December 26, 2018. Yesterday could have been a very different Christmas.
21 days ago, I tried to take my own life.
I’m writing about it for several reasons.
First, it has become exhausting trying to keep track of who “knows” and “doesn’t know” what happened, thus creating multiple opportunities for awkward questions and conversations. For example, I was released from the hospital on Saturday, December 22 and decided (despite some trepidation) to attend church on Sunday morning and again on Christmas Eve. For the most part, people were just glad to see me, but eventually tactless fishing expeditions into “what happened” and even a puzzling “Congratulations!” drove me to the car before everyone else. So, with this entry, I’m officially putting everyone in the “know” category. Feel free to spread the word to those who may not see this blog entry. I’m ok with it. Really.
Second, writing always helps me process and assimilate an event or a series of events, and this is certainly something which needs processing and assimilation. Thus, by informing you, I am helping myself. Bonus!
Finally, and probably most importantly (as of this sitting, anyway), I don’t want to add to the stigma already associated with mental illness and suicide. I feel avoiding it encourages the belief that discussions around mental illness and suicide are taboo, forcing those who struggle with it to hide and pretend everything is “OK”. I can already hear my friends and family reading this saying, “Ben, you’re not mentally ill!” Yes. I am. And it’s ok. I believe more firmly than ever that no one who attempts or succeeds in suicide does so in his or her right mind. If we can’t talk about this, it drives people who struggle even further into themselves, fearing that a reach out for help will stigmatize and ostracize.
What happened? It’s ok, I know you want to ask. I think we all have a slightly morbid sense of curiosity about things of this sort. So here goes…
As I mentioned, I’m still processing. In the weeks leading up to December 5, I can tell you that my anxiety and depression had increased markedly. I was having difficulty concentrating and functioning effectively at work (and all my co-workers said, “Yup”). A variety of otherwise manageable events at home had begun to pile up. An unfinished basement remodeling project languished into into its fifth month, leaving most of the basement space unusable and thus cramming us closer and closer into the other floors of the house. You’ve probably heard about how an overcrowded lab mouse population eventually turns on itself. Yep. My daughter, Emily, started at a new school the first week of December. I can already tell you I know we’ve made the right decision. I’ve seen more smiles and self-confidence from her in the last three weeks than I’ve seen in the last two years, and that’s not much of an exaggeration. Still, the logistics of leaving one school, starting another school, and navigating the interim was intensely stress-inducing for me, not to mention the price tag on a private school education.
So yeah, I was stressed. I would not say, however, that I felt in danger of harming myself. Having struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life, I’m familiar with suicidal ideation, and I would not rank this episode at the top of the most intrusive I had experienced. Yes, I had Googled lethal doses of my prescription medications, but I had done that before, so I didn’t find it overly alarming. Again, I can hear inside your heads: “Ben, dude, that’s ALARMING.” Try living inside my head for a while. It’s all relative.
Anyway, I got up on the morning of December 5, showered and dressed like usual, fully intending to go to work. I dropped my son off at school, but instead of heading to work from there, I drove home and calmly, quietly, set into motion an attempt to end my own life. I can only describe it as surreal, as if I were outside of myself and watching what I was doing. I didn’t write letters to my wife and children, I didn’t call in to work, I just did it. Had I been successful, there would have been nothing to give insight into my state of mind when I finally acted on the impulse. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t believe I nor anyone else who comes to this point is in his or her right mind. I had convinced that version of myself that I needed to be free of pain and that everyone would be better off without me. Don’t ask me to explain it. I can’t.
Six days later, I found myself in the inpatient psychological program at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. After finding me unresponsive on Wednesday afternoon, my wife called 911 and began CPR. I was in a coma for nearly 4 days followed by 2 days in a “step down” room while waiting for an opening on the psych floor. I have very little memory of this time, and what memories I do have are in no particular order resembling reality. Even my memories of the first night and day up on 9 Central (that’s what I’ll call it rather than continually referring to “the psych ward”) are a little fuzzy and disjointed. After 10 days of rehab on that floor, I was discharged, three days before Christmas. Tomorrow, I will start with an outpatient psych program to continue my healing.
I had intended at this point to include some “lessons learned” from my time on 9 Central, but I think I will save those for another entry. This, at least, gets “what happened” into the realm of “out there”, and we can continue on as I’m ready. Sounds like progress, yes? This is probably sufficient information for most of you, anyway, though some of you may ask (and some have already asked), “Do you feel like you’ve been given a second chance?” Unfortunately, the answer will probably underwhelm you. I’m not sure yet. I certainly have not had a euphoric revelation filling me with remorse for my actions and limitless hope for the future. I know that’s what all of you want to hear. I’d like to hear it myself. Instead, I will tell you I am still in process. I believe with the help of my doctors (and with that, medications), therapists, family and friends, I can move into the next chapter of my life with a sense of peace and wholeness.
I’d take that over euphoria anyway.