Today is World Suicide Prevention Day and what I’m going to do is share my personal story, so this is a trigger warning. I’ll be talking about my depression and suicidal feelings. This is my own experience, and a glossy coated picture of it at that.
If you are feeling suicidal, or just need someone to talk to please get help.
In the UK you can ring the Samaritans Suicide Hotline on 0845 790 9090.
In the US you can ring the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-TALK(8255).
My family has a history of mental illness on my mother’s side, so I’ve never been surprised by the fact that I am affected. I’ve never been formally diagnosed either, which I attribute to my stubborn nature when it comes to medications and treatments.
I suppose the depression started when I moved to live with my dad after my parents divorced. I won’t say their divorce was the reason for it, because I don’t know that it was. It may be a contributing factor, but I’m not certain. I never felt like I was from a ‘broken home’ or anything like that. I knew my parents were better off apart, and other than the odd dream (years later) about them being back together it never bothered me. If I had to speculate I’d say that moving away from my friends and back to Virginia from Florida when I was 14 had more to do with my depression than anything else to start with.
I remember crying at every. single. holiday. Even if I didn’t have a particular reason to be upset, I would cry. It became a bit of a running joke, me crying in the bathroom at Easter or New Year’s. I remember smiling a LOT during high school, but it only being a mask. I got very good at hiding how I really felt and I doubt anyone I knew during that time had any idea I was feeling depressed and not good enough for anything. I remember good things about high school too, I had friends and hung out and all the typical teenager stuff. It was just that underneath all of that there was this darkness.
In college I stopped pretending I was happy all the time. I started to just be myself and let myself feel everything. The darkness ebbed and flowed, like depression does, and I had good days and bad days and the worst days of my life. I spent 4 years at a Community College getting a 2 year degree. Mainly because I changed my speciality a few times.
My dad went to work in Japan during those years and for the first time I was on my own. He was still paying the bills, but he was on the other side of the world so I had to grow up and take care of myself. It was liberating and scary all at the same time, but the best things are. It was during the last two years trying to get my degree that I fell apart.
Living alone meant I spent a lot of time alone. If I wasn’t in class I was at home. I drove a lot, especially at night. I loved having that freedom (and miss doing things like that). I went to the beach a lot (I still miss that too). But I was always on my own. I hadn’t kept in touch with any friends from high school, and I had delved into the Internet straight after graduating so after two years my social life was online. I had loads of friends and never felt alone… but I was the most alone I’d ever been and felt.
It’s very contradictory, isn’t it? I didn’t feel alone because I was chatting online to people 3,000 miles away, but I was the most depressed and alone I’d ever been. I didn’t see it for what it was at the time but it was during this time my depression worsened exponentially.
I became withdrawn. The popularity of the Internet was growing and for an introvert like me, it was a safe haven. I saw the one friend I still had contact with every so often, and he was the only person who could get me to go out. My grades in college plummeted. I was doing programming at the time and C++ was my downfall. I can’t say why, but I didn’t apply myself at all and didn’t do the work, or learn anything. I didn’t even take my final exam. This was the lowest I’d ever been. I knew I was going to fail the course, it was unthinkable to me that I would fail something. I was distraught. I didn’t know what I was going to do.
I met my husband online in August 2000. Failing my C++ course happened in May 2001. We were very close by this time, and had both confessed our feelings for each other and were basically beginning our relationship. During the summer, I think it was July, when I got my final grades. Confirmation of my failure hung on the fridge, a stark reminder that I was not good enough.
For years I had thought about suicide. Not planning anything, but just thinking about not being alive any longer. Would people notice? Would anyone other than my parents even care that I was gone? I didn’t think so. It was always just a thought in the back of my mind, but not something I ever planned to do. Failing at something, though? That brought it all back and it became more vivid for me. I could kill myself if I did it painlessly. Overdose on painkillers or sleeping pills and just never wake up. That was my style I decided.
I was an insomniac, so always had sleeping pills around and we always had a massive bottle of acetaminophen from the Navy hospital. One night I just did it. I had a massive pile of pills on my desk. I have no clue how many I actually took, I just know it wasn’t all of them. I told the one person who was awake at that hour and online what I was doing. It was my call for help, to see if anyone actually cared.
The guy I told, who was friends with my ex, actually rang me from the UK. He woke me and made sure I was okay. I brushed it all off, something I feel bad about now because I know it hurt him that I didn’t take it more seriously. But honestly? He saved me. I didn’t die (obviously). I remember hubby was away at the time on holiday with his family for a long weekend or something. When he got back he was upset with me. I remember the lecture he gave me, about how he didn’t know who I really was, he didn’t think I was ever capable of something like trying to kill myself. Why are things so bad? On and on it went. It made me feel worse!
But the overwhelming message from him was one of caring, faith, and love. He was shocked because I had hid my depression from him so well. And truth be told my being suicidal brought us closer together because it forced me to be honest. Not just with him, but with myself. He got me through it. I don’t know how but he did. We made a plan. What I would do at school next. We talked about our future. He gave me hope in a way that no one else ever has, even now.
Thanks to one friend proving to me that someone cared about my dying I was still around to learn to have faith in a future for myself from my husband.
That was the one and only time I’ve ever put into action a plan to kill myself. One of the promises I had to make with hubby after that night was never to do anything like it again. I’m pleased to say I have kept that promise. Sometimes it wasn’t easy. Depression, or any mental illness, never is. The next 5 years were the hardest of my life. More often than not I would spend hours crying down the phone at my husband not saying a word, while he pleaded with me to speak to him, tell him what was going on. Honestly, I can’t believe he stuck around. I don’t know many people that would have stayed through that. He saved my life back in 2001 and he saves my life over and over again when he picks me up from a particularly bad black hole of depression.
I finally got a degree in 2002. The depression got bad again as I spent 12 months not working. I came to the UK for the first time, and knew from that first week that this was my home, here with Hubby. I finally found a permanent job, thanks to the generosity of people I had only just met. That job led to some of the strongest friendships I’ve ever had, people I still speak to today and love and miss dearly. Things were better, but I was still depressed. Things were still difficult for me. But my husband was there every single day to help me, no matter what. And so was this new family I had found.
I recognise that all in all, I have it pretty good. I have a good life. I have amazing friends and family. I count my blessings often, because I remember a time when all I knew was darkness and despair. I’m thankful that as time has gone by those dark times have become shorter and less frequent. I still have dark days, but I’m proud to say that I get through them. It may be a case of curling up and hiding from the world, feeling lost and disconnected, but I survive.
On Tuesday I am getting two new tattoos. I’m really excited about them because, as with my current tattoo, they both have very special meanings on multiple levels. One of them is a semicolon. I’ve been reading up on Project Semicolon. My semicolon serves as a reminder of Karla – she helped me in more ways than she ever knew – and of my own struggle to keep fighting the darkness.
May we all keep fighting.