As today is World Suicide Prevention Day, I think it’s an appropriate time to share my story.
I am a suicide survivor. I got to live to tell the tale. Many did not. Many people have died by what I tried to do.
This is my story.
A blank Microsoft Word document. Furious clicking of fingers against plastic keys.
“I never intended to have to write one of these…”
The tears began to fall. She knew what she felt. She knew she was sick. She was sick, but she was far too ashamed of her illness to get help.
A migraine set in; a physical erosion of her brain rather than just the intangible thoughts that ate away at her. Two naps hadn’t kicked it. She finally reached for the bottles of pain medication. Everything she had. She was determined. “This all will be over soon enough.”
Sighs of relief escaped through her lips as three by three she took the pills, delicately pouring them into her hand as not to wake her sleeping roommate with the rattle of the bottles.
“Just one last wait…” She got dressed. Slipping into her favorite gym shorts and her best friend’s shirt she’d had since the track party last May. She should’ve given back that shirt months ago. Sentimental value is why she still has it after all this time.
Impatience set in. Clicks to Google. The finger typing continues. “Overdose on Ibuprofen” was the search term. She’d done exactly that. What she found was disconcerting: liver damage. As an avid binge drinker, her liver had already been through enough trauma. She didn’t have anything else to swallow. She’d failed.
She realized she’d fucked up. She had gotten to the large classroom for her weekly Sunday fraternity meeting. She wasn’t focused on what was being said, she was trying to figure out what to do.
Fingers continued to click-clack across keys. “I may have taken a bunch of pills before this meeting.” She hesitated. Hitting the Enter key would have been a cry for help.
Someone would know what she did. And then I knew it was the right thing. This is an illness that needs to be fought. This is an illness that can be fought and beaten. She hit Enter.
The message was to a good friend, one who dated one of her friends from freshman year. The girls stayed close despite the initial relationship that brought them together coming to a pretty violent end. She has a sound head on her shoulders, she’s been through her own things, and she is one of the most understanding women around. I knew that was what she needed.
Thirty-eight pills stewed in her stomach, shame filled her cheeks as she came to terms with what she needed to do and what she was too ashamed to do: call an ambulance. This entire time she tried to seem like nothing had changed. However, scars had appeared. She stopped going places. She stopped stalking Facebook. Everything she loved and everything that mattered to her meant absolutely nothing. She lied through her teeth to her best friend, saying everything was fine. Her best friend had been working a lot of hours at her new job and didn’t have time to check in on her.
The façade had finally broken. Someone knew that things weren’t all sunshine and roses. The hand was outstretched.
All she could do was hope someone would take it and pull her out from the pit of sadness and depression she was falling into day by day.
The ambulance arrived. The “lacerations” on her wrist and stomach were logged. What seemed like a million questions were asked. Reports were filled out. Vitals were taken. She had low blood pressure. Thirty-eight pills will do that. Vitals. Her heart was still beating. It ached with shame, disappointment, and fear. “What will happen to me now?” clawed at what little sanity she seemed to have left.
Strapped to a gurney like cargo. Fluorescent lights highlighted the red lines across her porcelain skin. Small talk filled the room, but there was no comfort to be found in the questions about school and her hometown.
Arriving at the hospital, she waited with a malfunctioning television remote. She at least still had her cellphone. All of a sudden, she saw her mother check in at Albany Medical Center on Foursquare. There were the tears, streaming down. She wanted to be angry, but she couldn’t. She knew that once she’d reached out for help that someone had to know. Her family had to know.
She’d disappointed her family. She’d failed them. Her goal was to get out of everything with the least stress on her family as possible. Seeing her parents escorted into the room just forced her further into the arms of shame. She knew her parents loved her. She loved them, she even took the time to write it in the note:
“I’m so sorry. I hope you know I loved you most of all. I wanted to make you proud and I didn’t want you to worry and be disappointed by me anymore. I know you loved me and that this was the last thing you wanted. But, I promise you, I’m happy. I’m better now. I’m not sick anymore and I know I’ll be looking out for you all. I didn’t want you to know I was sick because you all had so much to worry about at home.”
This, this hurting them, was the absolute last thing she wanted. She never shared her struggles because she never wanted to seem like a burden. And now look at her. It’s after 10pm on a Sunday night and her parents had made the hour and a half drive to the hospital
Her best friend appeared after a while. There was an excessive sadness in his eyes and on his face. He knew she was struggling, but she never had the courage to tell him how much. He was the only one she mentioned her cutting to. She couldn’t tell anyone else. Hell, she wasn’t even sure it helped her. She got scared every time she went to do it. It always took a couple incisions for her to get comfortable, but once she got past those, it was alright. The metal felt cold, like the inside of her heart and the darkness in her eyes that she had to face in the mirror every single day.
