I’ve only ever been in the hospital three times in my life – when I was born, when I had a spontaneous tear in my lung, and exactly two years ago as of this past Monday for suicidal thoughts.
I credit that day for turning my life around. Although the most difficult moments of my life were still yet to come, I’ve never felt as hopeless as I did that night since.
I will say though that I have come very close. I become depressed when I’m lonely or experiencing other social issues. And for the past month and a half, I have been very socially isolated.
I’m not really sure how it happened. There are a lot of reasons – me facing criticism that I am not used to regarding my morality, other people’s changing minds and flip-flopping attitudes, new situations in other people’s lives, me just generally being annoyed with everyone for no real reason, and the fact that it’s winter and despite the fact that this is Canada, everyone becomes a little bit hermit-like.
Every couple of hours or so a thought will fleet across my mind that I’m just wasting time and my life is meaningless, because if other people don’t want me around then what is even the point of me? What is the point of life?
This is the thought that makes me want to kill myself. I still have it, more than I’d like to admit. But now I can control it more often than not. I have much higher level of distress tolerance than I used to and I’m better at self-soothing.
Two years ago my level of distress tolerance was very low. I tried my best and that’s what kept me alive but I was exhausted constantly and small things affected me much more than they would affect the average person. I experience trauma-like reactions to many negative social situations, based on my experiences with bullying in high school, and I was not able to control those either.
I mention February 8th, 2014 a lot but I’ve never gone into detail about what was going through my mind that night with anyone, the reason being that it’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to admit how much power one person had over me and how illogical my mind really is. I’m a smart girl. That has been a huge part of my identity for as long as I can remember. And smart people aren’t supposed to overreact wildly to things and act irrationally.
But now I’m going to talk about it, because it’s been long enough now that I’m more emotionally detached from the situation and I think that in order to really create understanding amongst one another we need to get specific. It’s not enough to just say, “I was really sad and wanted to die.” You have to illustrate an experience as fully as possible to make people empathize. I’m also talking about it now because I’ve wanted to write about it for a while but was never in the right mindset – this time last year, I was really happy. This year I’m not. This year, I can really relate to the girl I was two years ago.
It was a Saturday night and I had no plans but that was all right by me. I had a lot of work to get done and not a lot of time in which to do it. I was having a relatively good day until I started texting with my friend and ex-boyfriend. We’d broken up (except not really because we weren’t technically dating) several months earlier and I was having a hard time letting go. He’d been a part of my life for so long that I literally could not picture my life without him. And for the past several months I’d been growing increasingly upset that he didn’t want much to do with me, despite insisting that he wanted to stay friends. I was low-key upset that I wasn’t celebrating his birthday with him – I lived in Toronto and he lived in St. Catharines, but if he wanted me to come down I would have. However, he said that he wasn’t really celebrating at all.
Then Saturday night comes around and he tells me that he was having a party. I believe his roommates had organized it for him, although I don’t really remember now. I get upset because I hadn’t been invited – how could he not invite me?! I thought we were best friends?! I deserved to be invited, I’d been there for him for so many years and we’d been through so much together, and now he treats me this way? Throwing away years of an incredibly meaningful and special relationship? What did I do wrong?
My mind and heart are racing, I feel nauseous and like I’m burning up. Tears prick at my eyes and my throat grows tight but I don’t cry yet. I start frantically typing a response to his text, but I spend a lot of time editing and staring at my phone before I send it because I don’t want to seem aggressive or irrational. I fail miserably at this.
I receive a response – I don’t remember what it was, only that it was unsympathetic and basically amounted to, “You are overreacting, stressing me out right before this event that is supposed to be fun for me, and you have no right to be upset about this.” Now I start crying. I was holding out hope that maybe he would respond and agree with me and apologize. This probably goes on for a few more messages but at some point he stops responding and goes to his party.
I’m left alone with my thoughts in a silent apartment. I live with 3 other girls but right now I’m the only one home.
I recall every single other time I’ve ever been excluded in rapid succession and I am acutely aware of the pattern that my life follows. I meet people and care about them only to have those relationships violently crash and burn. I think that it will be like this forever. Now I’m crying so hard that I can barely breathe. I’m sitting on my bed with my eyes fixated on the fan on my nightstand.
I realize that not a single person knows where I am right now and if I were to die or disappear it would be a very long time before anybody noticed. And once they did notice, no one would care all that much. They’d probably be horrified that something like that happened to someone they knew, but they wouldn’t MISS me. No one missed me as it was. I could go weeks without speaking to people and no one cared.
I think that I should just end things now because nothing matters anyway, so why keep trying only to keep experiencing more pain? Because this, this right here is one of the worst feelings I have ever experienced and it physically hurts. But I can’t kill myself, because I’m scared of pain. I’m such a wimp that I can’t even be depressed properly; people who are really depressed would harm themselves. I have the urge to just so I can prove to myself and to everyone else just how much I’m hurting and to have a way of expressing it other than yelling at people via text. But I won’t.
My thoughts circle around like this for a while until suddenly it feels like everything has gone quiet and still as I come to a slow realization – I could do it. I could. I have prescription painkillers, and I just got a new bottle. I could take them all and it wouldn’t even hurt at all. It would just be like falling asleep except I wouldn’t have to wake up to the harsh reality that no one loves me like I usually do.
