Monday, July 20, 2015

Help Me Make It Through the Night

By Lisabet Sarai

I don’t think I really intended to kill myself that morning. I just couldn’t face what seemed like the insurmountable challenges of the day. So I swallowed half a bottle of my anti-depressants. Then I stumbled out of the bedroom to tell my father what I’d done.

If I’d actually wanted to die, I would have simply stretched out on my bed and let the pills take over. Dad wasn’t about to barge in while I was getting ready for work.

So I guess I must not have been ready. Still, at the moment I gulped down all those tablets, all I wanted was for the world to go away.

It did, for a couple of hours. I woke up in the hospital with a tube down my throat. Fortunately I was barely conscious. I don’t remember any discomfort, not until later when my mind cleared a bit more and I saw the desperate concern on my father’s face. The taste of vomit and the raw fire in my throat from the stomach pump were nothing compared to the guilt that slammed into mealong with twice the anxiety I’d felt that morning.

I was stuck in this life, I realized, stuck dealing with the old feelings of dread and self-disgust, along with new remorse for the blind, self-centered cruelty with which I’d inflicted my pain upon him. Talk about angst.

Probably I shouldn’t have been working in the first place. I’d only been out of the psychiatric hospital for a few months. But what was I supposed to do with myself? My family and I both knew I couldn’t yet handle college, living away from home, trying to keep my weight up, constantly tempted to skip meals or fill my stomach with cabbage or cantaloupe. I took a full time position as a nurse’s aide at a rehab hospital three subway stops from my dad’s apartment where I was staying, as a way to fill the empty days.

The job really stressed me, though, both physicallyafter all, I was barely five foot two and weighed about eighty five poundsand psychologically. The patients were mostly recovering from surgery or strokes, not terminal but hardly the most cheerful people to be around. Though I was just an aide, I had a good deal of responsibility. Furthermore, I was on my own all day, fighting the food demons, drinking can after can of the free diet ginger ale available to employees and trying not to be lured by the fried chicken and ice cream on the patients’ meal trays. It was an unending battle.

My “suicide attempt” put an end to that job. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thankful. My parents shipped me back to the psychiatric crisis ward for evaluation. My therapist seemed to be the only one who wasn’t alarmed by my rash action. I realize now that he understood my motives, better than I did myself. Plus he’d dealt with truly suicidal individuals. I knew that from personal experience.

Carol flashed through my life, spending two weeks on the ward during my own two and a half month sojourn in the institution. She arrived with bandages on her wrists. I couldn’t believe this woman had tried to kill herself. Beautiful, brilliant, vivacious and talented, she charmed both the staff and the other patients. Though I was at least a decade younger than sheshe had a good-looking husband and two cute kids who came to visitwe seemed to connect. We loaned each other books. She’d brought her guitar, and we’d sit in the common room together singing. Why, I wondered, would someone suicidal make music?

She taught me several songs I still sing. They all had a sort of wistful, bittersweet quality, even (I now see) a hint of desperation. The one I associate with her most strongly has the following lyrics.

I don’t care what’s right or wrong.
I don’t try to understand.
Let the devil take tomorrow,
But right now I need a friend.

Yesterday is dead and gone,
And tomorrow’s out of sight,
And it’s sad to be alone.
Help me make it through the night.”

This tune resonated. I felt equally lost sometimes. Plus the sexual undertones of the songespecially when expressed in her rich alto voice—gave me a bit of a thrill.

Carol and I were both patients of Dr. R. But whereas I occasionally acted crazy (running up and down eight flights of stairs ever day, for example, to avoid gaining weight), she seemed psychologically healthier than anyone in the ward, including the people who worked there. Her wrists healed. She was released after two weeks and left with a smile.

I sensed something wrong during my next appointment with Dr. R. His normal ebullience was subdued. I can’t remember whether I asked, he volunteered the news, or I heard it somewhere else, but the gist was that Carol had succeeded in her most recent attempt.

