By Richard Simms
I wanted to die.
Just typing those words makes me want to laugh in a weird, uncomfortable way. But at the time, some 30 years ago, it was true. I wanted to die. Not in that way we sometimes casually throw the phrase around. “Oh my God, I was so embarrassed I wanted to die!” But in the real, honest to God, I am going to take my own life because I want to die sense.
It was 30 years ago, so clearly I was much, much younger. And I had all the problems that someone much, much younger had at that time. I didn’t think anyone understood me, least of all my parents. I was fat. I was unloved. I had friends, but didn’t believe that they truly understood me, either. Because while they had their own problems, surely theirs couldn’t compare to mine. They couldn’t possibly understand what it meant to want to die.
It all sounds so terribly melodramatic now, and perhaps it was. But at the time, I assure you, this was not a cry for attention. And as it would turn out, I was mercifully awful at the whole suicide thing. I’d taken pills and alcohol and, just to push things over the top, some insulin I’d injected.
I remember a lot of induced vomiting and waking up strapped to a bed in the psych ward of a medical facility.
I remember being scared.
And I remember thinking, “Jesus Christ, you can’t even kill yourself right.” I mean, how big a loser do you have to be to fail at something so seemingly simple?
I had wanted to die, but had failed to make it so. And in the months that followed, I wanted to die in that other sense. The “Oh, my God, I tried to kill myself and everybody knows it and I’m so mortified, I just wanna die” sense. Fortunately, I proved no more successful at dying of embarrassment than I’d been at dying by my own hand.
Now, three decades later, I look back and think, what the hell was that? It seems like something that happened to someone else, because the person that I am today can’t comprehend those long-ago events. Lord knows, I’ve tried. At one point, I thought perhaps I could use my writing skills to recreate that time period, thus at last giving myself some understanding of what had transpired.
Following a long struggle, I presented my best friend with a screenplay I’d dubbed Warders, as in “people who find themselves locked up in the mental ward of the hospital.” After reading it, he proclaimed it to have one major problem. “Why,” he said, “did you want to die? Your character seems to whine a lot about a few minor things, but I don’t get why he wanted to die.”
To this day, the only response I’ve been able to come up with when that question arises is, “I guess you had to be there.”
I’ve since faced far bigger problems than anything that I was facing back then, and the problems which seemed so momentous at the time have, with distance, revealed themselves to be molehills. In fact, if I’m being honest, I can’t rightly recall exactly what it was that I thought was so bad that ending my life was not only an option, but apparently the option of choice.
But in the aftermath, life got better. A lot better. I landed a dream job, moved into an amazing home, am surrounded by people who love me as much as I love them.
I know that I’m not the first person to tell this story, or to say to people who are in the throes of a dark and trying time, “It gets better.” But it’s long struck me as a message worth repeating loudly and often. Because what if the person who really needs to hear it happens to need to hear it from you, right now? What if the thousand other times that those words were said, they fell on deaf ears or missed the mark because the person who needed to hear them wasn’t in a place where they could?
It gets better. Even if you don’t really understand where it went wrong.