I Want to Live: Turning a Corner with Suicidal Ideation and Depression
by Tina Szymczak
When I was five years old I wanted to stop feeling, to no longer be so sad. I threw myself down the stairs in an attempt to not be here anymore. With only a few bruises, nothing came of it and my family never knew.
When I was nine years old, I tried to kill myself by putting a pink skipping rope around my neck. The rope broke. Again, I was left unhurt, other than some red marks around my neck that I blamed on roughhousing with my brother. I never told anyone what I had done until now.
I was obsessed with death as a child. I wrote a new will for myself every few months. I would read books in which the main character was ill or dying. I dreamed of dying, mostly while lying in bed at night. It became part of my nightly routine; I’d imagine my funeral over and over again. I didn’t focus on the details of what happened at my funeral but rather I wondered who would come and if they would be sad. Would they even miss me? I wrote story after story where the lead character killed themselves. I didn’t know how to manage the overwhelming feelings of loneliness, confusion, and despair. Death felt like the only solution to deal with my out-of-control emotions. Living was too painful. I just wanted the pain to stop.
When I was thirteen years old, in an effort to feel something other than immense pain and overwhelming emptiness I took a hammer to my foot. The pain as the hammer hit bone was jarring. I doubled over between each hit. However, the pain was a distraction from my mental anguish. I did so much damage to myself that I wore a boot for several weeks. I told everyone I had fallen, even my parents. No one had any reason to disbelieve me—on the outside I presented as a very happy child. I hid my confusion, pain and depression…for the most part.
One night, when I was fifteen, I accidentally burned and cut myself on a shattered light bulb. The pain was intense. It acted like an emotional release. Through the pain I felt better emotionally. I began to hole up in my bedroom with a kitchen knife, being careful to cut in areas that no one could see, like my upper arms and inner thighs. The physical pain I felt was a welcome distraction from my overwhelming emotional pain. When I cut myself I felt the way it affected my body and could understand why it existed. I couldn’t understand why I felt so bad mentally the rest of the time. I was desperate to stop feeling despondent and alone.
When I was sixteen I was experiencing a great deal of suicidal ideation. All the stories I wrote for English class involved death and dying. I spoke of ways to kill myself in the halls with my friends as though I was trying to imagine the most creative way to die. I even kept a list on the inside door of my locker. My English teacher took notice to my behavior and interceded in an attempt to help me. When she pointedly asked me if I intended to harm myself I was relieved to be able to say “yes.” I was now hopeful that someone would be able to help me. She took me to the guidance office and the counselor took me to the hospital where we sat in the emergency room for nine hours waiting to see a psychiatrist. When I saw the psychiatrist, he spent about five minutes with me and then prescribed an antidepressant that I was told would take up to six weeks to work.
I somehow found a way to take the pill each day and muddle through the six weeks. My seventeenth birthday marked six weeks of taking the pills and I felt no better. In fact, it felt like the suicidal thoughts had taken over every inch of my brain. That day, on my birthday, I swallowed the entire bottle of antidepressants. At the time when I took the pills, I was in school and about ten minutes after taking them I panicked. I told my guidance counselor what I had done. I was taken to the emergency room and my stomach was pumped. I spent weeks on the inpatient psychiatric floor. The truth is, I didn’t want to die but I did want the pain and anguish to end. For two years this cycle of desperation and despondence followed by cutting and/or attempts to take my own life continued.
As an adult, there have been many times where I am functioning and healthy. In these moments I feel able to enjoy some things in life. I love spending time with my family, watching movies and playing board games. I enjoy watching my children play sports and achieving new things. There are also times where my despair is so overwhelming that I again contemplate suicide and have even made further attempts. I have been hospitalized and heavily medicated. I have been diagnosed and diagnosed again. Deep down, below all of this, at my core, there is the innate feeling that I could, and should, die. There is no logic behind this thought. It has not been a conscious decision on my part; rather it is an insidious fact of my existence. Being unable to control these thoughts has been frustrating and overwhelming.
