A story I waited decades to tell.
Author’s Note: I agonized for two years about publishing this story. It may be too triggering for some to read, but I hope it will give others solace and comfort. My goal with Speaking Bipolar is to show all sides of the disorder: the good, the bad, and the very ugly. This is part of my ugly, but there is also hope. There is always a way back from the darkness, so may this story remind you that choosing life is always the only choice.
I held the gun to my temple, rivers of tears running down my face.
I knew I was supposed to feel afraid, but I felt nothing. The falling tears angered me because they were pointless. The pain inside differed from sadness. It was more of a weight filled with guilt, hopelessness, and the voices screaming in my mind.
I needed it all to stop.
I was sitting on the side of a mountain overlooking a scenic valley. The valley and its beauty failed to touch my heart. I parked my car at an overlook and walked a few paces down the mountain so no one would easily find me.
I didn’t want to die anywhere my friends or family would see the horror. It felt poetic that my last view would be of the valley where I felt like my life had begun.
But I couldn’t pull the trigger.
My mind flashed with images of those who might cry when they heard I was gone. I doubted most of them cared about me, but even the thought of their fake tears ripped at me.
I pulled the gun from my head and pointed it straight in front of me. The small revolver was lighter than I expected. It seemed wrong for something so light to be so deadly.
I fired one shot into the air and listened as the sound rumbled down the valley.
There are unique acoustics in the valley I call home. An echo can bounce between the mountains much longer than you’d expect. Thunder goes on forever.
I wondered if it would be the last sound I would hear.
Finding a gun
No gun should have been accessible to me.
While I was in treatment for my bipolar disorder, things inside were still chaotic. I rapidly cycled from high to low and back again so fast I couldn’t keep up.
All of my friends and family thought they were keeping me safe. They were sure I was happy and stable, but I was playing a role. I strolled through life with a fake smile and gave an Oscar-worthy performance.
No one knew they should worry.
A friend of mine cleaned houses, and occasionally I would go with her to keep her company while she did her work. If I was bored, I would help her complete the job.
In one house, I discovered a gun above a tall bookcase. It was a place no one else thought to clean, as I saw from the abundance of dust and cobwebs on the gun.
I froze in place when I saw it. Guns both fascinated and terrified me.
I grew up in Wisconsin, where hunting is almost a religion. In high school, I even took a gun class, where I learned to disassemble, clean, and properly handle a firearm.
My next thought was to tell my friend, but she was busy scouring the kitchen.
Then I thought about sticking the gun in my pants so I could run out and hide it in my car.
Another part of my brain woke up, red lights going off everywhere. I had never stolen anything before. There was no way I was capable of stealing a gun.
Except I was, and so much more.
My friend popped back into the room and broke my internal debate.
“Are you still cleaning up there?” she asked. “Come on, I’m hungry. Let’s get this done so we can go have lunch.”
“I’m done,” I lied, climbing down from the wooden chair I used as a step stool. “Where do you need me next?”
That should have been the end of my gun story, but thoughts of the metal monster consumed me. An overwhelming euphoria came with each thought about the weapon. For years, I had searched high and low for an easy way out, and now I knew where it was.
All of my struggles could be over with one pull of the trigger. The pain would stop. The voices would finally be silent. There would never be endless noise in my head.
Sleep became impossible. My every thought, day and night, was of that gun and what it could mean for me.
Fighting an ordinary day
It was an ordinary day when that gun became mine.
Nothing traumatic had happened. No one broke my heart, picked a fight, or bullied me. In fact, the sun was shining, and it was a beautiful day.
In passing, my friend mentioned she could skip cleaning the house with the gun because the owner was away for a few weeks. It was my window, and the only way to stop my obsession. The gun had to be mine.
In broad daylight, I broke into the house.
Is it still breaking in when you know where the hidden key is? I guess since I had no right to be there, it probably is.
In any case, I went into the house and took the gun.
Driving in fear
For weeks, I rode around with the revolver under the front seat of my car.
I was busy with volunteer work and often gave rides to others as part of my service. Each drive made my heart race as I thought of the conversation we would have if a passenger found my secret.
No one did.
I thought stealing the gun would take away my desire to die. It didn’t.
I was a little less preoccupied with killing myself because I had the means to check out at any time. Just having the option took away some of my anxiety.
But things didn’t get better.
My mental health was the Titanic, and bipolar was the iceberg trying to sink me.
A battle raged in my mind between returning the gun and using it. Either decision felt final and too difficult to make.
Sleep again evaded me with this new choice filling every minute of the night.
The weight pressing me down felt heavier every day until I finally drove up the mountain, ready to end it all.
Perched on the edge of the mountain, I fired just the one shot.