It’s difficult to recall, too, how I felt when I heard about Carol. Indeed, those anorexic years have a hazy quality, the images blurred, the emotions, for the most part, mutedaside from the intense fear and confusion around food. I believe that malnutrition or hormone imbalance may have affected my cognitive abilities.

Now, though, I understand that my sense of emptiness, my guilt and my awful terror, were nothing compared to the emotional pain she must have endured. Yet she hid it all under a mask of normality. To escape that pain, she left us all behindher husband, her children, Doctor R., me. Our love just wasn’t enough to help her make it through.

Looking back, I am full of sadness at the waste of her vibrant life but newly grateful for my own survival.


  1. Oh, Lisabet. What a moving story. If there is a form of life after death, I hope Carol found peace. I'm glad you had some good times after that period.

    1. Hi, Jean!

      I've had a fabulous life. It's a bit sobering, though, to realize I almost didn't. I've read that anorexia is fatal in about 20% of the cases.

  2. God, what a story. I tend to be uncomfortable with suicide. I just don't get it. Momma and I have both lost beloved brothers to the phenomenon.

    Another friend, (and lover of Momma X, not the one who had AIDS) lost his leg in his first attempt. (Throwing himself at a speeding train)This was a guy who mastered anything he tried. He played music and patented a method to print photos on leather back in the 60's. Even after losing his leg, he always had a great-looking chick at his side. He was quite charismatic, an intensely intelligent individual. He once rode, one-legged, across country on a motorcycle. He finally shot himself.

    In some ways, I'm happy I can't think like that.

    1. Despite the content of this post, I don't really understand suicide, at the level of people who keep trying until they succeed. However, one can never fully appreciate another individual's inner pain (as my story indicates).

      Two of my boyfriends from my teen years committed suicide (decades later, when we were out of touch). In one case, in particular, it was a total puzzle. This guy was really smart and successful. Married with kids. And yet.... so hard to comprehend.

      These days I tend to think suicide is a rather selfish choice (unless of course you are suffering greatly from a terminal illness, in which case you may be sparing both yourself and your loved ones). It deeply scars the people left behind.

  3. Ive never wanted to kil myself but there have been times I didnt care if I lived. I understand the feeling. Its brain chemistry, a kind of low burning psychic pain that never stops and finally you just want it to stop.

    I forget sometimes what a complex person you are and what an amazing journey you've been through. In a better world we would have been lifelong buddies. And yet here we are.


    1. Aren't we lifelong buddies already, Garce?

      And my journey is nothing to yours.

      (Welcome back! We missed you.)

  4. I have no human words, so I'll just meow quietly for a while.

  5. It's possible that you did help Carol make it through a few nights, at least, while she was with you. Maybe she helped you, too, and helping you helped her, even though whatever drove her to despair couldn't be stopped.

    1. I think she did help me. She treated me like a normal person, for one thing, not a crazy teenager. And of course she showed me, by contrast, just how fortunate I was to be alive.

      As for me helping her...I have no idea. I really did not appreciate what was going on inside her.

  6. Years ago when I lived in London a chap in the flat across the street from mine committed suicide. The fact that his body wasn't discovered until almost two weeks after his death depressed and haunted me for a long time after. No one he knew had bothered to wonder what had happened to him? I think that bothered me more than his suicide. How lonely he must have been, and the only way out was... well, what he did.

    1. That's terrible, JP, and I suspect, more common that we think.

      That's the flip side of my comment on the selfishness of suicide.

      Maybe we're all culpable in situations like that.

  7. Lisabet, another incredible story. Thank you for writing it down, and for writing about Carol. I've heard that people who are very serious about suicide often seem very sane and put together in the weeks immediately preceding the act. It sounds like she had a plan that way. I hope she rests in peace, and I'm so happy anorexia didn't get you in the end. You're an absolute treasure.

    1. Hi, Annabeth,

      She had tried several times before. Not that we talked about that, but my doctor told me, later.

      Nothing could have stopped her, the way I see it now. As you say, I hope that somehow this brought her peace.


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