Her friends left, but her family stayed to see her off to the psychiatric ward, run by the state. She’d been to the crisis unit there once before, she calmly explained to her parents. They hadn’t been told about that incident. It was for the best, after all. They’d find out in due time.
The ward feels like prison. Locked doors, bulletproof glass, hospital scrubs, archaic pay phones, handwritten height charts, stereotypical industrial yellow painted walls. There is absolutely no comfort to be found. Family in the waiting room. Interviews with doctors. Reruns of 48 Hours. Headline News loops. No clock to see the passage of time.
Held in the ward, awaiting transfer. Curse having been there and let out once before. Regret, shame, failure filled her brain. Fights with her father. “I didn’t take the damn pills, now you’re stuck here! Are you fucking happy now?!” The words stung. She felt terrible enough, but now she knew her father was truly hurt.
A nurse said “I can see why he stresses you out…” That was the least helpful thing she could’ve said. Tears fall from her eyes as she is escorted into the “kids room” to sleep for the night. She is woken up for breakfast but politely refuses the meal. She remembers the breakfast from the last stay: artificial egg omelets, hash browns, cold coffee, Cheerios, and milk. Her stomach churns just thinking about it.
She got her pills, 20 milligrams of generic Prozac, and fell back asleep. She was awoken again by a nurse’s aide, who politely said that she was like every patient’s grandmother. They chatted for a while about what brought the girl here, what she was feeling, and how things were going.
“Life is too short to be as serious as you are,” the aide told her in parting.
Every word of it was true. It stuck with her. Her parents and brother arrived right before her transfer to the second hospital. She was happy to see her brother. He was one of her favorite people. Nearly four years separates them in age, but they are as close as two siblings can be. She always wanted to be a good role model for him. She’s fucked that up.
They all sat together in the emergency room, watching random people and Seinfeld reruns. They laughed about the slipper socks everyone sported, remembering one Christmas when the children received matching sets. Happier times, when life wasn’t so complicated.
Eventually, she was escorted upstairs to the Mentally Ill/Chemically Addicted (MICA) unit on the third floor and her parents promised to visit the next day. She was shown to her room, told she would see the doctor and social worker daily. She was briefed on how things would work and given a grand tour of the spacious hallway she was confined to. No leaving to outside or other areas of the hospital. The group room, the activity room, doctors’ offices, the nurses’ station for medications. The whiteboard laid out the schedule of groups and an inspirational quotation for the day.
Nurses assured her she wouldn’t be staying long. She hoped not; she was frightened. There were only two women in the unit that contains thirteen beds. Her and her roommate. The rest were older males. She was rather shy.
A routine was established; waking up at 6:30 for breakfast and vital signs.
You have to be assured you’re still alive.
Measuring blood pressure, pulse rate, and temperature is how they do it. Each day, she attends groups designed to help her develop skills to effectively live outside. Ways to avoid the temptation of alcohol, ways to assure herself that her life is worth living.
Her family appeared every day right after dinner. She feared they would give up on her as the days wore on. Once her family left she cried. One day, as her family was leaving, she grabbed her brother and told him “Please don’t be like me. You’re better than this.” They sobbed as they embraced. She loves him. She knows, if he sets his mind to something, he is more than capable of achieving it. What she doesn’t know, or fails to realize, is that she can do the very same thing. She has more faith in others than she has in herself.
Her refuge as she waited through the days, was found in trashy romance novels readily available on grocery store shelves; the ones that are designed for beach reading. They had extravagant plots, eccentric characters, and were a great way to kill time when there was nowhere to go. She read three of these in two days. She rediscovered a passion for something: reading. When she was younger, she was an avid reader; the bookshelves in her bedroom littered with dog-eared young adult fiction are evidence of that. That was when she knew she’d started to improve. She rediscovered a passion. She cared about something other than the search for an escape.
She decided she was going to start journaling again. She admitted to the doctors that she thought it was “childish” since it was something she did during the darker days of her youth, but she knew in the back of her mind that it would help. Blank journal pages and ballpoint pens don’t judge. They sit and listen as you spill your soul, share your hopes, dreams, and fears. There’s a comfort in the confidence of a blank journal and a pen provide. She knew she needed an outlet for her shame and disappointment that was judgment-free, and a journal was the perfect place.
She rediscovered herself in that hospital. She rediscovered hope. She discovered that she is never truly alone. She isn’t alone in her sadness. She isn’t alone in her struggle. She isn’t alone at all.
The sun will always rise on a different day. She has control over whether things improve, get worse, or stay the same. She is the captain of her own vessel. She is the author of her own story. The plot, dictated by her decisions, is up to her. The decision to let the shame of a failed suicide attempt erode the sands of her sanity and happiness is hers. She can put a levee up to block those waves.
She is the architect and her life is the most prized blueprint she’ll ever lay out.
Editor's Note: This piece has appeared in multiple places and was originally written (sans foreword) for an Expository Writing course in college. The most recent home of this piece is Jessica's Medium account.