This isn’t a suicide note.
It reeked of regret and tasted like poison. But it didn’t kill me. I survived. And it saved my life.
Sunday. August 11, 2013. New York City. I couldn’t think straight then, but I remember it perfectly now. It’s impossible to describe a panic attack well. You know it when you feel it. Like the beach. Gentle waves at first, then a violent crash. It’s not heartburn. Not quite indigestion. Your pulse races. You feel every lub-dup thump of your heart and this lump where your throat used to be. In the industry, the fancy term is palpitations. I remember the first time I learned that word. Advanced Placement Biology at my alma mater, Stuyvesant High School. Seated across Maria, the girl whose porcelain lips I daydreamed kissing every day, whose silly AOL screen name I plead with every night under the cloak of raging hormones, and the unforgiving glare of broken monitors. Palpitations. The perfect word for the red-headed bastard stepchildren of Pol Pot and Emperor Palpatine.
I stumbled into the bathroom, clutching the outside hallway wall, grasping aimlessly for the doorknob, then the fake marble sink. I peered into the mirror, barely recognizing myself. I had lost so much weight and looked like a sun-dried, jerky version of a healthy me from before. Despite a hideously patchy, unkept beard sprouting from my hollow cheeks, my jawline looked more pronounced. I hadn’t eaten in days. It was a day after we visited the graves of my grandparents and uncle at Washington Memorial Park out east on Long Island. One exit past my alma mater, Stony Brook University. Two days after my sister’s birthday. Three days after Eid al Fitr, the Muslim holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. But I felt absolutely nothing. No born again, sacred calling, rapturous religious experience worthy of late night infomercials. I slept at least 16 out of every 24 hours.
It felt like I was finally dying. Maybe God exists, I thought, because my prayer for death is finally being answered. The pain graduated from a dull ache to a brilliant, intense electricity coursing through my nerves. I looked down, and saw the cabinet doors under the sink were slightly open. There were bottles inside. Of what, I didn’t care. I wanted to die. I reached down and grabbed the first bottle I touched, unscrewed the cap, and once before chugging down its contents, looked at the mirror again. Whenever I made similar attempts, something would hold me back. I’d think about my mother. She’s not human. She’s a thoroughbred, light-and-wings angel who walks amongst mortals. That would make me stop. That would make me break down, cry, and walk away from death’s door.
Not this time. One sip. Have you ever forced yourself to drink something? It’s not as easy as gulp, gulp, gulp. You cough, rattle and choke. You stick your tongue out and see the ghost of tears brimming your lashes. One sip more then three. Ten seconds later, the bottle was empty. Ten minutes later, I’m still standing in the same spot. Nothing. Am I dead? Is this the afterlife? Was my dirty, shitty bathroom actually Hell?
Brown Grass, Prologue:
This Isn’t A Suicide Note.
Chapter TBA, “Gratitude”
Gratitude is understatement. My darlings: my parents, my sister, my nephew, beloved friends and family I consider brothers and sisters, flesh and blood. Shelter, food, water, clothing, security, education, citizenship, health, wealth, freedom, freedom, freedom. Basic necessities and unnecessary luxuries, creature comforts, known gifts and secret talents. Relationships I’m blessed with already and those I have yet to embark upon and nurture. I am grateful for each and every single ability, breath, faculty, memory, talent, instance, moment and second this grand, beautiful, priceless thing called life offers.
I’m grateful to have been born an American citizen, and better still, a native New Yorker, a lifelong Queens kid. I’m grateful to be a proud alumnus of Stuyvesant High School and Stony Brook University, to have been the first in my family to graduate college in America and earn three degrees while hustling four part-time jobs in five years, to have worked at Accenture, and to have consulted for Ralph Lauren, Pfizer and Moody’s. I’m grateful to work for myself, launch my first company, Perennial Millennial, and publish my first book, Brown Grass, soon before long. I am grateful to God most of all.
But the greatest blessing is the greatest failure of my life: surviving suicide. For every moment since the worst day of my life two years ago and sharing my own story through social media, public speaking and private coaching, I have had the distinct privilege of helping others who are struggling just as I struggled, usually suffering in total silence and isolation. It is my view that dialogue is what we need to spark the light of betterment and healing in the lives and times of friends, family and perfect strangers. I decided that isn’t enough. I have to share the whole story. You don’t really know anything.
I haven’t bled for you. I get asked quite often, “how does a quarter century merit a memoir?” I’m told I’m an old soul, born in the wrong generation. But that’s not what I mean. I have lived way beyond my years, seen far too much far too young, like many poor, hungry fat kids might. “My demeanor, thirty years my senior, my childhood didn’t mean much” word to Jay. How I lived many lives built on lies. Shame. Guilt. Poverty. Abuse. Denial.
How my parents lost everything, not once, but many times, in saddening, maddening cycles. How I lost my health. How I lost my best friend. How I lost my faith. How I lost loved ones. How I lost my mind. How I couldn’t think straight. How I lost the ability to speak and formulate basic coherent sentences, spoken and written. How I stopped eating, showering, grooming, emoting, getting out of bed, getting dressed, going outside, being whatever “normal functioning human being/productive member of society” means.
