What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Adam Starks.
“I wake up in the morning, and I ask myself/ Is life worth living, or should I blast myself?”
— Tupac, Changes
With my recent revelation of suicidal intent when I was a teenager, I understand that there will always be viewed with some sort of stigma associated with me. Nevertheless, it was a calculated risk to include my attempted suicide in my autobiography highlighting my years in foster care. I took this step in order to reach out to the broken masses in an attempt to help them discover their sense of reasoning. Rather than presenting you with the dismal statistics that are readily available via a quick Google search, I’m sharing my insight into the how and why I attempted suicide. However, this ends
on a positive note, so stick with me.
I presented you with the lyrics above to express my sense of overwhelming anxiety that kept a dark cloud over every aspect of my day. I contemplated the deed for at least two years before I made a serious attempt. This excerpt from my autobiography reveals the “how” this happened in detail:
…My darkest moment came later that night. I laid in bed wide awake well past my bed time and waited to hear Miriam snoring to know she was out cold. Noah had been asleep for a while, so I slipped off of my top bunk and made my way to the kitchen. I opened the drawer and pulled out a random steak knife. Any knife would do the deed, I thought to myself. I traced my index finger across the serrated edge as I made my way to the foyer. I chose the foyer because it was the closest area to the door. I also didn’t want to mess up the carpet in Miriam’s show rooms, and didn’t want the memory of my dead body to haunt any of the other rooms. The ambulance could step right in and wheel me out without too much effort. There I stood in the foyer only lit by the full moon outside. I checked to make sure it was only the moon since the light seemed so vibrant. I just hadn’t noticed it before what I thought would be my last night. The image was beautiful. It was a nice image to end my life with. Then I turned to the wall and sat down and decided it was time to go to a better place. Regardless of my preacher’s teachings, I didn’t believe in heaven or hell for my afterlife. My perception of life was a constant hell, and heaven was always too far out of my reach. I figured my soul would just dissipate or wander aimlessly in the dark just like it had throughout my lifetime.
Wetness began to flow from my face to my shirt. I hadn’t noticed that I had begun to cry until the tear splashed against my arm. It signaled a brief moment of reasoning and allowed doubt to surface as a self-negotiation ensued. Part of me pleaded to stay. The other side, unconvinced, determined that it was time to drive this knife right through my heart. My heart didn’t want to bear the brunt of the wound as it began to beat to the point of feeling paralysis in my left arm. I ultimately sided with death as I clenched both hands around the knife handle, lifted both hands to my chest, and held the position. One final plea in the form of water began to drench my shirt. My hands shook uncontrollably as my nerves inexplicably intervened. Against my better judgment, I thrust the knife intentionally toward my heart but haphazardly penetrated through the opposite side of my chest and into a rib bone. The pain was indescribable, but I can only decipher what followed as a state of shock. I involuntarily let go of the knife and tried with the strength I had left to refrain from vomiting. My heart and nerves overpowered my body and rescinded my right to function. All I could do was hold my laceration and weep silently into the veneer floor for a good part of the night.
Somehow, I managed to regain my composure and go to the bathroom to inspect the self-inflicted damage. Luckily, I wasn’t even bleeding very much. I left the dried blood around the wound for fear of the sight of wet blood and covered it with a normal band aid. A hole in the shirt was going to provide evidence that required an explanation that I wasn’t prepared to give had Miriam decided to inquire. I used the shirt to soak up the puddle of tears on the foyer floor and buried the shirt underneath some garbage in the trash can. I crawled into bed for a few hours before getting ready for school the following morning.
The moment didn’t simply occur because my foster mother ripped me off the basketball team. My decision didn’t happen in a vacuum due to vane selfishness. Conversely, my actions in a moment of weakness and loneliness were a culmination of the sequence of events over the previous seven years (from the moment I was placed in foster care to my awakening) that led to my erratic judgment.
From an outsider’s viewpoint, it’s easy to say people who attempt suicide are weak, stupid, selfish, etc., but that is a shortsighted view lacking consideration of all that has taken place in the individual’s life before that moment. Depression sets in and lack of familial or community support plays a large part in feeling overburdened by societal expectations.
If you can manage to view life through a broad spectrum, human resilience can outlast any series of events that plague our ability to experience happiness and fulfillment. I could tell you it gets better, but everyone says that. The truth is, I don’t know what constitutes “better” for you. It’s different for everyone. What I can tell you is that people are willing to help if you genuinely want out of your current situation. Ultimately, the decision the overcome must start from within.
The challenges are part of what we have to accept to fully experience and appreciate joy. You have the ability to persevere through your hardships. I’m not making such a statement to belittle your problems. How big or small your problems seem to others is irrelevant. It really comes down to how each individual cope with their challenges. Going it alone it certainly the one thing I would never recommend. The quote, “No man is an island,” comes to mind. I encourage you to use all of the resources at your disposal to learn coping mechanisms to tap into that inner reservoir of resilience. Don’t simply press forward with the everyday routine. Deal with it head on, so it doesn’t control you in the end. That’s what it comes down to; our circumstances come to control us because many of us take on much more than we should handle on any given day.
However, you don’t have to let that be the case. You get to choose between being the victim or the victor. Choose the latter by planning for a future and taking positive steps toward your aim in the present moment.
The scar adjacent to my heart has darkened around the dart-like hole that serves a persistent reminder of what could have been lost. Think about it from my perspective; a loving wife, my three brilliant children, academic contribution to society and my understanding of loving yourself twenty years later. Surviving my attempt or botching my attempt depending of your viewpoint, gave me a unique opportunity to express this perspective to each person who reads this piece. I was ready to die in that moment, but glad to be here now. With all of this in mind, I challenge you to seek higher ground by immediately reaching out to begin the restorative process. Every person has the gift of potential and we should never leave this world without realizing its full expression.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) free 24/7. Please call if you are in a state of suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
Adam Starks, Ph.D. is a husband, father, author and aspiring social entrepreneur. His project, Urban Light Initiative aims to help at-risk youth with resources and guidance to complete their education and go on to live self-sustaining lives. His autobiography, Broken Child Mended Man, vividly depicts overcoming a troubling childhood to ultimately graduate from college. You can read his blog at www.adamstarks.com or order his e-book, paperback or audiobook at all major online booksellers.