TRIGGER WARNING: While this post is not graphic, it does refer to suicidal ideation and a suicide attempt. If this topic is something you are triggered by in any way, please exercise extreme caution or just hit the BACK button on your browser.
NOTE: My verbosity is infamous. But I’m telling you, this is one long post, and that’s coming from ME.
This Post Started Over a Burger
I was having dinner with my buddy a couple of nights ago. It felt good to get out of the house after this self-imposed exile of mine. Over dinner I told him that the next day was a special anniversary of mine. Except that the anniversary was actually happening while I was talking to him. I thought the date was April 8th, but Tuesday was actually the 9th. And that was my anniversary.
“What anniversary is that?” he asked.
And I told him.
It was 24 years ago on April 9th that I attempted to take my own life. It was something he didn’t know about me, which surprised me. I could have sworn I’d brought it up. He’s been my best friend for a while now and it’s not like I keep it a secret these days. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m out wearing a shirt that says “I TRIED TO KILL MYSELF!” but I’m pretty open about my depression.
I had to calculate it out for this post, but I was 28 years old that night. Now, you’d think that was such a significant event that the number 28 would be indelibly etched in my gray matter, right? Well, the ol’ thinking machine ain’t what it used to be, I’m afraid. And hey, 24 years is a long time when you can barely remember why you walked into the room.
Memory is a funny thing when it comes to trauma. And if you’ve never been, I have to tell you…suicide attempts are pretty traumatic. Granted, I’ve only been to the one, but that was enough for me to form a pretty firm opinion on the matter. With trauma, and anyone with PTSD will tell you this, you remember some things vividly, really dumb things sometimes, all while blacking out on things that seem very important.
The Brain Chemistry Why
I could get on straight away with the details of what I did, and I will get to that. But it’s not the method you really care about, I know.
What everyone really wants to know when someone kills themselves is…
Why did you want to end your life?
When you’re talking about a survivor of an attempt (as opposed to someone who successfully took their life), it is one of those morbid curiosity questions we keep locked in our heads. You can’t just ask a suicidal person such a thing. What if you set them off? They might try it again! This is how people think.
In all of these 24 years since that night, I can count on several fingers the number of times anyone has asked me why I tried to do it. Instead, what typically happens when someone first learns that I attempted suicide is I get treated with kid gloves. As if I’m some fragile doll that could break at the slightest wind change. Listen, I’ve survived a lot of shit. I’ve been at the bottom of that Pit many times and I will be there again. Your one little question is not going to break me.
I’ll tell you why I wanted to end it all. But I can guarantee you it’s not going to satisfy you. Short of inoperable terminal cancer, not many answers would.
First off, it’s important to note for the uninitiated that I am mentally ill, and at that time had only just begun any sort of treatment for the first time ever. I was depressed for a long time before that. Most of my life, in fact. I was bullied frequently in school, as I’ve said before. I had few friends. My parents divorced when I was pretty young, too, and I didn’t accept that very well at all. Not that I blame these things for my depression. I’m just trying to say, I can recall numerous times wishing I was dead, even when I was quite young. Not that melodramatic or jokey “Oh my God, I wish I was dead,” either. I mean serious wanting-to-die dead. Violent, ugly thoughts that no child has any business having.
Some of these things may be surprising to my family, especially since they lived with me for almost 18 years. I’m sure to any trained eye, the signs were there. But I never told anyone of my depression. Not my mother, father, or stepmother. Not my sister or stepbrother. I am sure they suspected something at times. I was quite a handful at times…my siblings will agree.
I never told a single friend over the entire course of my school career.
Not a soul.
I am an expert emotion bottler-upper.
Even if I had told someone, I don’t know that it would have mattered much. It was the 70s and early 80s when I was growing up and back then only crazy people went to psychiatrists or therapists. It was actually sometimes used as a threat to make me behave. “Do you want us to take you to a psychiatrist?” And I’d say, “Noooooo” and settle my ass down real fast. I should have said yes.
Speaking of shrinks, back to 1995. For the first time in my life, I had just started seeing a therapist, thanks to the girl I had been dating for two years. I’d met her just a couple of months after moving to Dallas, and she made transitioning to that huge city a lot easier. I knew two people in Dallas then. My best friend, who had gotten out of the Air Force about a year before me, and my girlfriend. She recognized signs of depression in me and turned me onto her therapist, who turned me onto a psychiatrist for meds. Never mind that I was misdiagnosed at first with major depressive disorder. We’ll table that for now.
