In honor of suicide awareness month and the needed revolutionary campaign #LiveOn, I offer my disability and suicide narrative. Thank you #LiveOn for opening the space for us to talk about such a taboo subject, particularly one that impacts our community so intensely. It breaks my heart everytime I lose a friend to suicide and it is more frequent than I would like to believe.
After having lost many friends and someone I loved immensely to suicide, I recognize how vital it is for us to all be talking about how social stigma is deadly. It leads many of us to seek suicide as an answer to feeling like a burden, not valuable or desirable. My personal experience with suicidal ideation and action was spurred by sexual exclusion spiraling into self-hate.
I was on the cusp of turning 20 when I moved to the University of Florida to complete my BA degree. Moving from my parent’s home into an apartment with three highly social strangers was a lot to take in. Frequently, my three roommates pulled in male attention and most often I did not. I did not bring home boys from clubs, even when I desperately wanted to forge paths to accessing pleasure, and even when/if that pleasure was dangerous.
Going to the clubs with these folks would most often leave me frustrated and wandering home alone. They would get angry with me, explaining that women needed to stick together for safety. Thankfully, I am a white disabled girl who used a few well-lit, over-policed blocks to get home. I’m privileged and lucky.
One night was different. We had a party at our place with kegs in the bathtub and a DJ set-up in the hallway. It was absurd for an on-campus situation. I was excited and hopeful that my libidinal interests would converge with someone there; I mean people were intoxicated enough that even I should be able to score. I was naive to hope for action – from people who I now know I would not sleep with.
At a wee morning hour, I went to the track across the street from my apartment and cried. I smoked and howled into the universe about lacking desire for my disabled body. In that moment all of the pain from teen years and lack of adjusting to university sex life surged over and through me.
I wanted to give up on living. That is how much desire and sex meant to me. I was ready to die over some fools not wanting to make out with me.
I returned to my room, took more than a handful of pain meds, and chased them down with alcohol from the party. Truly, I longed never to wake up. I woke up late the next afternoon to puzzled roommates concerning what happened to me and why I was upset. I was confused why I woke up, but grateful I did.
It is important for me to write this truth out because I have been told by a few folks, even by senior scholars in disability studies, to not speak to this mental health reality because it is too taboo. By revealing my truth, they claim I may impair the regard people have for me. I may seem too crazy for anything to come to me in the future. Fine. I was and continue to be rattled by life-threatening situations stemming from social forces. As they are social nature, the solutions to them can be derived through intentional conversations and inclusion of disability in suicide prevention models/programs.
Confession about this is so necessary because it speaks to a social, not purely individual pain. I hated my disabled body for most years of my young/er life. I hated that I could not bring home boys regularly. I continue to hate how my body and other disabled bodyminds are not seen as sexual or worthy by too many people. Aside from own ache of yearning for sexual recognition, one of my greatest pains and life-changing moments was when I lost a man I loved to suicide because he felt that as a disabled man he was not worthy because his penis was not operating normatively. His phallic story thrust me into knowing the necessity of sexuality and disability studies work, for which I am grateful.
I’m also really happy I do not listen to folks who say not to be honest about this. I want people to know they are not alone–we feel this shame collectively. It is not personal, it is social; it is political. This project is so necessary for our community and I’m grateful for it. May we all be so bold as to tell our truths, even if not as publicly as this, and for goodness sake let’s LIVE ON!