I just re-watched one of my favorite TV series, Bojack Horseman. I love this show because it has so many important things to say about mental illness and addiction, and it’s still somehow hilarious, you might even say, silly. At the end, after all his self-destructive behaviors have finally caught up to him, the main character says to his old estranged friend while they sit on a rooftop, “Sometimes life’s a bitch and then you die, huh?” and she responds with “Sometimes life’s a bitch, and then you keep living.” Within the context of this show, the statement sounds somewhat ominous—the main character has to keep living with all the trauma he’s both received and inflicted. He’s not done yet. Still, as he gazes out at the stars, he says he’s grateful to be alive.
I had an old therapist who I worked with for years who knew my cynical mind well. Whenever I mused about suicide, she would never say “things will get better” (because there’s no guarantee of that) or “things happen for a reason” (because they don’t). Instead, she would tell me if I tried suicide, I’d probably end up living, but things would be worse or harder for me. Statistically, she’s right—there are so many stories of suicide survivors who caused permanent damage to their brain or body, before even considering the psychological trauma they caused to themselves or their loved ones that they had to live with for the rest of their lives.
That’s precisely why I admired Emma Benoit, the inspiring young subject of last year’s powerful documentary “My Ascension,” so much. That is exactly what happened to her—she attempted to end her life by shooting herself, but she ended up living, paralyzed and in a wheelchair. However, Emma was so grateful for her second chance at life, and ended up working hard on both her mental and physical recovery. She also became a passionate mental health advocate for young people like her who suffered from depression and anxiety, but felt they had no outlet or safe space to express it, not wanting to scare their family or friends. Emma kept on living, and was grateful for her life where she knew others who didn’t get that second chance.
You often hear suicide survivors say the same thing Emma said she felt in her last moments—that she didn’t want to die. You also often hear the familiar saying, they didn’t want to die, they just wanted the pain to stop. That’s another thing my therapist used to say—the life force is strong. It’s very common for people to call 9-11, friends, or family during or after an attempt. That “life instinct” kicks in.
Sometimes life’s a bitch, and then you keep living.