I was eighteen. I was done. I’ve read that a lot of suicides are impulsive acts, but mine was a culmination of years of careful contemplation.
I had a reason for every pill I swallowed, every incision. I’d tried for what I felt was the last reasonable time, and been mistreated by the last person. I had no other exit strategy- I’d been on my own a bit over a year, with no finances to improve my situation.
I was staying with friends, but of course there were strings attached. I was done with the strings. I was going to sever them. So I did.
It was going along according to plan. I fell asleep.
But I was found and put in a car by the friend who was one of the reasons. The fire truck met the friend part of the way to the hospital, and that is why I am here.
I woke up in the hospital covered in vomit and charcoal with a nurse screaming at me. Her words are the most vivid part of this whole memory for me. She told me I was selfish, taking a bed from people who deserved it, that I was a waste of time.
I wanted to tell her I agreed, which is why I’d tried to kill myself in the first place! But I don’t remember responding. I’m not sure if I could; there were tubes everywhere.
I wished I never woke up then. First thought, even before the nurse’s tirade was No. Not this, not still. A crushing wave of disappointment.
After, I was committed by the state. The police who arrested me for the crime of suicide didn’t want to cuff me. They tried to call and get permission not to do it, but they had to follow the rules. They cuffed me loosely. They treated me like glass, carrying me from the wheelchair to their car and strapping me in.
And then there was a sea of psychologists who couldn’t get me to divulge my secrets. I was asked if there was anyone I wanted to call.
There was no one.
I said what I thought I had to- that it was all a big mistake, I was fine.
What about these scars and cuts? They’d ask, mildly interested.
Nothing. I fell on a fence. I’d say, or whatever other thing. I remember protesting, claiming innocence, but I don’t remember specifics. I didn’t have access to pointy things like pens for journaling.
And then I was released, because what can you do? And I was alive, although I wished I wasn’t.
It took me a long time to be grateful to the firemen for driving in a rush to revive me.
The main thing that kept me alive after was knowing I could fail, and then be locked up.
But whatever it takes, really.
I’m alive, and I am glad I’m alive.
I had coffee this morning with hazelnut milk. When I was eighteen, I’d never had coffee with hazelnut milk. I’d never sat at the table I sit at now surrounded by books and garden gnomes and a person I can call in an emergency.
Sometimes it takes time, and depression comes and goes in waves. I built a boat for myself without the doctors, because I don’t like being out of control locked up. That’s fair enough. Whatever gets you though. We’re finished soon enough as it is.
That’s why I am for police and other emergency personal carrying Narcan and being trained to handle overdoses. Life is too precious to throw it away that easily at eighteen. Before you learn you can weasel your way out of all kinds of things!
Yes, some people overdose again and again. Give them chances. It’s a simple application of a drug.
Don’t be that nurse screaming at someone already at their lowest all the words they’ve said to themselves a million times: you’re selfish, you’re taking from people better than you, you’re a waste of time.
Time is a gift. Give it.
The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars: A Neuropsychologist's Odyssey Through Consciousness by Paul Broks- New Release Book Review
When celebrated neuropsychologist Paul Broks's wife died of cancer, it sparked a journey of grief and reflection that traced a lifelong attempt to understand how the brain gives rise to the soul. The result of that journey is a gorgeous, evocative meditation on fate, death, consciousness, and what it means to be human.
The Darker the Night, The Brighter the Stars weaves a scientist’s understanding of the mind – its logic, its nuance, how we think about what makes a person – with a poet’s approach to humanity, that crucial and ever-elusive why. It’s a story that unfolds through the centuries, along the path of humankind’s constant quest to discover what makes us human, and the answers that consistently slip out of our grasp. It’s modern medicine and psychology and ancient tales; history and myth combined; fiction and the stranger truth.
But, most importantly, it’s Broks’ story, grounded in his own most fascinating cases as a clinician—patients with brain injuries that revealed something fundamental about the link between the raw stuff of our bodies and brains and the ineffable selves we take for who we are. Tracing a loose arc of loss, acceptance, and renewal, he unfolds striking, imaginative stories of everything from Schopenhauer to the Greek philosophers to jazz guitarist Pat Martino in order to sketch a multifaceted view of humanness that is as heartbreaking at it is affirming.
On my crowded bookshelf nestled between novels and Vaccai vocal exercise books, is one of my favourite books of all, Into the Silent Land: Travels in Neuropsychology. It’s one I’ve read time and again, gotten tea stains on (I am the worst), and as much as some of my more spiritually minded friends have found his assertions depressing, I cheered.
Yes! I am a chunk of meat! And I make stories! It really couldn’t get better than that. How wonderful to have your perspective validated! It’s great. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I tend to remember. And read those books again. And drink my tea over them. When they send me into research spirals, so much the better.
So, I was naturally excited to hear Broks was releasing another book. My cupboards are well stocked with tea, I have permanent insomnia... I was ready to dive into his observations and categorically pull them apart at the seams, seeing what I agree with and what I can research for... years, I guess. It’s brain science.
When I found out the subject matter- his memoir about grief mixed in with the brain stuff I was in for, I was both sad for him (I’ve never experienced a spouse’s death, and I can’t begin to comprehend the loss) and grateful he wrote a book like that. There are a lot of books- and people, really, that claim everything happens for a reason, and there is an afterlife. We need more stories about getting on with life when there is no afterlife to soothe the pain. At least I do.
The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars examines consciousness, one of my favourite subjects. It was a joy to read his opinions about theories I’ve fussed over (like the bicameral mind), and also ones I’ve never heard of until his book. I’ve found that some things are best enjoyed through books so you don’t bore your friends to death… If you are interested in thinking about thoughts, here’s the book for you.
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I am a huge fan of the first Felix book, Murder in Absentia, so I am beyond excited that In Numina is just as wonderful a book. It is a fantasy. It is a detective story. It is a historical. I love all three of those genres, but the mix of them has proven to be one of my favourite blends of all. Rome (the basis of his imaginary Egretia) is endlessly fascinating, and the true to life details Mehr adds to the story sent me off in happy research spirals. I spent afternoons reading about how Romans could tell a tavern was also a brothel, or about the tool they used to exfoliate, or cuisine. Then I’d return to the novel to read about hiring a gladiator or dabbling with magic.
Felix is a great character. He’s flawed, but he learns. I always root for him. He always seems genuinely curious, and that is a pretty important trait in an investigator. Reading about his adventures is a joy. I found myself smiling as I read. In Numina is going to be one of those books I read again and again. I suggest reading with a nice glass of wine.
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