So I was freshly on on antidepressants. They were not the instant magic relief I was looking for. In fact, Zoloft was the first one they put me on and I had adverse reactions to it. My shrink switched me over to Prozac.
So the depression was already there. Suicidal thoughts had been with me a long time, too.
That was the neurochemical portion of what led me to April 9th.
The Situational Why
Now for the situational portion. What really pushed me forward was a confluence of events that pulled the rug out from under me repeatedly.
I had recently transferred to a new job and was in way over my head with little training. I was getting pressured to put out product that was way beyond my skills. Then I had to take a short leave of absence from work, thanks to Zoloft. Once it started kicking in, I felt stoned all the time. Hell, I got lost driving to work one day, a drive I’d been taking every day for six months. It took a couple of weeks for the side effects to subside, but my boss wasn’t very pleased. Work wasn’t going well.
Then my girlfriend broke up with me. I’m sure my depression and neuroses weren’t helping. Regardless, that was a serious kick in the teeth. It removed virtually every bit of support I had. Almost every friend I had at that time was through her. It was like another divorce where I lost the bulk of the friends in the split.
So now I was deeply depressed with no one to talk to, aside from my therapist who I met with once a week. I felt utterly alone and isolated.
While it was already bad, the depression really started spiraling down at that point. That spiral had me so out of sorts, I made an enormous error in judgment (one of many). I didn’t want my girls to see me sinking like I was. I felt like I was bad to be around, toxic to anyone, especially my young daughters. And so gradually, and then rather abruptly, I just stopped visiting them. I thought I was protecting them. What I was actually doing was neglecting them.
So I was failing in the father department, too. Every aspect of my life was in ruins. I had no place to go where I felt safe. Work just stressed me out. Sitting at home was a bit better, but not by much. I didn’t have one drop of hope in me. I’m not really a hope kind of person, anyway.
The bottom line was this: I felt I had nothing to live for.
I continued to put on The Show at work. I’ve always been great at putting on The Show, making everyone think I’m totally normal and everything is just fine. I have shelves of prestigious acting awards over the decades.
It was rather easy at that point for the inner voices to do their nasty work. The inner dialogue, those tapes we play in our head, you know? Mine have always been brutal and vicious, constantly belittling and ridiculing, telling me I’m stupid, no good, that nobody wants to be around me. That I’m unlovable.
I’m not talking about the occasional instance, such as when you drop a glass on the floor and call yourself an idiot. I mean almost constantly, with every step, with every action, with every word I say to every person I speak to. It can be a lot. For the longest time, I thought that was normal. Hell, I thought a lot of shit was normal until I started going to therapy.
April 9th, 1995: The How
So April 9th, completely anhedonic and despondent, I was just hanging out on a Sunday in my little north Dallas apartment. I had music on, probably something depressing because that’s what I listen to when I’m depressed. I was drinking beer. When the beer ran out, I opened a bottle of wine and started on that. I was feeling good. Sorry, I wasn’t feeling good. I was depressed as fuck. I meant to say I had a damn good buzz going.
Now it was evening and I had the lights out, except for a few candles near me. I was in tears, which rarely ever happened. (Still true, by the way.) In fact, the tears just wouldn’t stop coming. Everything I thought of made me even more upset. I had nothing.
By that time, those inner voices were shredding me up pretty good.
You’re a complete failure.
You’re good for nothing or no one.
Nobody wants you. Nobody wants to be around you.
You infect everyone you come into contact with. You’re poison.
The world would be a better place without you in it.
You deserve to die.
There it was. Not that it was the first time that thought ever crossed my mind. Quite the contrary. But this time it really spoke to me. It became something that could actually happen.
I remember thinking, “I do deserve it. I have brought nothing but misery to everyone. I’m a terrible person. Everybody will be better off without me.”
WILL be better off. Future tense. Like it was already a done deal.
“Maybe it should be,” my buzzed self thought. Maybe it should be a done deal.
A calm washed over me. My stomach was tight and cramping from all of the sobbing, but it eased up, too. This thought, me being erased from the planet, was comforting. Absent from the pain. I’d always felt some comfort in my suicidal ideation, but this was different. This felt like…resolve.
