The Secret About Suicidality
What to know about depression
Several years ago, I tried to kill myself.
And it was beyond my control.
I want to make something clear. Suicidality is a symptom of a disease called depression. It bubbles up sometimes, even when things are fine.
"Fine." Meaning, not devastating enough to warrant an attempt to end it all. Definitely not enough to warrant the misery you bestow upon your loved ones when the Darkness takes you. But mental illness has its own plans.
"Fine." In the remake of the The Italian Job, the characters joke that this stands for "Freaked out, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional." That's pretty accurate.
I had just started a new medication, sertraline (aka Zoloft), in an attempt to finally feel better. I'd battled depression, anxiety, and PTSD for years. I finally had health insurance and was eager to get healthy. In a sense, Zoloft did help with that. But I had to hit rock bottom first.
The drug betrayed me.
Like all SSRIs, Zoloft carries a deadly side effect: suicidal ideation. Often, the attempts involve the drug itself. Mine did, along with a bunch of alcohol.
I was lying in my bed, fading fast. My mind crossed the fact that I'd just done a performance speaking about my previous suicide attempt, which was 10 years before on a different SSRI. It didn't seem to matter anymore. All was useless and futile. I was tired of feeling like a freak in a country so bloated on its own despair.
I awoke to a bunch of cops/paramedics who blurred together in my mind like the cast of a certain hit Fox show. I remember thinking the one was cute and probably found me ugly, all rumpled in my despair. I remember clumsily heading out the door with them and stopping suddenly to say I needed a jacket because it was cold. I was wearing pajama pants and a t-shirt. Somehow I remembered my glasses, although I usually wear contacts. Looking back, I wish I'd grabbed nicer clothes, because whatever you take with you is all you'll have for a while, as long as it's not a belt or anything you can use to finish killing yourself.
They dumped me in a hospital bed and sent what seemed like a hundred people to examine me. Despite the fact that I was barely in sufficient shape to get up and pee, let alone try to finish my attempt, they had a nurse watch me all night. I felt bad for giving her such a boring time. Meanwhile, I descended into the hell that is serotonin sickness. It's an unpleasant high, a feeling of suspension between sleep and waking, fantasy and reality, pain and stress. You twitch every so often and your entire head feels like it's in a vise, while meanwhile, your heart feels like it's going to give out any moment.
The next morning, they came to tell me I was being transferred to a psychiatric facility. I accepted my fate, knowing there was no point in arguing. I'd been down this road before, ten years before, when an intake counselor told me that there was obviously something wrong with me if people kept leaving me (I was telling him I'd been dumped by my boyfriend and that my best friend had moved away, so I had no support network). His words stung me for years.
Now here I was, with a loving partner who was worried sick and dear friends who I feared would reject me if they knew what was going on.
What was wrong with me?
I decided to embrace loony bin life. Perhaps this was my reality now.
But as the days dragged on and I met an endless parade of people as hopeless as I, a somber reality faced me:
We weren’t crazy. We were sick.
It was only because I was hospitalized that I was finally able to receive treatment for my disease. I started taking a medication that works and I received therapy for my PTSD. Three years later, I’m happy, healthy, married, running my own business, and feeling relatively good about life (except for the pandemic and all).
Recently, a friend of mine, Audrey*, went down this same road. No one was able to intervene in time, and she took her own life. It wasn’t that she wasn’t loved or protected. Like me, she had a husband. She had a family. She had everything going for her.
She couldn’t help it.
That’s because suicidality is not the action of a selfish or hopeless person. It’s a symptom of a deadly disease: depression. When Audrey died, I watched our mutual friends wonder if she knew she was loved, if she thought about the consequences of her actions, if she could have been helped.
The answer to all three is yes.
She knew she was loved. She thought about what she was going to do. And she could have been helped…but if she didn’t communicate to anyone that she was pain, no one had a chance to intervene. And that’s the insidiousness of depression. It pushes us toward the edge. It tells us that no one will care if we kill ourselves. It convinces us to harm ourselves in pursuit of some cosmic justice.
It lies to us.
Suicide is not a selfish act. It’s a symptom of a disease, and it’s time to start taking depression seriously. When we dismiss depression as “cute” or something that everyone experiences, we evade any opportunity to intervene in its deadly effects.
Take it from someone who has seen the Dark Side and come back: Depression is a killer. It isn’t a joke, and it can sneak up out of the blue If someone you love suffers from it, do everything you can to get them professional help.
You just might save a life.
If you need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.
*Name has been changed.