My Suicide Attempt Story
This piece carries a heavy trigger warning. Please be careful.
My suicide attempt story is like many other suicide attempt stories, I’d imagine. It beings with an unrelenting mental illness (bipolar disorder), goes on to include painful events outside of my control and ends in an attempt on my life. But I like to think of my suicide attempt story as a story of survival – even when my own brain was trying to kill me.
Before the Suicide Attempt
The year was 2010 and I was suicidally depressed. My bipolar depression had gotten out of control after being laid off, along with 4000 others, in 2009 from a major technology company. I was medication-resistant and after trying tens of combinations there was almost nothing left to try. I had even tried electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in an attempt to stem depression’s tide, to no avail. In spite of receiving nine of these “last resort” treatments, I felt no improvement.
And then I was kicked out of the United States and back to my home of Canada. This is hardly the worst fate a person can befall but, unfortunately, everything I owned, including my two cats was on one side of the border and I was on the other side. I had no job, I had no money and, suddenly, I had no place to live.
I ended up on my mother’s couch, a friend of mine drove to Seattle to pick up my cats and after about 100 phone calls to the United States government, I finally figured out how to get my stuff back into Canada.
Once again settled in a now much more modest apartment, I also needed to do something else. I also needed to get a local psychiatrist in British Columbia.
So I went through the process one goes through in B. C. to get a psychiatrist and, after a phone screening, I was rejected from psychiatric treatment. I never understood why or how the person who had spoken to my suicidal self for five minutes made this assessment, but she had.
I managed to get past that rejection and got to a point where I had to be assessed by a psychiatrist in person to determine if a psychiatrist was the best doctor for me.
I went to the woman psychiatrist’s office and I can honestly tell you she was a horrible human being. She sat down in front of me, and without even introducing herself, she just started firing question at me. And they were the kind of questions you wouldn’t want to answer even if you best friend asked them, let alone if some stranger doctor lady did.
I did my best to answer all her questions while she wrote, longhand, in front of me, never looking up to see my tears. I could feel the heat in my face and knew I was supressing sobs. She didn’t care.
And at the end of this interview, the woman psychiatrist looked at me and said, “We can’t help you. You won’t be a patient.”
“What?” I said. “I have bipolar disorder; I need a psychiatrist.”
“You’ve tried every treatment and they’ve all failed,” she said. “What’s the point in your having a doctor?”
I looked at her, cheeks soaked with tears, and asked, “What do I do now?”
“I don’t know,” she replied.
I left her office that day fairly hysterical without the faintest idea of what to do next. As I walked down the street to where my car was parked, it took every inch of willpower I had not to jump into oncoming traffic. Wanting to die was all with which I had been left.
The next day, I woke up and I promptly went into denial. I said to myself, “I’m not sick. I’m fine. I don’t need a doctor. Everything’s going to be great.”
And what I like to say about denial is that denial works really, really well for a really, really short period of time. For me that period of time was two weeks.
The Suicide Attempt
After two weeks I came home one day and I cracked wide open. I broke into a million pieces all over the floor. I was just so sick with bipolar depression and I was just so suicidal.
And then I saw, on my kitchen counter, two champagne flutes filled with heart candies from Valentine’s Day. And I had always pictured myself committing suicide by slicing my wrists with broken glass. It was such a frequent image in my head I had almost began to fetishize it.
So I walked over to the glasses and smashed them against the kitchen’s tile floor. Then I drank some alcohol, took some pills and sat on the floor surrounded by shards of glass. I picked up the nearest one and started cutting my left wrist. After two minor cuts and little blood I realized something: it wasn’t sharp enough. So then I crawled through the broken glass and heart candies looking for a piece that was. I passed out doing that.
After the Suicide Attempt
When I woke up on the tiles of my kitchen floor, still feeling like my bipolar brain was trying to kill me, I realized something. I realized that the doctor lady was the one with the problem. She was wrong. I needed a doctor. And somehow that day I managed to pick up my broken soul and take it into a doctor’s appointment with my family doctor. I begged for her help. She made personal phone calls to an old psychiatrist I used to see in town and he agreed to see me again. He wasn’t even accepting new patients. He didn’t have to see me. The system said I was broken. The system said I couldn’t be fixed. He agreed to see me anyway. I can honestly say I have never been more thankful for a kindness in my life.
When he did see me he suggested a specific treatment that I had already tried, which I told him. He, however, said that while I had tried that medication before, I hadn’t tried it in the specific combination I was taking at that point. So, while no part of me thought the medication would work, I agreed to just trust him and take it.
And within about two weeks, I start to feel a change. I started to feel better than I had in years. I started being able to legitimately use the word “happy” and mean it. It was the miracle for which I had been searching for years and the miracle that woman doctor and my bipolar brain would have denied me, had it have been up to them.
I tell this suicide attempt story in public quite a lot and groups appreciate its raw honesty. People call it inspiring and motivational. And I think that’s because this is not a story of illness or death but, rather, the story of a person who stands up against illness and death. Yes, there was definitely some luck on my side, keeping me alive, but there was also me, fighting.
And so, what I hope people will take from this story is this: being pushed to a suicide attempt isn’t the end. Failing treatment after treatment isn’t the end. Being given up on by doctors isn’t the end. The end only happens when we stop fighting. And everyone, when pushed to and beyond their limits, has more fight in them than they could ever imagine. You can survive this. And it will get better.
Header image by Lloyd Morgan.
Glass image by Christian Schnettelker.