Recently, I’ve been struggling with my mental health. For the first time, it seems too much. Don’t get me wrong, I want to live. That’s all I want to do.
[Trigger Warning: Readers who may find the topic distressing are advised this article addresses suicide. If you or anyone you know has suicidal thoughts or tendencies, please seek professional help or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.]
Right now, as I’m typing this, I’m more scared than I’ve ever been. I’m afraid that by sharing the most intimate emotional disaster I’ve ever faced I will suffer severe consequences: people won’t look at me the same, I might not be able to get a job, and I will be viewed as weak. I have weighed all these options and then thought about the other possibility: I could help someone. I’m going with Door Number Two and I’ve made peace with the unknown forces behind it. I hope it has at least a washer and dryer for my effort.
First, I need to make a few things clear: I know I am privileged. I am a straight, white male. I come from a middle-class upbringing and never went without anything essential growing up. During my twenties, I actively chose to do hard drugs and there is no doubt in my mind that exacerbated the condition I’ve struggled with since I was 12 years old: severe depression.
On May 25th, I woke up, took a shower, got ready to go to my job, and promptly decided that was the day I was going to kill myself. For the life of me (whoops!) I don’t know what pushed me over the edge. Sure, I had been single for the last four years (minus one three-month relationship), I had debts I constantly worried about, I questioned what I was doing with my life and what my purpose was, but who in their right mind doesn’t worry about those things? I have yet to meet such a specimen.
I didn’t write a suicide note, I did something far more insidious: I texted each member of my family individually that I loved them. I knew no red flags would be hoisted with this act, but it was my way of saying goodbye. I sat on my bed, the sun shining through my tiny window, watching the fractal glow slowly dissolving upon my sheets, and illuminated dust particles that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. Then I swallowed the pills that I’d been stockpiling for this day. I won’t go into the specific medications or exactly how many I took, suffice to say that I’d done research and what I took would be more than enough to kill three clowns and a giraffe. I am a perfectionist, I wasn’t going to fuck up suicide. I made peace with myself and closed my eyes. I wondered just how hot hell would be and whether or not the devil wore cutoffs. Those were my last thoughts.
Then the most surreal experience of my life occurred: I woke up. Seven hours had passed and when I came to I wasn’t sure if I was alive. The vibration of my cellphone caught my attention. I pinched myself. It felt real. Fuck me six ways sideways from Sunday, I am alive. I was a real-life Jon Snow.
My mind was moving in slow-motion, but I decided it would be a good idea to call my therapist (PRO-TIP: Always call your therapist before pulling the trigger of a pharmacological gun pointed directly at your heart). She told me I had to go to the hospital immediately. She called back ten minutes later questioning why I was still there. I was smoking pot. I just survived myself, I deserve a couple of bowls, my mind explained.
More time passed and there was a knock on my door. I opened it and saw two of NYPD’s finest.
“We’re here for the drug overdose,” said a stocky man with a furrowed brow and shifty eyes. The other one was playing on his phone.
“Um, it’s just me in the apartment, gentlemen,” I assured them with a performance I’m still hopeful will get an Oscar nod. “You might want to check the apartment next door. Have a good day, you boys in blue!”
I slammed the door shut and counted to ten. They left.
The last time I took an ambulance it cost me $1,000. If I survived killing myself, I can make it to a hospital, my brain said. Clearly, logic was the dominating theme of that day. Looking back, I don’t know how I was physically capable of navigating the subway system and one transfer, but I did.
I arrived at Mount Sinai Beth Israel at 7:30 p.m. (approximately). The doctors asked me what I took and how much. Two of them uttered, “Jesus Christ,” while the one with the bedside manner simply told me that I “should be dead,” then muttered, “Jesus Christ.” They didn’t pump my stomach. It wasn’t impressed upon me then how lucky I was.
I deserve happiness and as many strawberry milkshakes as I want.
