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Written by Fiona Leloup.

Art by Elizabeth Juarez.

Content Warning: This article contains reference to a suicide attempt.

I turn 29 soon. I haven’t historically been a “birthday person,” but this one’s important. I didn’t even think I was going to make it to 29.

During my 20s I: survived sexual assault, married my partner, earned two degrees, bought a house, won awards, earned honors, got diagnosed with anxiety, depression, PTSD, ADHD, and endometriosis. I traveled, became an aunt, got over 20 tattoos, helped my sister through a divorce, made friends, lost friends, survived suicide, fell in love with New Orleans jazz, started a blog, and came out as bisexual.

But I’m alive, and it’s impossible to express how happy I am about it.

The knowledge that I almost committed suicide has weighed on my mind in unexpected ways:

October 2019, I made a suicide plan – in our detached garage I knew my Subaru could poison me with carbon monoxide without harming my pets – but on the day I was planning on doing it, I went to the hospital instead.

So began my mental breakdown.

I survived my 20s by shoving all my physical and emotional needs deep down. Within me lies a Mariana Trench packed with demons that were too inconvenient to acknowledge. And it totally worked. I had everyone convinced I was “normal.” Better than normal, actually. I was high achieving, I exceeded expectations.

But as I tried to keep them captive, those demons fused together. They became stronger, angrier. A beast that almost killed me.

Now that the beast is out, I can’t lock it back up. I literally can’t. My brain has lost the ability to perform that function. I think about mental health every single day. I talk about mental health every single day. My near-suicide didn’t kill me, but it did kill my ability to suppress.

This means I process through every trigger as it comes. This is exhausting. Some days it feels like all I can do is survive. It also means that there are lots of things I can’t do at all anymore.

For instance, I can’t commit to plans. I make plans with someone ahead of time, and spend the intervening days committed to going. But if something triggers me on the day of, I bail. I have to. I learned the hard way that if I don’t put my mental health first it could kill me.

I shake hands with my symptoms and trauma. I acknowledge their existence. I acknowledge their importance. I walk away.

Also, crowds give me anxiety now. And, if I have any kind of responsibility in chaotic situations, I completely shut down. This has made doing my job almost impossible as I teach in a middle school; a pretty chaotic place. Teachers constantly need to be in control or everything will fall apart. Everything often falls apart anyway, even if we think we’re in control. Every day is an uphill climb. Every morning I’m back at the bottom of the hill.

On the other hand, I can be honest now. I no longer care what people think. Obviously, I still have low self esteem; it will take much longer to topple that mountain. That being said, I no longer let my low self esteem change my behavior or keep me from asserting myself.

And I can assert myself now. My perfectionism made it impossible to ask for help so I’ve limped through many things that could have been way easier. Then, asking for help saved my life. I wanted to die, I told a coworker, she took me to the hospital. This event made me finally realize it is OK to ask for help. Asking for help still isn’t easy but I can now. I can assert my existence and validate my needs. I can lean on the people who have been desperate for me to do so in the face of my lifetime of fierce independence.

I can work through my emotions now, rather than letting them conquer me. That demonic beast that almost killed me in October? I calmed it. I gave it the validation it needed. I gave it a home in my life.

I shake hands with my symptoms and trauma. I acknowledge their existence. I acknowledge their importance. I walk away.

I notice my feelings. I spend time defining my emotions. I utilize my skills and my support system to process them.

Unfortunately, within all of this work, I have cycled through many different and unexpected iterations of the five stages of grief.

I’ve had to grieve my former, “perfect,” self. I can no longer do the things I once did, to the standard to which I once did them. Releasing myself from perfectionism has not prevented feelings of failure when I fall short. I derive self esteem from productivity, but I no longer have my perfect performance to draw from. I therefore am experiencing an intense loss.

A loss of identity. A loss of confidence in my abilities. A loss of confidence in how people see me.

Furthermore, I’m daily realizing the roots and consequences of my mental health. My brain is forging a lifetime’s worth of connections as I analyze emotions for the first time. These connections often result in epiphanies, often that knock me on my ass.

For example: I realized I have spent the last decade with my partner believing I was unworthy of his love. I literally believed I had nothing to offer. I believed I had to prove myself worthy of love over and over again. I existed in perpetual anxiety that I was under constant threat of losing him.

I lost an entire decade of life refusing to feel loved, when I had an overabundance of love available to me.

That’s fucking depressing.

So basically, what I’m saying is: my 29th birthday is a big deal. This year, I will shamelessly celebrate myself to the fullest. I will be loud, outrageous, and silly.

Because it is not just a birthday.

It’s a symbol of the hellfire I’ve walked through.

About the Author

Fiona Leloup (she/her) is a queer teacher, poet, blogger, pisces, suicide survivor. She is here because it is time to take up space with her story. Suicide survivors in mainstream society are hidden behind a shroud of shame and guilt. They are made to think attempting suicide makes them weak, when surviving suicide actually makes them strong as hell.

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