Simply put, my first #EndTheStigma guest blog post below brought me to tears. I not only admire the writer’s ability to paint such a vivid picture of her story, but of course, her sincere strength. You can follow her on Twitter here. If you want to submit your own #EndTheStigma story, please see my “About Me” for contact information.
If you throw someone a life preserver, and they turn around and swim away from it, what can you do but let them drown themselves?”
To that, my answer has always been: anything. Do anything.
I was not supposed to die on September 24, 2010. But that was what I meant to do when I stared down at the handful of tiny white pills before me, like so many soulless eyes,
you’ve no real problems
you’re so selfish
you’re not good enough
you have no excuse for being this way
and swallowed them all without a second thought.
The second thoughts came later, locked in my bedroom. That was when, consumed by the shame of what I had done, I called the person I would later call my best friend and imagine building a future with: a boy I hardly knew at the time.
Despite how far I have come since then, I will always carry with me the guilt of what I put him through. He didn’t know where I live, or the phone number of anyone who could reach me. He was helpless. All he could do was try to keep me talking to him as my words began to slur together, and plead with me to find someone who could help me, which I refused to do.
This is the series of events that I have pieced together in place of the memories stolen from me by the medication I took. Eventually, I hung up the phone; irrationally, I hadn’t expected him to be so upset. When I refused to answer his insistent subsequent phone calls, he began sending me text messages instead. I responded, even as my fingers grew too clumsy to spell correctly and my mind too foggy to form proper sentences.
I have only one vague recollection of those moments. He had asked me, one final time, to find help for myself. Selfish and afraid, I told him I didn’t want to. His response: “I want you to, Olivia. Please.”
Still, I couldn’t bring myself to do it, and it was completely by chance that I sent a message meant for him to my older sister instead. Later, she showed me the message, which read: “iTs not likee the world [will] be any differennt, just one less problematic person.” She knew something wasn’t right; my depression was no secret in my family, but I had been in therapy and taking medication for months. Everyone, including me, assumed I was better. She found me, and my family took me to the emergency room.
I have no memory of what happened there, and I never asked.
These things I have been told but absolutely cannot remember: that my family kept me away from my older cousin, who stayed with us for a night while he was in town for a race, so he wouldn’t know (he still doesn’t); that I could barely feed myself; that I grew irrationally angry when my mother insisted on sleeping in my room with me.
These are the things I do remember:
Being asked the current date,
and slurring out the correct date of the wrong year, oh God, how embarrassing
bits and pieces from the day after, at home
“Mom, I’m so sorry.” “I have already forgiven you.” “I’m so sorry.”
sticky plastic circles on my chest, left painful red raw circles
so many bruises, what the hell happened to me
I still have the hospital bracelet
in a box, in my closet.
“[My father's name], I can’t take care of her anymore.”
the noise my mother made when, at the second hospital, I answered the question Were you trying to do yourself harm? with a yes.
Being taken upstairs in a wheelchair with police officers on either side of me. My clothes being taken from me; whose clothes I was given in replacement, I still don’t know.
I attempted suicide on a Friday afternoon; I blacked out for two whole days. My first real recollections are from the first night I spent in a psychiatric ward.
I remember it was so cold. There was only one blanket on the hard bed, and it was so cold. And my door was locked. And I couldn’t work out precisely why I was there despite knowing exactly what I had done, and I was coming down from being high out of my skull. My arms were covered in bruises, and I was alone. I spent the first night stumbling in circles around the tiny hospital room, shivering and sobbing with my arms locked tightly around myself, until they finally came in and gave me something to make me sleep.
I spent a week in the hospital. I met so many people there, kids really, from all walks of life. We chewed a lot of ice, played a lot of cards. I became an excellent poker player during that week. We all came from completely different worlds but connected on so many levels.
A boy named Andy who walked in circles with his hands clamped over his ears, fighting against demons that no one else could hear.
A fourteen-year-old girl who disagreed with her diagnosis of sociopath, stating: “I have a heart; she’s just at home in her crib.”
A soft-spoken boy named Robert who seemed completely normal.
A boy named Graham who took nothing seriously and once had tried to escape the ward. The first time I saw him, he was lying on his side on a mat in a tiny room. The door was open, but he was handcuffed. After the only family group therapy session I attended, he told me he’d like to fuck my sister.
Another fourteen-year-old girl named Riley who attended regular school outside of the ward. She was terrified of Graham, since it was common knowledge in the ward that he wanted to fuck her, too. I ran into her once outside, but after a split second of terrified eye contact, we both silently agreed that we had to be mistaken, oh, no, I’m sorry, you just look like someone I knew once.
I haven’t spoken to any of them since I got out; we weren’t allowed to share identifying information. I hope they’re all okay.
It was in the hospital that I took the first steps towards coming to terms with what I did. More importantly, I began to understand that depression was not me, but something about me. I was not selfish and stupid and ungrateful because I wanted to die. I was sick. A very sick, sad, scared seventeen-year-old girl.
The boy I used to credit with saving my life stayed in touch with me for the entire week, unbeknownst to me as I wasn’t allowed access to my cell phone. Every day he sent me text messages and left me voicemails, encouraging me and telling me his thoughts were with me. Later, when I read them, I cried.
I say “used to credit” because I have since come to realize that only I had the power to pull myself out of the hole of self-loathing I had been living in, though God knows he helped.
He wasn’t allowed to visit me, but in the same box in my closet as both hospital bracelets is a journal in which I wrote him a letter he never read, with a “safe” felt-tip pen that I could not harm myself with. I attempted to explain how sorry I was for what I did. I’ll never stop being sorry, but somehow he forgave me.
But more importantly, he taught me a powerful lesson that I will carry with me for the rest of my life: that no person should ever give up on another. He never hadto pick up the phone. He wasn’t obligated to stay on the line. He was never required to forgive me. And God knows he didn’t need to accept me back into his life, after everything.
Years later, still in therapy but finally medication-free, I look back on his act of kindness and realize that it was him throwing me that life preserver that got me back on my feet after that first hard fall, and back on the long path to saving myself.
Nearly a year later, I was asked to write an essay called This I Believe for my AP English class. With the anniversary of That Day approaching, I could think of little else and when I put my fingers to the keys of my computer, my story flowed out in words and tears and incredible raw honesty. When my essay was selected by my group to be read for the class, I stood with it clenched in nerveless fingers and in a halting, tiny voice I opened myself to my classmates in a way I never had before. By the time I was finished reading, my eyes were not the only ones in that room brimming with tears.
Afterward, I was shocked at how many of my peers reached out to me and admitted to their own struggle. I was overwhelmed and humbled by the experience. Part of me was afraid– I didn’t know how to help these people; I often barely knew how to help myself. But then I remembered that voice in the darkness, and realized that that was what I had to try be for them, if I could. I couldn’t save people; I could only be there to listen, and to remind them that they are capable of saving themselves.
I was lucky. I was thrown that life preserver. He did not give up on me, and it is because of that simple fact that I will never again give up on myself.