It was a Thursday night. I had just gotten into another fight with my father. I stormed off to my room and began to sob into my pillow. I cried for a long time. And then, I rose slowly from my bed, walked out of my room and into the bathroom, and I quietly opened the door to the medicine cabinet. I grabbed a bottle of painkillers and took them back into my room, shutting the door behind me. I sat at the edge of my bed and poured the contents of the bottle onto my nightstand. I counted each pill before I swallowed them, and then I shut off my bedside light, laid down, and willed the pain to go away.
I can’t remember the first time I felt that pain. I know it was at some point during my teenage years, but it’s hard to pin down an exact moment in time when it sort of runs together with general teen angst. I was struggling, as most teens do, with my identity and fitting in with my peer group – while at the same time trying to be the model child for my parents, my dad in particular.
Deep down, I think I knew that what I felt was more than teenage anxiety. I wrote in my diary about my self-hatred and thoughts of suicide. I cried myself to sleep many nights. I drank a lot, which, in hindsight, I know did not help with my feelings. It made me numb to them in the moment, but it only exacerbated the loneliness. By the end of my senior year, I was drinking constantly . . . almost to the point of blacking out a number of times. The combination of alcohol and a lack of outlet for these emotions led to the walls closing in around me and, ultimately, crashing down on that April night – three days before my 18th birthday.
The following day, I woke up. I felt horrendous, as you might imagine. I went to school, and I told someone. Someone who I’m no longer friends with today, but to whom I will be forever grateful. She immediately walked me to our school counselor’s office, who – in turn – walked me to the nurse’s office. I sat there forever, feeling sick to my stomach and still wishing that it had worked. I didn’t want to deal with what was to come, which would certainly be more painful than leaving this Earth: facing my demons . . . and my parents.
They were angry. So angry. They didn’t speak to me as they drove me to the hospital, where I was admitted under Statute 394.451-394.47891, or what we Floridians commonly refer to as the “Baker Act” – a mandatory 48-hour hold on any person who tries to harm themselves or others, or who exhibits signs of mental illness.
My mom briefly returned to our house to gather some clothing items and toiletries. She also gathered my diary, and she read it. While I don’t think that she will ever truly grasp how I felt, I think reading my diary opened her eyes to the fact that I was hurting badly and that I desperately needed help. I destroyed the diary at the hospital, and then didn’t speak a word to my parents as I was loaded into an ambulance and transported one hour north to a children’s psychiatric ward.
I will never forget what the next 48 hours of my life were like.
I will never forget riding in that ambulance, and the extraordinary kindness that the paramedic showed me. He said all of the right things, and when I cried as they wheeled me in to the psych ward, he held my hand and told me that everything would be okay. That I would finally get the help that I so desperately needed. To this day, I wish I had a chance to thank him. He was the first person after my attempt at my life to tell me that this wasn’t my fault.
I will never forget how terrified I felt as the nurses walked me to my room. I was given loose clothing with no strings. I was watched as I brushed my teeth. I was to sleep with the door open and someone would check on me every 15-30 minutes. I no longer felt like a person. Instead, I just felt crazy.
I will never forget the stories of the other girls I met there. Girls who’d slit their wrists. Girls who’d tried to hang themselves. Girls who’d swallowed pills like me. Girls with horrific home lives. One whose mother was a drug addict. Another who’d been sexually abused by her stepfather. Girls with happy home lives, with money, with love. We were all different. Yet, we were all the same.
We were all battling the same demon.
I don’t speak about my experience with suicide, and I’ve only written about it once – not counting now (though I’ve written about depression, in general, multiple times). This isn’t because I want to bury it in my past and forget about it. It’s because it takes an incredible amount of strength for me to even think about it, let alone share it with others.
Yesterday’s death of Robin Williams sent shock waves through his millions of fans, and while most of the reaction to his passing seemed appropriate, I did see a number of people toss the word “selfish” around.
Selfish means “concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.” As someone who has been in the depths of darkness, I can say with certainty that people who are suicidal are not selfish. The last thing they are thinking about is their own pleasure. All they are thinking about – all I thought about – is ending the pain. It’s not about stopping your breaths. It’s about being able to breathe again. You are thinking about others, just not in a logical fashion. Instead, of thinking about how suicide may hurt those around you, the voice inside of your head is whispering sweet nothings about how much better off everyone else will be without you here. How no one loves you. How you will never be good enough. Pretty enough. Smart enough. The list is endless.
That voice doesn’t ever go away. You can learn how to silence him occasionally, with years of therapies and medication. But he’s always there, lying to you about who he thinks you are. Sometimes, the voice grows too loud, and you can’t find a way to shut him up. You become a prisoner in your own mind, and it becomes nearly impossible to escape. To those prisoners, suicide feels like the only option.
I don’t expect everyone to understand what it’s like to suffer from depression. I don’t even expect that we can save every individual who feels trapped in his or her own mind. I’m not sure that it’s possible. I do, however, expect compassion and an effort from every person to be there for one another. Conversations surrounding mental health have improved tremendously in the 12 years since I tried to take my own life, but it’s obvious we still have work to do in recognizing this disease.
Like many of his fans, I will miss Robin Williams deeply. Several of his movies, specifically Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting, had a profound impact on me as a person and as a writer. I’m deeply saddened that the demon in his mind took from us such an inspiring, funny, and generous soul. My only hope is that his passing will allow us to open the door further to conversations about mental illness – not just about how we can reach out to others, but also how those afflicted with it deserve the same amount of love, attention, and respect as those who endure physical illness.
Robin Williams, as John Keating, said that “words and ideas can change the world.”
What are we waiting for?