I tried to kill myself.

Warning: This story may be a trigger for some. One of the leading contributors to suicide is exposure to suicide; either by someone close to you, like a family member, or a sensationalized and romanticized look at suicide — like glorifying celebrity suicides, fiction, or obnoxious YouTube videos. This is not a story about strength. This is not a story about redemption, or choosing to be here tomorrow. There’s nothing glamorous about suicide.

Editor’s note: Some friends have asked about the scars on my wrists. I never tried to kill myself by slitting my wrists. I did participate in what I’ll call ‘relief-cutting’, which was something I did in adolescence and for a while after, prior to my first suicide attempt. I got the same feeling from binging/purging, so once I started doing that, I didn’t cut anymore.

I’ve tried to end my life three times. Most of my friends know about one of them. All three times were with pills, all three times I ended up in the hospital. Nothing was glamorous about any of these. I want to talk about the first two times. The second time landed me in a mental institution for 6 weeks.

It’s not a secret I struggled in my childhood. I won’t get into that. It upsets my family to read about how their actions affected myself, and my siblings, and frankly, it’s not the point of writing this, but it’s important to know. I was a screwed up teenager. I never learned how to build relationships, to trust, to love, to process feelings.

I always felt like the world was going on and I was just observing it — like I could never quite join in.

I felt like a fraud; an alien from another universe stuck on some strange Terrestrial planet as an experiment. I participated in activities, photography, softball, cheer, dance, gymnastics, basketball, drill team, journalism… I was trying to find my place, but I never could.

I could never simply remember to do basic tasks, especially involving self-care. Homework went undone, I forgot to brush my teeth and other basic hygiene things. When I forced myself to shower (always with just enough time to miss the bus and head to school with sopping wet hair). I had to worry about parenting things, like doing the laundry and fixing dinner for my siblings, and I had to have a job. Often times these things took mental priority for me. I used video games as an escape, and this only further contributed to my isolation. I was lucky to be born a brainiac, otherwise I would have flunked out of school.

During this time in high school… kids were mean to me. I was bullied for the way that I looked, the size of my chest, my height, my lack of academic care mixed with high test scores, and accused of being a slut. I was raped and coerced into sex. Boys who were mean to me at school messaged me privately later trying to hook up as a secret. Sometimes I did it, hoping they really liked me and it would turn out different.

I thought about killing myself for essentially the entire year of the 10th grade.

I also had a knack for sabotaging myself. I guess even though I wanted to fit in and be liked, I was so afraid to, that I’d destroy the relationships I started to build before I could get hurt.

My junior year, I made a few friends who were older than me, and I figured something out. If I wasn’t myself, and I goofed off and made people laugh, gave them a reason to laugh, they couldn’t make fun of me. If I was a slacker, but also kind of an air head, no one would be upset that I didn’t do my schoolwork. Perfect.

Eventually, these friends all graduated over the subsequent two years. I was taking some college and AP courses, and because of this, I could spend all but one period of my senior year off campus at a community college. I had a plan, I thought, and dropped out of all of my activities. I lasted until January 5th. The bullying was out of hand. I hated going to the American Government class I had to attend on campus. I hated my college classes, too. It was like glorified high school I never noticed my junior year. I walked into the office and withdrew (I was already 18). I had .5 credits remaining needed to graduate (that US Government class, of course).

I didn’t have a bank account. I couldn’t have one because my identity had been used to fraudulently open and overdraw bank accounts. I was 18 and I had terrible credit and I had just dropped out of high school. I spent 6 months in Arizona with the friends that had graduated, and they basically took care of me as I was kind of a helpless idiot who couldn’t really support herself. I worked at Johnny Rocket’s and partied every night. Despite Arizona being a crazy blur of mixed things, I had made personal progress. I had a few people who I knew would do anything for me, and it felt good to have made that connection. Eventually the car I had died and I had to move back to my mother’s.

Things were worse this time. She talked my gynecologist into prescribing me Effexor XR’s maximum dosage. This medication made me feel terrible. I went back to thinking about committing suicide all of the time. I got a job in a call center and another junker car. I found an apartment 40 minutes from my job that would approve me with bad credit. It was on the worst road in one of the worst cities in the area, but I thought just being away from my parents would be enough.

I had basically no furniture. My apartments were constantly being raided by police for drug activity.

I found myself searching the internet at the library for “what do normal people have in their houses” and “what do normal people have for food”.

I was an outsider again, completely lost.

