Be aware, this is a VERY long and VERY personal story about my own suicide attempt experience. If you want to understand more about what it’s like to be at the edge, I suggest you read this entire story despite it’s length. It really does tell a unique point of view about suicide.
I also feel compelled to mention that this is my perspective and my perspective only. Everything that I wrote here is how I felt and how I perceived things to be at the time. I would never proclaim to know how others feel or what they were thinking. I can only tell the story from how I saw it.
Over the last few days, I have seen a few people posting these status updates on Facebook with the hashtag #SuicideAwareness. Every so often these suicide prevention or awareness memes goes around and when it does, most of the time I see a lot of people who I believe genuinely want to help people who are feeling like that, but don’t really understand what it is like to be there. Maybe some do, but I don’t think most people really understand.
On December 15th, 2002, I swallowed an entire bottle of prescription medication, laid down in my bed, and waited.
Now obviously I didn’t die. But unlike many of you, I know what it is like to be at the bottom of that well and I can tell you, at least for me, it’s not anything like what most people think. I’d like to tell you exactly how it felt and exactly how I came to the decision to do what I did.
To understand my reasoning and where I was that year, I’m going to tell a story I have never written about before. My wife and a few close friends know this story (and in a lot more detail than I’m going to write here) but it’s not something I have ever shared publicly. I’ve left out certain names, and kept some of the details somewhat vague as it’s not necessary to go into excessive detail for you to understand. But it is necessary for me to explain the type of situation I was in so you can understand what led me to my attempted suicide.
I got married to my first wife in 1999. In retrospect, it was a horrible decision. In those days, I felt very much alone, and this woman was someone who I knew, who I got along with, and who I had a lot of fun with. At the time I thought I should marry her because maybe I would never find “the one” and I had spent too much time already alone in my life. I didn’t want to be alone anymore.
But, I was young, and so was she, and we were, and still are, very different people. In 1999, I got a new job, moved to Poughkeepsie, NY, and got married. New job. New home. New city. New country. New wife. Sure, let’s throw all of this together and I am sure it will work out just fine.
Three years later, I had given up a dream job at IBM, moved back to Moncton and began teaching at my old college, and had alienated my best friend (Chris) because my then-wife hated him. Add to that the fact that when we moved home, an entire part of her personality emerged that I had never experienced before. On a daily basis, I was subjected to constant criticism of my actions which resulted in me taking that criticism and steering it in an unhealthy direction.
What direction was that?? It made me angry. I got mad at her almost every day. We fought constantly. If you’ve known me long enough you know that I have struggled with a bad temper my whole life. When we were married, she brought out the worst temper I ever had. I once picked up a coffee table and threw it at her because she made me so angry. I once jumped onto the hood of her moving car when I lost it during a fight. I was never physically abusive to her but I sure did a lot of yelling. I am sure from her perspective, it probably seemed like she was married to The Hulk because I got mad so often. There were reasons behind the anger but that didn’t change the end result. Since then I have found much healthier ways to channel my anger so it doesn’t ever get to that point. But at the time, it came out through daily shouting matches with her.
Cut to summer of 2002, an incident involving my then-wife and her choice of actions while out clubbing one night with her girlfriends, resulted in her coming home at 6am to tell me that “we need to talk”. A huge fight followed and by the next day, we had decided to unofficially “separate”.
This is where the downward slope that would eventually result in my pill popping began. See, when we separated, in my mind, this was not us splitting up. I truly felt like we were simply taking a step back, re-evaluating ourselves, and that we would find a way to make it work. The entire time we were separated, I kept remembering those wedding vows where you say “for better or worse” and that this was just a bump in the road.
The reality was, the marriage was already over. It had been over for months. If she had truly been happy with our marriage, then she wouldn’t have made some of the choices she made that resulted in our split. But I didn’t see that. I saw it as two people who got married and were having troubles and needed to figure out how to fix it.
I moved out and within a month or two, she told me she didn’t want to try and make it work, and that I should file for an official separation. She was already involved with another man and didn’t want to reconcile with me. I walked out of the duplex that afternoon, drove my car around the block, parked it, and proceeded to ball my eyes out. My marriage was truly over.
At this point, I was feeling pretty miserable. I didn’t have a lot of friends at the time. I had no romantic prospects for myself, and any friends I did have, just didn’t understand what I was going through. Me and my ex were trying to be friends, but she didn’t exactly make it easy. Anything and everything she said to me felt like she was flaunting her happiness while I was miserable. I also know that a lot of that perception was skewed by my own misery. Sure, she had her moments where she was a total bitch to me, but there were just as many times where I would take something innocent and twist it into something that was so far from the truth only I would see it. I was hurt and I wasn’t going to see it any other way.
