It was a bright and beautiful summer when I thought about killing myself. The feeling was sudden and swift. After dealing with depression for over a decade, this wasn't the first time I'd found myself dealing with suicidal thoughts. But this was the first time that I had a bottle of Hydrocodone in my hand and took the step to do an online search of how many I'd need to take to end my life. It was scary. It was more than scary, it was the most frightening experience of my life.
Luckily, I guess, this wasn't my first time dealing with the side effects of depression. I say luckily because over the years I've learned coping skills for depression. I have a doctor I trust that I could call and talk to, and a support system of friends that I could lean on without any explanation or expectation. But even with the network I've created of friends and family, I still didn't have the ability to call someone and say, "I'm thinking of taking a bottle of pills and killing myself." The closest I got to reaching out was breaking down in tears to my roommate and saying that it was bad, my life was bad, and I couldn't do anything. I couldn't move. I couldn't stop crying. I just couldn't be anymore.
It hurts. Depression physically hurts. It's a burden that you're told doesn't exist or that you can shake off. The day after I Googled the number of pills it would take to kill myself, I read a post on Facebook by an old friend that stated blame lies solely with a person that takes their life. I cried. I cried for myself and for everyone who has ever been told that feeling like throwing themselves off a bridge is their fault. I cried because I know that's not true and that not everyone understands that it isn't.
Our society tells us that if we were stronger, more responsible, or had just tried harder we wouldn't think of taking the easy way out and committing suicide. I don't see it that way. Taking your own life is not easy. It's the final domino in a chain reaction that is the result of pain, fear, and illness.
I hadn't realized I was deeply Depressed until it was out of control. I've written before about dealing with my depression naturally, but I have also been honest about the fact that there are definitely moments when it's time for anti-depressants. I decided it might be time to go that route. Having had my head in the sand as my emotions careened out of control. I called a doctor that had been referred to me, who helped some friends of mine. I was optimistic and proud of myself for taking care of myself.
The call did not go well. The doctor asked me a long list of very personal questions about my history of depression, medications I've taken, and my current state of mind. Which I answered honestly and openly as I could. Then she declined to treat me. Her reasoning was vague, though, from my blurred and dazed end of the line, I heard that I had too many problems and that she didn't have the time or inclination to help someone with the issues I was dealing with. Then I asked for a reference because I was having a hard time keeping it together. She didn't have one.
The tears started before I hung up. And once they started I couldn't stop them. I became hysterical. Little did she know that I had just filled a prescription for pain medication that my dentist had given me for a toothache. The realization that a solution to the darkness that had once again come back to drown me was in my hands was frightening. It was a frightening, exciting, scary, calming, soul-shaking experience to have the solution so close at hand.
I was so hysterical that I had to leave work because I couldn't keep it together. Hysteria seeped into the edges of my thoughts. Tears streamed uncontrollably down my face as I drove myself home. And finally, I found myself alone in my house with a bottle of pills.
The Bell Jar
Have you ever read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath? If you haven't, it's a semi-autobiographical novel that outlines the mental health crisis of a young woman, historically assumed to be the author, who is committed and deals with the emotions that surround her depression in the 1950's. Plath herself successfully took her own life in 1963. I remember reading it years ago, and identifying with her--up to a certain point. There is a distinct place in the novel where I remember thinking, 'Whoa! I have never felt that way before. That is the deep end!' Well, I now know what it's like to cross that line. Thank God I don't live in the 1950's.
Sylvia's bell jar was a high-stress internship in New York City fueled by alcohol; mine was a summer of sadness, sickness, fatigue, and disappointment fueled by pain pills. First, I had an oral surgery that turned into an infection, that turned into a root canal, that turned into two months on opiate painkillers. I spent an exhausting two weeks on a much-anticipated road trip; half with my family for a week-long memorial service, and half with a friend who was having to drag me around. I didn't get a promotion at work. I hurt my wrist. It felt like I couldn't win.
In retrospect, I know that opiates mess with my brain chemistry. But I thought I was fine. I was in control. I was in actual pain. I needed them. But then I would cry. I would have a hard time walking somewhere, feeling like my feet were in quicksand. I would put on a smile and power through.
Putting Myself Back Together
The day after I decided not to down a bottle of pills, I made an appointment with my naturopath and sent her an email. You see, my naturopath is the one doctor I know I could go to for anything, without judgment. I also knew she would have options for my next steps.
I remember trying to find the right outfit to wear to her office. It sounds completely irrational, but I wanted to look nice like I wasn't an emotional and mental wreck that might lose it at any moment. I did my hair and my makeup. Chose the right lipstick, and added a little extra jewelry. Anyone on the street would think I was running to grab a drink with a friend, not to go and cry to my doctor about how I wanted to end my life.
My naturopath was the best. She dosed me with a homeopathic remedy, gave me the cards to several therapists, and made me sign a suicide pact. Not the kind of suicide pacts we see in movies, but a piece of paper that promised while I was under her care I wouldn't commit suicide. It's a funny thing doing that. Making that tiny commitment, on a flimsy sheet of paper might not seem very solid. But to me, at that moment, it meant everything. It meant I had someone to go to, someone who would help me, a physical note that said I had someone I had promised I wouldn't do harm to myself.
I stopped taking the Vicodin. Then I started seeing the best therapist. I started working out like a fiend. I didn't start taking anti-depressants right away. I kept discussing medication with my doctors. At first, talk therapy made a world of difference.
Eventually, I began to backslide and started anti-depressants. They were like a life raft in a stormy sea and gave me strength and sanity when I needed it. I was on them for about a year before finding myself healthy enough to cease taking them. It took almost two years from the time I contemplated suicide to when I was able to live without anti-depressants.
Why I'm Sharing This
I've thought long and hard about sharing this with the world. It was therapeutic to share it with a few people within my friend circle in the weeks after it happened, but the world looks at suicide like a badge of shame and there is a stigma that comes along with depression. Suicide is something I wasn't sure I wanted to be associated with. But to be honest, that is the reason why I decided I needed to share this. I'm not the only one that has been through this. I'm also not someone that you would suspect to be Depressed and/or suicidal. I'm bubbly, perky, friendly. None of the words people would use to describe a person who is sick.
Also, telling people you've recently thought of killing yourself makes them super uncomfortable. This is one of the reasons people don't tell their friends and family they're having suicidal thoughts; because everyone gets worried and freaked out. Trust me, I don't want anyone to worry about me. I want people to be there, to stand strong, to say that it's okay and that I'm not alone. Not to say, "It wasn't that bad was it?" or "You're scaring me." Because trust me, it is that bad, and no one is more scared than the person dealing with suicidal thoughts.
In addition, September is National Suicide Prevention Month. If you haven't personally been touched by suicide, you most likely know someone who has. We live in a time where mental health issues can be more openly discussed and acknowledged. We're lucky to have hotlines to call and medications to take. It's not a world of shock therapy and institutions anymore. But that doesn't mean suicide isn't a problem anymore.
My friends have heard me rail against suicide as a solution in Hollywood storylines. Our society not only blames the people who have died but still offers suicide as an easy way out of a complicated plot line. Real life does not work that way. In real life, people are hurting, and we should have space in our world for them to share their hurt, so they can be helped. Not blamed for their misery.
If you can take anything from this, let it be this: suicide is not easy. Preventing suicide starts with not blaming suffering people for their own torment. By creating a world where people can reach out, can have somewhere to go, to have a shoulder to cry on, without the fear of being judged as weak or selfish, we can prevent suicide and help people go on living.
Are you dealing with suicidal thoughts or need help? Find help here or call 1-800-273-8255.