Two years ago today, I stood at the threshold of the doorway to my basement apartment with a box cutter held to my wrist. I paced. I shook. I wept. I was filled with fear. It was cold. A light snow was falling. I felt utterly alone. It was the first fall I wasn’t teaching after twenty years. Other loses as a result of coming out as trans weighed heavily on my chest. The last school year I taught was devastating—aside from the most amazing and accepting students ever. The rest of it was traumatic. Now, I couldn’t find a job, and I missed teaching with all my heart and knew I would likely never teach elementary school again.
I stepped out into the snow. It drifted down gently on my shoulders. I was in my pajamas. No coat. No shoes. My socks were wet. My feet freezing. I pressed the blade against my wrist daring myself to end my life. Visions of collapsing right there in front of my door seeped into my mind—a mind broken—cracked—frantic. I stood there wondering who would find me. I feared for their hearts. I hoped the Divine would have mercy on my soul. Ending my life wasn’t a conscious choice. I was compelled by searing pain, depression, and the terror of a dark, uncertain future.
And then it happened. I closed the blade back into the box cutter. I went in and got my keys. I was drenched with snow, shivering. I put the box cutter down on my unmade bed. I looked around at the piles of dishes in the sink, the clothes strewn upon the floor, the plants unwatered, and, weeping even harder, reaching down for the box cutter again, only to drop it back on the bed. I forced my wet feet into my slippers, and went back outside.
The wind was wishing me onward. The snow slanting at an angle gesturing to my car. And I followed. Angry and frightened, disappointed in myself for ruining my life, for allowing myself to get this sick, wiping the snow from the windshield with my bare hands, unable to see what a courageous step I was taking. Unable to see the unseen forces of strength that were being obeyed by some part of my spirit that wasn’t sick—that deeply wanted to live—caught in a blizzard of mental illness. And I drove myself to the hospital.
When I got there, I gave my keys to a valet parking attendant—they stared at me. I must have looked wild—a scared animal—unshaven, sopping wet, snow-soaked. I walked into the emergency room and up to the counter.
“How can I help you Hun?” the nurse asked.
And I found myself, still weeping, snot falling, saying: “I’m going to kill myself.”
“Step around here,” she said, and they immediately brought me into a private room. Nurses gathered around me. They called a doctor. They gave me a gown and a warm blanket. They stationed someone outside my room to watch over me. The nurses were like angels—quiet, soothing, present, efficient.
I would spend the next ten days in the psych ward, missing Thanksgiving with my family. But I was alive. Somehow, I had survived a wave of mental illness.
The storm wouldn’t end there. I had more hospital stays and worse bouts of suicidality a month after leaving. For that moment though, I was safe from the sickness. I was surrounded by care.
The last thing I remember thinking as they injected tranquilizers into my IV, was: “Help me.”
Today, two years later—much more stable, and yet still struggling daily with passive suicidal thoughts and other forms of mental illness, those memories are falling like the snow, blanketing my heart. I watch the snow covering the trees with meticulous attention. I remember standing out in the snow holding the box cutter. I remember the depth of pain, fear, and depression—the echoing hopelessness. I remember feeling completely alone. I remember turning back, putting the box cutter down, picking up my keys, and walking, unsure, terrified at how sick I had become, out to my car.
Reflections on the Past Calendar Year, 2017, and Looking Ahead to 2018
Jennifer Angelina Petro
Last year, at this time, I was in the psych ward begging the nurses to kill me. Luckily, they said they didn’t do that sort of thing in the hospital. I spent 9 days there. My second time in the 2 months. I spent my 49th birthday there. The staff brought me a cupcake, which they said was against the rules. It was yummy. You really haven’t lived until you hear a room full of psychologically ill people singing you happy birthday.
And here I am. As far as I know, alive.
You are an integral part of my being here. You supported me 100%, and even though most of this saga was chronicled on my now lost, Radiance Moo-Cow Facebook page, you know the story. I have no secrets.
I have been criticized for sharing so intimately about mental illness. You know I do it to destigmatize it all. You know I do it to help people see someone can exist and function productively and positively—some days better than others—with a chronic, and at this point, incurable, mental illness.
Anywho, things began to lift, not so coiendentally in the spring, with your support, therapy, and a long, struggling, scary, frustrating search for the right combination of meds.
And, of course, there was the unwavering love and support of Mandy, Sam, Ben, and Daniel.
