Struck by Living: From Depression to Hope

Struck by Living: From Depression to Hope

by Julie K. Hersh

ISBN: 9781608321070

Publisher Greenleaf Book Group

Published in Biographies & Memoirs/People, A-Z, Biographies & Memoirs/Memoirs, Biographies & Memoirs, Health, Fitness & Dieting

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Sample Chapter

I tried to kill myself three times.

The third time had to work. My SUV idled with promise. I closed my eyes and tried to relax.

Guitar strums filled my finely upholstered inner sanctuary. My break-of-day mission kept the music at a distance. I couldn’t feel the notes. The sound no longer rumbled in my chest.

My fingers brushed against smooth bucket seats while my nose twitched, filled with the scent of untainted leather. The Escalade ran in park, the garage door closed. My map showed a permanent destination.

I leaned forward to advance the CD, and my seatbelt pulled. “Idiot.” I unbuckled the belt. No policeman patrolled my garage. No need for a safety harness; I wanted to end my life. I wanted death with no blood, fast and certain.

Before this third try, I ticked through options on my back porch. No guns or knives—too messy, painful. Pills seemed risky, a noose grueling. I weighed alternatives with precision, a chart forming in my mind. Each plus and minus lined up with cold logic.

Five months earlier, on the first attempt, I scratched a note and held a knife but could not cut. My husband, Ken, found me with the knife to my wrist. Two months later, I tried again. At the edge of a cliff, I realized the jagged drop had too many spots to catch my fall. I figured I’d only paralyze myself. I didn’t want to explain that in physical therapy.

I stepped into my house, in search of the method. The question hounded me, followed me from room to room. At the kitchen sink, I poured a glass of water and drank the liquid in gulps. Underneath the sink, I eyed my choices. Liquid-Plumr. Resolve. Tilex. No, no, that’s not it. My prowl for the right means to my end continued. I fingered sharp objects and examined the fine print on medicines new and expired.

Each room presented options, but none felt right. A fall? Maybe I could make it look like an accident. Right. Maybe on the first try but not the third.

Unable to end my life, I ran an errand. We needed milk. I drove my car, used my blinker, walked the grocery store aisle, and looked for 2 percent. No one knew; no one asked. Paper or plastic? Plastic? Would that work? No. Too thin. I chose paper and pulled out my keys.

On the ride home, I turned off the radio. Focus. One thing at a time. Thoughts strained, as if in need of oxygen. I pulled my car into the garage, discouraged. Then the idea hatched, right as the garage door shut. Death by carbon monoxide.

The main garage wouldn’t work—too big, too often used. The kids might accidentally interrupt me as they always did when I got on the phone or lifted a fork to my mouth. Death would take less time in the smaller, detached garage. Relatively painless, no mess, less traumatic for the person who would find me. This end fit. I felt excited. Done.

The “how” solved, I focused on when, the right moment. Who would find me? Not my kids, no, not my husband, nor my mother. I couldn’t let them stumble upon my corpse. This question pursued me like the first.

A door behind me eased open, then shut fast. Margaret’s footsteps clicked toward me, heels on tile. Margaret was my helper. Ken hired her months before as our housekeeper, nanny, and mother fill-in for me, the mother impaired.

Yes, she’d be best. No blood relation. In the morning, early, after Ken leaves for work—I can do it then. She smiled at me, her face artfully applied, with every auburn hair magically in place no matter how her head turned. With a tilt of her chin, she asked me if she could do anything to help.

Oh yes, I thought, as I shook my head no.

“Becka, you stand there.” Andrew, my seven-year-old son, pointed to the step at the shallow end of the pool. Becka complied, eager for attention from her older brother. Not quite two years apart, these two had reached ages at which they could entertain themselves. They fought but not often. Andrew commanded and Becka followed.

I watched them from the deep end, certain their lives would be better without my presence. Ken surprised us when he came home early from work, no doubt afraid to leave me unsupervised after Margaret clocked out.

He jumped in the water, splattering droplets on the pale sandstone. He swam toward me, underwater, then emerged by my side. We exchanged hellos and a kiss, and he pulled me toward the shallow end, near the kids.

“Make a bridge with your legs, Mommy,” Becka commanded. “Let me swim through.” I obeyed but felt distant, my isolation magnified at close range. I watched Becka’s legs as she kicked beneath me and disappeared.

The conversation stalled. I pulled myself out. Toweling off, I left them without explanation. I needed to see the detached garage, the future place of my permanent disconnection. I planned to kill myself early the next morning after Ken left for work. The kids and my mother would be asleep. Margaret, our housekeeper, would get to work at 8:30 a.m. I wanted to be dead before she arrived. Death by appointment, the time slot saved.

Our detached garage had become the house closet in those days, piled with stuff I couldn’t throw away. We never parked there. At one time, I knew I’d use everything—recycle, reuse, find a purpose. Not that day. I stacked the boxes, arranged the tools, and folded outgrown clothes to make room for my car. The work zoomed by, my actions spurred by conviction I hadn’t felt in over a year. When I finished, I brushed myself off and walked back to the pool.

Ken held Becka on his hip while he pitched a Wiffle ball to Andrew in the shallow end. Water baseball. A shot to the hot tub scored an automatic home run. I dove in.

“Where were you?” Ken shouted over his shoulder.

“In the garage.” My arms moved in a smooth breaststroke. “Just cleaning up.”

“Really?” He smiled. He’d been after me for over a year to straighten that garage. To him, my clean-up seemed a hopeful sign.

