Don’t You Know That You’re Toxic?

Photo illustration by Elena Scotti/The Root/GMG; photos via Shutterstock
Photo illustration by Elena Scotti/The Root/GMG; photos via Shutterstock

Editor’s Note: Trigger warning, this post talks about the subject of suicide, and was written before the death of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington.


It can be time-consuming, this constant calibration of moods. I can’t predict when it will hit me, when my lungs will close and the room will begin to spin. When I feel as if I need to be alone and want to crawl out of my skin to get away from myself. Wondering:

Is it laziness or is it depression trying to swim through your veins again? And now there is too much spring and light in your day. You were too much power and pose at the gym. When the laughter comes easy and smooth, is it real? Or is it a prelude to the dizzy and spin of hypomania?

After over a decade, I am still learning about the way this brain works. The best bet is to stay quiet and confined. Keep the hurricane that is me from destroying anybody else, or the broken building in my brain from collapsing and folding into itself.

This thing is a liar.

Anxious. Insecure. Paranoid. Needy:

Are we OK? What about now? Are we OK? Are you mad at me? Are you sure? What about now?

The silence triggers the anger and sadness that congeal into self-loathing or some form of reckless behavior. I’ve learned to push people away before it gets to that point.

This thing is selfish.

There are family and friends who will always be there and always find time to answer calls and field mixed episodes. But there have been times when I’m not taking care of myself, when it bleeds into someone else’s space, and before long, I have soaked that person with my confusion and then questioned why they walked away wet and disoriented.


Dizzy with my own toxic fumes, I free the other person in order to protect them. Then I stay away. They question the blocked accounts and numbers, the ignored messages and emails. They call it immature and selfish.

It’s for their own good and mine. It helps to keep the obsession and emotional bloodletting to a minimum; protects us both from this twisted, flipped brain so that the hurt is contained like a viral epidemic.


This thing is manipulative.

This thing is intrusive.

My therapist told me recently that she was proud of me. It was time for my annual evaluation. She needed to check in and see if I was making any progress with treatment or if I felt I needed to go in a different direction. She went through the questions and smiled after each response.


She said that a year ago, while asking the same questions, she was quietly calculating in her head how she was going to keep me alive, searching for the correct cluster of words that would drag me out of the despair I was in.

I remember that day.

I woke up twice before morning and soaked in sweat. I had to rummage in the dark for a new T-shirt or new tank top; I didn’t have the energy for new bedsheets. That morning, the pain that had welcomed me like sun for the last few months decided to spare me the headache and instead held me around the waist.


Walking was a stiff and stilted action.
Brushing teeth.
Getting dressed.
All slow and deliberate processes.

I somehow managed to make it to her office.

I folded myself onto her red couch and stared at the painting of red flowers on the wall across from me. The tears slid down my face so quickly that it turned the entire room into the same bloodied impressionist painting.


“I don’t want to go to the hospital.”

I remember how she leaned toward me, her usual stoic, professional resolve twisted into a helplessness. She was desperate. “What can I do?” she pleaded with me. “Tell me what I can do.”

Her concern made me feel guilty and exposed, so I stood up suddenly, a quarter into our session. “You can’t do anything. I can’t do this anymore. I’m tired,” I said, then walked out before she could say anything else.


Aug. 4, 2016, was supposed to be my last day. I had decided that the day after my birthday, I would do what I needed to do to no longer be a part of this world. I’d figured out the how. I weighed the options and decided that I didn’t want to leave a mess or a burden bigger than my body.

What I couldn’t figure out was where. I didn’t want any of my family members to find me. I was concerned about how stumbling across a lifeless body somewhere would scar the police or the hikers or whoever happened upon me. That was the only thing holding me back. I wanted to be undiscoverable. I needed to disappear, and I couldn’t figure out how.


So I allowed myself morning. Chanted and begged and prayed as the sobs ripped through my belly and fell out of my mouth. “Allow yourself morning, B. Just wait until morning.”

And I did, but the weight of living was a boulder on my neck.

Almost a year later, she and I are discussing books and work and laughing about how well I’m handling stress and anxiety. We are giggling over the ex who ended up embarrassing himself on a reality show. We laugh and joke about the Bruno Mars concert in October. She says she would be happy to take the tickets off my hands if I can’t make it.


She knows that it’s more than just the show; we are building protection against anxiety, the fear of flooding social spaces, the reason I spend so much time alone and quiet. We are not done. Her eyes hold me as she smiles and says, “You are so much healthier now.”

She says again, “I’m proud of you.”

I smile back and nod.
We schedule our next appointment.
This thing is quiet now, but we’re not done.
This thing is too persistent.


Please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline if you or anyone you know is at risk: 1-800-273-8255. Suicide warning signs are listed here.

American-Nigerian, ex-poet, current writer, constant mental health advocate (The Siwe Project and No Shame Day), underachieving overachiever and memoir procrastinator (Harper Perennial 2019).



Beautiful essay, Bassey. I am genuinely glad you’re doing better and I know what that darkness feels like.

In light of recent events, I’d like to ask a question of anyone reading this who feels comfortable sharing: When you’ve been suicidal in the past, have you ever called a suicide hotline? Why or why not? And if you did, how was your experience? Did it help ease the urge to hurt yourself?

I know that the media practically requires these “Please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline” messages at the end of sensitive posts with the hope of preventing suicide contagion; as someone who has struggled with depression for over half my life, however, I have never called one. I’m genuinely interested in knowing if these resources are actually helpful to people or if it’s a Band-Aid so media can claim due diligence (This is not a slight against Bassey, The Root, or anyone else who uses these warnings — I’m only interested in hearing from other mentally ill people for additional perspective, not attacks.)