Trigger warning: Suicide
I am not sure where I stand with this year’s Day of the Dead celebration. I certainly commemorate this time among the living, but am just as aware that things could have panned out very differently.
Earlier this year, I set out to die. I failed for no apparent reason other than my method of choice not being lethal enough. Surviving was a risk I was willing to take as long as it was painless. So that’s how it would play out: I was at worst groggy for a few days but more or less alive.
The good news is I still exist. The bad news is that living is much more difficult than dying. I say this both as an observer and as the object of grief that could have been.
Crying for help out loud
I didn’t plan on surviving my suicide attempt. What now?
To those expecting a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” moment, I hate to break it to you. There wasn’t one. Well, at least not for me.
This experience was no more profound than all the days leading up to it. There was a build-up. Lots and lots of premeditation and ideation. Painstaking research, definitely, but I was sure what I wanted to happen.
I certainly thought about my loved ones and how they would feel in that untimely event. Yet none of it mattered enough to me. All I could think of was how they could not help me with my situation even if they wanted to.
That was true. Starting to solve my problems is the beginning of society’s unraveling, without exaggerating. It was simply a situation too big for anyone I know to handle.
But what exactly was the problem? My cry for help is as straightforward as it gets and I’ve said it before — “living is much more difficult than dying.”
I’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition since 2016. Treatment and consultation have been on and off since then, with occasional moments of normalcy but largely just periods of irregularity.
It is quite expensive as there are high costs of medication with little assurance of recovery. Intervention is always necessary, but it cannot guarantee that life will get better.
Let me make it clear: I am not downplaying the role of mental health treatment as I know how it can change one’s life for the better if money is no problem. But that’s the thing, money is always a problem.
The problem lies in our problematic healthcare systems, which extend to mental health care. I personally have met some of the brightest mental health professionals in the country, but I know their fees are beyond my pay grade.
I know that because I at one point had to work several jobs just to afford my maintenance medication. Working multiple shifts is already stressful as it is, but imagine carrying that burden alongside a chronic mental illness. Crazy.
Mental exhaustion was punishing to the point where I contemplated unliving myself to finally relieve myself of life’s many pressures. So that’s what I attempted to do. The irony is how I could finally afford the treatment, but still could not balance the workload it took to earn that allowance.
It’s a wonderful lie
Nowadays, I still feel like a ghost. It has been nine months since my not-so-fateful day, but I have learned to live on without a clear purpose to keep me going. Call it autopilot; I call it living.
There is little hope for me in ever finding a sustainable livelihood that perfectly accommodates my mental health conditions while still providing enough funds for sustenance. It just doesn’t happen that way.
“Ask for help,” they say. Other variations include “Don’t be afraid to reach out” and “You can tell me anything.” Whatever it is, people only have so much “how can I help” within them.
Friends and family, coworkers, and acquaintances alike all grow reluctant and tired to help in as much as they say they will. So ultimately you cannot depend on anyone for your recovery. Not that it’s necessarily their fault to begin with.
Living life passively has taught me that we all need to play an active role in changing the overbearing systems that loom over our daily existence.
To our loved ones, the littlest and simultaneously the most we can offer is as simple as sensitivity. To not get immediately fed up when we cannot afford to take care of ourselves.
Think of the Filipinos with terminal diagnoses but resolve to die as their bodies slowly rot only because health care is so far away. Mental health care often feels the same way. I’d sooner languish and, if need be, disappear if it means dealing with cards I can handle.
Living is expensive, dying is free. Practically, anyway.
The 1946 Christmas-time film It’s a Wonderful Life paints a nice picture of how the world is so much better with each and every one of us in it. I feel indifferent to that narrative nowadays. But nine months since my failed attempt at death, I know that I am successfully leading my life.
If you consider walking around aimlessly like a zombie as a positive alternative to dying, consider my story so far a happy ending.
All I know is the Day of the Dead brings me all these wondrous but woeful musings. Ultimately inconsequential but hopefully enough to cause a stir for the countless many who are like me.
After all, people don’t just need to prepare for what happens after death. As I have learned, we must also plan to live.
The Department of Health, through the National Center for Mental Health, has a national crisis hotline to assist people with mental health concerns. The hotline can be reached at 1553, a toll-free landline number, or at 09178998727 and 09663514518 for Globe/TM subscribers and 09086392672 for Smart/Sun subscribers.
Ratziel San Juan is a journalist and an educator. He covers culture and human interest stories. He also writes for the Altermidya Network.
This article was first published by Altermidya Network.