For My Sanity

By Joel LeonSeptember 11, 2019

This piece contains mature language, graphic depictions of self-harm, and mentions suicidal ideation in detail. We ask that you use your discretion. 

I have become a constant sage burner, a perfecter of incense lighting rituals. I open the windows and I clear rooms for ghosts and the potential newborns fermenting, and in the haze of a fire, my reflection all up in the embers, the base of the flame fingering the coals, I figure now would be a good time to recall the many times I thought dying was a better substitute than a mirror.

I think the first time I learned I wanted to die was when I was five, and holding the tip of the knife to my belly to quell a hunger that felt like a broken record. Sometimes I thought I could fly if I tried hard enough. Back then I felt like a broken record, like the skkkkr before the needle that requires a penny to bear the weight. That was me, both needle and record spinning, spinning looking for something sharp and edgy to find faults in early on.

The second time I died was by rhythmic asphyxiation, choking on the words—how do you say molested in ghetto? I am not sure porn sex ever gave us the right kind of language, the right way to process. I kept dying over and over and when you run barefoot out of options, you cling to life like an IV is a cliffhanger. Everything is suicide watch, everything is the last episode of Survivor and your mouth is dry, and what about these palms? The sweat becomes the same secretion of balm used to cool the nerves, the nerd in me didn’t want to be here or there or anywhere where I could be told I was less than. So, I ran.

I ran until I ran into a dorm much like the hostels seen in the Lifetime movies my mom makes me watch when we are both bored and tired of eating mangoes and acting like money isn’t everything, isn’t the low hanging fruit in the garden of conversation replete with passive aggression and pit stops. And this third time, in that dorm room with the high ceilings, in that bed, after that phone call I always remember, I cried and the resident assistant told me my girlfriend was scared and I thought for who? Maybe it makes the story better if I use a poem or an alliteration or some literary device that will throw you off the scent.

Or maybe a fourth time is a jaunt to the past, the one day you sit in class and the teacher asks you “how do you feel?” and you raise your hand and maybe you say with hands or with your mouth open or with your heart bleeding but you don’t say hungry, you don’t say abused, you don’t say lost, you don’t say angry. Maybe instead you crack a smile, a joke, a can of high fructose, you crack open the silence instead of cracking open a skull and you pray to an invisible sky and crack open the moon with your teeth or crack the spine open of your favorite book or forgotten love letter and you reimagine what it felt like before you no longer wanted to be here.

And “here” looks like closed doors sometimes, like the absence of anything dear and sacred, like the swinging steel of a pendulum haunting your sheets, can be like an almost-empty fridge and stale milk sometimes, sometimes can be like the news is shaming you, is blaming you: your fault ya’ momma is single and ya’ poppa talks to the dead Vietnamese blood he keeps trying to burn off in every jail and hospital they throw him in sometimes, you drink sometimes, you climb into beds into legs into debt because because because…

And you do therapy. Therapist buys you socks. Therapist buys you books. Therapist smiles and asks you things that make you think it is no longer about therapy. Therapist maybe doesn’t want therapy anymore and rather than ask if she is who she says she is or is doing what you think she is you leave and you cheat on your lover and you write about it and she leaves and you reconcile and you cheat and you write about it and right before your aunt dies the ghost of her hugs you and compliments your shirt so you never wear it now and give it away because death follows you always is always around you and you seemed to have always written about death but what about your own?

My mother taught me a lot but not enough, and I learned that leaving can be the same as dying. That the dying of a self is only half a story. There are missing notes, there are fragments, there can be run-ons, we can leave out and forget so much when we are looking for emergency glass. I learned how to call the hotline on my own. I learned how to Google the names fallen and the sites to go to for help and the cues to look for by myself. I learned the signs and the heat a body can give when the dial tone is too long, when dialing feels like CTRL ALT DEL, the world pushing all of our buttons. Instead of leaving, I learned how to use a Word doc. Instead, I learned how to breathe when I walk and sometimes I talk to trees and I still talk like my father like all the broken homes I have come to know because we don’t talk to trees where I come from. Who am I who am I who am I?

Thankfully, I am alive.

If you or someone you know is struggling, we want you to know that there is hope and there is help. You can find mental health resources right now on our FIND HELP page. You are not alone.

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Comments (5)

  1. Nadya

    Is good to help others

    Reply  |  
  2. Kim

    Omg. Thank you.

    Reply  |  
  3. E.K.

    You’re not alone. Thank you for sharing your important story with all of us. Your words are helping tens, hundreds, thousands of people and reminding them that even though it may not be easy to move forward inch by inch, they are also (very much) alive and worthy of dignity, respect, and self-compassion.

    Reply  |  
  4. Lauren

    Thank you for this. It really helps. I’m feeling a lot of the same stuff, and it’s great to realize you’re not alone. And that someone understands. Unlike the people who tell you that, but don’t get it yourself.
    You’re strong. And thank you.

    Reply  |  
  5. Caroline

    Oh My God thank you is right! (as Kim said below)
    You are a brilliant writer. The world needs your words. I need your words.
    Thank you

    Reply  |  
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