I want to thank this anonymous author for sharing her story. The My Story Series is a place where real women can tell real stories, a platform of openness, support and awareness. This piece does talk about suicide and depression.
Suicide. A nasty little word that is. Avoided in conversation like you avoid running into Tom, the freshman Sociology major you made out with last weekend after one too many vodka cranberries… how embarrassing.
I’ll never forget the moment I heard my dad had tried to kill himself. It was March 26th, 2014, a Wednesday night during my second semester at Carnegie Mellon University. I was studying for my Child Development exam, trying to motivate myself to get started on the five chapters I needed to read, thinking to myself that studying for this exam was one of the worst things ever. Then the phone rang.
My mom called a lot my freshman year, so I thought nothing of it when I saw her name come up on the caller ID. How was I doing? What was I doing? How were my classes going? Polite small talk. Then her voice sank. “I don’t know how to tell you this, but your father attempted suicide. He’s alive, but he’s in the hospital. They found him holding your picture.” My step-mom had just called and told her.
I let out a sob so heavy and so full of grief that the whole library floor went silent. People turned around in their chairs and stared, trying to figure out why this previously okay girl had just fallen to her knees, sobbing into the floor.
I rushed back to my dorm to immediately begin packing. I was going home to see my dad. I stepped to my closet and reached for the black dresses. Wait a minute. My dad hadn’t been successful in his suicide attempt, but my subconscious had reacted like I had lost him.
For a while, a small piece of me felt like I had lost my dad, or a piece of him, at least. You see, there’s a grieving process that accompanies a loved one’s suicide attempt, and oh boy did I grieve. This doesn’t feel real. Denial. How could he do this to me? Anger. If only I had called my dad more often, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. Bargaining. I was devastated. Traumatized. Taken out at the knees. Most of all I was confused. I didn’t understand why my dad would do something like this. Little did I know that these feelings would preface the journey that would answer this question and, eventually, change my life forever.
I was diagnosed with low-level depression when I was 16, not a particularly uncommon or unexpected thing when you have a family history of depression. Pushed under the carpet with a low-dose of antidepressant and the weekly therapy session, I never really thought much of it. I had been through a lot in life. Twelve moves, two divorces, abuse, and my mother’s Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis, not to mention my father’s alcoholism, drug addiction, and even an overdose that my family hid from me for several months. Life had not been the kindest to me, but there I was still chugging along, inspired and motivated by what the world had to offer, driven by my desire to help others and induce change in the world.
I graduated high school an eager and motivated young lady. Constantly pissed-off by my high-school education’s limitations, I entered college excited for opportunities of self-growth and development. And you know what? That’s exactly what I got. Except it wasn’t handed to me, prettily packaged in drunkennights with the people I could never forget or in college football games. Nope, not even in interesting classes that transformed my perspective on life. (Have you sat in an engineering class? It’s not the most captivating material in the world…). Instead, it was hurled at me like a 95 MPH major league fastball, and when it hit me, let me tell you, that shit wasn’t pretty.
My depression throughout college was like slipping down a slippery mountain slope. Once it started, it couldn’t be stopped without brute force. As I slid down the mountain, I picked up speed. What once started as non-threatening, low-level depression had quickly turned into the very dangerous, full-blown major depression. And it all started after my father’s suicide attempt.
First semester sophomore year I failed a class. Second semester sophomore year I missed all of my finals. When I thought my depression couldn’t get any worse, it did. My junior year started and I couldn’t go to class. I couldn’t do my homework. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t shower. I couldn’t brush my teeth. I literally slept for 27 hours at a time to avoid my painful reality. I cut my wrists to distract me from what I was feeling. I consistently struggled with thoughts of killing myself, standing on the curb when a bus drove by, wind hitting my face, just imagining the pain ending as I took just one more step out onto the street. I would find comfort in imagining the relief I would feel from jumping off a building, those couple of seconds of free-fall before I hit the ground, finally free from all of my pain. I was living in a body struggling to survive, despite a brain that was relentlessly trying to kill me.
I knew what was happening to me, and the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. Here I was, a brilliant, well-accomplished young woman, who couldn’t even get out of bed long enough to seek out the education that I, deep down, wanted so badly for myself that it physically hurt to think about forgoing it. Here I was, someone who once wanted to change the lives of others for the better, someone who once wanted to find the cure for Multiple Sclerosis, now wanting to die. I couldn’t be my best version of myself. I couldn’t even be a half-assed version of myself! I was angry and I was sad as I realized I was giving up on my hopes and dreams. I was losing the very essence of who I was, and I couldn’t even doing anything about it. The fact of the matter is that I wasn’t in life’s driver seat anymore; my depression was.