Over the past couple of years I’ve learned to speak my thoughts, to express when I am overwhelmed to those around me. I’ve learned to speak up at work and say when I need to lighten my caseload for a few weeks or reduce my hours to accommodate time for self care. Self care for me entails quiet time to write about what I think and feel and to attend counseling sessions. It also can mean taking a couple of days away from work and my family to rest and restore myself. It can also mean that I need to spend time with close friends, watching movies, chatting and eating junk food. I have made some significant changes in myself and my relationships. I used to think I had to do everything on my own. I thought I was a failure if I admitted my thoughts and feelings. I thought I had to be the best and give a hundred percent effort at all times. I now accept and embrace that sometimes even fifty percent is good enough.
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Dealing with depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation while trying to function as a mother and a wife has been extremely difficult. Every time I cannot get out of bed or when I am hospitalized I feel as though I’ve let my family down. There are days my children want to play or read stories but I feel incapable of doing so. When my youngest son was seven he asked me why my face smiled but my eyes were sad. That was when I actively sought out counseling for myself and made a commitment to keep going instead of stopping after a few sessions.
Learning that I do not have to be perfect, that I can be vulnerable and survive has helped me. Learning to trust people around me, to reach out and lean on family and friends has made a change. I’ve discovered that the bottomless pit in my soul was not actually a pit because I was missing something but rather I hadn’t developed the coping strategies and tools that I needed. Past sexual abuse by three different people was processed in therapy and I learned that my emotions, though strong, would not actually hurt me. It has taken several years with a caring and knowledgeable therapist to get me to this point.
My boys are amazing, spirited beings and even though I am not always functioning fully I do always love them wholeheartedly. My husband and I have been married for twenty-three years. We have stayed together through infertility, loss and the adoption of older children with disabilities. Admitting at times that I was suicidal felt like I was rejecting my husband and the family we had built. It was hard to explain that I loved him, our children and our life together while part of me still wanted to die.
Recently my therapist spoke of a theory that he believes about some people who are suicidal. In essence he said that when people feel an overwhelming sense of loneliness and emptiness that they mistake the need for part of them to change (or “die”) for the need to physically die. The desperation to no longer feel that way is mistaken for the desire to no longer exist. I have done a lot of work over the years on my depression, my coping techniques, self care and setting boundaries and I feel stronger every day. When my therapist spoke of this “needing to die” it hit home for me—I had needed an integral piece of me to change, to “die off” in a way to leave room for the healthy parts of me that want to live.
A few weeks ago I stopped at the store down the street from my home. When I was twelve years old one of my best friends died in a car accident from not wearing a seatbelt since the accident I have always worn my seatbelt. On this particular day in the parking lot I made the choice to not put the seatbelt on because I was so close to home. Stupid, I know, but that is what I did. Just as I neared my destination a jeep pulled out from the left in front of me through a line of cars. I slammed on my brakes, however it was raining and there was limited room. I had to swerve and found myself heading toward a building that was very close to the road. At the last minute, I was able to correct my mistake and avoid all obstacles. I pulled into the parking lot of the business I almost hit, stopped my car and tried to catch my breath. I began shaking and crying. My extreme reaction surprised me. It was later that week that I realized why I had been so shaken up, for the first time in my life there was no longer any part of me that wanted to die.
The very next day I was driving to work and there was a story on my radio station about a young broadcaster with two small children who died by suicide. Everyone who knew her was shocked and devastated. No one had seen it coming. Listening to her co-workers struggling to talk through their pain, I began to sob. I felt so bad for them; their pain felt so raw. That could have been my friends and family, I told myself. It was the first time I felt the pain that those in my life may have felt about me, if I did kill myself. I logically knew all along that people would be hurt by my actions but the problem was that I never valued my life. If one does not value their own life it is hard to fully appreciate what other people may feel if one was no longer here.
I want to be here. I want to live my life, love my family, be with my friends. I want to write and develop my public speaking business. I want to watch my kids grow up and live the lives they are meant to live. I want to be married to my husband and I want us to make it to retirement and travel and live full lives. I want to learn yoga and learn to meditate. I want to go on retreats and grow through classes and courses. I want to fill my home with pieces of furniture and things that make me happy when I look at them. I hope to one day have grandchildren. I have spent so much time focused on my death that I forgot to live.
The truth is that I live with mental illness and that I may become suicidal at some point in the future. But after finally experiencing what it is like to not want to die—to feel alive and well in every fiber of my being—in the future I will be able to hold onto this feeling through dark times.
My name is Tina and I want to live.