Things were oddly quiet right after I fired, and for a moment, I wondered if the gunshot had somehow destroyed my eardrums. After a few seconds, the insects and birds returned to chirping and singing.
I dropped the gun on the ground as more tears came. Each tear came with such force that my whole body shuddered.
I hate crying. I have always hated crying. It makes me uncomfortable when other people cry near me, and it crushes me when I’m the one sobbing.
Crying reinforces all the worst things I believe about myself. So there, in the sunshine on a Tennessee mountain side, I sat and cried and hated myself for every tear that escaped.
Giving in to life
I sat among the tall grass on the mountainside for hours.
To this day, I’m not sure why I waited. Part of me wondered if I was about to play out one of those movie scenes, where an angel of mercy rushes in at the last second to rescue the hero. It happened before when Patrick saved me. But I was no hero, and no one was coming to save me this time.
I glared at the gun next to me on the ground, thinking how easy it would be to pull the trigger one more time. Just one pull and no more pain, but I somehow knew I never would.
“Aaaaaaahhhh!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. “I hate you!”
I hated myself for being too weak to follow through, but I knew choosing life was the only choice.
When the sun set behind the mountain on the opposite side of the valley, I forced myself to pick the gun up again. Holding it with two fingers like a dirty diaper, I took it back to the car and slid it under the seat.
I drove around for another couple of weeks with the gun in my car. No one noticed I was struggling. No one saw how close to the edge I was walking. The smile on my face never wavered.
As the days passed, I realized I couldn’t use the gun to end things.
When my head started to clear, I wondered about the homeowner whose gun I stole. How would they feel to know someone committed suicide with their gun? How much trauma would my death cause for them?
The guilt was oppressive. I couldn’t hurt anyone in that way. I knew what I had to do.
Putting things right
Returning the gun was harder than stealing it.
A few months had passed since the day I stole the weapon. I didn’t know if the homeowner’s routine had changed or when they might be home.
Even though I had no reason to be on that road, I started driving past the house every day. I never saw cars there in the morning, so I figured my best shot was mid morning when no one would be driving past.
I whipped my blue Toyota Corolla into the gravel driveway and parked inches from the front porch. In one swift movement, I snatched the gun from under the seat and jumped from the car.
I ran to the wooden stairs going up to the front door, counted up three steps, and reached my hand under for the spare key, but all I felt was an empty nail.
My heart took off like Mario Andretti. I raced up the stairs and tried the door, but it was locked.
I looked up at the sky and screamed, “I’m trying to do the right thing!”
Fortunately, no one was around to hear me.
I knew the guy who owned the house, and I knew he hated carrying keys. There had to be one somewhere.
Like a squirrel hunting the last nut of summer, I raced around the house looking for any spot one might stick a spare key.
Finally, on my third go around the house, a glint of metal caught my eye. Near the top step leading up to the deck, another nail stood proud, and it had a key!
I tore into the home and flung the gun up on the bookcase, running back out, locking the door, and rehanging the key in its new spot all before I took another breath. Back in my car, I slammed my foot to the floor and peeled out of the driveway, sending tiny rocks flying everywhere.
The gun was back where it belonged, and I had a story I would never tell. Until today.
Living every day
I’d love to say that was the last time I ever thought about killing myself.
In reality, suicidal ideation is part of everyday life for me. It’s a weight most of us with bipolar disorder carry.
Since childhood, there’s barely a day or two where I haven’t thought about suicide at least once. Yes, that includes today, even though I’ve been stable for years.
After I returned the gun, I spent some time soul searching. I didn’t like where I was at that point in my life, nor did I like the direction I was headed.
I decided that if I was going to die, I wanted to leave behind a positive legacy. And there was so much I needed to do.
A funny thing happened. In the process of creating a better life so that I could leave a meaningful legacy, I actually started to enjoy living again.
I found a skilled care team and an excellent therapist. I learned coping skills and went through a parade of medicines until we found the combination that worked right for me.
There’s nothing worse than feeling like you want to end your life. If you’ve never been there, you can’t imagine how awful it feels.
People who commit suicide aren’t selfish. They simply want to stop the pain.
If you had ever been tormented by the same endless pain, you might understand.
Suicide is never the right answer, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t still think about it.
When my friend Jim chose to end his suffering, he didn’t know how many years of torment he would cause for me. He didn’t know he was forever changing my life and that of all his family and friends.
I hope you always remember that suicide is a choice that hurts more than you. It’s a decision that will change the lives of everyone who ever knew you.
What you do will affect others, and likely more people than you might think.
Suicidal ideation will entice you, but it’s never the right answer, so please always choose life.
No matter how awful today is, things can and will get better. You will want to live again, but you have to hold on to get there.
If you’re grappling with suicidal ideation, please reach out for help. You may also find a no-suicide contract helps.
Until next time, keep fighting.