In this apartment, I tried to kill myself for the first time. I took an entire box of the Effexor. I passed out in the shower and woke up in the ER. I was seeing one of my coworker’s friends and she pleaded with him to check on me when I didn’t show up for work and wouldn’t pick up the phone. I begged him not to tell anyone — which cost me my job. The doctors referred me to my doctor who had prescribed me the Effexor, suggesting my diagnosis was wrong and that my prescription was off. My OBGYN wasn’t really qualified to diagnose me with anything, so she kept me on Effexor.

I went back to my high school job at KFC and got a second job at a salon nearby. I had gained 15–20 pounds while I was in Arizona from all the drinking and fast food, and suddenly, it bothered me. It really bothered me. I had toyed with calorie restricting in the past, off and on from the 4th grade when people started commenting on my breasts, but this was full-blown anorexia nervosa. I subjected myself to only eating celery and obsessed over groups that were pro-ED. This would only last for a couple of weeks, followed by a binging and purging session. I don’t remember everything from this time period, but I lost a lot of weight, hooked up with a lot of random strangers from the internet out of loneliness, and fought with my mother constantly.

It all came to a head one night when I told her I wasn’t taking the anti-depressants anymore because they made me want to die. I was being irresponsible and careless, and often refused to pay her the rent she wanted, but I appreciated living.

She grabbed the pills, pushed me to the floor, and shoved them in my mouth.

I managed to hide them under my tongue and spit them out, maybe in her face, I don’t know, but she left me alone after that. I planned my escape that night. I had very little money, as I frequently purchased ridiculously overpriced makeup and hair products from the salon I worked at.

The cheapest flight on Southwest Airlines was to Saint Louis, MO, a red eye, one way. I made up a story that I was going to go on a trip to see a friend for his birthday, and that I’d be back in 5 days. I did have a friend here… sort of. I had met him on a website called FaceTheJury when he accused me of catfishing. I was completely enraged. After all, his idea was that I couldn’t look the way that I do and be intelligent or interested in the things I was felt so familiar, it transported me back to high school. I felt the need to prove myself (a recurring theme in my life), so I got on a webcam and we ended up bonding over the Boston Red Sox, video games, space, movies, computers, and being generally emo.

The first night I was there he coerced me into having sex with him. I didn’t want to, and I hated that I had gone so far to start over only to be back in the same position I had been in before. I told him I didn’t want to, but he, just like every other man I’d been with in this situation, didn’t believe me. In my experience, saying no, I don’t want to, never seems to have any effect other than to empower the dude into thinking it’s a game, like when I take the rope from my dog.

They simply can’t believe that I don’t want to have sex with them. They are positive that I want to and that I’m just toying with them.

I never was. Quite frankly, up until I met my kid’s dad, I had never been interested in having sex with anyone at all. All of my experiences had been abuse, assault, guilt, or coercion; I sincerely believed that this was the way of the world. Women didn’t want to have sex, and men just took what they wanted.

I was terrified of being homeless, since this was meant to be my new home, and I hadn’t even gotten a job yet… so once again, I let it happen.

I got a job at a restaurant, and I was making a small fortune waiting tables there. Customers loved me, and my coworkers did, too, because I was always there to pick up a shift. I made a couple of really, really good friends. One, Gina, felt like my soulmate. The friend kind. I could talk to her about all my dark and twisty thoughts and she was right there with me in the shadows. I felt like I was really figuring out who I was, and who I could be. She had this boyfriend who treated her terribly, and I had my male roommate who treated me terrible.

We bonded deeply over how awful these dudes were. I started to dream again of the life I could have, of what I could become. I wanted to go to college. I wanted to be an astrophysicist or an architect. I loved math, science, and the beauty in structures. I completely believed I had a future, and a good one, at that.

Then one afternoon at the end of March, right before my 20th birthday, I had gotten into a fight with the roommate I was sleeping with. He liked this other girl, and I hated him for it. I felt so down on myself, so useless… for the dumbest reason.

It had only been a few months, and here I was, still being used for just sex, another person telling me that’s all I was good for, and me believing it.

I didn’t even want him. I didn’t even like him romantically. My life was just so intertwined with his, and he was sleeping with me whenever he wanted. I should have been thrilled he liked someone else so that I could start to build my own life. But I wasn’t ready to do that.

