To Pain or not to Pain

The first time I attempted suicide I swallowed fifteen pills of Tylenol– exactly two more than the overdose warning. Somehow that seemed like it accounted for a good margin of error at the time.

It didn’t.

Hours later when the ER nurse was drawing my blood and telling me I’d have ulcers before I went to my high school prom, all I could think was, “Why didn’t I take the whole bottle?

I’d like to say it was because I didn’t actually want to die, but that’s not even the case. The truth is I was a coward. I was terrified of pain. The way I saw it, I had two choices: pain or no pain, life or death. Sure, I was aware the “death” option also offered no anything else, but if someone had offered me a seamless transition, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.

The problem was that getting to the “death” option entailed physical pain and I didn’t want that either. Excruciating emotional pain in life and on the other hand, all that suicide business seemed so… messy. I found it an enormous inconvenience that humans didn’t come with built-in “off” switches.

And so after about the twelfth time I googled the symptoms of liver failure, I just ever so casually nudged the overdose warning on the Tylenol bottle in the direction of my best friend. Utterly gutless.

It didn’t go over so well. I don’t recommend that course of action to anyone I know.

In the maelstrom of crying and screaming that ensued, I marveled at the fact that I had actually thought killing myself, or at least trying, would have somehow spurred people to care about me. No, my parents actually fought about driving directions on the way to ER. It had to have gone that way, didn’t it?

But I was sure I had seen it happen when my classmate jumped off the Bay Bridge a month earlier. For a whole month people spoke in reverent tones about her and pictures of her glowing face were everywhere. If she had even thought so much as a single impure thought while she was alive, you wouldn’t have been able to dig it up. Well, maybe it wasn’t a whole month, but the way I figured, if people could gather for a memorial service for me in a community church for one night, that would be tenderness than I had seen in the fifteen years leading up to that point.

The psychiatrist at the hospital had a name for this. She called it “secondary gain.”

I called it “crazy talk.”

How I could be willing to die simply so that people might appreciate me afterwards– when I wouldn’t be around to enjoy it– was beyond me. But from where I was standing, no one would care about me for the rest of my life if I lived and died of old age, so what the hell? I really was that desperate for love. And I really thought it was something you could wrench out of people’s guts with a half-empty bottle of pills and a pair of thighs covered in scars.

Lucky for me, I didn’t actually have the entire world figured out by age fifteen.

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4 thoughts on “To Pain or not to Pain

    1. Woof. Yeah, they were. The craziest part is that I didn’t even know what was wrong back then. Seems so obvious in retrospect but I just didn’t have a clue what was missing.

  1. Wow Veena. That is really deep. Thanks for sharing. “I really was that desperate for love.” Yep, I get it. Those 7 words really explain sooooo many behaviors over a lifetime. Thighs covered in scars?

    1. Sure. Yeah, I started cutting after my first attempt. Promised people that I “wouldn’t do that to them” again. So that was my way of still trying to control the pain I felt.

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