After that, I can’t recall what happened on my almost-last day on earth. I don’t remember my almost-last meal. Astonishing. Though I often forget names, I recollect meals with lustful detail. My mother was visiting. What were my almost-last words to her? What did I say to my children, my husband? Did I make love to my husband?

I don’t know.

I was numb, the walking dead, a ghost in a body once vibrant. Soon, soon, life will be over, soon. I wanted morning to come fast. No lingering on last meals or last thoughts. I already felt dead. Suffocation began long before the garage door shut.

I poured myself a tumbler of ice water and glanced at the microwave clock. 7:00 a.m. Right on schedule.

My mind felt foggy—like a hangover that never quits. Drugs didn’t cause the grogginess; I only used a mild antidepressant. The haze in my brain felt permanent.

I stepped into the main garage, opened the car door, and set my tumbler in the cup holder. My seatbelt fastened, I dug for the keys in my pocket. They jingled. The silver teeth disappeared into the ignition.

My eyes scanned the garage before I turned the key.

Bats and balls littered the corner, and gloves hung on posts for each member of our family of four. Baseball never came easily to me, but my kids caught and threw as if by instinct. They possessed quick reflexes and were calm at the plate. My Rawlings glove dangled from the left peg.

Who will use my glove?

The thought didn’t stop me or bring tears to my eyes. Instead, the vision of another reassured me. I will be replaced. With me gone, my family can heal.

We stored our sports equipment in the main garage. What a relief. After I was gone, my children wouldn’t have to see the spot where I killed myself.

I backed out of the main garage, as I’d done countless times, for carpool, for errands, to volunteer or visit friends. This time, my outing had a final objective. I turned the wheel and pulled into the detached garage. Each panel of the garage door rolled down in my rearview mirror. I let the engine run.

On the dash, the hands of the clock ticked on a face with no numbers.

Will I feel death? Will I just fall asleep? Will I throw up? I imagined the curd-like splatter on the tan upholstery, matted in my straight brown hair. They won’t be able to resell the car.

The CD flipped to the fourth track.

I put my head on the wheel. Shouldn’t my throat burn? Should the windows be up or down? They were up. I rolled them down, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. I rolled them back up.

“Just be patient,” I said. My mother’s voice drifted toward me from some far-off place, from a lecture I’d heard throughout adolescence. Don’t always look for immediate gratification. My own thoughts chimed in, a perfect duet. Do you think it’s going to be easy? What do you expect?

I want it to stop. I want it over. I’m tired of waiting.

The digital display changed to track eight.

Mom’s not warm, but she’s not demonic. She’s painfully honest. Her bright blue eyes size up the truth quickly, and she delivers her assessment with a sarcastic bite. She’s funny, even hysterical, unless the truth has a soft spot. Mom has an Irish wit—fast, lyrical, cutting. I’m often left speechless, admiring the craft of her incision. I often am slow to defend myself verbally, so I write. Hours after the conversation has passed, my comebacks zing. I write these down, in my journal, hoping that next time I can respond in the present tense.

My journal didn’t make the trek to the car. No journal. No pen or paper. Typically, I don’t sit empty-handed when I have an hour to burn, especially my last one. Usually, at critical junctures I’m scribbling on a page, a stubborn attempt to unwind the knots in my life. Not this time. I didn’t have A Reason. There wasn’t one reason but a lifetime of reasons. I couldn’t fit them in a note.

Track fourteen.

The guitar played, but I felt nothing. Those strums once resonated. Not that morning.

Did I ever feel anything? No. I’m defective. I want life to stop. Why won’t life stop? Why won’t I stop breathing?

The player was more than halfway through the next CD when I realized the time. I’d been in the garage for over an hour. Why am I alive?

Maybe the carbon monoxide isn’t getting into the car. I climbed out of the car, engine still engaged, and breathed as deeply as I could. Nothing. I smelled gas, but I felt nothing—no nausea, no head spinning, no fainting with my wrist to my forehead. What the hell is wrong with me? How long does it take to asphyxiate?

Margaret’s car rolled up outside the garage. Her car door slammed. How will I explain this? I heard her heels on the pavement. Her steps faded as she moved away from the garage, toward the house. Can’t she hear the car? Can’t she smell something? Her steps halted. A door opened, shut. She’d entered the house.

I looked at my watch. 8:40. Rage exploded in my chest. Would you just let me die for Christ’s sake? I kicked a tire. What do you want from me?

I waited. Nothing. No voice from the heavens. No angel of God. No appearance from my dead father. I was alone. The motor droned.

I switched off the engine, rammed the keys into my pocket. Leaving the overhead garage door shut, I opened the side door. The world looked the same. Same concrete, same brick, same unrelenting heat.


The door slammed behind me as I stepped out into the glaring sun.


Excerpted from "Struck by Living: From Depression to Hope" by Julie K. Hersh. Copyright © 2011 by Julie K. Hersh. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

Julie K. Hersh

Julie K. Hersh

Recently awarded the Mental Health America Ruth Altschuler Community Advocate Prism Award and selected as one of the 2010 Distinguished Women by Northwood University, Julie Hersh is an outspoken advocate for mental health. "Despite medical advances," Julie says, "too many people die by suicide because they are afraid to seek help." Julie's goal is to provide a living example that mental illness is a manageable disease. HerStruck by Living blog is featured on the Psychology Today website. Julie is also a guest blogger on the Menninger Clinic "Say No to Stigma" website.

View full Profile of Julie K. Hersh

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