The discharge papers I received from the hospital after my suicide attempt, June 27, 2006.

A Decade of Living After Trying to Die

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In late June of 2006, I tried to kill myself.

Then.

I was flailing.

I was three years into a volatile relationship with a woman who swept me off my feet and into a whirlwind romance in the summer of 2003. We lived in a one bedroom apartment, all wood-paneled walls and low-pile beige carpet, in downtown Johnson City, Tennessee. We did everything together: we lived together, worked together, went to school together, watched indie films and made art together, partied with the same people, fed off each other’s insecurities, screamed and yelled and destroyed each other’s things, cut ourselves (separately) in the same bathroom, pushed and pulled and hit and hurt each other.

***

My first memory is of my dad throwing an alarm clock at my mom’s head. Years later, I watched another man drag her around by her mop of thick, curly hair, her knees scraping across the terracotta tiles in the living room.

I remember thinking to myself then, “That can never be me.”

I didn’t recognize it was me, that the exact same thing was happening in my own life, until that summer.

And I didn’t know how to stop it. I thought love was enough to fix it, and my love for her was so desperate and so single-minded that I believed we could fix it. She was the be-all, end-all. I wanted it to work with her, and if it couldn’t, I wanted to die. My mind saw no other options.

But it wasn’t working. I couldn’t fix it.

***

I would come home after a day of waiting tables and sit on the porch, distraught, scratching through pages and pages in my journal, chain smoking, listening to the trains pass behind our house, wishing for whatever kind of fortitude it required to lay on the tracks and wait.

Those suicidal thoughts, gifted to me by my adolescent brain, were nothing new. They were just exacerbated by the situation and had, at that point, been steadily building in intensity for two years.

***

Despite my struggles, I achieved every goal I set for myself.

I volunteered at the crisis hotline and shared about my self-injury for the first time. I won awards for my writing. I discovered photography and showed my work in small galleries. I was an undergraduate researcher. I got my degree. I got accepted to a Ph.D. program back in my hometown of Miami. I had a family and friends all over the country willing to support me, no matter what.

I had a future, but I didn’t believe it.

***

On June 27, 2006, the switch flipped and I decided I was done. But my plan didn’t pan out the way I intended.

I woke up the next morning in a friend’s bed, in terror, alive. I’d made myself a promise in the hospital the night before: I was going to stop hurting myself, at all costs.

And if I wanted to keep that promise, there were a lot of choices to be made.

The discharge papers I received from the hospital after my attempt, June 27, 2006.
The discharge papers I received from the hospital after my attempt, June 27, 2006.

Now.

I live in Philadelphia with an incredible human — an intelligent, funny, kind, beautiful, patient woman — who said, “I do,” and, “I will,” and allowed me to put a ring on her finger, signifying a lifelong promise of partnership (and an unspoken contract that I must do everything I can to live, despite my mind’s occasional spirals). We communicate often, argue well (most of the time), make up easily. We live alongside six furry creatures. We each have careers that fulfill us, and we each enhance the other’s work.

desiree on her wedding day

The past year has been one of extreme growth: a wedding; a move from Brooklyn to Philadelphia; a full-time freelance career (instead of juggling freelance with part-time work); a new puppy; a new home; a new car; and new challenges.

***

When I saw my new therapist for the first time, she asked, “Who is your primary physician?”

“I don’t have one.”

“When did you get your last physical?”

“I don’t know.”

“Your last gynecological exam?”

I shook my head. “I only have so much energy in me, and I choose to use it to maintain my mental health. I’m here. It’s the best I can do right now.”

***

I struggle to fall asleep. I struggle to wake up. I forget to eat. My diet consists mainly of beer and cheese. I no longer walk 3–5 miles a day like I did when I lived in New York and have, subsequently, gained 20 pounds. I hate looking in the mirror. I am irritable. I forget to feed the dogs. I forget to take the trash out. The prospects of cooking, cleaning, or doing the laundry overwhelm me to the point of paralysis.

My mind says, “You are useless. You are worthless. Everyone around you can do these things. You can’t, and that will never change.”

I am flailing.

***

Despite the challenges, I have a future I look forward to. I have a wife with boundless love for me. I have friends and family all over the country who support me, no matter what. I have work I love doing and opportunities beyond expectation. I just signed a lease for a studio of my own. I travel regularly. I want for very little.

Ten years later, the struggle is still very, very real, but life is flawed and beautiful and I’m glad I’m still here.

If you’re hurting, afraid, or need someone to talk to, please reach out  —  to anyone, anywhere. Someone will reach back. Please stay. You are so deeply valued, so incomprehensibly loved  —  even when you can’t feel it  —  and you are worth your life.

