The Photograph Taken on the Day I First Considered Suicide
Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
This photo of me was taken on October 15, 2016.
Look at my face. How do I look? Happy? Sad? Fine? Upset?
This photo was taken on one of the worst days of my life. Would you know it by looking?
A few short hours before this snapshot, I was sobbing.
In the midst of the fourth severe depressive episode of my life, I – against my own better judgment – ended up at home by myself, surrounded by nothing but a silence that was too loud and the echoing of my own unhealthy thoughts.
Already two weeks into treating this “flare up” with a meds adjustment, getting back into psychotherapy, and practicing mindfulness and meditation, I dug deep into my arsenal of self-care tools and tried to shift my focus.
Breathe in through the nose, hold for four seconds, slowly out through the mouth. Focus on your breathing. Chase away the negative thoughts. You’re OK, you’re OK, you’re OK. Shhhh, calm down. Back to the breath. In through the nose. You’re all right. It will get better. You’ve been here before; it will pass this time too. Out through the mouth.
There is no fight more exhausting, more terrifying, than the one you have with your own mind. The criminal we call depression robs your brain of its ability to function normally; to fire the correct synapses, release the correct amounts of chemicals. Serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine. To be held hostage by your own mind, unable to see a clear path back to the light and the truth … it can only be described as, simply, agony.
That morning, I planned to get some more sleep, then have some lunch, then force myself out to run some errands.
Fighting with my thoughts, tossing and turning in bed trying to fall back to sleep — I was waging a war in my head. The energy it takes to exert control over the depressive thoughts playing over and over is all-consuming. I must have fought for a good 20 or 30 minutes, a valiant effort in the wrestling ring of my brain. Eventually, the fight ends. One side wins, and the other loses. That morning, the fighter in me lost. The thief of mental illness, of depression, won.
What happened next is something I have shared with only three people. As someone who has spent years openly sharing my personal struggles and experiences with mental illness on a very public platform, this is rare. Since my first post on the topic in January 2013, I have written a lot about it, both as an advocate to foster support and increasing awareness, as well as from a personal standpoint. I’ve been featured in more than a few newspaper articles, I’ve been interviewed on CBC radio, I’ve been published in Moods Magazine.
So it’s embarrassing to admit I have been ashamed of what happened next, and that is why I have not spoken of it since. But I know, I know, there should be no shame in it. So today, I choose to share.
In one terrifying moment, as I lay there, having given in to the despair spreading through me like wildfire, I thought — for the first time in my life — I wonder what it would be like to die? And then, how would I do it?
As I sit here now, reliving that moment, my heart rate quickens. I remember exactly how I felt — how the shock of the seriousness of the thought propelled me out of my bed like a rocket. How terrified I felt, scared of my own self. How I paced up and down the hall, trying to out-run the tsunami of darkness that threatened me. Back and forth across the carpet, trying to escape myself, trying to shed the despair like a second skin, shaking, crying with so much primal fear I recall sounding like a wounded animal.
My dog first stared up at me blankly, confused, and then ran from me as I began to hyperventilate. The fear and isolation I felt knocked me off my feet, and I remember finding myself on the floor, doubled over as if in physical pain.
I don’t know how long I lay there, sobs wracking my body with a force all their own.
Finally, with a determination I knew was still buried deep inside me, strength from the real me managed to slice through like the narrow ray of sunshine that bleeds through the blinds and finds a home on the floor, and I reached for my phone.
With just a couple texted words, my very good friend knew I was in need, and her mother — who lives just around the corner from me — was dispatched to come to my aid.
When she entered, I fell into her arms. For the next hour, she held me and soothed me as I wept.
She is the woman next to me in the photo you see, which was taken later that same day at Bluffer’s Park in Toronto’s east end. She and her husband, who I also consider a friend – no, family – fed me tea and convinced me to join them for a walk in the beautiful sun of a warm autumn afternoon.
The two of them, along with their daughter – my friend – didn’t leave my side until I was exhausted from my day and the medication still in my system, ready for bed that evening.
Gratefully, about a week later, the day did come when the tide turned. The new meds kicked in, the mindfulness and meditation started paying off, and I began keeping a gratitude journal. I woke up one morning and thought, “I think I feel a bit better.” A bit better than I have in weeks, actually. Is it over? Did I make it through?
Now, it should be said I don’t believe I would have taken any harmful action against myself that day, though more than 800,000 others do every year. But simply having the thought of it, seemingly without any control, shook me to my core.
So today and every day, I reach out to all those who have been, and who are, trapped in the fire of mental health disorders. I have lived a life with the embers of mental illness constantly simmering inside, at times able to cool them, and at times unable to prevent their ignition. By sharing what I used to consider the worst of me, I turn it into the best of me.
“Don’t be ashamed of your story. It will inspire others.”
Follow this journey on Worth Courting.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.
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