I was eight years old the first time I tried to kill myself. I was already in an unbearable amount of emotional pain from being bounced around the foster care system, being physically and sexually abused, and neglected for the first 18 months of my life. Even after I was adopted I still found myself a target for sexual predators, so to continue down this path of sheer terror made no sense to me, even at such a young age. I lacked self-worth and had a shattered sense of being. I never actually felt like I belonged anywhere, no matter how hard I tried. I felt like a burden. I was full of shame and anger and never thought I could be loved the way I needed to. I did not think I was worthy of compassion, empathy or safety, for if I was, how could these acts of abuse keep happening. I thought it was me; something I was doing, wearing, or perhaps how I smiled or talked.
I took the bottle of pills because I had been warned several times not to touch them. My Mom had told me plenty of times they would make me very ill and could even kill me. It was difficult to get them all down and by the time I had, my body was rejecting them and I began throwing up. Skipping all the details in between, it ended with a trip to hospital, my stomach being pumped and an interview with a social worker explaining to my Mom that the incident must have been accidental, as no eight year old has a full grasp on the concept of death. It was my turn next, not to be cared for or empathized with, but to be lectured on the dangers of pills, and the importance of listening to my parents. This speech was followed by an informative ten minutes on death and its permanence, and all the people that would be “sad if you died”. He spoke to me like I was a normal, undamaged child; they all did. No one knew the underlying darkness running rampant through my mind.
The subject was never brought up again.
As the years continued so did the abuse and although I survived multiple abusers, I was left as a shell of a person; fragile and angry, confused and scared. The more frequently it happened, the further I pushed these memories and feelings to the back of my brain. I wanted to lock them in there and throw away the key. I had survived each time by dissociating so I felt nothing at all, and spent a number of years afterwards in the same frame of mind. I walked through life as a shadow. I did not feel happiness, or sadness, I just did not feel.
I was 13 when I had my second attempt. I fully understood death by then, having had experienced the loss of my grandfather, which reinforced the permanence of the situation. I felt so alone. There was no one I could go to. The domestic abuse kept my mom in a state of depression and I felt like an unwanted burden. To me, there was no one who would miss me. I did not belong here or anywhere, so I cemented my plan for an exit. Within 12 hours, my stomach had been pumped, my wrists bandaged and I was on my way home with my Mom. There was no disguising this had not been accidental, so instead they labelled it as attention seeking. I was deemed to be irresponsible, untrustworthy and told if I kept crying for attention in that manner, one day, when I actually needed someone, no one would help because I had “cried wolf” one too many times.
I was shipped off to therapy this time, in an attempt to find the underlying root of my attempt, or so I thought. It lasted six sessions. I was informed I was uncooperative for not talking much and that my childish attempt to scream for attention was exactly as it sounded a cry for attention done in an inappropriate and irresponsible manner. “Normal children don’t act out their behaviours, they use their words” he commented, emphasizing that my actions were not normal, which I took as I was not normal. Words stick at such a young age, if only they knew that words leave a psychological scar that lasts much longer than a bruise. The berating only forced me deeper into my shell, until the point where I simply refused to speak which caused an enormous level of frustration and tension. After a brief conversation with my Mom he deemed I was not suitable for therapy, and with that, I never returned, but six hours with him had left me further traumatized, insecure and introverted.
Later that year, when I was still 13, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and so that became the focus of the following six years until she finally lost her battle. It was pointed out to me on more than one occasion that her being sick was primarily my fault from all the stress I had caused her over the years. Ironic, given that my Dad, the one who made domestic violence a part of my life for eight years, was the one reiterating those words. At that point, there was no way I was going to tell my Mom anything that could cause her further stress, so the abuse, the suicidal thoughts were further repressed in order to survive what was happening in the present. I tried to carry on normal activities with faked enthusiasm, all the while wishing it was me dying and not my Mom. To this very day it is still haunts me, and I find myself often triggered by the death of youth, knowing there are so many people wishing to die, that would trade their lives in an instant, myself included.