You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800–273–8255 or Trans Lifeline at 877–565–8860 (U.S.) or 877–330–6366 (Canada). If you’d like to talk to a peer, warmline.org contains links to warmlines in every state. If you don’t like the phone, check out Lifeline Crisis Chat or Crisis Text Line. If you’re not in the U.S., click here for a link to crisis centers around the world.

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The Moments We Remember When We Lose Someone to Suicide

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We will always remember exactly what we were doing when particular world events happen. They become forever a part of us. Two that come to mind for my generation are the assassination of JFK on November 22, 1963 and the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

On a more personal level, an event occurred in my life on March 15, 2015 — one that will always be seared into my conscious and unconscious mind.  My beloved soulmate and best friend Steve took his own life.

I will never forget where I was and what I was doing when I got the news of his death. It was a cold Sunday afternoon, and a friend and I were sitting in a coffee shop in New York City, waiting for a vegan festival to open at 4 p.m.

She got a text from Steve’s mom, telling her to go to my house to be with me since she needed to tell me something and didn’t want me to be alone when I heard it. Since we were together, I told my friend to call her immediately. As I watched the horror on my friend’s face and heard her sobs, my heart sank. I knew something had happened to Steve.

To quote Michelle Steinke (Facebook’s “One Fit Widow”): “All other bad days before and after have been defined by that moment.” 

The death of Steve has surely marked a transition point in my life, from 33 years of having a loving and fun-filled relationship to a life of loneliness. Even though Steve had periodic breakdowns over the course of our relationship, we had a wonderful life together. We travelled and saw beautiful places and shared a great love for each other. Everything was a great adventure for us, whether it was having breakfast together in the morning or hiking trails in Hawaii. 

It is not always the tragic events that sear into our memories, never to be forgotten. In retrospect, the happiest moment in my life occurred on August 29, 1981. I will never forget what I was doing. This is the day I met Steve. 

It was a gray, overcast summer day, and I was roller skating with three friends on the Jones Beach bike path. On more than one occasion that day, a car would pass by and guys would hang out the windows and shout catcalls at us. After a while it was getting to be annoying, so I said to my friends, “Next time we see a bunch of fit guys working out, I am going to start catcalling them.”

My friends and I decided to have a soda before skating home. As we were sitting there on the beach, three extremely fit, attractive lifeguards ran past us. As if I was on autopilot, I skated after them and started whooping and hollering.

Steve turned back to see what the commotion was, and our eyes locked. In my excitement, I fell, and Steve came back to help me up. I skated with the lifeguards as they ran for a little bit, then Steve asked if I wanted to come to a lifeguard party later that day. From then on, we were forever soulmates.

Many years ago, Steve asked me if my corporate job was fulfilling and if I felt I was helping people with my career choice. I didn’t understand why he was asking me this question since I chose my job based on my skills and the fact I needed to make a living. Now, in retrospect, I realize that with the career path choices Steve pursued, it was his mission in life to help people, and he wanted to know if I shared that sentiment. He was a Jones Beach lifeguard, went through the process of applying to the New York City Fire Department, and finally became a coach to help people be the best they could be, both in life and in sport.

Now, after so many years, I finally understand Steve’s question, and I hope through my writing, I will help people in some way by inspiring conversations about suicide and mental health issues. It is my sincerest hope that something good can come out of the tragic circumstances surrounding Steve’s death.

Follow this journey on SlippedAwayBlog.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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To the Chaplain Who Visited Me in the Psychiatric Unit

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I was a freshman in college who had taken on too much at one time. Seventeen credit hours of class and three jobs had completely wiped me out mentally. I was tired. The break up with my high school boyfriend triggered a depressive episode that caused me to overeat, stay in bed, skip all of my classes and work and start thinking about suicide.

There was a point where I was laying in bed, fantasizing about suicide, when I scared myself. I was going to do it. Some part of me shot up bright, red flares, making me realize I needed help. I admitted myself to the psychiatric unit of the hospital near my college and even though I was scared, I suddenly felt safe, and felt even more so when I met you.

The room they put me in was cold and the walls were bare. I had very little human interaction with anyone, even the doctors, until you came in. You were the chaplain of my college and made a point to visit students in the mental health unit of the hospital. You were the last person I expected to see during my stay, and the last person I thought could comfort me. Though your visit was unexpected, it was exactly what I needed.

You leaned up against the bare, white wall of my cold room and listened. You heard me as I went on about my shortcomings, my failures, my exhaustion and my suicidal thoughts. You listened and heard me, and when it was your turn to talk, every word you said brought me comfort.

