The Art of Staying Alive

By Mel KortewegJanuary 30, 2023

This post discusses the topic of suicide and suicidal thoughts. Please use your discretion.

“I’ll be away next week. I don’t know how else to say it, but you’re not allowed to kill yourself.”

We both laughed a little, even though we both knew the weight the words my therapist spoke carried. I nodded and let my smile fade. It was a promise I knew I couldn’t make. I left the session feeling conflicted. Half of me wanted to keep my secret: the plan, the intent, the notes I’d already written. All of it was still my secret. I had nodded in agreement that I would stay alive, but the suicidal part of me smirked.

The quiet part of me kept up its persistent whispers: You have to be honest. You have to tell him you can’t make that promise. You have to.

Somehow, the barely audible whispers won. That night, I typed a frantic email.

 I can’t do it. I have a plan and intent. This is the worst it’s ever been. I can’t promise to keep myself safe. I think I need to go to the hospital. I’m sorry. 

I hovered over the send button.

In one ear, I heard: Don’t hit send. This is your chance.

In the other: Send it. You’re doing the right thing. It’s OK to need extra help. 

I pressed send and knew I was headed for my fifth hospitalization.

I’m constantly reminding others that it’s OK to ask for extra help and that going to the hospital is OK, too. Yet privately, I’m sending my therapist apology emails at 11 pm. I’m telling others that recognizing the need for hospitalization is a huge strength, yet saying sorry to my therapist for being weak because I need to go.

The decision to be hospitalized is never easy. No matter how many times I repeat my therapist’s words: “Any decision you make that keeps you alive is always the right decision” in my head, I’m still telling myself it’s a failure. No matter how many people tell me that I’m brave for going to the ER rather than going through with a plan, I’m still telling myself that I should be over this by now.

So this next part is just as much for me as it is for you reading this.

You are not a failure.

You deserve help.

Going to the hospital isn’t fun, but if it keeps you safe, it’s worth it.

I’m writing this from my bed at the hospital. If that’s not where I was, I wouldn’t be writing this at all. Overall, psychiatric hospitalizations are seen as taboo. You have to hide your crisis and make up excuses to explain away your absence. But the opposite should be true. If you break your arm, you don’t hesitate to go to the hospital to get it on the path to healing correctly. If more people talked openly about going to the hospital for mental health reasons, then maybe more people would realize that it’s OK to get the same help for your brain that you would get for your body.

If you’re suicidal, I encourage you to reach out to a mental health professional. If hospitalization is brought up, you don’t need to shy away from it. Hospitalization isn’t a cure, but it’s a start on a path toward finding the right providers and the right medications, and giving yourself a chance to stay alive. To borrow a phrase from Marsha Linehan, creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy and battler of Borderline Personality Disorder, you can learn to build “a life worth living.”

But in order to do that, you have to first be alive—which may require hospitalization. And like my therapist says, “Any decision you make that keeps you alive is always the right decision.”

Whatever you are facing, there is always hope. And we will hold on to hope until you’re able to grasp it yourself. If you’re thinking about suicide, we encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool to locate professional help and to read more stories like this one here. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor.

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Comments (7)

  1. Jules

    Thank you for going to the ER and for writing. I struggle with the 2 voices talking opposite sides. You did the right thing. I wish I could go and be away. There isn’t a place to go less than 2.5 hours and my spouse will have none of that. I’m only at 8.5 today; not a 10. It doesn’t feel like that is ‘good’.

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA


      Thank you for finding the courage and energy to share. We are sorry you are struggling and to hear that you are interested in seeking help but cannot find a place that is close. Would you email our team at [email protected] so we can learn more about your situation, offer encouragement, and support you in finding help?

      With hope,

      Reply  |  
  2. Karla Ortiz

    Thank you for sharing your experience, it really means a lot!

    Reply  |  
  3. Lori

    I’m OK, I was curious after reading an obituary, and also my husband struggles with depression. This could help him!!
    Thank you for a wonderful website!!

    Reply  |  
  4. Stephanie Jacobs

    This is a GREAT article. Thank you so much for writing this. I’ve learned also to pick up my phone and call the crisis line before I do something stupid and I’m glad I do. Any time I feel like I’m dpiraling or even when I’m just not feeling comfortable in my skin or in my head, I call my people. I’m sorry you struggle with this but I’m so grateful you wrote this article, it spoke to me on many levels. This may also be a reason why you need to stick around in this life! God knows you have the ability to help others and that is a beautiful gift you have.

    Reply  |  
  5. M Day

    “I had nodded in agreement that I would stay alive, but the suicidal part of me smirked”

    This is so real and relatable. Though I am not suicidal, reading this has given me a better understanding for the inner turmoil that one goes through when struggling to live this crazy life. Thank you and be well.

    Reply  |  
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