CW: Strong themes of suicide
“I’m so sorry…” I slurred groggily, as he dimmed the light above me.
“Don’t apologise Sweetie…” he replied, looking directly into my drowsy eyes. Shame swelled inside me like a helium balloon expanding in my chest.
I hadn’t planned for it to happen like this. There should have been no conversation. He was supposed to just bundle me into a bag and wheel me silently from the house and into the back of his ambulance. No lights, no sirens, just an obligatory drive to the hospital for formalities sake. Again, I apologised. An incoherent apology about inconveniencing him. Before I could finish my slurred thought, he put his hand on the thermal blanket covering my legs, and leaned in toward me gently and said quietly “No, sweetie, no one should ever feel like this.”
We reversed out of the drive way. Tears ran down my hollow cheeks and onto the Warragul Linen beneath me. Through the back window, I watched my familiar surroundings disappear into a blur of strobing red and blue lights. I closed my eyes and silently begged to the Universe to let me slip into that ultimate respite, so I would never have to look into his kind, empathetic face again.
The fluorescent lights of the Emergency Department were sterile and cold, not unlike the attitude of the nurse who stood by my bedside.
“So, why’d you try and kill yourself?” She asked bluntly, as if she were asking whether I’d be preferred to be seated in the smoking, or non-smoking at the Sizzler circa 1987. I choked a little, trying to conjure an answer, as if I could articulate the thirty plus years of simultaneous pain and numbness I felt in one profound response that would satisfy her curiosity. I searched for the words but none came to mind. She picked up a zip lock plastic bag containing the spiral bound notebook the Paramedics had taken from my desk. It was opened to the barely legible scrawling I’d left behind. She pulled the plastic tight against the paper so she could read it, without removing it from the bag. She scanned it for a few seconds, her affect flat, and then returned it to the foot of the bed where it rested against my ankle.
“I’m just going to take some obs, alright?” she sighed, as she strapped a large blue cuff around my arm. I apologised for having such fat arms. “It’s alright, I grabbed the big cuff” she replied curtly as she clipped the heart monitor to my index finger. “I’ll be back to take some bloods.”
Even in a opiate & diazepam fog, I heard my mother’s’ instantly recognisable footsteps, as she stomped her way into Emergency. She’s a tiny woman, with an uncharacteristically heavy gait. I wanted the nurse to draw the curtain so my parents would never find me in the maze of beds, but it was too late. Her face pale with fear appeared from behind the sanctity of the 200 thread count screen.
“Oh Pruey…” she whispered softly, as she leaned in to kiss my forehead. The nurse returned with a blue plastic kidney dish full of vials and tubes and a syringey looking thing. She grabbed my arm without the cuff and held my forearm. “Make a fist for me, will you?” she instructed. I pumped my fist with all the strength I could muster to try and make her job as easy as I could.The cannula disappeared into my arm with a sting, as she stood with an impatient look on her face watching them fill up with crimson.
She tossed them into the kidney dish, scooped it up and walked away, leaving me alone with my parents. I could see the pain and worry in their eyes as they stood beside my bed. I never anticipated I’d have to see the aftermath of my impulsivity. You see, I hadn’t really given killing myself a lot of thought before I attempted it. It wasn’t like other periods of Depression I’d felt, where I’d eventually hit an agonizing low and begin to daydream about ways I could end my existence. I’d done a lot of suicidal ideation throughout my life.
The first time, when I was about 17. I was in my final year of VCE at a private all girls Catholic school. I was suffering under the weight of enormous academic pressure that I felt I couldn’t live up to, which was especially embarrassing given I was a Prefect and an only child, whose parents had always dreamed their daughter would be a Doctor or a Lawyer someday. I was dating my first real boyfriend who was emotionally abusive and would cheat on me at every given opportunity, then gaslight me into believing it was my fault because I was fat and unattractive. Never having had any romantic male attention before, I didn’t know relationships weren’t supposed to be like that, and in turn, believed his every word, blaming myself for every ugly extra kilogram that sent him into the arms of other women. It was like the worse he treated me, the more I clung to him. He’d call me terrible names one night, and send roses the next. It was the epitome of fucked up, and my friends and family could see it. But when you’re wearing rose coloured glasses, all the red flags just look like flags. I ignored their advice about leaving him, and in turn, it isolated me from the people I needed most. I had withdrawn from the extra curricular activities I’d once loved, like the Debate Team and the Drama Club. I’d begun drinking by myself in my room late at night, and struggling to get up for school the next day. I walked around like a zombie. I just felt trapped in darkness and what I recognize now as my first Depressive episode. But it was the 90’s then, and people didn’t use the words Depression or Anxiety. Mental Health wasn’t talked about as openly as it is now. The teachers did ask me to start seeing the newly appointed school counsellor. He thought I was dealing with “delayed adolescence”. I saw him twice in the week before I tried to kill myself. I thought about telling him my plan, but could never find the right words.
