When I Was Suicidal, a Note From My Psychiatrist Had the Words I Needed to Hear
Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
When you find yourself on the precipice of suicide, sometimes it can feel like it came out of nowhere, and you can often wonder, “When did this start?” Well for me, it all seemed like it started on vacation. I found myself sitting on the floor of my hotel room on day six, writing suicide letters on hotel stationary. As it turns out, this was just the continuation of the slow slide into oblivion I had failed to notice was happening. And ironically, the first letter I wrote was to my doctor, apologizing. I had no idea at the time that one simple sentence he had written to me months earlier was about mean so much more than I could have imagined.
A few days later, I pulled up to a hotel in Florida during a torrential downpour, where I would be staying overnight for my layover before heading home the next day. Suddenly, my phone rang. It was my psychiatrist. He was calling to clarify a refill request, but being freakishly perceptive, he asked a few indirect questions and quickly got me to confess I was depressed. And then he said, “I assume you’re safe though.” I knew what he meant by “safe.” And more importantly, I knew that he did not actually assume so. He was prodding me, because he knew I wouldn’t lie. I can’t lie to him — not directly anyways. Then the truth of it struck me. Depression, for me, doesn’t ever go away. But it was back, and it was in control.
I took a deep breath and told him, “Yeah, I’m safe.” It wasn’t a lie. I was safe. Temporarily perhaps, but I was safe for the time being.
When I got home it was the beginning of a holiday weekend. I knew the earliest I could get ahold of him without paging him in a emergency would be in three days. Phone phobia aside — and it’s bad — I wasn’t going to call him unless I was already at a hospital. I couldn’t bring myself to bother him just because I didn’t “feel good.” It sounded childish to me. I was scheduled to see him in six more weeks. So I would take the medications I was on, and wait.
I strongly recommend against the “wait and see” approach to depression — because it rarely works out well.
But I waited and waited and waited.
Two weeks later, I thought I had survived the worst of it, when in truth, I had simply put on blinders. And I truly didn’t believe I was depressed. I wasn’t sad. I was perfectly happy. Just, hopeless. I saw no point in life. It seemed like a series of moments you try to make the best of — and that was not worth living for to me. And then it hit me — depressed or not, I’m not safe. Because if I snap, it’s going to happen too quickly for me to stop. So I did the only thing I could think to do: I stopped taking my medication. I stopped taking antidepressants, anxiolytics, ADHD medications, everything. And not gradually — all at once. This is not the first time I’ve done something dangerous like this and it probably won’t be the last. I knew the risks, I just didn’t care.
I woke up the next day heart racing and in tears. I was too overwhelmed by depression and anxiety to think clearly. Then I pulled out a note I had tucked away in a box, that my psychiatrist had included when he mailed me a prescription back in December. It said:
One thing I admire about you — you are not a quitter!
It certainly wasn’t the first time I had read that note, but it was the first time I had when I so badly needed it. Those turned out to be the exact words I needed, and didn’t even know it. Something inside me did snap and I cried for an hour, at least.
Why would he say that? Why would he think that? I am a quitter — I want to quit! And yet, here I am. Could he be… right? I have tremendous respect for him, in part because he is compassionate, but (sometimes brutally) honest. He is not one to exaggerate. He doesn’t put me on medication just for the sake of doing something. And he doesn’t say things just for the sake of saying something.
I realized the pain wasn’t going to go away, but I decided I wasn’t going to go away either. Piece by piece, I put myself back together as best I could for the time being. I resumed medication and even took vitamins. I added any amount of exercise I could convince myself to do. I meditated. I did everything. I didn’t feel any better really, but that wasn’t the point. I knew that there was no magic — there never has been. For now, I just had to survive.
When you have depression, sometimes even “happiness” isn’t always enough to keep you going.
So we will keep trying medications, and I’m sure we will find a balance again. But in the meantime, I’m still here. Because, for today at least, I didn’t quit. And tomorrow, I’m not going to quit either.
Because I chose to believe my doctor. I chose to believe what he said about me, even if I can’t see it in myself.
I won’t quit.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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