bothered him. He wouldn’t talk about it. [My mom got] him to talk, and he was like, “I don’t get it.”
I think that’s probably one of the biggest problems: there are people who get it and those who can’t. It’s frustrating on both sides because the people who do get it are like, “It sucks. This is not a good place to be, but there is no real way for us to tell you and show you in a way that’s going to make sense. It’s something you either go through or you don’t.”
That’s the part that sucks the most for me, trying to explain that in a way that my mother would be able to understand. She went through several similar things to what I did when she was growing up, which was really sad and upsetting to hear. I’m sure it upset her to see the thing continue when she did everything in her power to make sure nothing like that would ever happen; to see it happen to both of her daughters was bad.
One of her co-worker’s daughters was mentally ill. Similarly to me, just not as functional—she killed herself. It was a very, very sad thing. I remember that because it bothered me and frustrated me. It made me feel like all she could see was the illness and the differences, instead of how far I’ve come. Then I had to remember what she saw and what she’s had to endure because of living through it with me. I had to sit myself down for a second and remind myself that she was standing completely outside the situation. It was a situation too close to her because this could have happened, and she knows it. She’s still afraid it’s going to happen again.
[My mom] was acting really off, and I’m like, “I’m sorry to hear that,” because she’d mentioned that that family was having trouble with their daughter before. She was acting off about it, and I finally turned, looked at her, and I’m like, “What’s wrong?”
She was talking about it, and she’s like, “I’m sad for them. I’m just so sad.”
I was trying to get her to say it. She wouldn’t say it, so I’m like, “Mom…” She looked at me, she’s got tears in her eyes, and I’m like, “You don’t need to worry about that with me anymore.” She lost it. She started crying hysterically on the spot. I walked over and gave her a hug, and I’m like, “That’s done. That’s over with. That’s not an option for me anymore.”
It was probably the first time I’d actually seen my mom acknowledge that she could have lost me several times and almost did. [One time], something or other hit [my sister] particularly hard, and she freaked out.
My mom called me like, “Your sister needs to talk to you. She’s really upset. This happened.”
I’m like, “Okay, put her on the phone.” I’m like, “Hey, you don’t need to worry about that with me. That’s done. I can’t go back there anymore. I can still go pretty dark, pretty deep, but I can’t get to that point anymore. That depth is gone. I can still see it, and the thoughts still pop up sometimes to remind me that the depth is there, but I’m not there anymore. I don’t have a way to go back there now.”
That’s a thing I actually had to think about for a little while before I came here. I had to sit down in front of a mirror and ask myself if there was a way I could get back to that point. If I lost every single thing, if every single person I ever cared about was gone—if, just like that, they all died right there on the spot, would I be able to get through that? Yeah. It would suck. I would be one miserable bitch for a long time, and I would be devastated, but I could do it. It would be hard, but I could do it because that would be what they would want. That’s what I would want.
Des: What would you want to say directly to someone reading your story?
Ashley: Hang in there. It does get better, I promise. It does. It might get worse for a while, and that’s something that people don’t often say. Like, “This sucks right now. It will probably get worse,” but at one point, it’s going to be worse to the point that it can’t get any worse, and you can only go back up from there. It’s possible to live through it. Many people have. More people will.
Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Don’t be afraid to say something. There are people out there who regret not saying anything when they thought they should have. I’ve had that regret. I should have said something. I might have been able to prevent something from happening, and that’s something I have to live with, but it also taught me how to say something. Speak up. Doesn’t matter if you know someone who is considering it, or if you are the person considering it. Go to everybody. Go to a complete stranger. Call someone. Doesn’t even have to be anyone you know, especially if you’re worried about someone you know freaking out on you. Call someone. There are places to go for that. There are people who are willing to sit there and listen, who can help.
There are bad people out there who will try and mess with you, who will try to take advantage or you, or will try to jeer you into doing it. Some of those people are going at it from the antagonist point of view, trying to piss you off to the point where you go, “Well, screw you. I’m not gonna then. Just to spite you.” Spite does a lot of help. Spite can help. It can hurt a lot. Anger channeled properly can give you a great drive into proving somebody wrong, and that’s always fun. Humanity likes to be right. We don’t like to be wrong.
Hang in there because there’s a lot in this world worth seeing. There are new things to learn every single day. There’s a lot of things in this really shitty world full of really shitty people and instances that’s still good. Sometimes it takes a lot to find. Sometimes it doesn’t. Find that one thing and hold on to it. That’s what got me and a lot of my friends through it—having one thing to hold on to, to look forward to every day. Doesn’t matter if it’s the new issue to a comic book, new episode of a TV show, a new book, new anything… doesn’t matter. If it’s something that you want, something you find yourself looking forward to, even in spite of all of it, hold on to that. Make that one of your reasons for living, and then find more. Until one day, you’ll look, and go, “Huh. I still think about it. I still consider it on occasion, but that’s all it is… thinking and considering.” That’s when you know you’ve really gotten through.
Ashley’s story is sponsored by a grant from the hope & grace fund, a project of New Venture Fund in partnership with global women’s skincare brand, philosophy, inc. Thanks to Lines for Life, Portland’s regional crisis line, for providing a venue in which to do our interview. Thanks also Jana Christian for providing the transcription to Ashley’s interview, and to Sara Wilcox for editing.