You didn’t push your religion on me or pressure me in any way, even though I said I was a Christian. You only reminded me that no matter how helpless I was feeling, God was always there to help. You told me He loved me, and He wanted to take away my mental anguish.

You brought me a very specific Bible, the “Life Recovery Bible”, and you read me specific passages about hope in times of struggle. It felt like every word was written just for me and my situation. As you read to me, I felt better about my life.

You offered to visit me again, and I happily accepted. During our last visit, you welcomed me to your church on campus, and when I was released from the hospital, I went. You helped me so much while I was admitted that I wanted to continue to hear what you had to say about life, struggles and recovery.

Your first visit with me got me started on the road to recovery and improving my mental health. You reading to me from the Bible gave me encouragement and hope I hadn’t been able to find anywhere else at that point. Your acceptance and willingness not to judge me helped me open up and show you my wounds and scars. Your words began the healing of those wounds and scars, and they remain in my mind and heart to this day.

You were a stranger at first, but the more we talked and listened to each other, the more familiar you and your encouragement became. Today, I’m thankful for your unexpected visit, encouraging words and genuine care for my soul and well-being.

When I’m hit with bipolar depression, I think back to when you visited me in the hospital. I remember the hope I felt in my heart and the calmness of my mind, and I channel those memories to help me cope. No depressive episode will ever be unbearable because of what you did for me: uplifted me, encouraged me and gave me hope.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 
 
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
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Hiding My Brother’s Mental Illness From My Children Only Added to Their Grief

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I am a hypocrite and a liar.

It was my own child who was most hurt by my lies. That is my shameful truth, six weeks after my brother took his own life. Suicide has been in our lives since my brother was a teenager and first started thinking about ending his life. For all of my adult years, I have understood on some level the demons of mental illness might finally claim Dave, even as he rallied time and again against them.

Once my children were born, I learned a new kind of fear. Every emotion and reaction was closely monitored for signs of mental illness. I had watched my brother struggle all his life. More than anything in the world, I didn’t want my boys to walk the same path.

At the same time, the boys were so good for Dave. They loved him in the way only children can, completely, unconditionally and beautifully. Who was I to tell them about the other side, the one that sometimes made him sleep through most of his visits or dwell too much on the past in late-night conversations with the grown ups?

He was still their Uncle D. They loved and accepted him fully, no matter which version of him came to visit every few months. Why would I want them to see him differently? It felt like a gift to them to keep them blissfully unaware. Then came the last year, when the medication stopped and so did the visits, the laughter and the contact. Eventually, I shared with my older son some of the truth, couched in comfortable phrases. My younger son, my sweet little boy, who was 11 and loved his Uncle D so much, would ask and ask why he wasn’t coming to visit anymore, I lied to him.

It wasn’t really a conscious choice. I still believed Dave would come back around. He always did. So I made excuses and told the pretty side of the truth. He was working hard, finishing up his master’s degree and building his life in Boston. He would visit soon, I would promise. Just as soon as he wasn’t so busy.

Then the world crumbled at our feet on January 15, with a knock on the door everyone, except my youngest had known, on some level, to fear. We cried, remembered, spread ashes and cried some more. Then, the world crumbled at my child’s feet again. We were sitting together, talking with the grief counselor, and I gently explained to him I had been scared Uncle D would take his life since we were both kids. I will never forget his face, as he realized we had all known, had all understood this part of Dave’s life and had kept him apart. Heartbroken doesn’t even begin to describe it.

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A quiet moment with Uncle D

The easy answer would be I lied to protect my child, to keep him from having to deal with the hardest parts of life. Partially, that was true. Although it was terribly misguided, not understanding his uncle’s illness, only made his suicide even more confusing and sudden.

But the real truth is I lied for years and years to my children to protect my little brother. In my heart, deep down, some part of me accepted the idea that if they knew the severity of his mental illness, they would judge him or see him differently. The horrible truth is, I was the only one making that judgement. Those boys couldn’t have cared less. Their capacity to love and accept is far greater than any words could destroy.

I was a hypocrite and a liar. My choices added to my children’s pain. Worst of all, they sent them the message that mental illness is something to hide. Something so terrible, their mother would lie to them about it.

I don’t get a second chance, but you might. Please, please talk about mental illness, even the hard and ugly parts. If there is mental illness in your world, then it is part of your truth. It is part of my truth. Now I am speaking it, even though it feels far too late.