It took just one particularly bad night with my boyfriend, Alex, a few weeks after a medication change. I was sobbing uncontrollably for no apparent reason. Thoughts of taking my own life flooded into my head. I just needed the pain to stop. My brain bounced back and forth as I fought the urge to swallow a bottle of pills. I couldn’t do that to my mom. I couldn’t do that to Alex. I owed them more. You know what? I owed myself more. And so I fought. Hard. My depression had gained so much momentum that I knew the only way to stop it was by brute force. So in a bout of hysteria, complete with literal kicking and screaming, I told Alex to take me to the hospital. I cried the entire ride there, exhausted from the constant feeling that I was so hopelessly out of control of my life and scared that these last ditch efforts would fail me. Would I have to live feeling like this forever? I decided to take the risk. I knew I needed professional help and I knew I needed it quickly, or else I was going to lose the battle against my depression. The hospital was my last hope, my brute force.
I committed myself into the psychiatric ward of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. I laid across the waiting room chairs for 28 hours, waiting to see various doctors and then waiting for those doctors to find a nearby hospital to transfer me so that I could use my health insurance. Phones aren’t allowed in psychiatric hospitals and we weren’t allowed to watch any news, so I just sat there in the waiting room completely isolated from the outside world. To pass the time I ate the only thing they had to offer: plain turkey sandwiches with mayo and mustard. I ate eight of them, actually. That was officially my own personal rock bottom.
I was in the hospital for five days, where I was able to get the help and medication adjustments I needed. It’s safe to say those were five of the most boring days of my life, but I welcomed the consistency and stability of the highly structured and controlled environment after such a chaotic battle with my innermost thoughts and feelings. Almost immediately I began to feel better. Not 100%, but better. I finally was able to get some relief from my normally intrusive and devastating state of being. I guess the thing about hitting rock bottom is that after you reach it, there’s nowhere else to go but back up.
Nine months later, I sit here before you guys, typing away as a senior at Carnegie Mellon getting ready to graduate with a double major in Chemical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering. The most important thing to note from that sentence are the words “I sit here.” I sit here. Today. Alive. I’m here. That is a victory within itself worth celebrating.
My depression is currently managed with rigorous therapy and a total of seven medications, which is honestly just a small price to pay for my life. Although I still have small bouts of depression here and there, I am no longer a victim of my depression. I hold the reigns now, I’m in the driver’s seat. I am a survivor, and through it all I’ve learned more about selfdiscovery and exploration than I ever could’ve asked for. My depression has certainly given me more than it has taken. Through it all, I have learned that I’m stronger than I think. I have learned the importance of compassion and kindness, and the difference that employing those things can make in someone’s life. Most importantly, the dark days of my depression provide a stark contrast to those of when I get to experience pure, untainted joy and happiness. I know whole-heartedly what it’s like to feel so sad that you don’t think you can continue forward anymore. Moments like these remind me of the privilege it is to feel happiness, love, and excitement. My depression has given me this increased awareness and it has given me an appreciation for life, and all of the emotions that accompany it.
“If someone told me that I could live my life again free of depression provided I was willing to give up the gifts depression has given me–the depth of awareness, the expanded consciousness, the increased sensitivity, the awareness of limitation, the tenderness of love, the meaning of friendship, the appreciation of life, the joy of a passionate heart–I would say, ‘This is a Faustian bargain! Give me my depressions. Let the darkness descend. But do not take away the gifts that depression, with the help of some unseen hand, has dredged up from the deep ocean of my soul and strewn along the shores of my life. I can endure darkness if I must; but I cannot live without these gifts. I cannot live without my soul.'” – David Elkins
My battle with depression has been a long and tumultuous journey of learning and self-discovery. I still suffer from occasional bouts of depression, but have learned tips to help manage these occurrences. In my post How to Not Fail Out of College When You Have Depression, I share some of my best tips for continuing on throughout college with depression. If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, PLEASE seek professional help and call 1-800- 273-8255. You can do this. Depression is treatable, suicide is not! You are in charge of your future, not depression. Things change and life will get better with the proper help, so please reach out. You are worth so much more and wanted so much more than you realize. Please, your soul is beautiful and this world cannot afford to lose another beautiful soul.