This piece may be difficult for some to read and may trigger some strong emotions. My daughter does not speak often about her suicide attempt three years ago, but the other day she told me it had been on her mind and she shared some of her thoughts with me. I was touched by the depth of her emotions and asked if she would mind sharing her story on my blog. Ultimately it is a story filled with hope, and I think that is important for anyone who has been there before. It is difficult for me to think about that night, but the pain has been soothed by knowing how far she has come since then. I am so grateful that she agreed to receive the treatment and help that ultimately saved her life.
Here are her words:
“I’m having a serious meltdown. I seriously want to stop living. I’ve made sooooo many mistakes. I’m a terrible person. [My ex] hates me and will never loon back at what we had positively. Toyota wants to repossess my car…I got towed today and I want to die but I don’t want to do that to my family and I don’t want to call the er because that will cost them more money and I want to finihs college but I’m already so messed up from the eating disorder. I really just don’t want to live anymore and I just feel like I’m draining everyone around me. God I hate it. I can’t stop crying. I have never felt this desperate for something but I do not want to go back in the hospital bc it’s just a drain on everyones resources. Godd! I hate this. I don’t know what to do!!!! (Wed, Mar 2, 2011 at 1:57 AM)”
This is an excerpt of the email I sent from my phone to my doctor the night I tried to commit suicide. In hindsight, it was a pretty big deal that I sent this. It was a testament to how much I trusted her. I was not one to reach out when I was feeling down and vulnerable, to the point that I was often unreachable when I was feeling this way. But sometimes, when you’re desperate, you will do things you would not have otherwise. It was after sending this that I gulped down a bottle of Benadryl and several Advil after a night of drinking.
Just before sending this email, I used a razor to cut my wrist. Not in an attempt to try to kill myself, but to create a distraction from the emotional pain that I was feeling. Maybe it was the years of swimming, where going to and past the point of physical pain was a good and necessary part of training. Or maybe it was the inescapability of the emotional pain that made the physical pain oh, so much easier to deal with. However, with the all-consuming nature of it that night, physical pain did not prove to be a distraction at all.
To be clear, the depression I was experiencing had been building over a period months over which it seemed that everything that could go wrong, did. Really since my swimming career ended almost a year earlier. Earlier that day, my car was towed. I had a friend come pick me up, and then we went to a friend’s house. I had had a few drinks when my ex, who I had broken up with but had just found out on Valentine’s Day was dating my good friend and roommate of three years, showed up. I did not know he would be there and seeing him derailed me. He tried to talk to me and didn’t understand why I was upset. After I left, he texted me and asked why I left. I don’t really remember how it got to the point it did, but soon he was calling me out on all the stupid things I had done over the previous couple of months—things that hurt him and hurt me. And some that I had only told my roommate, making me realize she had told him the secrets I had trusted her to keep. The only thing I distinctly remember saying was, “I know and I’m sorry, those were my mistakes and at the end of the day I have to lay my head down at night and live with them”.
So, there it was. I was alone, flat broke, needing $200 to get my car back, I had been fired earlier that year, lost two friends I truly cared about and seemed indifferent about losing me, and all of my shame was laid out in front of me. I could have ticked them off a checklist. And the words I sent were suddenly etched in my brain. My mistakes. And I had to sleep at night knowing I could never take them back. Sobbing and defeated on the hallway floor, I sent the email to my doctor and then took the copious amounts of Benadryl and Advil.
I can’t say that my intention at that moment was to kill myself. That would mean that a coherent thought had formed in my head. In my haze of confused, compulsive thinking, my brain wasn’t really forming any full or decisive thoughts. It was more like I wanted to sleep for a very long time to escape the feeling of pain that weighed so heavy on me.
I woke up several hours later, heart racing and then sputtering, shaking, sweating and dry heaving over the side of my bed. I can’t quite explain the way that my body felt other than to say that it knew it had been poisoned but could not rid itself of what was poisoning it. When I pulled myself together enough to get to the bathroom, I realized that I really might die. Fear and resignation were my primary emotions and with that I opened another bottle of Benadryl and drank another quarter of a bottle and went back to sleep, heart racing but exhausted.
The next time I woke up it was late morning. It was a beautiful day out. The bright, white light of the morning sun was shining in through the blinds warming the spot where I lay. Here, I thought with no particular emotion, still here. I looked at my phone to find several missed calls from my doctor, my mom and a friend. Oh yea, the email. I called my doctor first, a conversation I don’t really remember and then my mom. I was still numb. Both my mom and my doctor were trying to get someone to pick me up to take me to the emergency room. My mom said my uncle Kevin was coming. Not completely numb anymore, or resigned to giving in to going to the hospital, I went in the bathroom and just about finished the other bottle of Benadryl.
When Kevin showed up, my shame resurfaced. Not the same shame from the night before, but shame over trying to kill myself. Being so weak emotionally that I thought that was my way out. Being too weak to actually have succeeded—all these conflicting and consuming forms of shame. As soon as I saw his face I started to cry and he took me into his arms and hugged me.
The ride to Johns Hopkins was warm and sunny as I leaned my head against the window, groggy still. At the ER they took me back, cleaned the garish wound on my arm and asked me all sorts of questions I don’t remember, except for one. The nurse getting an EKG of my erratic heart asked about the tattoo on my rib cage. My tattoo, a gift to myself after the last time I was a patient here. I told her it said, This Too Shall Pass. A sick sense of humor washed over me in that moment and in a daze I remember saying, guess I should have listened to that last night.