This post originally appeared on SVL Free News.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 
 
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

 

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3 Life Lessons From 3 Years After My Last Suicide Attempt

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June 25 is an important day in my recovery. However, back in 2013, it started like any other day. I knew things were wrong; I was alienating my friends and family, dealing with an abusive relationship. I had left my job for mental health help, only to be turned down by the program I applied to. Everything was building up. Every failure I ever made was bubbling to the top. I stopped seeing hope. I had been slowly giving up, more and more each day.

And then it happened. I tried to end my life.

It happened fast. My brain kind of just shut off. And the next thing I knew I was in the hopsital, lying to the psychiatric ward, trying to come home.

When I did get out a lot had changed. After my attempt, I found out the abusive boyfriend and I had gotten into an altercation. I wasn’t very lucid when everything was happening. I had been arrested and sent to the hospital. He left. In the grand scheme of things it was a blessing, because he was a pretty terrible human, and him moving away (and then having me move back until I finally said enough was enough) was the start of the end of “us.” And I can’t imagine still being with him, and being torn down and phsyically assualted daily. But of course then, it made my depression worse. I couldn’t imagine life going forward.

Flash forward to 2016; I’m happily married with a son. My writing career is starting to take off. I’m doing the things I love. I have an amazing friend group, some who live in different states, and some who live in across my parking lot. I’m the closest I’ve been to my family and although some days are darker than others, and I do sometimes still have suicidal thoughts, I can see hope at the end of the day, and I’m not afraid of seeking help when I don’t. And I’m proud to say I haven’t made an attempt on my life in three years. I wanted to share with you the three life lessons I’ve learned in my three years of sobriety from a suicide attempt.

1. You’re not a freak for going through a suicide attempt. You’re a survivor. 

The internal conversion after a suicide attempt is harsh and unloving. Your first thought will be you failed. And your next thought will be you’re ashamed. You’ll be afraid someone will find out. Surviving a suicide attempt is the one failure you should be grateful for. You’re still here, you’re still alive. Rejoice! And don’t be ashamed. Our minds can take us to dark places. You’re human. And if you’re like me, and have a mental illness, you’re a fighter; you’re going to lose some battles, and some loses are worse than others. Find strength in your “failure” and rise again.

2. Even on your darkest of days, you have to find one good thing.

Even if it’s a cute cat video or you find a pretty flower on the side of the road. Find one thing that’s “good” and remember it when your mind gets dark. For me, nothing clears my head and reminds me of all the good in the world like a walk outside. I’m lucky enough to live in the woods, while living in a “city.” Go explore. Breathe in the smells, listen to the sounds. Ground yourself in the universe, and leave the darkness behind.

3. Your life is worth saving and you’re worth love.

Nobody deserves to die prematurely. You deserve to experience happiness. You deserve to breathe. You’re wanted, even if you don’t see it and you’re loved, even when you don’t feel it. And if you truly don’t believe that, know I want you here. I’m rooting on your recovery. I’ll be your cheerleader.

You can do this, you are good enough! Stay strong, warriors.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.  

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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When You’re Suicidal With a History of 'Seeking Attention'

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I have a history of seeking attention from others, so it’s difficult for me to reach out to people when I’m struggling. When I vent to loved ones I wonder, am I talking because I need help or because I like the attention I get? Am I reaching out to this friend because I am in need or because I am in need of validation?

Because I let my support people know about the attention-seeking, I worry when I reach out to them they will question me as well. This often leads to me crying on the floor of my room, wondering if it will be more harmful to deal with my feelings on my own or risk losing the trust of a support person by making them question my motives. It’s painful to have a history of “seeking-attention.”

So when I begin to feel suicidal, I face a delicate dilemma of whether the feelings are “real” or if I’m looking for attention. Even I don’t usually know what my true motives are. Do I reach out for help or ride the wave out?

I don’t exactly have an answer. While I know it’s better to be safe then sorry, some days I simply cannot bring myself to reach out to someone I trust. Sometimes the feeling passes and I’m fine; other days I feel like I may act on my thoughts. It seems like I’ll never know when my mind is serious and when it’s attention-starved.

So to those of you who know about my attention-seeking behaviors, if I reach out to you, please always assume I’m serious. I’m working things out in therapy, so you are not feeding into my need for attention. Don’t ever ask me if I’m doing something for attention because honestly I probably don’t have an answer, and you’ll just end up invalidating my feelings. And please, continue to assure me you will always be there for me.

No matter whether you have a history of negative attention-seeking or not, always seek help. Even if you’re doing something for attention, there’s an underlying reason why that needs to be addressed. Whenever you’re feeling suicidal, reach out for professional help. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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