I sat there in the dark, staring at the bright, flickering point of the candle flame. I ran the possibilities through my head, the different methods. I didn’t have a gun, so that was out. I could have just gone to the Dallas Parkway beside my apartment complex and jumped off the overpass into traffic. Lots of options zoomed through my head and I wrote each of them off for different reasons. I mostly thought about all the ways I could screw up my suicide attempt so that I’d wind up even worse off than I currently was. Fear, as usual, ruled my life.
Then the answer hit me, and it was staring me right in the face all along. On the TV tray in front of me, sitting next to my wine glass, were two vials of pills: Zoloft and Prozac. (Prozac would be only the second of many medications to compete in the Trial and Error Olympics.) I had just gotten the new Prozac prescription the day before, I think.
I spent a lot of time staring at those vials. I drank more wine and cried more tears and tossed even more tissues on the floor. My gut hurt again.
But my resolve grew. The allure of no more agonizing days was very strong.
Finally, after what must have been at least an hour, I grabbed each vial, opened the lids, and poured the contents onto the table. I quickly ran my fingers through the pile, mixing the two together. Then it was time to stare at those for a while.
Didn’t I think about those who’d find me? Didn’t I care about the people I would leave behind? That’s what you’re wondering, right? Of course I did. Again, I was thinking they’d be better off without me. Then there’s the other part of you – the selfish part – that says, “Screw it, I’ll be dead.” I was in such anguish that eliminating that pain overrode my caring about anyone else’s feelings. Especially since my caring about anyone else would pretty much instantly cease upon my death. It’s very difficult to feel guilt when you don’t have a pulse.
I eventually got up and stumbled and weaved my way to the kitchen, where I got myself a big glass of water. When I was walking back to the living room, I tripped, spilling the water all over the carpet. It’s funny, I remember thinking, “I need to get a towel to soak that up,” then instantly saying, “Fuck that, it’s somebody else’s problem now.” I went back and got another glass of water.
I made it back to the sofa with all of the water that time. It took a long time to psych myself up. More wine, more crying, and more listening to music and the accompanying shit.
Do it, you fucking pussy!
What, you can’t do this right, either?
Nobody’s going to give a shit when you’re gone.
The world will be better off.
You need to die.
You need to die NOW.
I nodded in agreement. It was time. I grabbed a handful of pills, shoved them in my mouth, and started chugging water. Got those down and picked up another handful and repeated it. I didn’t bother with a third. I figured I had swallowed plenty.
Then I sat there waiting in the dark, crying, so completely sad and lost and alone. Would it hurt? Would I just get drowsy and fall asleep? Who would find me? I thought about how people would react, all the while wiping my eyes, blowing my nose, and tossing more tissues to the floor. The floor around me was a sea of crumbled-up white tissues at that point.
Several minutes in and it hit me like a freight train. My daughters! Of course I had thought about them before, but only from a viewpoint of “they’ll be better off.” Now I was seeing it from the other side. What was I doing to my daughters? Like I hadn’t already fucked up enough, now I was going to saddle them with THIS for the rest of their lives?
I panicked. What was I doing?
I jumped up from the sofa, knocking over the TV table so the wine, the water, and the pills all went flying. I ran to the bathroom and bent over the toilet to make myself puke. My finger wasn’t doing the job, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, even in my desperation. I hate puking so much. So I grabbed my toothbrush and started poking around the back of my throat until I hit the gag reflex. And I didn’t stop until I felt that horrible feeling…the need to vomit.
I puked and puked and retched for a bit. It all came out in a couple of bitter waves. Then I used the toothbrush again to see if any more would come up until I was just dry heaving and gagging. A lot of those pills were in the toilet, but I have no idea if I puked them all up.
I didn’t go to the hospital. I didn’t call poison control. I washed my mouth out with mouthwash and walked to my bed, where I sat for about 10 minutes. Then I just went to bed. Passed out, more like it.
The alarm went off as usual the next morning. I got up, jumped in the shower, shaved, had breakfast, and went to work like it was any other Monday.
I put on The Show like a champ. I didn’t tell a soul. I mean, who would I have told, really? I didn’t even tell my therapist for fear of getting locked up and stuck in a padded room.