I was then taken back to a bed where I drifted in and out of sleep all day. Hooked up to a heart monitor like some sort of sound system, random doctors and nurses came and went to check on me and ask questions. Then my doctor came with a clipboard, not really cause for alarm until I realized it was something for me to sign to admit myself to the hospital. The same section and floor I had been on for bulimia for two months a year and a half earlier. That’s when I came to, crying and saying I wouldn’t go back. That I had promised myself, I wouldn’t be one of those people constantly in and out of the mental hospital. Another failure, I thought. She called my mom, and they both tried to persuade me to sign. Dr. Tighe didn’t leave until I did, defeated all over again with fresh tears on my face, and the thought, I want to kill myself—I want to die.
It was another couple of hours in and out of consciousness waiting under fluorescent bulbs, in a cold white hallway until they finally took me upstairs. By that time, it was dark outside, past dinner and bedtime on the unit. My mom had made it in from Ohio and was waiting in the TV room I knew so well when I got upstairs. My mother is a beautiful woman who only once looked her actual age to me. It was that night. Her eyes were rimmed red from the stress and tears that had been shed that day. I hugged her, started crying, and said I’m sorry. I can only imagine the helplessness she felt that morning, still in Ohio while she waited for my call. Not knowing whether or not she would get it.
This Too Shall Pass
I slept a long time that night and into breakfast the next day under the close watch of a night shift nurse. I was still exhausted and feeling defeated with little desire to live when I awoke that morning, but that day I began the slow and necessary healing process. I had a lot of forgiving to do, and most of it had to be directed at myself.
I didn’t include the names of my ex or my old roommate in this post because I don’t blame them for that night and I don’t want their names to be associated with my attempted suicide. There were a lot of circumstances that lead to my depression that year, notwithstanding the fact that I had a predisposition to depression in the first place. Perhaps, if I hadn’t have been sick, I may have just gotten angry with them, moved out and been able to see that it was not the end of the world. But, I had an illness that clouded my ability to see that in any kind of clarity.
Sometimes, I still have trouble, as I did that night, forgiving myself for the mistakes I have made in the past. I am no stranger to mental illness. My ADHD often makes me distractible and impulsive, which can lead to mistakes that cause hours of relentless anxiety. I can also be obsessive, where I not only expect, but demand perfection of myself, in all aspects of my life: school, athletics, work, and personal relationships. Trying to reconcile these two parts of myself has been a constant struggle for me. A struggle that led to an eating disorder and can still lead to bouts of depression.
However, I am slowly starting to realize that I don’t have to be perfect. The only thing I truly regret about this experience was the pain and stress that it caused my loved ones. Other than that, it is a piece of me–has shaped who I am today. Without it, I might not have moved out of that house and lived with my aunt and uncle. I might have had a job I couldn’t leave to come back to Ohio to take care of my grandpa while he went through chemo, or had the strength to do it, an experience I’ll always cherish. I might not have gotten the job I have today, the one that made me fall in love with the sport of swimming all over again, discovered my passion for coaching, and showed me in no uncertain terms what I want to do with my life.
I am aware that it all seems very cheery, maybe like it was a straight road I traveled without any help to get to this point. I assure you that it was not. The road was full of twists and turns, peaks and valleys, and bumps varying in size and I’m lucky enough to not have traveled it alone. Even now, with all my past growing experiences and the happiness I have in my life today, I still struggle to forgive myself for my mistakes, to let go of the things that were not or are not perfect in my life and to accept the help that I need. The times that I don’t, I struggle with anxiety and sadness, and the times that I do, there is a feeling of yes, slight terror, because it doesn’t always feel natural, but also great relief and happiness.
The morning after I tried to kill myself, I mentioned how sunny it was as lay there warming under the sun. It is an image, in all the haze and confusion of images from that 24-hour period that stays with me in perfect clarity. It was the kind of morning under other circumstances that I would have loved. My cat was there, as if he had been watching me all night. The sun cut through the blinds leaving a striped pattern of warmth and light on him and me, while he went back and forth between playing with the string from the blinds and lying next to me while I pet him. It was the kind of late morning sun that was bright white and hot as it came through the window. Perhaps it’s reading too much into it, but I like to think that it was a promise that warmth and acceptance were in my future, and the path to it started that morning. It was a kind of hope I didn’t know existed in that moment, but I know, because it’s my clearest memory, that it was real. So, no matter what bad things happen in my life, I remind myself, this too shall pass.
I would like to thank my family, especially my mom, who throughout my stints with various mental illnesses loved, counseled and stayed by my side, despite the pain I’m sure it caused her to witness. I would also like to thank my living guardian angels: the doctors, nurses, and nurses’ aids of Johns Hopkins Hospital, Meyer 4; Dr. Tighe who saved my life on more than one occasion; Jackson, my cat who offered comfort through all those months and many since then; my uncle Kevin for being the first one there that morning to take me in his arms giving me comfort, love and acceptance; and him and my aunt Ari for loving, supporting and taking me in when I had no hope, no money and no where else to go during my last semester of school.
Written by my daughter – thank you for sharing your experience. So happy you made it through.