It was one night in August ‘99. I shuffled into the kitchen and opened the pantry door to reveal my dad’s pride and joy, the knife rack. I ran my fingers over them, attempting to assess which would make the job easiest. I picked the one that we used the least, a large butcher’s knife that was kept razor sharp. I crept back to my room and closed the door. I sat on the single bed in my pyjamas and traced the knife over my wrists in the dim light of the bedside lamp. I’d been thinking of this moment for weeks, picturing it in my mind. I don’t know why I picked that night in particular.I shifted the knife into my right hand, and turned it inward to my solar plexus. I closed my eyes and prayed for the strength to plunge it into me. Surely that’s what God did in his free time, grant the wishes of suicidal teenage girls, right? But the fortitude eluded me at every attempt. I’d put it down, cry a little, then pick it back up and will myself to find the courage to do it, again. I must have tried six or 7 times that night to stab that knife through my ribcage but just couldn’t find the balls to do it. Tired from tears, I put the knife under my pillow. I swallowed some painkillers and fell asleep.
The second time, was when I was about 22. I actually didn’t have a lot of turbulence in my life at this juncture, but Depression doesn’t always work like that. It’s not always reactive to the things around you. There doesn’t need to be things going wrong in your life. I was however taking an antidepressant medication that is known for it’s side effects, one of which is known to be suicidal ideation and its subsequent consequences. I don’t know if that played any part in my mood, but I was certainly doing a lot of thinking of ways I could take my own life. For the most part, I was just tired. Of being a burden. Of my life. Of being sick. That’s something that hasn’t changed in the years since.
Living in a share house, I didn’t want to make a lot of mess so I researched how to die by carbon monoxide poisoning. I had it all planned for about a week. I just needed a weekend I thought I’d be home alone. My ex boyfriend kept his ‘66 Mustang in my garage and I’d found an old piece of hose amongst the junk in there, just long enough to reach from the exhaust to the back window. I sat in the car listening to Paint It Black by The Rolling Stones, before I hooked it up. Scared and nervous now, I came to the decision that I was going to need the assistance of some liquid courage, so I went back inside, ate a handful of Xanax and began drinking. Not having drunk once in the 3 years leading up to this point, the Xanax-booze cocktail hit me a lot harder than I expected it to. My housemate came home to find me on the cusp of pissed and crying about how I wanted to end my life, and sensibly, she called my mum. By the time my mum got there, I was vomiting out my bedroom window and bawling like a child. I remember her asking me if she needed to take me to hospital. I knew she meant the Psych Ward and I was terrified. The fear of being sectioned against my own will was enough to shake me from further attempting to take my life.
And now, here I was slightly less than a decade without any further attempts to kill myself. I’d thought about it a lot during those years, but always managed to bring myself back from the brink. Until this, that was.
I saw the same look of fear on my mum’s face as she stood there next to my hospital bed as I did that day in my share house bedroom all those years ago. I felt an overwhelming sense of remorse and embarrassment when I made eye contact with her. I wasn’t remorseful because I didn’t want to die, but I was for the pain I could see in her eyes. She just kept brushing my hair out of my face and holding my hand. I apologised over and over. “It’s okay, Kitty” she kept telling me. A few awkward hours later, the lady from Psych came down to talk to me. She kept asking if I had any further plans to take my life. I wanted to answer her honestly, that I’d planned to go home and consider whether the stability of the steel pergola attached to the house would have the load bearing capacity to take my weight. But, instead said all the things you’re meant to say to give the illusion of being well enough to go home. I can’t remember what else we talked about because I was still pretty heavily sedated but I obviously played the contrite role well enough for her to not admit me to the Psychiatric Unit. She handed me a card with the details for the CAT team in my area and told the Nurses that I could go home when I felt up to it. In the days and weeks afterwards, I continued to think of all the more lethal ways to take my life. But I didn’t act on any of them, this time. Instead, I committed myself to more therapy and more frequent visits to my GP so she could keep a close eye on my demeanour. My parents, still concerned, decided to take out private health insurance for me in lieu of Christmas gifts that year, and for as long as I needed it.
And I did come to need it. Last year, I started to feel the familiar pull of morbid fantasies beckoning me to take my life. This time, instead of retreating inwards and making a plan, I told my Psychiatrist about all those thoughts and he quickly arranged a bed for me in a Psychiatric Hospital. It was somewhere I’d be safe, and monitored and cared for. The two week stay was long enough to get me out of crisis mode and I returned home still sick, but alive. That’s the game plan, to stay alive. It’s not always easy, but when you have an established support network around you, it’s easier. I’m always aware that the spectre of suicide will never be too far from me, but these days I’m trying to stay one step ahead.
If you’re having thoughts of taking your own life, please talk to someone whether it’s your partner, parent, friend, doctor or call Lifeline on 13 11 14 within Australia. You don’t have to deal with this alone. Click here for other crisis lines.