In fact, I didn’t tell anyone about my attempt until I was active in my church singles group a year or so later. Which was an odd thing since I had been an atheist when I took all of those pills. I guess I should have mentioned that at the outset. It was just one more thing that pushed me, thinking there was absolutely no purpose or point to anything in the universe.
See, the next day after my attempt? That Monday? I made an ultimatum to a God I didn’t believe in. But that’s another very long story, and I really doubt if I’m going to recount it here. I’m not feeling much like jumping into religion or God here, especially since (SPOILER ALERT!) I don’t go to church any more and God and I aren’t on the best of terms. Again. Let’s just say our Facebook relationship status would read “It’s Complicated.”
That’s pretty much the story of my suicide attempt. For a while, I didn’t really even call it that, an “attempt.” I mean, I puked all the pills up within a few minutes. No cops, no ambulance, no hospital. I obviously came out fine. So that’s hardly a suicide attempt, right?
There’s a big difference between suicidal ideation and a suicidal attempt. One is just thinking about it and the other is acting on those thoughts and doing something about them. They couldn’t have found my lifeless body on my apartment floor if all I’d done was think about taking a bunch of pills, you know? It was an attempt.
I wish I could say it gave me a whole new outlook on life. I mean, an enduring outlook. Sure, for a while it did. Church, making lots of friends, all that made a huge difference. It gave me a life again, some purpose. But what can I say? A lot happened on the way to my next mental breakdown. and it’s been a long time since that April evening.
Yes, I’m glad I didn’t go through with it. I never would have experienced joy again, which came much sooner than I ever would have guessed. I wouldn’t have gotten treatment, found the right combination of meds (many times). I would have never started a little web page on my ISP’s server. Or met the great friends I met in church. Or started blogging, where I met more amazing people all over the globe.
So I’m glad I failed. I’m glad I’m around. Am I happy? Eh, I said I’m glad I didn’t go through with it. Take what you can get.
I still think about it. Dying, I mean. Almost every day. That isn’t likely to stop until I’m actually dead. It’s hard-wired in. I don’t think about killing myself, don’t misunderstand. But I’ll ponder all the different ways I could die and how comforting it would be to just…not exist. It’s this little mental exercise I catch myself doing, like some sick form of meditation. I could get hit by a truck. There’s choking. Or maybe I will get shot while I’m at the store. See? All passive ways of dying.
I think about it, but I’ll never again act on it.
So, happy anniversary to me. An odd anniversary, perhaps, but still. Could be odder. I mean, I literally could be dead right now, which would have made writing this post a lot more difficult. Being not dead is certainly worth celebrating, even if I don’t always feel like it.
Next year will be a quarter of a century. Isn’t that the silver anniversary? I’m probably going to need champagne for that one.
Now for the PSA Part of the Program
If you are feeling suicidal or thinking of harming yourself in any way whatsoever, there is help available 24/7. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is completely anonymous and available around the clock here in the United States.
Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
That goes for anyone you know. Pass this number on.
If you’re a veteran, call the number above and press “1” for the Veterans Crisis Line.
I’ve had that number memorized for years now, thanks to a therapist of mine. And I can’t even count how many times I’ve passed it along to others. I regularly post it on my social media because it’s obviously something I feel passionate about.
In 2017, just in the United States, there were 47,173 deaths caused by suicide. That’s an alarming number, but scarier yet is the fact that there were 1.4 million attempts.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.
129 people per day in the United States. Per DAY.
800,000 people around the world die from suicide every year.American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
I mentioned before that I’ve been putting together daily music playlists on Spotify. Well, I put a daily playlist together as a companion to this post. It contains songs that speak very much to different facets of depression, bipolar disorder, desperation, even suicide. I know many of my friends can relate, at least to the depression.
Click on the playlist graphic below to open the Spotify playlist, or you can play it with the widget below. I think you need to sign in first. It’s free to join and use. You don’t have to be a paid subscriber.
For each of you suffering right now, be good to yourself. Stay strong by doing what doesn’t feel natural…reaching out for help. Talk to family and friends. Seek out support from support groups, whether they be local or online. Talking it out HELPS.
But don’t keep it all inside. Let me be a cautionary tale. You don’t have to shoulder that beast by yourself.