I was admitted to their psych ward (scratch one more thing off my bucket list!) and would spend the next twelve days there. Two days earlier, I had unwittingly watched One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, so I was hoping to see a friendly Native American that I could shoot hoops with. There was no Native American. There was no basketball. There was group therapy and lukewarm meals and doors with no locks and mandated times to sleep. I made friends with some amazing people who had truly been through the wringer. I tried to figure out an escape plan. I had watched enough Breaking Bad to know there was no situation I couldn’t get out of. I was wrong. I’m convinced I could have if I had a fancy watch. By the third day, I had surrendered to the system and a foreign thought kept pounding, trying to make its way into my mind: I deserve to live. I want to live.
I had stopped taking my Lexapro months before “the incident.” I decided the best form of treatment for depression was pot. I also prescribed a hat for my dandruff. I was, and am, a terrible doctor. They replaced the marijuana with Effexor. I had three hours a day of group therapy. That left about eleven hours to fill my time with. I ended up reading fourteen books in ten days. They took my cellphone, which was a blessing, because I wanted to live-tweet the entire damn experience (hashtag: crazyforreal). Staying in the ward with locked windows and almost no say or control over how my days and nights would unfold was extraordinarily frustrating, but my family rallied behind me with such overwhelming love and support that I couldn’t help but be somewhat hopeful. Four of my best friends visited me in the ward. They asked if they could bring anything, anything at all from the outside world.
“Books and McDonald’s, the number two with no cheese.”
Upon hearing the food request, one of my friends jokingly asked me to my face if I was sure I wasn’t crazy (I know many will find this term offensive, but when you’re in a ward, you tend to enjoy gallows humor). Who the hell doesn’t like cheeseburgers? Me. And I never claimed to be sane.
On the day I was supposed to be released, I was more excited than I have ever been in my life. I was going to have three strawberry milkshakes and finally inhale the mixed smells of falafel, shit, and days-old urine that New Yorkers call “fresh air.”
An announcement came over the speaker system: “Attention nurses: Be prepared to welcome ISIS to the ward.”
Had the rest of the nation been blown to bits while I was counting the scratches in the linoleum tiles in my room? Surely they would have better targets. If anything, you’d think they would release us all back into the wild, assuming we would wreak havoc upon a system that took away most of our pride and all of our shoelaces.
It turns out that Isis was a woman with a beautiful face and the most unfortunate name in the world.
I got my phone back. Twelve days with no social media. Half of the time I was there I had convinced myself that I was done with comedy, I wasn’t and never had been funny. I checked my Twitter feed. Seth McFarlane had followed me and retweeted me while I was questioning my existence, both existentially and comedically. Yes, I am humblebragging. I stand by it.
Well! That’s that! All done with the ward, it was time to return to my normal life. Except, I still hated myself and questioned whether surviving my attempt was the best outcome. My doctor recommended a pHp (partial hospitalization program) and begrudgingly I said yes to it.
The next six weeks changed my life. I learned emotional regulation techniques and was immersed in group therapy sessions with the most beautiful and brave souls I’ve ever encountered. I devoured CBT and DBT and mindfulness techniques like they were popcorn before a movie. The therapists and the people I was with finally helped me shift the way I view the world.
What drove me to the edge? Lots of things: untreated depression, drugs, the inability to be honest with myself. But if those things composed the car that drove me to the edge, the gasoline was putting others before myself.
I had learned from an early age that making people happy was one of the few things I could do easily and quickly to get instant gratification. No one informed me that, over time, I would eventually always worry about pleasing others, no matter the personal cost. I stayed at jobs to please my parents, I lied when I went out with friends and they asked what I wanted to do. “What do you want to do, friend??” I was always an afterthought.
Today, I am completely sober. I am in recovery and have a sponsor. I’m currently doing 90 meetings in 90 days. I call and text five to twenty people on any given day. I am looking for a new place to live that is drug-free. I am unemployed. I am broke. I am single and still get very lonely. And I’m okay with all of that. Because I am putting myself first. I am content to be in a shitty mood, because it will pass. I have the best friends and family in the world and I cannot thank them enough. There are truly no words to convey how much I love them. But for the first time in 34 years on this ridiculous rock, I can say one thing: I deserve happiness and as many strawberry milkshakes as I want.
And, yes, I got Isis’ phone number.