I thought maybe I wanted to die. I told Justin to sleep in the basement because I was angry with him. He did so, gladly. I went to the store and got an older guy to buy me a 6 pack of beer and 2 bottles of sleeping pills. He selected Killian’s Irish Red, and it was disgusting. I called Gina to say goodbye, but she didn’t answer. I got on the computer to instant message a goodbye to an internet friend, and to think about whether or not there was anything left for me. Justin had left his AIM signed in and his last conversation open from the previous night.

I read the whole conversation. He had cybered with this ‘girl’ and then the last thing he said to her was that he needed to ‘find a wet hole to stick it in’. I was that wet hole. I looked at my body and thought about all of the things men had been telling me since I was a little girl. How I looked like I should do porn, or be a stripper, that I looked like the kind of girl you sleep with, not date… that I’m a fantasy, and no one wants a fantasy for a girlfriend.

I thought about how I couldn’t ever be anything else. I thought of all the times I had been raped. I thought about all of the times I had been forced into sex despite saying no because none of them would believe me when I said I wasn’t like that, and I didn’t enjoy sex. No one would hear me because I was the one that was wrong. That’s what I was born to do, and I didn’t want to do it.

I sat there crying for hours. Blaming myself. Blaming my body. Hating myself. Hating the world. Hating everyone in it. Asking myself for answers as to why I had such an awful childhood and started adulthood with no hope for a future. Why my parents had children and why my mother remarried a sexual predator who was clearly coming onto me while I was a teenager right in front of her. Why my own mother would demonize my body, too, and tell me I looked like a stripper in a bikini or a tank top. Why she would take my financial future and flush it down the toilet before I ever even got the opportunity to develop good habits. Why I would hit every red light whenever I went out. How the most unlucky chaos always entered my life.

I knew I didn’t belong here. I knew I was meant to die. I couldn’t even figure out how to live. How to cope. How to exist.

Everything around me was on fire and the only way to escape was to jump out the only window I had, these pills.

Handful by handful, I swallowed the sleeping pills. Gagging on the potent Irish lager with each pile of pills, until I passed out.

Strangely, I woke up the next morning. Stranger still, I didn’t remember the night before. I didn’t notice the pill bottles next to the bed, or the spilled beer from the last swig I took before I fell unconscious. The only thing in my head was that I had to open at the restaurant, so I had to be there at 9. So I did what I always did, I got up to get in the shower.

I turned on the water and waited for it to warm up.

Justin came in and asked what I was doing. I recall telling him I was getting ready for work — according to him I just stared blankly at him, wearing nothing but an orange tank top. He rolled his eyes, leaving me to stand there.

For what felt like a few minutes later, he came back in and started screaming at me. I remember telling him that I was just waiting for the water to heat up to shower, but he says I was mumbling and couldn’t form words, let alone sentences, and I had been standing there for at least an hour and that the water was freezing, because I had ran through the entirety of the hot water heater’s capacity. I don’t remember anything else, but he painted a very clear picture: I collapsed, taking the towel rack with me. I immediately started to vomit up a viscous, black-red liquid, mixed with the casing from the pills, and he was screaming at me asking what I did, but that I was non-responsive.

He called 9–1–1. I remember waking up for a brief period inside of the ambulance and being very confused and unable to respond to the people in the ambulance.

The next 24 hours were undoubtedly some of the worst in my entire life.
BJC Christian Hospital, my hell away from home for a month and a half in 2005.

I woke up handcuffed to a bed, being forced to drink charcoal water. My stomach had been pumped. My previous stint at the ER involved me throwing up on my own. My whole entire body ached. Doctors kept coming into my room asking me if I was ready to talk about what I had done. I didn’t know, not at first.

I was genuinely confused about what was going on, where I was, and why I was there.

They asked me about the pills, so I responded I had a headache. They told me they were sleeping pills, not pain pills, and showed me both of the empty bottles. I froze. It clicked, and I remembered wanting to die. I was terrified. What had I to sabotage my life even further?! I didn’t know what to say, so I just didn’t respond. I felt so alone.

Eventually I asked them what would happen to me if I told them the truth. The doctor informed me that they already knew what happened, that they needed to know why, and if I would agree to go into their psychiatric inpatient care. They made it very clear that if I didn’t agree, they would get a court order and I could be in there for years. I asked how long I’d have to stay if I agreed, they said likely just a few days for observation, so I signed the form and agreed to go.

I had to ride up to the inpatient psych floor handcuffed to a wheelchair. It was humiliating. I was immediately greeted by a condescending old man who apparently had me all figured out. He asked me how I was doing, I told him I’d been better. He jotted a note down. He asked me why I tried to kill myself. I honestly wasn’t really sure what this guy wanted to hear.

