Trigger warning: This piece contains personal narrative dealing with subjects including depression and self-harm. Scroll down to read.
I’m too weak, I’m too tired, I’m too fat, I’m too sad. I should just give up.
I was on a treadmill, telling myself all of these things in the middle of SPAC. Instead of feeling excited about the 5K I was training for – my first – I just kept thinking there’s no way I can do it. I should just go home and close the shades and lie in bed and cry.
And that’s exactly what I did.
We’ve all had those days. We all face something that throws us off-balance and makes it hard to function as well as we’d like. And far too many of us feel as though this is something to be ashamed of, to lock away and never speak about.
I want to start speaking out.
I suffer from depression and anxiety. I was clinically diagnosed in high school, but patterns from my childhood would indicate that it started earlier.
This month marks the one-year anniversary of the worst night of my life. I will never forget sitting in a hospital bed, crying, screaming, begging anyone who could hear me to let me speak to my father. My best friend had been with me, with my dad on the phone. When she had to leave, I screamed her name for several minutes, switching to my dad’s name when I realized my friend would be allowed to come back in a few hours.
What worries me the most is that my memory of all of this is hazy at best, other than the screaming. I’m pretty sure I spilled a cup of urine all over the floor when trying to hand it to a nurse. I’m also pretty sure I vomited into my hands, all over everything, and still feel horrible for subjecting nurses whose names and faces I don’t remember to what must have been a miserable night of cleaning bodily fluids.
It was Dillo eve, so only hours before, I was drunk and enjoying myself, as the occasion calls for. When I noticed my best friend looked upset, I finally got her to reveal her concern about my behavior that night. I started crying so hard that I decided to go home. I told myself I’d calm down and sober up and things would be fine. That’s not what happened.
When I got back to my apartment, I went to my room. From there, my memory is little more than fragments of sensation. I remember chewing on something really bitter. I remember thinking, “Well, that wasn’t enough,” picking up a bottle, unscrewing the lid and guzzling its contents. I suddenly realized that I had just eaten two weeks-worth of my antidepressants and drank half a bottle of codeine-laced cough syrup. I made myself throw up.
I remember calling the friend I picked a fight with, and then calling my dad. My friend called 911. Medics showed up – probably quickly, but in my memory it feels like I spent hours hunched over the toilet, sobbing. They asked me if I was trying to kill myself. I supposed I was. I was driven to the hospital in my first – and hopefully last – ambulance ride.
After what felt like an eternity, the nurses brought me a phone. My dad was on the other line, reassuring me, telling me that several people wanted to come care for me. I told him to discourage visitors. I would be fine. I’d get back on my feet, go home, sleep and continue life as usual. A little later, I was put on the phone with my mom. She was on her way from Seattle, she would be here in 12 hours.
A social worker showed up. We discussed hospitalization but a signed promise to call CAPS the next week and the fact that my mom was on her way seemed to appease her. My same-night release has shocked both therapists I’ve seen since then. They say hospitalization is standard procedure for attempted suicide, which I guess is what you would call what I did. I still struggle to think of it, to think of myself, that way. On insurance forms, my mom called it “accidental ingestion of too much medication while intoxicated,” which is technically true. It also sounded much less fucked up.
Before I left, a security guard hung out with me a bit. He made comments about whatever commercials were on TV, about my phone, about pretty much anything that stopped me from screaming or crying or rocking back and forth with my knees hugged to my chest. He made me laugh, and I love him for that. I didn’t know you could laugh so quickly after becoming an “attempted suicide” statistic.
During Big Boi’s performance, I was watching Small Soldiers in a hotel room with my mom and hearing Dillo fireworks from a distance. Eventually, I persuaded her to leave. I still had papers to write, work to go to and classes to pretend to take notes in. I couldn’t let myself take a break. That was probably a big part of my original problem.
I think of all of this at least once a day. The parts I do remember flash before my eyes while I’m in the shower, walking to class, talking to friends. The parts I don’t remember haunt me.
Right now, I can’t stand the idea of seeing antidepressants on my nightstand, even though it’s been a year. They have always helped me at least a little in the past, but I’m scared to get a new prescription.
I contemplate suicide almost every day, just as I’ve done on and off since fifth grade, with months or even years of calm here and there. Only briefly in late high school and early college did I ever fear I would act on my thoughts. They became too vivid and frequent and powerful, and I didn’t know if I was strong enough to resist them. I’ve never made a plan and I’ve never allowed myself to write a note. That would make my thoughts too real. Also, when I really wanted to write such a note, I figured my last words would be an embarrassing attempt at being profound. Even in contemplating suicide, I doubt my own abilities.
These thoughts are rarely more than fleeting, but they still scare me. For now, I think I’m okay. I see a therapist weekly. She’s not my first – I saw a couple in high school and one when I took a quarter off from college, as well as a CAPS counselor and another therapist after my attempt. Because I’m moving after graduation, she’s a temporary figure in my life, but she helps me get through my day-to-day struggles and gives me insight into the thoughts, behaviors and relationships that can impact my depression. That alone is worth the effort it took to seek her out, to navigate issues with insurance companies, to establish a relationship that is clearly short-term and to find room in my busy Northwestern schedule.
I’ve learned enough in therapy to dampen my suicidal thoughts quickly, to remind myself of reasons life is worthwhile. On that one night last year, I was too drunk to catch myself in the first few seconds of those thoughts. I will forever be glad I eventually did.
I still have days where I struggle to force myself out of bed. There are days when I feel at my weakest, but I have learned to find the people who can help pull me through it and the willpower to at least make baby steps every day. Some days, I get off the treadmill. But others, I get back on and I work at it. I find myself getting better and better at getting back on.
Even those of us who are not depressed feel these things sometimes. These parts of us are not shameful. If we can talk about our personal struggles openly and safely, it will be easier to face them. None of us are alone, but it can feel that way when we’re silent.
We need to be able to speak up. Find a friend, a family member, anyone who will listen, and tell them your story. Seek help, because there’s always someone there willing to offer it. If you’re fortunate enough to not need help, make sure you are there for those around you who do.
Depression is scary. It takes you hostage, it removes you from everything and everyone you love, it leaves you sad and alone and weak. But it is not everything. It is not what defines me. What defines me is my ability to get back out of bed, to try to connect with people, to force myself to work for the things that matter to me. I’d be lying if I said I am capable of this every day. But right now, I am fortunate that I wake up most days strong enough to face my depression.