I attempted suicide when I was twenty-two years old and a senior in college. I took 60 or 80 Sominex sleeping pills. It was the day after the Phillies lost the World Series to the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993. On that Sunday morning, I went to some family get-together in Port Richmond, went back to school, sang at 6:30 PM Mass, and went to my apartment on campus. I had one of my senior projects due the next day, and even though I had joked that was what drove me to suicide, that wasn’t why. It took quite a while for me to get to that point.
I had signs of clinical depression during the spring semester of junior year before my suicide attempt. My counselor at the time was excellent and supportive, and recommended that I get an evaluation with the school psychiatrist who started me on Prozac and Xanax. After a mistake in the medication dosages, I stopped cold turkey. The Xanax dose was definitely too high, but I blindly had faith in the psychiatrist until he became impossible to get in touch with. I didn’t know then that stopping SSRIs suddenly can cause one’s mood to crash. I was already pretty depressed on Prozac and Xanax, but taking myself off it just led me to suicide sooner rather than later.
I honestly don’t know what made me finally make a plan to take two bottles of sleeping pills. I think I made the final decision to overdose about two or three weeks before I actually went through with it.
Like I stated earlier, I saw the Phillies lose the World Series the night before, went to a family get-to-together that Sunday, and sang at Mass. Even though I really didn’t think the pills would work, I took those sleeping pills in my apartment. I didn’t want my roommates to find me, so I decided to leave the apartment as if I was going to the library, and I walked down to the main part of campus.
I chose sleeping pills because I thought it would make me just fall asleep and my spirit would depart for permanent oblivion. I was afraid of guns and I didn’t know if I could bring myself to try hanging myself. I didn’t know that sleeping pills don’t just relax muscles and make a person drowsy; they really slow, slow, slow down a person’s breathing. I expected to become groggy, clumsy and so forth. I did not know that it was difficult to inhale because the pill made my breathing rate so slow. It was almost like I had to wait for my lungs to be able to work to pull in air and even if I panicked, that breathing rate would not change. That was the most frightening part that I remember. That scared me more than me losing awareness and stupidly talking to people who talked to me or me trying to smoke a cigarette when my hand couldn’t find nor figure out how to find my mouth (kind of funny how I was smoking a cigarette when it was so difficult to breathe). Then I guess I collapsed.
A day or two later, I began waking up off and on in the hospital: once while on the ventilator. I remember stupidly realizing, “Oh crap. I tried to kill myself. I guess it didn’t work.” I was relieved. I guess the main relief was that I didn’t have to keep going and keep acting like I was doing OK. After I was physically OK, I went to the psychiatric wing of the hospital.
My family was naturally upset by my suicide attempt. I absolutely did not want to hurt my parents or my siblings when I attempted suicide. It had nothing to do with them. We all walked on eggs around each other during the first several months after my attempt. My depression and my suicide attempt were unspoken, but draped in the background.
I even thought I would just come back to school, though I missed three weeks, and try to catch up with classes and student teaching. It didn’t turn out that way. I was told to withdraw from classes for the rest of the semester, which made sense however, I had no idea how hard it would be for me to come back in the spring. I thought I would be able to move back with my roommates in January, but my roommates didn’t want me back. I asked why, and one said, “What the hell do you expect from us? You tried to commit suicide!” Another one said, “Well, we really don’t want to talk to you anymore, so stay the **** away from the apartment.” I asked the on-campus residence manager about finding new housing, and she told me since I had attempted suicide on campus (was found by the library), that I would have to get cleared to return to classes and get cleared to live on campus.
I am thankful that I did not complete my suicide attempt. I would not have seen my two other nieces and nephew born. I would not have developed a knack for performance poetry and acting. I definitely would not have rediscovered my love of swimming and running. There are so many things I would have missed out on in the twenty years (it will be twenty years on October 22) since I attempted suicide.
I do admit that I still do struggle with suicidal thoughts and suicidal ideation. I also had a short time of having difficulty with self-injurious (non-suicidal) behavior. The last time I was dangerously suicidal was about eight years ago, but my last episode of moderate depression is this past year. I am thankful I’ve been able to exercise as much as I have been, because I think my depression this past year would have been a thousand times worse.
What has kept me going during the past several years is that I stay active. I kept up with my medical and/or therapy appointments (go to support groups occasionally, too). I also make sure medications are taken correctly. I also look for resources, for example, I use the wellness kit and mood tracking calendar from the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance’s (DBSA) web site. I make sure I go to work, whether it is full- or part-time. I volunteer with several organizations or at one-day events or races. I keep a journal, write poetry and songs, and I exercise. I keep the suicide hotlines in my phone: 1-800-SUICIDE and 1-800-273-TALK.
Most importantly, I think a support system amongst friends and family is extremely important. During my recovery from that suicide attempt, I did not reach out to my everyday friends and family (except my aunt). I think I also let the stigma of suicide and having mental illness force me to keep things secret from others. It’s good to have people other than professional mental health providers for support to have that sense of normalcy and to not feel so alone.