Life Or Death
The moment of choosing life over death is a path of unfamiliar allowing. To allow another human near my most broken self was a surrender I had never known. The moments of my soberly sharing to the psych nurse at Allegheny General Hospital on the morning of November 29, 2007 were numb and flat. Yes, I did, indeed, think suicide was an option. “In fact,” I said to her, “The security guard’s scissors in his pocket look good to me.” There is a possibility, at this precipice, many find pure relief with the choice to live or die. One choice for me was sweet surrender to this nurse whose face remains lost to me. However, her actions and presence are ever with me. The other, for me, would’ve been to reach for the shiny object in the security guards pocket and violently jab myself to death. There is relief, as well, within the person who decides to die.
Either immediately or eventually, the mantra of “I don’t give a fuck” brings with it, each time it is said, pure relief. This is a decision no one can make for another. Only that person can decide. “Do you want to live?” asked this nurse sitting beside me on the ER bed where others have also heard this simple, profound question. The choice I made lifted some of the pressure of the flat lined mood I was in. From somewhere within, a truth came, ‘”Yes” I choked out. The warm palm of her hand cupped the back of my head with a tenderness I’d never known before. Her firm but kind ways were where I found the allowing to be so relieving. Instead of taking my life, by my own hands, I was experiencing someone, a stranger, guiding me through each step. Literally. She served my surrender with her strong hands as I released into tears of wanting to live. I wasn’t quite sure if that was the correct choice, yet there was at least a mustard seed of wanting it this way down in a depth of my authentic place of trust.
The great mystics have described their epiphanies at the glory of surrendering completely to God. This writing is a telling of that surrender when in the depths of despair. Not on exalted high, but a low, dark night of the soul that only those who’ve gone through it can comprehend. I share with my readers of the lowest time of my life. The despair that brings a person to the brink of life and death is the one place where a person can commence the journey of transformation. Immediately, this unfamiliar experience of letting go created anxiety that thrashed about within me. The beauty of the caress of the nurse’s hand on my head was now distant and forgotten.
Utterly striped of all worldly and emotional goods, I stood before the nurse naked to prove I had not brought one thing with me to hurt others or myself. Before all humanity, I was showing who I truly was. In that moment, I was like a novice in a convent, striped of all she had ever owned, dressed with the most plain and basic of clothes. In my case, one hospital gown was on backwards and the second one with the opening in the front. I was, now, as every other patient in that hospital. Humbleness had replaced prideful in every way. It felt like a spiritual vessel carried me through this moment. In this one psych ER, as with most mental health facilities in the world where human beings suffer and seek, there was a presence of pure love and a type of light shone on the love and needs of all.
To be sure, in the harsh reality of how debilitated my entire physical and emotional self had fallen, my pleading eyes sought out help as to what was the next thing to do. She led me to the wheelchair…assuring me that this other person wheeling me to my room, where the only available bed was waiting, was safe. I let my nurse go. I fell into the care of the mental health caregivers at this hospital who had the reassuring calm that I sorely needed to keep from breaking into millions of pieces. “God, be as close to me as the air I breathe.” I prayed over and over during that day. Whatever or whomever God was. I had no idea. God, Allah, Buddha, George in Uganda…no matter. I was just begging the universe to hold me.
Once I was at the side of the hospital bed, I knelt to the cold but welcoming linoleum floor. With another kind of surrender, I said the most beautiful of all prayers, “God, please help me.” On my bare knees, with all the hell of the pain and none of the next moments of help possible known to me yet, I learned what humble truly meant. Pride had provided me with nothing to turn to, nothing to draw upon for my next tortured moments and for a few days more. Humbly, I rested in the allowing of each person to do his or her magic. It turns out the less I knew, the less I had, and the less I expected, the more I was ready for the journey ahead.
Debra Whittam is the author of “I'm I Going to be Ok?" For any media inquiries or questions please contact: Contact@DebraWhittam.com