They say this is awareness month . . .
Before I move forward, I should explain that I am in no way a professional. I have no diplomas on my wall. I am not trained in the psychiatric field or a counselor of any kind. However, I am someone with a past, which is why this subject is very important to me.
To raise awareness, I choose to expose my own story as it relates to suicide. And I repeat; I am not a professional. Instead, am someone that sat on the other side of the clipboard in an examination room.
I often hear questions about suicide because many cannot understand why someone would take their own life. As an explanation, the following is a brief passage about my experience to explain what I felt and thought during tragic moments in my history. This is my way to enlighten those who may be confused as well as a way to comfort those who might think they are alone.
My bouts with depression began at an early age. I never felt as if I fit properly. I was uncomfortable in social settings. I always felt like I had to try harder than others to make friends or keep them. As a boy, I was smaller than the other boys my age. I was smaller than many of the girls my age as well.
I was not very strong nor did I have much athletic ability. It would be inaccurate to say I was the one who was always picked last when it came to choosing teams in the schoolyard, but I was seldom picked first, and I was rarely regarded as someone good for the team. I was just better than the worst, which to me, felt worse than being the worst.
The world seemed slightly muted to me. I relate my emotion to a sensory deprivation. Nothing was ever as bright or vibrant to me as it appeared to someone else. Yes, I smiled and yes there were good times, but I never felt the true spirit of happiness. Instead, I was always given to insecurity. At an early age, I felt a sense of unchangeable hopelessness. I never saw myself as valuable or as an asset. I struggled with undiagnosed learning disabilities; I was frustrated in classrooms and in the schoolyards as well. At a young age, I wondered about my importance in the circles I found myself. I wondered about my value, or if in fact, I had any value at all.
Simply put, I felt misfitting and out of place. This was painful to me, but I was too young to understand how to voice this pain. I lacked the vocabulary to explain myself. Or at minimum, I lacked the understanding that other people felt this way too. I thought this was only me.
At the age of eight, I had just finished a two-week stay in the hospital with gastroenteritis. I was tired of feeling sick as well as feeling sad. Rather than move on, I casually walked through my house as a way to say goodbye. No one suspected anything. I was simply a little boy in his pajamas saying goodnight to everyone.
Afterwards, I snuck into the medicine cabinet and took out a bottle of Tylenol (or whatever red capsule pain reliever was in the cabinet.) I swallowed as many capsules as I could thinking, “That ought to do it.”
Then I returned to my bedroom and hoped that I would simply drift off to sleep.
I tried to close my eyes, but not long after I began to doze, I felt my stomach turn and the nausea was incredible. I remember vomiting up large clumps of red chunks that reeked worse than anything I could imagine. Having just returned home from the hospital, my Mother responded and quickly brought me back to the emergency room.
I cannot remember what I said. I think I explained that I took too many aspirin. And when I was asked why, my answer was very simple. “I just wanted the pain to stop.”
At an age where I should have been thinking about toys and games, I turned inward. I felt too different from everyone else. I felt unwanted, unimportant, unaccepted, and unable to coincide in with the crowd.
I have spoken with those who have suffered from acute pain due to physical illness. I have sat with those on pain management, or those who are dosed with medication, but yet, they still suffer with terrible aches. In many cases, those I spoke with were afraid to let go of the pain. They were afraid to let go because in their mind, what if the pain came back?
This is how I felt about my depression. What if I smiled or felt happiness, only to feel the return of sadness? What if I felt good about myself, or felt good looking or as though someone liked me, only to hear someone else tell me the opposite or find out this was all a lie in the first place?
As a boy, depression was very real to me. I felt as if I could no longer adjust or maneuver through life. I tried so hard until I decided to no longer try at all.
No child should ever feel this way.
Doctors and shrinks carry clipboards and write down their reports about our children. But in my case, none of them helped me feel understood, which is really all I wanted. No one ever spoke to me about emotions, and certainly, no one ever told me they felt the same as I did.
My addiction followed and began at a young age. I found ways to temporarily relieve the arguments and committees that debated inside my head. I learned to ease the frustrations by either wild behavior, or some outwardly angry or dangerous display of crazy aggression. I broke things. I threw rocks through windows. I lit fires. I saw mischief as a way to balance an unbalanced scale.
I saw myself as justified. In the end, when faced with my own reflection, nothing, not even the maddest outburst was able to soothe my emotion.
