A young man’s depression led him perilously close to suicide. His support network help lead him back.
Two hours into November first. All Saints’ Day. Blood covered my arms, obscured my face, stained the ten-dollar white apron tied around my waist. I was worried that the palms of my hands would still be red if I let myself go to class later that day, or the next day. Before that I was staring at the people dancing to the end of the night, dregs of the dance floor who’d fight the first cool breaths of November together, aided by alcohol.
I didn’t need them. The air seemed warm, hot even, as it tends to when your insides are cold—things tended to “seem” then. Not many things “were.”
The walk to my place is long, and downhill. It must have rained that night because the lights in the lamps were making bright, jagged glass out of all the red brick pathways. I wish I could remember but the only pictures that I’ve retained are of the dark sky and the green grass, eerily particular. I wish I could remember the rain, and the phone calls that I made. The calls were to friends, I think, but none of them wanted to tell me the things that I said. My parents did the same thing: “you said some things.” Thinking and saying things, presumably about my life and the end of it—if I said the things I was thinking.
“Why did you dress up as a butcher?”
Lies: Because I wanted to be something scary, I enjoy doing realistic makeup, I just like being sweet and sticky and the blood is red dye and corn syrup.
Truth: I wanted to know what my hands and arms would look like. The varying shades of red: dark and coagulated, bright red, streaming and dying.
Around that time I envisioned me, my arms, like that all the time. Some days it was horrifying and I’d try to push it from my mind. On other days the vision of blood and my imagined corpse, knives, and nooses became perverted comforts—my brain’s default neutral option. Halloween was an excuse to make my dream and my nightmare into a form of reality.
I was lucky that night. My suicidal ideations would get worse in the next few weeks—more vivid and more frequent—but that was the closest I ever came to harming myself. I was looking at myself in the mirror, trying to decide whether to direct self-loathing at my reflection or myself. When my roommate came back I quickly hid the knife. I was embarrassed and angry, but in ten minutes I was washing the fake blood off of my arms. I made it to All Souls’ Day. Taking notes in class, I noticed that my hands were a frostbitten red.
“I just drank too much.”;“No, everything’s fine.”;“Yeah, I’ll probably get some help.”
These were the things that I said. None of them were true. Really, I thought that what I was feeling would go away, as it had in the past. I was wrong about that too.
You are required to change into a hospital gown if you go to the Emergency Department for a psychiatric evaluation. This is in case you are carrying contraband, as people with psychiatric problems—and people without psychiatric problems—sometimes are. Many of us find it difficult to talk about our problems. It is more difficult when the person with whom you are speaking—a complete stranger—has a clearer view of your thighs than the sun has ever been privy to. One feels exposed in every sense of the word.
I was 22 years old, but when I was sitting in the psychiatric wing of the E.D. in my paper gown and hospital issue socks—I got to go commando because the hospital was running low on boxer shorts, yes I was required to remove those as well—I felt like a 12 year old, younger maybe. I kept looking out the window, wondering what had happened. Wondering what made me want to shed my skin and start over anywhere else as I went over my “life” with the psychiatric nurse. We came up with some interesting labels for my life. I was a high school valedictorian, a Phi Beta Kappa member, and an Honors student. These were pieces of paper to me, easily dismissed. But I also acknowledged that I have great, supportive friends and a wonderful family (I do). Nonetheless, I was a person who hated his existence and could not stop thinking about ending it.
When I was discharged from the E.D. they gave me another piece of paper: my diagnosis sheet, which was stamped “DEPRESSION.”
I consider myself to be exceedingly fortunate. Treatment has gone better than I had expected. I am still afraid; afraid that things will get bad again, afraid that I won’t know what to do if it does, and afraid that my depression will hurt the people closest to me. Until recently, I hadn’t been afraid in a long time. Fear can be as unpleasant and paralyzing as depression, but for me the experience of fear is a victory. To be truly afraid is to value one’s life and one’s relationships. Before, I was more afraid to get help than I was afraid of my depression, of what my depression would do to me. I am lucky that I had friends and family who valued my life more than I did, who pushed me to do something about the way I was feeling. Those are the people who helped me to realize that fear only exists with love, and with hope. And that I have been blessed with all three. Thank you to all of your souls.
photo: Rob Boudin / flickr