The years immediately following my Mom’s death, I lived two lives. One revolved around schooling, soccer and partying, where I was outgoing, somewhat confidant, and I had friends. Having no fear of death, I drove fast, partied recklessly, engaged in whatever drug was the latest fad ,and simply put, I had not a care in the world if I died doing any of these things. That way, people wouldn’t be upset for me getting into an accident the way they would if I ended my life. The other life revolved around the constant thoughts of suicide that ran through my head as routine as any other thoughts on a normal day. The time alone, the down time, was what was killing me. The past, the regrets, being unable to save my Mom, all of these things sent my mind spiralling down into the depths of darkness. I had many plans on how to end my life, things that would work now that I was an adult, but something held me back, and I plodded along, doing my best to keep the darkness at bay.
The years passed and I continued to work and play soccer but now, most of my energy was spent on an internal war. I fought to stay in the light, but the memories, feelings and behaviours all brought me down that dark tunnel. It seemed unavoidable; you can only repress things for so long before they claw themselves free and dig a way to the front of your mind. I tried an anti-depressant for the first time but came off after six months as I felt like a zombie; sure I may have been able to function without getting emotional but that is because I felt no emotion, nothing good, nothing bad, just blank. I decided to try talk therapy and made my way through more than a handful of social workers, psychotherapists, psychologist and psychiatrists and just could not find anyone I felt safe enough to open up to, so after a few years of bouncing between therapists, I decided to call it quits. I wasn’t feeling any better anyway, and was spending money left, right and center, to wake up still wanting to die.
As the years passed, the depression and anxiety continued to build, filling my mind with the thoughts that I am not worthy of a life, that the pain would never end and things would never change. The lies our mental illnesses tell become truths in our minds which then becomes the truth in our reality and I fully believed every single one. I was convinced that since nothing had improved over the years that the only way to lessen the pain was to eliminate it completely, even if that meant eliminating myself. I told no one of my plan. It would be precise and I would not fail again, I couldn’t face the shame if I did. I got the supplies I needed, wrote the necessary notes and chose a date. The sense of relief was enormous; just knowing that in a few hours I would finally be at peace lifted a weight off my shoulders and for the first time, I felt free. I felt in control of my life for once. The nightmares from the past would finally be put to rest. I spoke to no one that day. I made no attempts to reach out; I simply went about the day normally, knowing that the time had finally come.
I awoke a few hours later, having had thrown up, and covered in the remnants of drywall and dust. The piece of wood was snapped in half, one piece on my thigh, the other to the side of me. The hook remained intact and as I inspected it I noticed the inside was near rotten. It had held my weight during the test phase but snapped under the pressure of the actual event. I did not know whether to laugh or cry, so I did a bit of both. It was about an hour before I willed myself to get up. I could not actually believe this had happened. I thought I had every aspect, every scenario covered but obviously not. Ironically having felt not wanted my whole life, here I was, giving up, and death didn’t want me either. I brushed off my clothes, lay on my bed and passed out for almost 18 hours. When I awoke, I thought perhaps the whole thing was a dream but I was again astonished by the mess that lay before me and the rope burn on my neck. I felt like a failure, after all, what kind of loser fails at three major suicide attempts. I decided this would be a secret that I would take to the grave with me. I was far too embarrassed and ashamed to tell anyone. I cleaned up the mess, and spent the next few days in bed sleeping off the pill hangover, allowing the bruising on my neck to start to fade.
I vowed to never tell a soul and pretend this incident didn’t occur, and along with everything else, I shoved it in the back of my mind, under lock and key.
The next few years the depression worsened. I lost interest in almost everything that had previously given me pleasure, I lost a lot of friends and I did not live life, I merely existed, floating through the days in a fog. I could not feel happy; I felt either numb or deeply depressed and the internal battles in my head drained me more and more each day. My thoughts of suicide went from passive to active, and I once again actively started to plan my death.