‘I wanted to die. Isn’t that why anyone tries to kill themselves?’

He took more notes. He asked me if I still wanted to die. I lied. ‘No.’ It seemed like this doctor was writing a novel, and I felt like I was failing the test. I answered all of his questions, some truths, some lies, until he excused me. A nurse led me to my room, which I had to share with a pregnant woman.

This pregnant woman thoroughly believed she had god’s baby inside of her and she’d climb on top of everything to praise him for impregnating her. She always climbed on top of things to scream at the top of her lungs.

The first night was pretty lonely. It was like being in jail with actual crazy people. I hadn’t ever been in jail, but now that I have, I can tell you it feels just as desolate. You are only allowed out of your room during certain hours, there’s bars all over the windows so you can’t escape, there’s guards at the entryways, visiting hours and regulations are strict, the food is terrible and on a schedule, and everyone around you drives you mad. The worst of it? We weren’t allowed outside.

I had group therapy twice a week, and a session with my doctor at the end of each week. Justin and Gina visited me multiple times a week, frequently bringing me joys from the outside and fresh clothes. I often plotted on how they could sneak me out, but thinking back on it, I don’t really think they ever tried to bust me out.

I cried every time my friends left. In fact, I spent the majority of my time there crying.

I was immediately diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 1. I was put on Lithium for the mood stabilizer, an anti-psychotic (which caused insomnia), a sleeping pill (which caused nightmares), a pill to reduce nightmares (which caused anxiety), and valium for my anxiety (which made me pass out for hours). For someone who tried to kill themselves with pills, taking this many pills was a nightmare.

I would gag when my turn came to take my pills. I instantly felt the same way I did when I was puking in the bathroom back home. The nurses always wrote notes that I was resistant to taking my medication, and suggested I get electroshock therapy instead. Thankfully, I never went through that.

I started to listen to some of the others that had been in and out of there for much longer than I had, Just tell the doctor what he wants to hear. Listen to his questions, and get cues. If he asks if you feel the medication is helping, say it is, that you realize that without it, you were acting irrationally. Don’t talk about wanting to do big things, just normal things. After being in there for a few weeks, I just wanted to get out. I definitely didn’t want to be strapped to a table and electrically shocked into ‘normal’.

I figured out a way to conceal the gagging and smiled when I showed my mouth to the nurse after taking pills. I talked a ton in group about how grateful I was to still be living and being treated. I told my doctor I was feeling great and really wanted to go back to work, that I was surely bipolar and that I could totally agree to following up with him to stay mentally healthy.

He didn’t believe me, of course, I’m a horrible liar. I kept at it anyway.

After a few more weeks, the six week mark, I was allowed to petition for my release, since I had checked in willingly, requesting an outpatient program because of my good behavior and progress. I convinced the panel that I didn’t want to harm myself, and they let me go.

I got home and the bathroom was clean and repainted, complete with a new towel rack. What about that horrible mess I made? Justin had cleaned it up. My roommate had to clean up my vomit — a mixture of my blood, pills, beer, and bile — off the shower, the walls, the mirror, the floor, the sink, even inside of the cupboards, everywhere. This is what happens when you commit suicide (or attempt and fail).

Your friends and family have to clean it up the mess you make.

I didn’t continue seeing the doctor, or taking the drug cocktail he prescribed me. Because I hadn’t shared my past with him, I didn’t believe he diagnosed me correctly. I hated him. No, I didn’t have a renewed zest for life or sudden positive outlook.

The years that followed continued to be rocky. I didn’t learn how to cope with stress. I didn’t learn how to take care of myself. I kept trying to figure out how to live, and continuing to feel like I was some kind of sick joke. Men continued to talk to me like I was a free call girl. Many offered money to make me a paid called girl.

So… I began stripping. I turned to what I was certain at that point was the point of my being. I did drugs to erase how awful I felt every day. I did what I could to make money from my body, without turning to prostitution. I got involved in pornography. Another turning point, another mental breakdown, I didn’t want to be that person. I had big dreams. I had sequenced DNA for the human genome project… what was I doing in this dirty building with these foul men waiting in line to have their way with me? I cried and made them take me to the airport.

I tried to end it again, unsuccessfully, despite having planned better. I wasn’t forced into in-patient care that time, just referred to a drug program.