Plus, the reality was, it really hurt that she was more happy with someone else, than with me. I was watching a woman that I had married be far more happy and jovial with another man, than she was with me. It made it feel like she was flaunting it in front of me and trying to shove her happiness in my face. Maybe part of her was, but the truth is she was finally able to be with someone who actually made her happy. I didn’t see that side of it until me and Tamara had a conversation one night in our kitchen. She told me a story from her perspective and when she explained it to me, a light bulb went off in my head and I saw that entire scenario in a completely different light. But in the moment, at the time, when my marriage had failed that’s not how I saw it at all.
When you’re feeling like you have failed because your marriage just ended, do you have any idea how soul-crushing it is to see the person you married be more happy with another person instead of you? It’s one of the most awful feelings you can ever have. If you happen to already have someone in your life, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as bad. But if you feel like you are alone, and that your life is a failure, every time you see the two of them together, it just sinks you even further into that pit. Your mind runs trying to figure out what it is you did wrong and why you failed at your marriage.
Throw into the mix the fact that I was expecting to hear from my dad on my birthday and he never called, and the fact that I hated my job, December of that year was about as bad as it could get.
On December 15th, 2002, I went into Walmart to buy some Christmas gifts and as I was looking at stuff in an aisle, I spotted my ex-wife with her new boyfriend. That was it. I could not take how I felt any more.
I shook my head, bolted for the door and went home. I took out my bottle of thyroid medication, put every pill in a long line on my desk. I got a glass of water, and scooped some of the pills up, swallowed them with the water, and repeated this until they were all gone.
Why? Why did I feel the need to do this?
I’m not a stupid person. I am not unintelligent. But I am an emotional person. I am someone who feels and who feels deeply. And when I hurt, I hurt deeply.
The whole time I was driving back to my house, my mind raced with all of the miserable things I was feeling from that year. I had given up my dream job. I had failed at a marriage. I pushed my closest friend away because of my spouse. I isolated myself from other people because of how I felt in my marriage. I felt alone. I felt miserable. And I felt angry all at the same time.
I was at the bottom of the well looking up, and all I wanted was all of that misery to be gone. I didn’t want to feel alone anymore. I didn’t want to feel sad anymore. I didn’t want to feel like a failure anymore. I just wanted to feel the same way I had felt before I got married. I wanted to be the crazy guy who did silly things just to be silly. I wanted to go back to being spontaneous and fun. But it felt like that guy was long gone and all I really wanted was to stop feeling so awful.
I didn’t want to die. I had no interest in actually dying. I just didn’t want to feel so horrible and miserable anymore. I just needed the anguish to go away and there was nothing else that I could think of in that moment that could make the pain disappear.
Why didn’t I call someone or talk to someone?
I felt alone and I felt like no one around me would understand how horrible I was feeling. But I also knew that the moment I picked up the phone and called someone, they would feed me the “it gets better” speech which to me was the last thing I wanted to hear.
Yes, we’ve all seen the commercials, and after school specials that tell us it’s never worth taking your own life. It will get better. Time heals all wounds. Blah blah blah. If I’m at the point where I want to die to make my misery end, do you really think telling me that at some mysterious point in the future everything will be fine is somehow going to make me feel better?
How the hell does that help someone when they are at the bottom of the well looking up and feeling helpless?
“It’s not so bad. A year from now things will be so much better.”
Great. I only have to wait a whole year before my life doesn’t suck anymore. What do I do until then?
This is why I didn’t call anyone or try to reach out. I didn’t want to hear that things get better later. I wanted to stop feeling so awful right now. I needed to have that pain and misery taken away from me and I didn’t want to have to suffer anymore. I just wanted to stop feeling so awful. So, I swallowed a bottle of pills and hoped that would magically make everything better.
I got up from my desk, laid in my bed, stared at the ceiling and wondered what would happen next. But as it turns out, my journey was not meant to end with my mom coming home and finding me dead in my own bed. I don’t know how long I laid there, but at some point something inside me just switched. Next thing I know, I was in my car driving myself to the hospital. Checked into the ER, told them what I had done, and then had to face the consequences of my actions.
I called my mom and a friend from the hospital and had to tell both of them what had happened when they arrived. I stayed in the hospital a couple of days and then was released. But things were different. I was now a person who had attempted to take his own life. That action stays with you for your entire life and alters your perception about the world around you.
14 years later, I can be even more honest about what happened that day. A big part of it was wanting to get rid of the misery. But I also think there was a part of me that knew taking a bottle of pills wasn’t going to kill me. I think on some level I knew that if I took the pills, I wouldn’t die, but I would have to force myself to go through the repercussions of a suicide attempt and try to work my life out. Regardless, I ended up in a place where I was so miserable that suicide felt like the only way I could cure the misery.
