Twenty years ago today, I stood in frustration, tears, and pain on a lanai as I looked at one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Ahead of me, I could see that the sun was waking up, the day about to begin. Diamond Head stood strong in the distance. Just in front of me was a beautiful beach with the waves hitting the shore. Below me, hotel staff busied themselves with putting out chairs in preparation for some event later that morning.
It was around 7:30 in the morning when I decided to take off my glasses and place them in a hotel safe. That done, I took the hotel stationery to write one last note as well as a last will and testament. Then, with tears in my eyes and desperation in my heart, I climbed onto the trellis of the lanai. I didn’t see anyone else on their balconies on the eleventh floor of my hotel that bright Friday morning on September 13, 1996. But then again, I don’t remember even climbing up, much less taking a step off and falling to what I assumed would be my death.
Fighting for Life
Every year on this day, I think back to those moments. Those moments when I felt alone, scared, and trapped. In all honesty, even though I chose to fall 110 feet, I did not want to die. But I didn’t know what else to do. Death seemed to be my only answer. So, in a brief moment, before I took my fateful step, I said a prayer to a God I wasn’t even sure existed asking for His help.
As I fell, another guest on a floor below me saw my fall and called for help. The EMTs and police rushed to save me, but I imagine they didn’t think I could be saved. It didn’t stop them. They did everything in their power to help me and get me to the doctors who could save me.
When I was wheeled into the emergency room, the doctors and nurses did not think I would live. No one who falls eleven stories lives. But they still did everything they could to make sure I did. They fought hard for me in a way I wasn’t willing to in life.
Looking back, I realize they were able to succeed, in part, because despite trying to end my life, I fought to live. My body, my soul never gave up. How else could I have lived through such physical trauma?
Recovery took a long time. Physically it took me a couple of years to get where I could return to working full-time. Mentally, though, it took longer. While I accepted my final diagnosis of bipolar II disorder, I struggled to find balance in who I now was. I did not want to return to the person who hid all her feelings inside. I needed to be honest with myself and everyone around me. And, I struggled with how to communicate with others. I didn’t want to hide my challenges or my mental illness, but I quickly realized that most people couldn’t handle the truth. They either thought I was crazy or they didn’t want to know. So, I learned to be honest but guarded. I told some people, but not all, like I did in the beginning of my recovery.
At the same time, I wasn’t being fully honest with myself. I thought I was “cured.” After all, I decided I would never try to kill myself again. I took my medicine every day (most of the time). It wasn’t enough.
You see, as I looked at my body or my face in the mirror, I saw my scars. My physical scars from that long fall from the Sheraton Waikiki.
I felt the scar on my left elbow that reminded me that surgery was done to place a metal rod inside the bone of my arm to fix it.
I could see the scar on my left forearm where the doctors found a piece of the tree I fell through (thus saving my life) that needed to be removed so my arm could heal.
Looking in the mirror, I would notice every day the two small scars over my lip and the one over my left eye, the eye the plastic surgeon had to fix because of a broken eye socket.
I would see my slightly misshapen nose, never to be straight again after breaking the nose and both cheekbones in my fall.
As I would undress, I would touch the scar running from between my breasts to the top of my pubis where doctors, desperate to find where I was bleeding internally, performed emergency exploratory surgery.
A glance at my right hip reminded me of the long scar running from my right buttock to the middle of my right thigh. Where the scar ended was a gouge created by another branch from the tree.
I spent many nights crying over the scar on my right calf. While covered like skin, my fasciotomy scar showed the world the muscles in that leg. My feet holding three smaller versions. I would never have beautiful legs again.
Then, on my upper left thigh, I saw the remnants of my skin graft scar, where they “borrowed” skin to place over my right calf so it could have skin.
And, every time I saw a new gynecologist, I’d have to make her aware of the scar tissue in my left breast from where another tree branch stabbed me.
Each day I couldn’t escape my scars. They reminded me that I tried to kill myself. Every attempt I made to forget what I had done, to move on, would be recognized by others with questions, “What happened to you?” As I looked at my scars, I knew it had to be God’s punishment for what I did to myself and those who loved me (because suicide never affects just the person killing him or herself).
Then, one day as I sat in church, I listened carefully to the priest as he gave his homily. He talked about a woman whose child had been shot and killed outside her home. The shooting left bullet holes in her door. Friends and family of the woman noticed that she never replaced the door. They asked if she would like their help in getting her a new door. She refused. When asked why, she explained that the door served as a reminder of what happened and what she needed to change. It would stay until things improved in her neighborhood.
The story the priest conveyed touched me. All of a sudden I realized that my scars were not a punishment from God. They were my reminder of where I had come from so that I would never forget the lesson I learned. The scars were to help me remember that life is precious. That my life is precious. It was on that day, nearly seven years after my attempt, that I finally began to forgive myself for what I had done. It was on that day that I truly began to heal.
*Please, if you need help or you know someone who does, talk to someone. Find a friend or family member or call a suicide hotline (1-800-273-8255).