In my teen years, alcohol was able to placate the insecurity. I hid behind an image as a shield for protection. Then drugs came. And this too was as escape. I saw euphoria as a way to appease the countless concerns. I chose drugs as a way to temporarily suspend the depths of my depression. With this, I was able to laugh. I was able to forget—I was able to be or feel like I was someone else. But at the end of the day, or whenever the high wore off, there I was, faced in the mirror with the same reflection as before.
I have spoken with parents that ask why children cut themselves. Without knowing about the child’s history, I could never explain their child’s case. I could only tell them about my own. And as for my own case, the depth of emotional pain was not something I could have defined.
Aside from lacking the words to tell anyone, I lacked the courage to talk about how desperate I became. To speak about this was more brave than I could imagine. I felt alone. I needed to purge myself from the pain, and without any way to communicate, I recall the way I felt the first time I allowed the corner of a razor blade slice the top layer of my skin.
It was like a lance bursting a boil underneath my skin and the ooze of blood was the toxic representation of puss-like infection. The blood was a materialization of the pain I could not speak about. The manifestation of physical pain was an expression of the emotional pain I felt inside. It was as though that first slice was justified. I felt as if at last, I was able to express the internal torment or relieve the pressure that built up inside me
To raise awareness, I expose these truths and hope to educate others as to why someone would do this to themselves.
I ran as fast as I could to get away from who I was. But depression always followed. No matter what I tried to do or how I tried to shake the pain and feel a semblance of normalcy, depression was like a whisper in my ear. And like those I spoke with that suffered from acute and severe physical pain, I was too afraid to let go of my depression . . . I was afraid because of the anticipation that whispered, “What if it comes back?”
What if I find myself in a good place; what if I feel happy, and then out of nowhere, depression finds me again?
What if I find out life is just a joke . . . .
and I’m the last one to get the punch line?
My bout with drug addiction was simply a way to euthanize the arguments in my head. I learned ways to soften the voices and dull the sharp edges of my insecurity. I learned to slip into a semi-conscious state, like a slow nod, and warm myself in the perfect disregard of a weightless high. Upon making this choice, I found a powdery substitute to act as a synthetic form of redemption. As my eyes lowered to half-mass, my jaw hung open, and the world took on an almost rubberized appeal; as if all that hit me lost its power, or as if my receptors of pain were gently masked and covered by a membrane, which is otherwise known as heroin, and left me unaffected..
The cocaine demons were good for a while too, except their whispers were too loud, and their voiceless screams were often shown in bright demonstrations of blinding aggression. I could not settle myself for long with the cocaine demons. The desperate lows after the unthinkable highs were too punishing. Once the high began, there was no getting out of it. The cocaine demons laughed their cruel laugh and they always laughed at my expense. Nevertheless, drug and alcohol abuse were only symptoms of a much deeper issue.
After the bottle was taken away and after the drugs were gone from my reach, the high was gone from my system, and there I was, back with my depression, which seemed to have gained weight, and weighed heavier now upon my shoulders.
I could not see clearly through the transparent sheet that covered my eyes. And by sheet, I mean the layer that depression used to alter my perception of what I saw.
Colors lost their brilliance. Smiles and laughter lost their volume. I saw myself as a failure. There could be no way for me to regain my life. As I saw it, I was made to run in the underbelly of life. I was a disappointment to my family and an embarrassment to my parents. I failed out of school, and as a result of damage due to my drug use, I struggled to read even a simple sentence. I was facing the uncertainty that comes with a felony arrest. Meanwhile, everyone else I knew was doing fine. They were going to high school. Some were getting their driver’s licenses. Some of the boys I knew had real girlfriends. Some had jobs. To me, everyone I knew was having the time of their life.
And me, I was not having a good time. I was in rehab and facing jail time. I saw myself as worthless. I was a mistake. I wanted the pain to stop like I did when I was eight, but I suppose there was never enough Tylenol. I just wanted everything to stop.
When I tied the pant leg from my pair of jeans around the sprinkler pipe in the bathroom at my bedroom in rehab, I never thought about death so much. I thought about wanting the world to just stop. I wanted everything to stop—at least for a minute, but nothing ever stops. I wanted to call time out, but no one seemed to be listening. Either that or no one around me was interested in the same game I was playing.
