I attempted suicide at the age of 23. One morning in June of 2007, I took an entire bottle of sleeping pills. At the time, it seemed like the only solution to my problem: I was making life hell for those around me. You see, my ideations and attempt (and those of others I’m sure) were not centered around “I can’t take this, I want the easy way out.” Suicidal thoughts are rarely so simply defined. I can only speak for myself, as everyone’s struggle with mental illness is different. No, my attempt was centered around the single, persevering thought “If I’m not around, everyone’s lives will be better off.”
For me, suicide was the perfect solution. My struggles with mental illness (though I did not know that’s what was wrong at the time) were taking their toll on all around me. I withdrew. I canceled plans. I had terrible money issues. I hardly bathed. I never cleaned my apartment. Through this all I was determined to project the image that I was fine. Febreeze was my best friend for laundry that hadn’t seen the washing machine in well over a month. I didn’t invite people over, not even my parents. If I had to socialize I did so outside of my home. But mostly, I stayed at home, grappling with my insomnia, constant self-harm, and pretending like someday everything would be okay.
I can’t pinpoint the moment I decided that suicide was the answer. For years I had thought of it. As a teenager I would tell myself I wouldn’t live past 21- I would make sure of it. At 21, I told myself I wouldn’t live past 30. But I’d never had a date picked out. I’d never made that leap from ideation to concrete plan. Looking back, the day I bought the pills seems so arbitrary.
I had just been out with a friend, and I stopped into the drug store to get something (probably Hawaiian Punch fruit snacks. I loved those things.) and I passed by the medication aisle. I bought them. In my head I thought “I keep thinking about it but I’m always too chicken shit. I’m a coward. I need to spare the people in my life. I need to do this.”
I kept the bottle on me for two weeks after that. I honestly don’t remember what made me pick the day. I don’t remember the exact date either. But I remember what the day before felt like. I was at peace.
You see, I made the decision that the next day I would finally do it. I don’t know what sent me off the edge, it was likely some combination of a severe depression and the severe anxiety that I always seemed to have. But the moment I made the decision, I was at peace. For me, the idea that I would finally end the pain I was inflicting on others was a balm. My illness wouldn’t let me see there were other options. My illness kept me silent. No one knew I was struggling, let alone thinking about killing myself. My illness told me “this is the only way to free the ones you love.”
But I couldn’t do it at my apartment. In the middle of summer, away from my parents- who were slated to go away in a few days (one of my therapists later helped me realize that this was some part of me that wanted help, steering the decision)- they wouldn’t find me until summer had taken its toll on my body. I couldn’t do that to them. Or the police and medical staff who would then have to deal with my horridly decomposing ass.
So, in the middle of a horrible thunderstorm I drove to their house under the guise of not wanting to be alone if the power went out. I would do it after they’d left for work the next morning.
I only remember feeling at peace after I took the pills the next morning. I’d finally done what I had to do, finally taken that final step to free everyone in my life from my mistakes, my constant screw ups and the horrible friend/daughter/cousin etc that I was. After I took them, I went onto my parents porch and had two cigarettes. There was an unexplainable feeling of calm. Of joy for those in my life. My letter even said (I think) that it was okay to hate me because that’s what I wanted- as they’d soon realize they were better off.
My mother woke me up some hours later by pounding on the door. I had forgotten to call out of work, and my boss (my best friend’s mother) called my mother when I just didn’t show- as this was very out of character for me. I don’t remember what she asked. I don’t remember what is said. All I can remember from the next half a day is asking for water in the ambulance (and being insanely embarrassed that someone I went to school with was one of the paramedics), a nurse continually asserting that “you tried to kill yourself”, and the taste and nausea that followed being made to drink activated charcoal. I also remember being remorseful, not because I had tried to kill myself- but because I didn’t succeed. Because now, on top of everything else my folks had to cancel their trip, and deal with the repercussions of yet another of my failures.
It wasn’t until I started the programs during my weeklong stay in the hospital that I began to realize it was my illness. That i had, like so many others, been overcome by mental illness that went untreated. It wasn’t until multiple therapy appointments that I realized suicide wasn’t the answer, and that people in my life didn’t hate me like My brain had been telling me. So I am now, a decade later, thankful that I was lucky. Thankful that I forgot to call out of work. Thankful that some part of me chose to be at my parents house, because if I were at my apartment I doubt I’d be here to write this. I am thankful that I was fortunate enough to have insurance that covered my week long hospital stay. I’m thankful for the mental health professionals who helped me on my long (and still ongoing road) to recovery and stability.
My road doesn’t end with my suicide attempt. It didn’t even start there, but in order to understand and gain empathy for those with mental illness I believe others must learn the true depths of the darkness of mental illness. In order to understand the subtleties, you must first understand the glaringly obvious.
If there is anything I wish those reading could take from this, it would be two things. Suicide is not selfish. Grief and confusion is normal if you lose (or almost lose) a loved one to suicide. But it is not selfish. For many the dark voice of mental illness convinces us that this is the way to make life better, that the struggle is too much, that everyone would be better off without us. The second is this, don’t listen to that dark voice. That voice is a liar. The road to recovery is hard, so very fucking hard- but you are a warrior who can do it.
I’m sure there are a number of folks who are wondering why I would choose to write about this- to put this out in the open for all to see. It’s simple, I’ve discovered that raising awareness on mental health has helped me deal with my own struggles. For me, treating this like any other illness and being open about it has been a healing experience. It’s so important that we don’t treat mental illness as a secret shame, and I believe that the only way to help end the stigma is to share our stories.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I have access to healthcare and insurance. I have a good support system. This isn’t the case for a lot of people. I am currently doing well and thriving, and I want to make use of this good time in my life by sharing my story. Perhaps it touches someone, perhaps no one reads it- but it’s there. It’s there for those who can’t speak their story right now to let them know that, if nothing else, they are not alone.
So yes. Everyone and their mother probably has a mental health blog but guess what- I believe it’s a good thing. The more we share, the more we stop seeing this as a secret shame and start seeing it for what it is- an illness just like diabetes is an illness. We don’t choose it. We don’t want it. But we have it. It’s time to ditch the shame.