Here I Stand

I have been asked to write my life history, which is something I seem only able to tackle in small chunks.  The piece below is an autobiographical fragment from my first year at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice.  This may be triggering for readers with a history of suicide ideation and or suicide attempts.

I stand in front of the open window of my one bedroom apartment in my building which is simply named “Graduate Tower B.”  The building is as generic and bland as the name would imply.  It is not an uncomfortable apartment—maybe even a little big for just one person—but it is white on beige on white and screaming institutional.  Much more functional and efficient than homey.

My apartment is on the 13th floor and the windows span the entire exterior wall of my small living room.  They start about waist height and go almost to the ceiling.  They slide open on cheap aluminum tracks, which provided some relief during the week and a half of the hot, humid Indian summer we had in October after the University had already shut off the air conditioning for the season.  Too many nights I tossed and turned above my covers, my thin sleep shorts and tee slicked to my skin with sweat, my hair damp, the nape of my neck hot and wet and uncomfortable.

There are no screens on my windows, a curious thing I often think to myself.  This once led to a very interesting morning when I came out of my bathroom wrapped only in a towel to discover that a pigeon had flown into my apartment while I was in the shower and was looking at me curiously from my living room carpet.  It took more than a little gentle persuading to convince this errant avian to fly back out the way he had come in.  I am sure that I was quite the sight holding my towel up with one hand while clutching a frying pan in the other, trying to shoo the bird out before he shat all over my apartment.  I am not a big fan of birds.

The scenery outside of my apartment windows has little to recommend it except for its voyeuristic view of the Sheraton’s roof top swimming pool diagonally across Chestnut Street and the occasional exhibitionist guest at the hotel who is generally flashing more than I want to see.  There is a very busy Wawa directly below my apartment and my block of University City never truly sleeps.  I have already grown used to the nocturnal noises, which include yelling students, cursing taxi drivers and frequent ambulance sirens given my building’s close proximity to both HUP and CHOP’s emergency rooms.  For the most part, I can block these noises out.  They already exist just below my consciousness.

Standing in front of my open 13th story window has become a bit of ritual these last few weeks.  Always at night when the unholy trio of loneliness, anguish and desperation coupled with insomnia nip at my heels.  It has been a surprisingly hard adjustment to graduate school.  I knew no one in Philadelphia when I arrived and the tendency of graduate students to keep their doors closed coupled with only two days of classes on campus a week has made it hard for me to connect with others.  I have been homesick for the first time in my life and struggling with an unnamed Epstein Barr-like virus that leaves me so fatigued that I am tempted to lay down in 30th Street Station to rest on my way back from my field placement and sometimes this feels like a reasonable idea.  The fact that I am sleepless despite this overwhelming fatigue seems deeply ironic. I am haunted during the hours between midnight and 6 am by my demons and ghosts.

I have thought a hundred times over the last few weeks how easy it would be to just pull up my desk chair, climb on it, and step out the window into nothingness.  How much would it hurt I wonder?  I am probably not high enough from the hard concrete to lose consciousness before I hit ground which feels unfortunate.  Of course, I am deeply concerned that my body hurtling from the height would inadvertently harm an innocent bystander on the sidewalk below and this, probably more than anything else, keeps my desk chair firmly pushed in at the long built in counter that serves as my desk, dining room table, bookcase and TV stand.  Still, I like the idea that I could walk out at any moment.  I don’t have to keep living with this never ending pain if I slip further into the darkness.  Oblivion is easily at hand.

I stand for who knows how long looking out into the night at my open window, looking out into the abyss, realizing that standing here has become a game of chicken that I play with myself.  If I have no intention of stepping out off of that ledge I should close the window, close the curtains, turn on the TV or go call one of the few friends I have finally made here.  Otherwise I am just playing a sick game with myself, mesmerized like a moth by a flame, knowing the danger in the back of my mind of remaining here but unable to step back to safety.


