Recent events have prompted me to tell a part of my history that I have shared with few people. Not only is it a part of life that is generally kept private, even secret, it is a history that tends to hurt people in the social and employment areas of life. It seems time to talk about it anyway now, partly because of recent events in my community and social group, partly because of growing national awareness about the problem and partly because I no longer wish to base my decisions on the fear of what might happen.
Someone I knew killed himself this week. As if that weren’t tragic enough, he decided to take the life of a loved one before doing so. This last danger and difficult tragedy gives me added reason to talk openly about this. The actions of someone I knew personally hit me in an unusual way because when I was a young man I was suicidal and intended to kill myself on more than one occasion.
I want to note that this history is not a reason to treat me differently. These events happened decades ago. I do not need special treatment from others and I do not need to be handled with kid gloves. Criticism and teasing are not a big deal and if you feel inclined to harass me, my history is no reason to hesitate.
The first time I took any action towards taking my life was when I was a graduate student. The desire to do so did not come on me suddenly or without warning. The thought had been with me for months at a time during the previous nine years. I had hardly gone a year without feeling suicidal part of the time.
It is hard to say what made this particular period deeper. It could have been the realization that I would not have the career I had wanted. It could have come from watching my friends and acquaintances find love and get married while I remained alone and single. It could been a result of increased social isolation or even a lack of vitamin D. What is certain is that I hit stormy waters that were more turbulent than any I had known previously and I very nearly sank under the waves.
There were multiple turning points in my life around this time. One of them was when I finally spoke up and told a friend what I was thinking. My thoughts of suicide had become so frequent, so real and so difficult to keep out of my mind that I felt I had to make a decision. At that point I was doing well enough that I could consider the effects my death would have on others and the thought of my mother’s grief was enough to keep me from deciding on suicide. Instead, I decided to tell a friend and roommate what was in my mind.
If you have thoughts of suicide, call a suicide hotline. Call 1-800-273-8255 or go to http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/, where you can chat with someone online. They have services for people who speak Spanish as well as people who are deaf or hard of hearing. If you have someone you trust, talk to them about it.
My friend helped me connect with the help my local church offered. I have received strong benefits from therapy, but I cannot say that talking to this particular therapist made any difference in how I felt. It turns out that the relationship you have with a counselor has a lot to do with how successful therapy is, so if you seek counseling and do not feel that connection, ask for or look for another one. There is no need to feel embarrassed or guilty; it is too important an issue. Unfortunately, I did not know this or understand it at the time.
The counselor encouraged me to go to the doctor and get an anti-depressant. I did, but it didn’t help. For whatever reason, anti-depressants never did me much good. I took them more out of hope and trust in my doctors than out of any benefit I received.
My mood declined further. After a few months I had a particularly bad day. I went home. My roommates were all gone. I found my roommate’s hunting knife. I went to the tile area outside the bathroom where I thought the blood would be easy to clean up and slid the knife across my throat. Nothing happened.
In the movies it is so easy. This was not. I didn’t even draw blood. I don’t really know why.
My failure frustrated me. I blamed God. I cried out to him in anger, “You won’t help me and you won’t let me die!”
I went to my room and hid for a while. I calmed down and the impulse passed. If I had had access to a firearm, I would not have been so lucky.
A few days later, I had an appointment with my doctor. I told her what I had done. She sent me to the hospital immediately. She sent someone with me and I was not left alone until I was admitted. I didn’t feel I was in any danger and didn’t see the need for their concern because it had been days since my attempt. The attention felt nice, though.
I was diagnosed with major depression and was admitted to the locked hospital ward. I could not leave and that did not bother me. There wasn’t anywhere I wanted to go and it had been many months since I had had enough energy to do anything. I was just very bored. There aren’t many distractions in a psychiatric ward.
During the first part of my hospital stay, I made another attempt to kill myself. I thought I could drown myself. I had seen this done in a movie, so it must be possible, right? I was concerned I would draw attention to myself if I filled the bathtub, so I filled the sink. I held my face in the water. It turned out the impulse to breathe was too strong. I lifted my face up, gasping for air. I didn’t try again and I didn’t tell anyone I had done it.
I felt extremely comfortable with the other patients. It turns out that people in a depression ward are often kind and understanding. Even nicer, I was with people who knew what I felt and did not look down on me for it. For the first time since sixth grade I had found a social group where I felt completely comfortable.
I was not eager to leave this safe, accepting environment, but hospitals are basically focused on patient exits. Before two weeks were up, my step-father came to get me and took me home. I had gone out of state for college and it had been years since I had lived with my mother and him. I had been unable to work for a few months before my suicide attempt (I lived off savings, if you’re curious) and had worried that I would end up on the streets. Thankfully, I did not.
As I write this part of my story, I can see how lucky I was compared to some people. I had someone I wanted to live for. I had a friend I could confide in. I had access to some kind of counseling and medical care. I had a proactive doctor and access to a hospital. I had a supportive family and a place to live. I was fortunate.