I had my breakdown three years ago. I took a few weeks off work to rest and heal, which led to a day trip to hospital, where I was deemed to be “not an immediate suicidal threat” and would not be held. I was seen by a psychiatrist, diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and Dysthymia, given some medication and was booted out the door. My head was spinning and my thoughts worse than before I went in. I went home completely overwhelmed and yet again started to plan my exit. These diagnoses seemed like a death sentence to me, and I felt I could no longer endure a life like this.
My therapist helped me through the crises periods and knowing that I enjoyed writing, suggested I start a blog anonymously where I could tell events and chapters of my story, which may not only help me get those locked up things out but also may help connect with others. I was hesitant at first, worried about the reactions of others; worried about not writing well enough to share on a public forum. My first blog was a pretty brief and basic introduction to me and my past, and surprisingly enough, not only did it get read, but it also received comments which were actually positive and supportive. This inspired me to write another, which prompted the next, and so on. The support I was receiving from the mental health community was astonishing to me; complete strangers reaching out to offer their support and understanding without judgement.
It was a particularly dark night and thoughts of suicide were running rampant through my mind. I had gotten adjusted to using a crisis line, but found that the words I heard each time sounded so scripted. They were not true words of compassion or empathy, and they certainly were not the words I needed to hear at the time. Feeling frustrated, alone and misunderstood, I decided to write, however, instead of venting my frustrations on paper, I decided to turn it around. What would I need when I am suicidal that I am not getting from crisis lines or anyone else? What words would resonate with me at such a desperate time. I know I didn’t want to hear the routine speech on how things will get better, or that this situation is only temporary. I did not want any more numbers to call, or to be told to go to my local ER. I did not want to hear falsities and untruths. I wanted someone to be real with me, someone who could empathize, or at the very least sympathize with how it feels to truly be at the end of your rope.
I sat in the darkness of my room, grabbed my laptop and began to write. I wrote as if I was writing to someone directly; someone who may be at the very edge I have been so many times. I wrote the words I longed to hear for so many years but failed to find. I did not tell them that things are going to be ok, because I don’t know if they are. I did not use the old adage “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem”; I cannot guarantee you that these problems will go away. I didn’t label them as attention seekers or take their threats of death with a grain of salt.
I asked what is perhaps the most important question…how can I help? Or what do you need from me at this moment? I reminded them that they are strong and brave for making it this far, and that their problems may not go away but that they will grow stronger and be better able to cope with them. I told them that regardless of the fact that they can’t see it, there is an exit to the dark tunnel they are lost in. I ask them what it is that has kept them alive this long and remind them to hold tightly on to that. I told them they are understood, that their pain is valid, and most importantly that they are not alone. I am candid and frank because those are the truths I would want to hear at my most desperate moments. I wanted to feel like I wasn’t alone, and that what I was feeling was justified and understood by another who had gone through the same thing. It was so important for me to not feel judged for my thoughts, but instead have someone sympathize. I published it on my blog, including my Twitter handle and also sent to an online Mental Health Magazine, and went to bed, feeling a bit better and a lot safer.
Within a few days, the article was published on the site I sent it to, and I felt a sense of accomplishment knowing that my words would now reach a wider audience and could potentially affect a greater number of people. Within a day I had 20 messages in my inbox. The next few days I was inundated with emails from people saying thank you; saying that they felt understood and heard for the first time ever. I figured I was getting this response as the article was relatively new, but over two years later I have received over 800 messages, and they still continue to flow in. I was astonished, and still am, that so many people have read this article it is a top search on Google. The number of brave people reaching out to tell me their story or to thank me for telling me is an absolute honour. To know that the pain from my darkest times was finally channelled into something positive touches my heart and soul. To have my words comfort others the way I wanted someone to do for me gave me a sense of purpose. I continue to advocate for zero suicide and have and will continue to respond personally to every message, in the hopes of being a small light during the dark times. When you reach out a hand, someone will take it. You are never alone.