I went on to get my GED, and combined with my high SAT score, started getting myself into crazy student loan debt going to college for a myriad of things, though mostly physics.

I fell in love.

I got pregnant, and had an amazing daughter.

I made terrible decisions.

I allowed myself to be manipulated and used, and followed the person doing it to me all over the country, no questions asked… never thinking about myself. I desperately wanted this man to save me, to love me, to give me a reason for enduring all that I had. He never did. Why would he? No one wants a fantasy for a wife.

I worked multiple jobs, even overnights at Krispy Kreme, while running a business, and still could barely make ends meet.

I struggled financially.

I wound up in jail for failure to pay registration fees and their corresponding tickets.

My life was hard.

I fell apart. Over and over again.

It took me 10 years from that suicide attempt to figure out how to manage responsibilities, how to love myself, and ignore what anyone believes I might be. I’m still not good at it. I go to therapy. I write in journals. I keep alarms for simple things, like drinking water, taking a shower, picking up my child from school.

The universe still throws rocks under my bicycle wheels. Sometimes I wonder if I’m supposed to be here. Especially when things get really, really tough.

In these moments, doctors would describe what I’m having as suicidal ideology. And they are right, it is — it’s a part of my brain. It’s not far for me to go from point living to point dying in my mind. How is this different from the times I attempted? I don’t want to die.

Thinking about wanting to die and actually wanting to die aren’t the same.

It’s extremely difficult to express the difference when you’re in it — to anyone at all, especially crisis volunteers. They are trained to get you under observation when you bring up suicidal thoughts. It’s easier when you have a support system that understands the difference between needing to express how awful life is and how you shouldn’t have been born and you want to die, and staying supportive, in spite of how mentally draining this kind of exchange can be.

When I think about what could have prevented me from attempting suicide, it’s really none of the things that people talk about. Yes, depression is a contributing factor, but it’s not the only one in a long list of them. Most often, depression is only diagnosed after the suicide attempt, whether successful or not, using the suicide as a criterion for the illness.

The overwhelming majority of people who suffer from depression do not attempt suicide.

Facts:

  • 80% of successful suicide attempts are preceded by at least one failed attempt.
  • Youth incarcerated with adults are 19 times more likely to commit suicide, and adults are 6 times more likely commit suicide if they’ve been incarcerated.
  • Adults who suffered childhood abuse and neglect are at more than 10 times greater risk to commit suicide.
  • Victims of sexual assault account for more than 13% of suicide attempts.
  • LGB individuals are more than 5 times more likely to commit suicide, the majority occurring in youth. LGB youth coming from families that reject them based on their sexual orientation are nearly 9 times more likely.
  • 40% of transgendered adults have attempted or successfully committed suicide.
  • Each act of LGBT victimization on an individual increases the chances of a suicide attempt by 2.5 times.
  • 23% of survivors of domestic abuse have attempted to commit suicide.
  • Victims of bullying are up to 9 times more likely to attempt suicide.
  • People living in poverty account for 75% of world-wide suicides, and data suggests that poverty is a high predictor of suicide, especially among students and men over the age of 45.
  • Youth exposed to suicide and attempts by friends, family, and sensational news are nearly 7 times more likely to attempt suicide.
  • People with substance abuse problems, including alcoholism, are 6 times more likely to commit suicide.
  • Youth without enough food in their homes are 5 times more likely to commit suicide.
  • Youth in foster care are nearly 4 times at risk to committing suicide, they are also at the greatest risk of abuse, neglect, and malnourishment, increasing the risks up to 10 fold.
  • 1 in 4 retired veterans suffers from PTSD, putting veterans at at least 4 times higher risk for suicide.
  • Unexpected unemployment resulting in financial ruin increases suicide risk by nearly 3 times.
  • Parents who survive the death of a child are twice as likely to commit suicide.
  • Women are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide. (Though men are far more likely to do so successfully, accounting for nearly 75% of all suicides. This is known as the ‘gender suicidality paradox’.)

Preventing and treating these risks is the most effective way to reduce the suicide risk, which is increasing rapidly every year, especially among victims aged between 15 to 25.

Interestingly enough, raising awareness around these issues, and preventing them in the first place, also reduces the impact of mental health issues.

You cannot do all the good the world needs, but the world needs all the good you can do.

If you want to be a champion against suicide, choose something here you’re passionate about, and fight to change it. I personally fight to help against childhood hunger and abuse, and for socioeconomic change.

My tattoo reminding me to love myself.

— Cher