By Kimberly Zapata
It is just after 6 a.m. when the sunlight reaches my bedroom. It sneaks in — slipping between a thin, vertical crack in our curtains — and rouses me from my sleep. I take a long, deep breath: the warmth of the day fills my mouth, my throat, and my lungs. But when I exhale it hits me: I’m alive.
I’m still alive.
Make no mistake: I want to be. Deep down I want to be. I am a wife and a mother, the parent of a beautiful, smart, and sassy little girl. But my illness makes existing hurt. It makes breathing hurt, and — most days — living seems impossible.
Suicide seems like my only hope. My only option.
But that is because I live with a mental illness, and one of the symptoms of said illness is suicidal thoughts. I have chronic ideations and fascinations. And while parenting is hard, parenting through suicidal thoughts is damn near impossible.
It is overwhelming.
You see, when you are suicidal, you are not yourself. You feel desperate and desolate, helpless and hopeless, and you feel alone. No matter how many people you have in your life, you feel completely isolated and totally alone.
You believe nothing matters anymore. You do not matter anymore, and you believe your friends and family would be better off without you. That nagging voice in your head tells you the world would be better off without you.
And that voice will not shut up.
Things that once made you happy now bring you pain. Laughing hurts, loving hurts, breathing hurts, being hurts, and living seems impossible. The weight of life overwhelming.
And time stops. All you can do “in the moment” is think about suicide. You become obsessed with the idea. With finding a way out. But as a parent, you cannot pull back — you do not have the luxury of leaving or pulling away — because, in spite of it all, you have to be “functional.”
I have to be functional for my little girl.
Am I? Well, no, not always. Some days my illness wins. Some days I am so sick I cannot think. I cannot move or breathe without concentrated efforts and, on those days, I fail at parenting. I give my daughter Pop-Tarts for dinner and chocolate bars for dessert. I let her color on the walls while I lay — in a collapsed heap — on the kitchen floor. We skip bathtime, and stay up way past her bedtime, and I parent “from the couch,” which is to say I close my eyes while my daughter watches Sesame Street. While she marathons through Octonauts, Little Einsteins, or Sofia The First.
But I do so because I care for her.
I push through because I love her with every fiber of my being.
Of course, I know how absurd that sounds: the notion that being a distant parent and an absent parent somehow makes me a better parent. And you’re right; it sounds — well — it sounds crazy. But my daughter deserves a loving mother and a living mother, and in order to be that parent, sometimes I need to stop and take a breath.
I have to disconnect to literally survive.
That said, I would be lying if I told you that — with these tricks — I am fine. That, with love, I am always okay, because the truth is I am not. That’s not how mental illness works. People — even the people that you love the most — cannot save you.
Love cannot save you, and I would know: because just a few weeks ago, I had a brush with death. I bought pills, wrote a note, and made a plan. I had all intentions of killing myself.
Of taking my own life.
But in a moment of clarity, I got help.
I stopped and called a dear friend.
Did I want to? No. I was terrified, not of being judged but of being stopped. I knew he had the power to help prevent my suicide. But, I made the call, and I did so because my daughter deserved better. Because I deserved better, as does every mother, every father, every person who is struggling or in pain.
So if you find yourself reading this from “that place,” if you find yourself reading this from a dark, suicidal space — please know there is light. There is hope, and while that voice in your head may be telling you that you are a bad parent — you are the worst parent — know that voice is a liar.
A total liar.
She (or he) is so wrong.
Because, no matter what, you showed up today. Today, you kept going, and even if you aren’t having a good day, you are having a strong day because getting up is something.
Every day, every minute, every breath is something. You are loved, and valued. Keep pushing forward.