How I fell to rock bottom, which caved deeper into hell.
How I survived many attempts to kill myself. How I failed at that.
How I spent 37 hours in a psych ward arrest. How I overdosed more times than I care to count. How I shouldn’t be alive. How I made it through inpatient, outpatient and on my part, impatient therapy. How I lost my job, couldn’t make ends meet, tanked my credit score, bankrupt, lost my apartment, lived off food stamps and welfare, anxious and depressed, insomniac and anorexic, got evicted, became homeless, crashed anywhere I could, mastered the art of frugality and the science of survival on next to nothing. How I got back everything I lost, lost it again and got it back, I hope this time for good. Self-help. Not self-help as in quoting gurus and chanting mantras, but self-help as in helping myself. I have to write and publish my unadulterated, uncensored, unfiltered truth. It’s the only way I have found to really impact, motivate and touch people.
In a world of 140 characters, I need 140 pages.
Longform is the only way to do that, to lend my voice, one that can’t or won’t be muted, to those just like me, sitting in the shadows, waiting for what, I couldn’t tell you, much less them. I was there not too long ago, and the monster still creeps up on me sometimes. I’m still an introvert, addict, workaholic, homebody, loner. That’s on my best days. I get it. It’s hard. Worse than dying. Not enough expletives to describe it.
That’s why I never shut up about this issue, despite being often counseled to self-censor as if this modern scarlet letter is something to be ashamed of. For those I help and hope to reach in the future, I will never stop speaking and writing and sharing and working for as close to a storybook ending as one can reasonably hope to achieve.
Just like existence, all of this is a funny-ugly-weird-sexy-tough-cathartic-tragic-up-down cosmic fantasy. So you might as well be honest about it. Keep fighting so the rest of our lives might be the best of our lives. Who knows anything? I can tell you I know absolutely nothing.
I used to think I would live and die by the motto YOLO, but I’m living proof that “you only live once” isn’t always true. Whether or not you believe in a higher power or afterlife, rebirth, reincarnation or renaissance, reinvention is real. Proof: I’m legally changing my name back from Farooq Zafar to SF Ali but that’s another chapter.
This is my second act.
Thanks for reading. I know I wax poetic and can be too pedantic or irreverent at times, but I’m trying to be better: a better friend, a better person, and God help me, a better writer. I really meant every word.
Don’t hit publish unless you’ve pissed your pants. I love you.
What is the source of our first suffering? It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak. It was born the moment we accumulated silent things within us. - Gaston Bachelard
This month marks 18 years since I was diagnosed with severe congenital secondary hypothyroidism, and earlier this year, despite normal, stable, blood test results, I learned I have also been diagnosed with an unspecified nodular goiter, which must be biopsied soon to rule out the unlikely, albeit definite, risk of cancer. Pray for me. If suicide couldn’t kill me, I highly doubt anything else, except the will of God, can and will, but that day isn’t coming til the twenty-second century.
Illness colors, hardens, transforms you. I was lucky, I thought. Pop a pill daily and act normal. Just be Fatrooq. Pudgy, poor, and persistent. Hell, I’d make every pretty girl laugh and they’d like me. This was the thought process of a broke, hungry kid during teenage, a maddening, saddening time. I wanted to fuck every silence.
Today, September 10th, is World Suicide Prevention Day. I’m writing a piece to be published later today on Medium and elsewhere, which is the entire first chapter of my first book, a memoir titled #BrownGrass (2018?), coming soon.
Being a survivor, sharing my story in writing, speaking, coaching and creating PERENNIAL MILLENNIAL as a response to the mental health crisis facing my generation is now my life’s single mission, vision and passion.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, you’re never alone. If you or anybody you know face crisis or feel unsafe, please reach out to me or anybody else. At the least, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at +1 (800) 273–8255.
Please feel free to share this story with your networks.
Do whatever you can. You might save someone’s life.
CALLS TO ACTION
1. Clap/applaud this story. It helps others see it, tells me my work is worth writing, reading and recommending, and makes me feel validated and fuzzy, because honestly, whose cold, dead heart isn’t instantly thawed and revived by the dizzying dopamine of notifications? Like, share, retweet, lather, rinse, repeat. Also, the doctors say if I don’t feel fuzzy, I’ll die, due to a rare deficiency in social currency triggered whenever my Klout score drops below 70. It’s 66 right now. Not a good look. Do you want me to die?! (awkward, given the topic and timeliness of this story, yikes!) Didn’t think so.
2. Share this story: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, email, etc.
3. Connect with me: Medium, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, Product Hunt, AngelList, Quora and Quibb. (I think that’s all of them!) Write me via email too! Call or text if you want. (917) 982–3849. I’m always happy to make new friends, listen, support, and be helpful in any way I can. That’s why I’m Medium’s resident cheerleader, duh! :)