Depression and Suicide: A Handy Guide To Understanding Our Minds

Hi, my name is Erin and four years ago, I tried to kill myself.

The plan: I went on one of my usual long Sunday drives. I love driving. I usually pick a random direction and just go wherever the wind takes me. This particular day, I drove to Yankton, South Dakota. For those unfamiliar with northern Nebraska, there’s a big bridge crossing the two states over the Niobrara River. I was going to drive my car into the guard rail crossing the bridge. I had considered swerving in front of a semi while driving, but I didn’t want to potentially harm another life, just take my own.

My reason for this? I had just separated from my husband of almost eight years. I did not take this well, obviously.

What made me change my mind? I got scared. And some concerned friends kept texting me while I was on the road, knowing something was up. They convinced me to not do it. I listened, which is either a good or bad thing, depending whom you ask.

Oddly enough, four years later, when I go for my drives now, I avoid going north. Too many memories. I digress.

I had been seeing a therapist through an employee assistance service at my former job. I had an appointment that Monday and she asked how my weekend was. I told her through sobbing tears. I was then ordered to check myself in to a local hospital’s psychiatric ward. My friend Kristina came and got me and was with me when I did so. I was there for three days and is still one of the most horrific experiences of my life so far. It wasn’t One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, but it was damn close.

I wasn’t allowed real silverware and given plastic utensils, save a knife because you know…and other precautions were taken to prevent patients from suicide–paper bags in the trash cans, all belts and shoelaces had to be surrendered. I recall I had a broken bicycle chain in my book bag, as it had broken a few days before and I was going to replace the busted links, but never got the chance as it was thrown away by nursing staff. The showers were timed and only lukewarm water was available, lest we tried burning ourselves. There was something about the shampoo, too, but I don’t remember what. Tiny hotel bottles, maybe? I’m unclear all this time later.

I had a roommate and she scared me shitless. She cried the entire time she was there. There were also repeat offenders, I found out. Legally, we’re only allowed to be held for 72 hours and we can walk out. This was her third time there in the last two weeks. I don’t remember if there were men in our ward or not…I don’t think so, but I do know the pediatric psych ward, which is just heartbreaking to think of, was behind a giant set of heavy, locked double doors. A little girl would pound on them from the other side, screaming. That was unsettling.

We had to have group therapy sessions, some of which were ridiculous and a waste of time, but the two I remembered most were where one we had to write down on a slip of paper a statement about ourselves that determined our self-worth. That is much more difficult than you’d imagine it to be. I simply wrote down “it isn’t your fault.” See, what drove me to the madhouse was I took full responsibility for the end of my marriage. It was my fault my husband didn’t talk to me because I must be absolutely horrible to try to hold a conversation with. I blamed myself for him locking himself in our bedroom for 24 hours after I tried asking him what he was going to do about finding another job since the one he had reduced his full-time hours to part-time and we were really starting to struggle financially. That was my fault somehow. It was my fault I had gained weight and our sex life suffered miserably because of it. All of it was my doing and all of it caused him to cheat on me and I on him. I read that sentence out loud and burst into uncontrollable tears, maybe because I still didn’t fully believe myself, or maybe because I did.

The second memorable session–and this is kind of silly–but it was pet therapy. Someone brought in a beautiful yellow lab and let us pet and snuggle and tummy rub the dog for as long as we needed. I needed a long time. I missed my dog, Blue, and just being able to unleash all your fears on this wonderful animal meant so much to me. He was so sweet and affectionate and licked my face, which again, caused me to bawl. Oh, and I forgot one: I got to color. 29 years old and I’m finding small joy in coloring. Don’t hate.

Anyway, that was my stint in the loony ward. I got released after my 72 hours. My dad came to get me, which surprised the ever-loving fuck out of me as I didn’t know my parents knew I had been on the inside. The first words my dad said to me were, “why? Why did you try?” “Because I didn’t want to be here anymore.”

See, the thing is, on my dad’s side of my family, depression runs rampant like cancer or heart disease runs in other families. There have been 10 or so suicides over the last 50 years, my dad’s father included. The most recent was a cousin who shot himself about two years ago. There’s just a mental illness gene that no one is safe from, I guess. To add insult to injury I guess, my mom’s dad also committed suicide, and my mom had a run-in with it herself about 10 years before my own. It’s like when I was born, something marked me for death early. I have the mark of the suicide beast. And here I thought I just had a third nubby nipple (true story. It’s just a tiny, teeny little nubbin, but it’s there).

And now, here’s where I make all of this relevant to the recent suicide of Robin Williams. Funny people don’t commit suicide! Funny people are happy and full of mirth and joy!

Wrong.