Around late winter, early spring I found Love in Action UCC. I cannot emphasize enough how important that was, and is, to my recovery. The accepting, supportive community, the aliveness of service, the many new friends, and the purpose I feel and truly have there working with lgbtqia youth, and watching those programs grow, is so healing.
Then there are the adopted kids I have taken under my wing and have helped get through some rough times. They too have helped me perhaps more than they know. They are not just adopted kids—they are friends.
Then too, there was my journey into realizing my meds did not take away, as I so deeply feared, my creativity. They have helped hone things, focus things, but the creative forces are still there, and for that I am more grateful than I can say.
Yes, there was, and is, all the ongoing shit with trump and his terroristic regime. Yes, there was, and is, all the ongoing shit from the far-right terrorist extremists. Yes, there is still the transphobia and the daily challenges I face simply existing in the world—the public world. And yes, there are still bouts of deep self-hatred and dysphoria. These have, thankfully, lessened lately though, and for that I am relieved beyond measure. Yes, I am still living under mountains of debt and the fear of being taken to court for those debts. Yes, I still cannot help support my family the way I would like financially. Yes, I truly believe I am not yet ready to handle a full-time job in any field. Yes, I still have my obsessions, magical thinking, paranoid thinking (and I do not use that last word lightly), and my anxieties, fears, throttling storms of PTSD, and the like.
And I am here, and yes, I still talk with much hyperbole and drama. I’m Italian.
Looking ahead, I see my role as a mother changing and growing more and more into being a friend.
Looking ahead, I see a future of growing and living into my role as a mentor of lgbtqia youth. I see myself exploring the possibilities of taking a stab at stand-up comedy and performance poetry, and to return to storytelling, and perhaps even giving concerts/kirtans. I see myself making a CD of my music and publishing another book(s) of poetry. I see continued discoveries into myself as a transwoman, as a woman, as an aging woman, as someone exploring the wonders of their sexuality and the on and off desire to be in a romantic/intimate relationship with someone. Yes, I am still a budding pansexual.
Looking ahead, I see more poems.
Looking ahead, I see reconciliation for those in my life who still do not accept me or want me around their families.
Looking ahead, I see new friends weaving their way into my life, and I in theirs.
Looking ahead, I see doing my best to tend to the medical conditions that are gradually developing in this body of mine.
Looking ahead, I see more prayer, more devotion, more deepening, more diving into, more blossoming, more treasuring, more sharing, more joyous my spiritual journey, which, of course, encompasses everything in my life, my every breath.
Looking ahead, I see more healing in our world, and me doing my little part in that healing.
Looking ahead, I see things in the world perhaps getting worse before they get better.
Looking ahead, I see more taking care of myself and setting boundaries for my safety.
Looking ahead, I see more ways to give, in both secret and out in the open.
Looking ahead, I see less shame.
Looking ahead, I continue to see the goodness, resilience, compassion, wisdom, and power of everyday people.
Looking ahead, I continue to notice the little things, the big things around me that are beautiful, mysterious, wondrous, and important. I continue to actively look for and see/experience gratitude for these things and more.
Looking ahead, I know there will be days when I want to die, when I will be unable to leave my bed, my house, or to eat. No, I am not calling this to myself. I am ill, and I live with that illness every day, and while I am doing OK, I know this disease of mental illness is relentless and reminds me everyday that it is there, lurking, hungry. I am not in delusion about that. At some point it will drag me under again– hopefully not into the suicidality I walked with everyday for months. The writing of suicide notes, the making plans of where, when, and how, the carrying of knives and box cutters, the taking them to my wrists.
Looking ahead, I also see healing and the right support to get me through those times. And while I am afraid, everyday at some point, that the beast is just up ahead behind the next happy, good moment, I am comforted that I can get through it with you and my ability to ask for, and to receive, love and help.
In short, because, yes, I am still short, and likely will remain so, and perhaps I may even grow shorter as the years go by (by-with), looking ahead, I see positive possiblities. I see you. I see me, and today I see me with some measure of self-acceptance and even, I daresay, love.
And it’s still winter. The local world is wrapped in biting cold and sparkling snow. And I see its beauty and dangers. I also, looking ahead, see spring.
Looking ahead I see more glitter, unicorns, stuffed animals, and hippy skirts.
I see this moment, looking inwards, outwards, here, now. And looking ahead, for the first time in years, I see more here and now’s. More moments, each one unpredictable—no matter what I envision—each one full of possibilities and unexpected joy and hardship, each one full of me, you, the Divine, and a world full of people who care, who take care of one another no matter what the media says.