So now when I see people talk about suicide prevention and doing everything they can to help, I often wonder if they actually know what it’s like to be in that place. Do they really know how a person feels when they reach that point? Do they really understand that for at least some of us, it isn’t about wanting to die, but simply wanting these feelings of despair to be over.
Now, I get the feeling that if you’ve come this far in my story, you’re probably wondering what someone like me, who’s gone through this experience, would suggest to others who do feel like they are in that same well. Or if you know someone who is pushing towards ending their life, what would I suggest you do to help.
The truth is, no one around me had any idea how sad I was. When you hear the stories about these people who take their own life and it comes as a huge shock to those around them, that is how I think it would have been for me. Despite how awful I felt, I did my best to put on a nice smile, pretend to be happy, and no one really knew how horrible I felt at the time. But people did know what I was going through. People did know that me and my ex had split up. They did know she was with someone else and I wasn’t. They were aware of the situation but because I seemed “fine”, no one thought to take it any further.
My advice to those of you out there who wonder what you should do, or what you can do, is to be aware and be sensitive to the things going on with your friends and family. Most people are not going to come out and tell you “I’m so miserable I want to kill myself”. But for those in your life that you care about, you should take the time to be aware of what they are going through. If you care about them, and they are important to you, you should be in the know about their lives and what’s going on.
By being “present” and “aware” of what’s going on in the lives of the people you love the most, you can take the time and effort to be there for them. When big emotional things happen to people, it doesn’t matter what the person says, they are not fine. No one goes through a breakup, a death, a tragic accident, assault, excessive bullying, or any other large emotional situation without being affected in some way. They may not even know they are being affected by it, but they are. We all want to think we are “fine”, but the reality is, we all have to deal with the shitty things that happen in life, and sometimes when one bad thing keeps happening after another, we lie to ourselves and others to say things are ok, but it really isn’t. It’s on both the person who is miserable and their loved ones, be it friends or family, to do what they can do pull them out of that well.
A true friend is someone who knows you are going through something awful, and despite the fact you keep telling them you are fine, they get you to talk or do something with you to help you, even when you don’t want them to. Those true friends are the ones who are paying attention to what’s going on in your life enough to know that when something bad happens, they need to be there with you whether you think you need them or not.
And to the person who is miserable, you cannot hold it inside. You cannot lie to the world. You cannot hope that your friends or family are going to come to you to help. You have to do your part and reach out. Whether that means you call someone, you write about what’s bothering you, you record a video on YouTube about how awful you feel, or you just go out for a walk and talk to yourself to get it out of your system. It’s hard as hell to do, and I know exactly how it feels, but if I had just called someone, even if I hadn’t been talking to them much lately, and told them I’m in a bad place, that would have been it. They would have been there in a flash and I would have told them how I felt. I’d still feel miserable and awful, but I would not have felt alone. Even if I didn’t have anyone in my life, I could have called 911 and said I think I want to kill myself and someone on the other end of the phone would have helped me.
It is scary to ask for help. We all think we can do it alone, but we don’t. No one ever does it alone. Whether it’s a spouse, a partner, or a friend, we all get through the worst of times together so don’t ever think for a single second that you are alone and have no one. There’s always someone, even a stranger, who can help.
And if by some strange chance a random stranger is reading this and feels like they are at the bottom of the pit, and need someone, then email me. firstname.lastname@example.org. I know exactly how you feel and would be glad to talk to you to help you out of that well of despair.
So that’s my own suicide story. I hope that if you read this whole thing, my story has given you a bit of a different perspective on what it’s like to be in that pit. It’s a scary place to be, so if you can do anything to help someone who might be near the edge and thinking about jumping, maybe some of my words can help you help them.
P.S. I said in my story here that I didn’t want to hear the “it gets better” spiel from anyone because it wouldn’t help me in the moment. But ironically, I am going to say that “it gets better”.
In the summer of 2003, less than a year after my attempt, I began a romantic relationship with Tamara. In the spring of 2004, we bought a house and the following year we got married. Since we got together, my life has seen a 180 degree turnaround and it’s because of her. She has been the most amazing person I have ever had in my life. We have two kids and a life that I could not have ever fathomed I would have. I am so blessed and grateful for having her in my life that I cannot imagine how I ever existed without her. I went from settling for someone because I didn’t think I would ever find “the one” to actually finding “the one”. It was a hard journey to get where I am now, but here I am, and it’s better than ever.
So ya, it does get better and I know in the moment it may not feel that way. But all those stories people tell about it getting better over time, as lame as they may sound, are all true. Somehow find the strength to keep fighting and it will get better.