Funny people are funny for a reason. We’re funny (yes, I’m lumping myself into the funny group) because we’re hiding something. Going back to that work therapist I saw? One session I was telling her some heavy stuff, things that should not have made a person smile and laugh after retelling the tale, but what was I doing? I smiled and laughed. She asked me why I was laughing. I said to her, “because if I don’t, I’ll never stop crying.” She accurately told me I hide my pain behind my humor, which is true. I do. I’m funny because it’s my defense against people who try to tear me down. I got teased relentlessly by a few guys in school because I was fat. One in particular would walk over to his pals–who just happened to have lockers on either side of me in high school–and call me a cow every day. “Hey, cow.” Hey. What up?

As you can imagine, telling a 14-year-old girl she’s obese by comparing her to a farm animal does something to a person. Oh, gosh, like perhaps a lifetime of crippling self-esteem issues? Afraid of intimacy because you’re afraid you’re going to squish your partner to death with the rolls of fat around your middle and thick thighs? Hating being naked around anyone, including yourself? Forever seeing yourself as the awkward girl even though that was almost 20 years ago? I could go on, but I feel the point has been made. He stopped making fun of me the day I told him those were big words coming from a walking pile of spunk from his mom’s ass. Jackass: 0, Erin: 1. I want to say mutual respect was gained that day, but in reality, I think I stumped his fragile Neanderthal brain by standing up for myself, something I had never done to him before. After that, the torment became less and less, until he lost interest.

Gosh, off topic again. Okay, so, funny people…we’re crying clowns…okay.

People are asking, “why would anyone kill themselves? It’s a completely selfish act that leaves people empty of their friend/family member/wife/husband/son/daughter/etc.” But here’s the thing. This is at least true of how I felt when I wanted to kill myself, but I honestly thought I was doing everyone a favor. Why would anyone want me around like this? By me killing myself, you’d all be free of the sobbing, cheating bitch I’d become. My own husband didn’t want me anymore, why would anyone else? What good could I bring to any relationship I was in? I was a disappointment to my family, friends, coworkers…everyone. Offing myself would relieve so much stress from all of their lives. You and I would be free. I admit to still thinking that on occasion, but please, before you stage an intervention, please know I’m older, wiser, and medicated.

But that brings up another point: not everyone has the medication luxury, nor does everyone who is medicated have the right combination of medicines. It’s sadly a tedious process finding the right cocktail of antidepressants/mood stabilizers/antipsychotics to level a person out. I know this to be true first hand. After my attempt, I was placed on two medications–an antidepressant and antianxiety medication. These two together were awful. On to combo number 2. Better, but still not good. Combo 3 worked to help me sleep at night and control anxiety, but other than that, no good. Two years of trying to find a good mix and I found it…then I decided to be stupid and quit my good job and move to Texas and I lost my health insurance and that also meant all my medication. I moved back to Nebraska and erroneously thought I’d find a job right away and get benefits back. WRONG-O. After nearly 9 months unemployed, I found a job and had to wait a few months to get insurance back. Then I had my hysterectomy in June and because I was so goddamned loopy on hormone changes, I got put back on medication and as much as I hated the idea at first, I do feel better. I’m fortunate to be back on one of the meds I had been on two years ago, plus a different one to supplement it. It must be working because the doctor I work for said to me today, “you’re so cool and calm.” Yeah…that’s because I’m back on medication, doctor.

Suicide isn’t cowardly. Suicide is sometimes the only option for people. Mental health is still a taboo subject in the gooddamned 21st century. Visions of straight jackets and lobotomies dance in people’s heads when they find out someone has mental diseases like depression.

So, from a person who has walked the walk and talked the talk, take a few easy steps to help a person out who is suffering from this debilitating disease.

1) Talk to us. Please.

2) Listen to us. Please.

3) If we want to be quiet and not talk about things, just sit next to us and let us be quiet. Please.

4) We’re going to protest, but be annoyingly present in our lives. Please.

5) Let us know you’ll be there for us no matter what and fucking mean it. Please.

I know I may seem to be making light of all this, but trust me, I’m not. Like I said, I’ve been there and tried to do that. I was extremely fortunate to have people who followed my steps, which is where I got them, and why I’m here today, writing this stupid blog post and not.

Don’t think people who commit suicide are weak. They are not weak. They’re tired and fed up, but not weak. They are fighting invisible monsters and just need people to realize that. If you can reach out and help someone from doing what you call unthinkable, please do. Please.

I’ve rambled on enough about this, and I do mean ramble. I’m a pro at being incoherent and bouncing from topic to topic. A pro!

Okay then. Bye!

As always, thanks for reading. This one was a doozy tonight.

E

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One thought on “Depression and Suicide: A Handy Guide To Understanding Our Minds

  1. Erin, I know that was not the easiest thing to share. Having actually attempted suicide and being locked in the hospital a couple times I can certainly empathize with where you have been. All I can say is that there are an awful lot of people in this world, myself included, who are certainly happy you did not follow through with your plans and are quite thankful you have got (and,hopefully, still are getting) the help you need. If your words can help even one person then you have accomplished a lot with them.

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