I need to tell you about the time I tried to kill myself.
I spent my early twenties at Harding University. When I tell you that my school is a legalistic Christian school, this is what I mean: not only are there strict rules about modesty, one day I was stopped by a teacher in chapel and told to change because my jeans had ripped knees; girls and boys are in separate dorms, at opposite ends of campus, and have strict curfews; girls are required to pass a weekly cleaning inspection; not only is alcohol consumption forbidden for all students and staff, but if a student is merely seen holding a can of beer for someone else, they will be expelled. I could go on and on, but hopefully you get the picture: I was in a controlling environment.
When I think back to my emotional state at that time, I imagine myself cowering in the corner of a room, huddled with my head between my knees, with sticky black paint poured over my back, dripping down my head, pooling at my feet.
I was 22 years old when I overdosed on pills and was rushed to the hospital. I used to be afraid all the time that I would die by suicide. It hurt so much to be alive, and some days I just couldn’t bear it. I spent the entire ride to the hospital terrified that I had tried to commit suicide.
It had been a shitty week.
I planned to go on an archeological dig that summer in the Middle East. My parents were terrified and forbid me to go. I was a determined twenty-two year old. I refused to obey them, so they called the school to complain. As a result, all students were banned from the trip.
A few days later, my boyfriend broke up with me.
I was devastated. I wanted to numb my pain. I wanted to drink. So I did. I stopped by a friends’ house, and they were smoking pot, so I thought, “Why not?” Things I cherished were being taken from me, and I did not have enough respect for my body or my life to take good care of it.
I woke up the next morning in my dorm room. I was hungover. And I was overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness and agony.
I took some Dramamine, and a shower. I didn’t feel any effects from the pills, so I took more. I added cough syrup this time. Half an hour later, I started falling asleep, uncontrollably, and I got scared.
What had I done?!
I didn’t want to die!
I called a couple friends. No one answered their phones.
So I called campus security, and my “dorm dad” drove me to the emergency room. A representative of the school sat across the room while the nurses interviewed me about what I had taken. He heard everything. The pills. The cough syrup. The alcohol. The pot.
They left us in the waiting room, and it occurred to me that I could be expelled for this.
“Everything you heard, that was confidential!” I said to him. “You can’t share that with the school!”
I had only one semester until I earned my bachelor’s degree. I didn’t want to lose anything else I cherished.
He would not assuage my fears of expulsion. He said, “No matter what happens, it will be what’s best for you.”
So I sat there, fighting the overwhelming need to fall asleep, while obsessively worrying about what might happen next. I didn’t have the luxury of being afraid for my own life, because I was so afraid of getting kicked out of school.
It turns out I didn’t even need my stomach pumped.
I went back to my dorm room to sleep off the effects of the Dramamine.
As I started waking up, I realized I had a decision to make: either I could keep living the way I had been living and let my soul die inside of me, or I could make a change.
I could either kill myself or end the patterns in my life that were killing me.
I was at rock bottom. I pleaded with God to show Himself to me and to save my life.
I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I was afraid of falling back into my old life. There was too much at stake. So I lay in my bed, reading Mary Oliver. Poems like “Wild Geese,” “In Blackwater Woods” and “Pink Moon” gave me words to hang on to as I started to climb out of darkness.
I went to see a doctor who recommended I take pills to help with my depression. He said I would need to take them until I felt “normal” again, and then for a year after that.
I laughed. Normal? What does that feel like?
I had been depressed for so long that I didn’t have a clue what happiness looked like.
My parents would not pay for the medication. Instead, they sent me a self-help book.
The school has a policy: if a student makes a suicide attempt, they can no longer live in the dorms because “it is not in the best interest of the other students living there.” So, while I was picking up the pieces of my life, and trying to figure out how to move forward, I also had to move out of my home.
In the midst of these difficulties, there were moments of grace: the doctor who recommended I take anti-depressants provided me with free samples. My professor and his wife gave me a place to stay. And I started seeing a therapist.
I allowed myself to feel anger for the first time.
I had some messy fights with my friends and my parents.
I asked myself who I was and who I wanted to be.
I started taking responsibility for my life.
I wasn’t expelled. I graduated, and I moved to Washington State to live near my brother’s family. I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life, so I worked simple, low-paying jobs.
It felt good to not have to worry about living under anybody else’s rules.
It felt good to just fumble along and find my own way.
Shedding my depression was only possible once I was willing to set good boundaries in my relationships, follow God’s calling and live true to myself.
I learned what it is to find happiness. And then I took the antidepressants for another year. It was a process. It took time. But it was worth it.
Where I Am Today.
Next week, I will turn 32 years old. Almost a decade after these events, my years of depression are only a memory.
Looking back, I see that I was never really trying to kill myself. Substance abuse and accidental suicide are two sides of the same coin.
I was not taking control of my own life and I was living as a victim. I was self-medicating with drugs and alcohol to numb my emotional pain.
I have forgiven so many people for the wrongs they have done against me over the years, but perhaps the hardest thing I’ve had to do is forgive myself.
Sometimes I still beat myself up over my past. I get so tired of being broken and feeling like I lost so much.
The truth is: God is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.*
If I can find new life, then there is also hope for you.
You may have to surrender things you hold dear. You may have to risk losing your identity. You might not like yourself very much while you are addressing toxic areas of your life. But redemption is a magnificent thing.
Embrace being alive.
(All of these pictures are from my senior year of college).