Suicide is painful: a survivor's story
This week, the World Health Organization released their first ever report on suicide prevention. According to their findings, one person commits suicide every 40 seconds, and a staggering 800,000 people are lost to suicide each year. In order to prevent more tragedies and understand this epidemic, we need to shed the taboo and learn from those survivors brave enough to share their stories. Here is one first-hand account from a survivor that deeply impacted us.
When I was 21, I tried to commit suicide for the second time. I was finishing my last year of undergrad, and packing my things to head home for the summer. My mother was in Ottawa helping me pack. I had recently had my heart-broken, and was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder by a psychiatrist at the Ottawa Hospital. I was deeply lonely and immensely insecure.
As I was sifting through old treasures–pictures, trinkets, and souvenirs from happier days—I had a thought. And that one thought turned into an action. And that action turned into the most difficult and painful experience of my life.
The thought was to take a bottle of Lamictal, otherwise known as lamotrigine, an anticonvulsant medication often used as a mood stabilizer, and swallow every last pill I had. The thought was, if I did just that, my life would no longer be in my hands. It wasn’t about being certain I would die, it was about handing off the culpability of owning an existence. I didn’t want to be responsible for my own life anymore. I wanted someone else to decide. And in the absence of such a person, I put my life in the hands of the universe. And in the absence of universal powers, I put my life in the hands of pure, random chance.
Shortly after taking the pills, I started to vomit. It was the non-stop kind that doesn’t let you up for air. I thought I was going to suffocate because I couldn’t get a breath in.
After what seemed like an endless amount of time, I stopped vomiting and tried to rest. My mom asked me if I had taken an overdose. This wasn’t an odd question for her because she closely monitored my medication intake while I was in her presence. I had previously taken an overdose and she was always on edge. I denied it. I believed it was out of my system.
As I sat on the balcony reading Canadian poetry for my final exam, I felt a sudden twist in my stomach. It felt as though my organs were turning inside out, like slugs sprayed with salt. It was the most intense pain I’ve ever experienced. It came in waves, and with each one, I’d pray it was the last. I decided to lie down. My mom came into my room and asked again if I had taken an overdose.
Again I said no. I was too ashamed at that point to admit what I had done. As I look back at the entire experience, I feel most guilty about lying to my mother, for putting her through that sort of turmoil. She did everything in her power to show me she cared, and I didn’t, or couldn’t, believe her.
Later that evening, while my mom and aunt chatted in the background, I drifted off to sleep on the couch. The sound of my mother’s voice woke me up. She told me to go upstairs to bed. But as soon as I woke up, I noticed something. I couldn’t move from the neck down. I had no voluntary control of my movements. I was now in what I would later learn was ataxia, a neurological sign consisting of lack of voluntary coordination of muscle movements.
I was putty. I was a brain without a body. I made great attempts to move my limbs but the best I could do was ooze onto the floor. I tried to army crawl, but it proved to be almost impossible.
I didn’t have a moment to be scared. Throughout the entire endeavour, I think I was too clueless to be scared. I thought I wanted to disappear, to go away forever, but I also needed to know that if I changed my mind, if I decided to live, I could. I had no appreciation for the cause and effect of my actions, no consideration of how this might hurt those around me. It wasn’t that I didn’t care. I just assumed no one else did.
I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. I can briefly remember coming in and out of consciousness, but I can’t remember anything after my arrival at the hospital, except for a few brief encounters. I remember the doctor asking if I had bipolar disorder. I said no, but I told her I did have a mood disorder. She curtly replied that it was the same thing. I didn’t bother to correct her.
I remember walking slowly to an observation room where I was asked a bunch of questions I felt too tired to answer. It was around 3:00 in the morning and I was exhausted. It was the hospital’s way of getting me to say I wouldn’t kill myself if they let me leave. I lied my way through, as it seemed the easiest thing for everybody.
I remember being in the psych ward, hearing a woman screaming at the top of her lungs, and thinking I shouldn’t be here. I remember another doctor telling me I needed to take responsibility for my life and the lives of the people I cared about. I recognized her as a resident from when I helped deliver a baby in the spring as a doula. It felt odd, us bringing life into the world together, and now discussing an attempt to end my own. It was uncomfortable, and I felt hurt by what she said. It seemed insensitive and counterintuitive. Yes, what I had done was a selfish act, in the sense that I was only thinking about myself. But I also had no room to think of anyone else, my depression and OCD took up that much space.
I look back at what she said now and I own it. As harsh as it came across in the moment, I did need to take responsibility for my existence, and the way that existence affected the people closest to me.
I came home and my mom gave me Gatorade and put me to bed. My dad flew to Ottawa and was an utter wreck. We drove home together just the two of us from Ottawa to Saint John, New Brunswick, a drive of approximately 11 hours, and at one point, he just pulled over and started to sob. It was gut-wrenching. I had caused this and there was nothing I could do. It felt like I had ruined somebody. I told him not to cry, but my words were lost. It was the only time I had ever seen him cry. It was like watching a fish struggling on land, absurd and unnecessarily painful.
I’m telling this story because I know all too many people feel the way I did, the way I still sometimes do. I know what it’s like to wonder if anyone around you understands your sadness. I know what it’s like to feel guilty and selfish for not being able to snap out of it.
I’m writing this because I know what it’s like to hear someone say it’s merely a choice, to hear someone trivialize a mental illness, and to wonder if they have any idea what it’s like to have relentless obsessions circling around your brain, horrible images and thoughts that just won’t go away, and compulsions that make no sense to anyone but you.
I’m writing this because almost no one in my life knows this happened, almost no one knows of my diagnoses and I’m tired of being ashamed.
I won’t utter any platitudes. All I would ask of you is that you try. Take whatever you have, whether it’s a little or a lot, and try. It’s worth your effort. Your existence is so unlikely, so unusual, it can’t be seen as anything but some small miracle of the universe, whatever that means to you. It might not get better, but then again, it might. And it’s worth it to stick around to figure that out.
It’s worth it to find out what good things may be coming your way if you give it everything you have.
I believe that those of us who are living are given one thing: a life. Along with that life are sets of problems and blessings. It’s useless to compare situations. But it is useful to realize that you’re alive, and that means something. Don’t give that up. Please, please, please. Keep on living.