TW: suicide, mental illness
My life has had a lot of ups and downs in the last couple of months. It’s been a wild ride.
But there have been big names in the media over the last week who met death. Not just death, but death by suicide. People who were successful. And it’s not even just the last week. I didn’t know if I was going to publish this post until all this news. A version of this has been sitting in my drafts since the end of April.
This might be a slightly controversial post.
If you thought my earlier posts were authentic, wait until you realize what this is about. It’s not a pretty topic nor is it fun to talk about it. Sometimes I don’t know if I’ve talked about it or if I should. The thing is, it’s important for me to remember. I’ve come a long way in the last several years, not just because I ventured out of my teens and into adulthood. Ha! I’m barely a grown-up, more like a kid still stumbling around and fumbling with everything.
Around this time five years ago, I ended up in the hospital. One week in the intensive care unit for mental illness. Another week in the psychiatric ward for children and adolescents.
Countless days of school I missed along the way. All because of my mental illness.
Five years ago, I was hospitalized after a failed suicide attempt. I couldn’t do it, but I almost did. Thank goodness I didn’t, but I still remember that day. Not the exact day because the days blur together. I remember it was April, still cold but no longer winter. I remember thinking I only had a few months of high school left to endure. I remember thinking that I couldn’t last another day.
I couldn’t speak to any friends while I was in the hospital. I had no phone, no internet. I could not be contacted by anyone except my immediate family. My teachers didn’t send me any work because, luckily, I was doing well (as I was high-functioning and didn’t show any academic evidence of my struggle) and they wanted me to forget about school and just feel better. I had full days of examining how I treat myself, how I treat others, and how others treat me. I had hours upon hours to learn how to take care of myself, even if that meant I had to give up on a few relationships. I had so much time to consider every aspect of my life without any responsibilities stealing me away from these moments.
The hospital was a horrible experience, a huge wake-up call. I liked that I didn’t have to worry about anything in there, but I didn’t like being there.
A lot went into why I got there, without even getting into the details. Why did I want to die? Why was I ready to give up? I was about to graduate from high school on the honour list with awards and recognition for my high grades and participation in the school community. I had a group of friends that was there for me and a family who took care of me. I just didn’t have the will to live or the interest in living. I stopped writing and reading and spending time with friends and family. I stopped talking much and stopped sleeping and eating well. I stopped waking up with a sense of things-to-do-and-people-to-see.
Suicide, I believe, is not an easy decision. It is not an off-hand idea that seems like a great idea at one bad moment. It takes some stubbornness, a string of beliefs about what isn’t working and why life just isn’t worth it. It requires conviction of it being the only way to find relief. Of course, the experience differs from one person to another, so I don’t speak for everyone.
But five years ago, I was convinced it was my only option.
A whole lot happened. I spoke to countless counselors, social workers, therapists, doctors, psychiatrists. I switched from one medication to a set of different ones. I learned what it was like to sleep peacefully and have a clear mind. That peace was the best part. I got to keep it when I left, for a while at least.
Being diagnosed meant I wasn’t allowed to be alone, to have knives near me, to have my prescriptions monitored, to get calls hourly, to have people checking up on me regularly. Being diagnosed meant I was no longer trusted to learn how to drive because I could try to use that as a way to hurt myself. Living in the middle of nowhere with the nearest town 10 minutes away by driving and not being able to drive meant I couldn’t work. Not being able to work as a teenager meant having limited experience except for stray volunteering or working a few months at a time. Being mentally ill meant I could choose between university and working, that I couldn’t have both because the toll would be too much and I wouldn’t be able to handle it.
As much as I love seeing people posting about suicide hotlines, that phone number isn’t enough. Reach out to your loved ones. Check in on them. Be there for them, not just throwing out a number, but voicing your love and concern and listening.
This isn’t to say that there is no benefit from posting these phone numbers. They do definitely make a difference. I’m just saying that it isn’t the only thing to do or that can b done. There could be more. It isn’t easy either, but I believe it’s something to remember.
I wouldn’t have been diagnosed if my mom hadn’t come up to me and said, “something is wrong and I want you to see a doctor.” No, I didn’t agree with her that first time. It took prodding and persistence to get me to go. I wouldn’t have been caught before seriously hurting myself if someone hadn’t been watching me and checking in on me.
We can’t end the stigma by saying “reach out!” because it’s not easy. It’s especially not easy when you feel like you don’t matter or there’s no point or something along those lines. Don’t place someone’s will to live on their ability to reach out. It’s not easy to ask someone how they’re doing, to keep asking if their answer doesn’t feel genuine. A lot of paying attention is necessary, even if that person you love and care about keeps telling you otherwise.
I am so sick of people talking about depression and suicide after someone famous dies. I am so sick of tweet after tweet of suicide hotlines. I am so sick of “this is why we need to end the stigma” and yet nothing really changes. I was never able to call a hotline or reach out myself. I was never able to go to someone and tell them that I wasn’t okay. Some people can, others can’t. It felt physically impossible. Couple my severe depression with my intense social anxiety, I would nearly vomit at the thought of calling a stranger to tell them I wanted to die.
I know we’re supposed to reach out when we need help. I know it makes a difference when we redach out. I also know it doesn’t always feel possible to reach out when you’re the one struggling and in pain.
I don’t have a solution. I only have my own personal experience.
These days, I haven’t needed medication. I’m not perfect. I still have anxiety and depression. I still have debilitating social phobia. But I have made huge progress.
And two years ago, I completed a first draft. I wrote a whole novel, something I thought I could never do because I had barely written more than a couple of lines in the preceding years. I did it, the things I dreamed of but never imagined accomplishing. And then DVpit happened and now I have an agent. I’m still reeling from all of it, still trying to process it. I’ve cried multiple times and wondered if I deserved it, if there was something I needed to do to deserve it.
A lot has happened to bring me to this point. A lot of people are involved in getting me to where I am. Sometimes it hurts to say it, but I depend on people. Sometimes it feels like we shouldn’t, that we should be independent, but this is both a personal and a social issue. We need each other to look out for each other.
To the social worker who taught me different coping techniques, quickly learning that all I want is an explanation and then a chance to try things on my own time: thank you and remember how you told me to do things that scare me, to put myself out there, to do one thing outside my comfort zone every month then every week then every day? I’m doing it. I did it.
To my mom, who watched me and noticed things and took care of me because no one else saw it. Her persistence is why I am alive today, her persistent pushing to help me find the will to live in a variety of ways.
To the seventeen-year-old girl I was five years ago, ready to die: I am so glad you didn’t.
To anyone on that cliff edge, thinking about making that leap from life to death: I hope you stay where you’re standing. I will be trying to look out for others, to check in. I will be keeping an eye on my loved ones, just as you should for yours.
It is a lot to bear, but it’s worth it. If you can do it, please do.
One more life is all the difference.