When I wove the other pant leg around my neck, I planned a series of deep breaths. As a teenager, I used to play this game called pass out with some of the other local knuckleheads. It was a stupid game but I used it as a reference. One would bend forward and take a series of fast deep breaths. Once lightheaded, the person breathing would stand up while someone leaned against their chest, restricting any further breaths, and causing that person to pass out.
I stood on the toilet with one pant leg tied around the overhead sprinkler pipe and the other woven tightly around my neck. I leaned forward and began to breathe deeply and quickly. I was afraid to think. If I thought for the moment, I might not have gone through with this. In my eyes, there was no other way. “Don’t stop,” I told myself.
“Just keep going,” I said. “Besides, no one really cares.”
But that was a lie.
As I felt the lightheadedness come over me, I allowed my body to slump down from the toilet. I could not breathe. I felt the pain relieve similarly to when I first dragged a razor blade across my skin. Finally, I thought to myself, “It will all be over soon.”
The next part is something I rarely speak about. After I lost consciousness, I fell into a dream. I dreamt that I was a small boy, dressed in an all-white schoolboy’s uniform with black shoes and white socks. I was escorted by someone, but I could not see who. I assumed the person was a teacher or a teacher’s aide.
It was a woman, I knew that much. She was dressed in clothes that were worn way before our time. The aide walked me to the side of an old schoolhouse that seemed as if it were built long before the years of electricity. Two girls were swinging on swing sets, which were perfect and silvery. The girls were also dressed in a white schoolgirl’s uniform. Another girl was jumping rope and the jump rope was white. There was a boy playing on the green grass. The shingles to the side of the schoolhouse were brilliantly white and the nearby trees were incredibly green. The white seemed to glow as if it were to symbolize the purity of sunlight that came down from a bright blue sky.
I was escorted by the woman like a shy new boy to the school. She pointed at the other children in the schoolyard. Her hand moved in a slower motion as if to explain, these are the children you will be playing with when it is your turn to come here. All moved in a slower motion as I looked around the scene. Then lovingly, the woman turned me around and sent me back as if to say, “Run along now.”
Next thing I knew, I woke up on the floor. My body was convulsing as I crept back into consciousness. The pant leg that wove around my neck had apparently let go. Perhaps I assumed the knot was tied well enough. Maybe this was a half measure. One could argue, if I truly wanted to die, I would have been more deliberate when weaving the pant leg around my throat. But this is the thing about suicide. In many cases, most suicides result in accidental deaths. For example, there have been many cases documented where a suicide victim drives over of a cliff. In nearly all cases, there were break marks, or skid marks just before the car drove over. The variations of deliberate attempts are less important than the actual reasoning behind the attempts itself. I have spoke with others that have survived suicide. I have met with those that have scars on their necks after trying to slit their own throat. I have spoke with those with scars on their wrists, and those who intentionally overdosed on both legal and illegal drugs. Our situations may not all be the same. Our methods may have certainly been different and our symptoms did not always match; however, our reasoning was always similar.
I cannot say I wanted to die as much as I wanted the pain to stop. I had no way of expressing myself or relieving the pressure that built up inside. I saw suicide as my only option. I believed those few (or seemingly few) that cared would eventually heal and I could settle into the ground and become forgotten like yesterday’s dust.
I turned 43 this past Sunday. I have not attempted anything like this since the age of 19. Had I succeeded in my attempts, I would have missed my exceptional comeback. I would have never seen the victories I have experienced. Had I succeeded in either of my few attempts at suicide or through my daily dosages of drugs to kill the pain, I would have never seen the look on my child’s face. I would have never been around to hear The Old Man say, “I’m proud of you, son.” I would have never had the chance to meet the people I’ve met or love the people I love. I cannot say that depression has gone away. I can only tell you that I have learned ways to fight back.
There is no coming back.
If you can relate to my story, know that there is a way out.
You are far from alone, and though my situation may be different from yours, our sadness is similar.
And if our sadness is similar and I can work through it
Know that you can do it too
For those who have felt this way:
Know that you can change negative thought with positive actions
Eventually, yesterday becomes distant and today can be far away from where you once were.
But this only works if you work for it, and if you’ve followed me this far, then maybe you’re willing to keep going
Know that you have value
You make a difference
Know the people you leave behind, the mothers, fathers, friends, sons or daughters will all be devastated if you follow through with this.
Above all, know there is someone you can talk to
And if you can’t find anyone
Find me . . . .
I’ll always be around