    • Thank you. I honestly didn’t mean to alarm people. I was trying to capture something very difficult from my past as viscerally as possible– to call up the experience visually, emotionally, to give it context and depth. Perhaps I accomplished my goal too well. I truly genuinely want other people who have lived through these types of experiences or are living through it now to feel less alone, less crazy. This is part of who I am but it is not all that I am.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Thank you for sharing, Christine, and I’m glad it was a long time ago. These thoughts may be “triggering” for some, but at the same time it is essential to share and connect with those who may feel alone and numb, desparate. I also appreciate the bird description, I’ve not read it before, but my daughter once described her alarm at a squirrel who “shat upon” their tent!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Mark! I always worry that I am going to discover the line of what is too much to share the hard way but I feel like it is vitally important to talk openly and honestly about depression, bipolar disorder and suicidal ideation. So many people suffer in silence. “Shat” was a favorite word of my grandmother’s.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I know I am not this brave to share, not yet, and frankly I need to hold it together for my family, but I’ve had my moments. So, it’s much appreciated. I guess I know what keeps me here and that’s not always easy to articulate.


      • My kids are 15 and 19 and I have actually been pretty open about this current depression. There is such a strong family history of mood and anxiety disorders that I wanted them to start at least paying some low-level attention. One of the hardest things for me is that I am mission control for my family and the designated responsible adult. I couldn’t even get my shit together to plan Christmas this year. My husband (not their bio dad) was great picking up the slack but it was HARD to admit to my kids that I wasn’t my usual self. One of the most freeing things they said to me was that no one expected me– one anyone else– to be happy all the time and that it was okay if I wasn’t a cheerleader about Christmas.

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      • I appreciate you mentioning that. I too am “mission control” in a sense, but I lack a certain sensibility. I consider myself a bit of a drill sergeant/ case manager.. in charge of my dad’s care, full time single dad… an encouraging certain loved one to get help. My kids have past and current SI and SIB, so I have no choice to hold it together. I’m good, but oh how id like to check in some days.


      • That’s a lot to carry Mark. I have one chronically ill child and my oldest has gone through frightening depression with si and sib and it got to the point where I could no longer tell what I was feeling organically and what I was carrying for him. I was one step from going over the edge myself. Ironically I didn’t free-fall completely until he got more stable– maybe it was the first time in years that I could feel my own feelings. In any case you have my empathy my friend. Sounds like we have been walking many of the same paths.

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      • Yes, you have my empathy aswell. I’m positive, once you can breathe finally, you begin to notice you’re feelings, your thoughts… and it may be challenging. Thank you for your truths.


  2. Oh my friend. Sometimes reading you I cannot tell where you begin and I end. It is as if we have inhabited so many of the same emotional spaces I feel almost thunderstruck. My experience of Uni first time around being so similar to this it was like reading a diary entry. I found it overwhelmingly real and honest in a way few people can write – you being a rare and much appreciated exception my talented friend.

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    • Candice– that actually makes so much more sense than you’d think. Your writing strikes such a deep chord with me. I can feel it in my bones, and in my blood. I was telling Olde Punk that I was worried I was flirting with you and that I might propose if your writing became any more transcendent. I hope that this write was not too painful for you but it is so comforting to know that I am not the only person who has ever lived in this space. It was a very, very hard place and I am only now doing the trauma work to try to ensure that I never go there again. I have been running from myself and my past for a very long time.

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      • Ah, I think it’s not flirting so much as understanding another’s emotions so much that you get quite taken away by that intensity I totally get it. It wasn’t too painful because nothing is too painful if it’s true and we survive it. You have and it only makes me admire you the more for having done so. You are not the only one who has gone through it, I do dearly wish I had known you back then as it would have been better to go through something like this with friends rather than alone. I totally get that. I think you are brave for your honesty and clearly that will always lift you up and allow you to walk that path few are courageous enough to walk.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for your kind words. I feel like I spent far too many years trying to pretend I had never walked with the darkness, trying to hide it and stuff it down. I am done with making other people’s comfort more important than my truth.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Right, and you never should have to pretend to be anything other than WHO YOU RIGHTFULLY ARE AND WHO YOU RIGHTFULLY WILL BECOME as life is a journey and one we should never feel ashamed of. You are very talented at writing it goes almost without saying but your courage gives your words an additional quality in my estimate. I totally concur that we should be done with making others feel comfortable at our detriment. Well said!


  3. First, I am so glad you are here to relate your feelings. Second, as a mom, with a child who went through this, I can truly relate to how you felt. It’s very brave of you to share this very intimate part of your life. And lastly, you are a beautiful person with much to give, don’t let anyone or anything ever dull your sparkle ❤


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