I could do it.
I could really, actually do it.
I continue to sit there and stare at the fan for a long time. Realizing that I could have found a way out makes everything feel a little bit less urgent. This could be it. These could be my last moments on earth.
But then I remember that I always told myself that suicide was an ABSOLUTE last resort. I don’t want to die. Really, all I want is for things to get better. I want to be happy. I just don’t know how and everyone seems to be working against me.
However, I haven’t tried everything. I’d never called a helpline before. I never thought one could help me, and I don’t think this is what I need but I figure that if these are my last moments on earth it couldn’t hurt to at least try. So I call one, but receive no answer (I later found out it wasn’t even a crisis line, just a service). And then I give up, because for some reason I can’t remember any others and it doesn’t occur to me to Google one. To this day this truly astounds me because I was one of the loudest mental health advocates on my campus at that time and I’d seen ads for Good2Talk pretty much everywhere. I knew about it; I knew about a lot of things, but in that moment I simply could not remember anything.
I do remember the hospital. Several months earlier, before I moved to Toronto, my counselor in Oakville told me that if I really had to I could go to the Emergency Room and they would help me. She told me to only go if I had no other option because there was a chance that they would put me on a 72-hour hold and I wouldn’t be able to leave or do anything and a lot of my control would be taken away.
In this moment that sounds AMAZING. I desperately wanted to be put on a 72-hour hold but I didn’t say that to anyone, including the doctors at the hospital, because I knew it would sound like I was just looking for attention. But right now I don’t have the energy to take care of myself – at least if that happened I would be taken care of and it would prove to everyone that I really do need help. Then maybe if anyone secretly does love me after all they would start to show it.
I pace around the apartment for a while trying to think about what I should do. Then my roommate Charlotte comes home. I didn’t think anyone was going to be around that weekend. She’s on the phone, but I decide to wait until she finishes and let her make this decision for me. No pressure or anything. I make a deal with myself that if she agrees that I should go to the hospital, I’ll do that, and if not, then I can revisit the idea of killing myself.
I tell her that I’m having a rough night and thinking of killing myself and I thought that maybe I should go to the hospital. I tell her what my old counselor had told me, and I tell her that I’m not sure if my situation is serious enough to warrant a hospital visit.
Luckily, she immediately said, “Yes, you should go. Get dressed and we’ll go together.” She told me that whether it’s serious enough or not, it’s better to be safe than sorry. And she’s absolutely right.
Last year for this anniversary I wrote about the rest of that night here, but in summary, I was released a few hours later and I was disappointed, but it made my roommates take notice of my behaviour and guide me through the next couple of weeks, including visiting my university’s counselling services, where I was able to jump to the top of the waiting list thanks to that hospital visit, and being put on the medication that ended up finally helping me.
That part of the story is important, but I’ve talked about it before and so have a lot of other people. People love talking about their experiences in emergency rooms and in treatment, but a lot of people are still uncomfortable talking about how they got there.
All that’s left of that night now is a faded hospital bracelet and my memories. I’m barely in touch with the person who triggered me that night. I don’t live in that apartment anymore.
But when I thought to myself that night that things would be like that forever, I wasn’t wrong. Things have continued that way since then. I’ve met amazing people and been happier than I ever thought I could be but nothing lasted. I haven’t figured out how to make that stop. I don’t know if I ever will. I haven’t figured out how to be happy. But I have figured out how to keep myself alive.
That doesn’t mean that I’ve figured out how to function like a normal person all of the time. There are still days where I can’t eat anything other than Rice Krispies or need to sleep for most of the day or just plain can’t do anything other than sit around watching Netflix, frustrating everyone around me, especially my roommate. Those days are fewer and further between than they used to be but they’re still there.
Those are not exactly the most productive activities, it’s true. But they keep me content. They keep me from slipping from “I’m okay” and “I’m fine” to worse. They keep me distracted from overthinking things and ruminating on every single not-nice thing anyone has said to me in the past few months.
I have mastered what I call “survival mode”. That may change, but for now, I’m proud of that.
Another thing that keeps me calm is playing my ukulele, a new hobby that I picked up only a couple of months ago. I like learning to play whatever my favourite song of the moment is, and I feel a sense of accomplishment when I succeed.
On Monday my favourite song of the moment was “Truce” by twenty one pilots – although the lyrics are sort of dark, the second verse comforts me a lot. Something I’ve learned in the past two years is how to be my own best friend, and many times I have desperately hoped that the day will come when I don’t have to be anymore, because it is exhausting.
As part of how I wanted to commemorate that day I decided to do a really quick cover of it – if I had given myself more time or thought of this idea earlier I could have done much better, but as it was, it was getting late so I pretty much just looked up the chords, practiced for 15 minutes and then hit record.
So here that is, and I encourage you to listen to the original song here. If you are feeling anxious or depressed maybe it will calm you down too.
Chelsea Ricchio is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the SPEAK OUT blog. She is also the Communications Manager for Healthy Minds Canada. She graduated from the University of Toronto in 2015 with a BA in English Literature and Book & Media Studies. She was the former president of the student group Active Minds at UofT, which hosts SPEAK OUT events on campus (from which this blog takes its name). She was diagnosed with Dysthymia and Social Anxiety. She is 23 and lives in Toronto with her cat Genie and her roommate.