On October 8, 2016, my life abruptly changed. The man I’d loved for more than 15 years took his own life. I was shocked, devastated, and lost in a sea of emotions while simultaneously trying to collect myself enough to face my two small boys, who were nine months and three years old. It was a moment that induced a fog that I had never experienced before. I have heard it described as “widow brain” but it was much more than that. It was the detachment and numbness that happened while trying to process my new reality, but it was also all the sadness, confusion, anger, and hurt that came with it.Read More
Words by Emily Birukow
When I was 21, I overdosed on sleeping pills as an attempt to commit suicide. That’s not the end of the story, but the beginning. Before the beginning, however, I need to give you background.
I was the second oldest of five children, but as the eldest daughter, served as sort of a secondary matriarch to my family. We were a severely impoverished family, and without going into great detail, were marked by many social difficulties posed by 1980s America. When I look back, I had suffered from depression and anxiety at least since age 12, but since it was all that I knew, I had no idea.
It hit me hard when I was 21. I was going through a toxic on again, off again relationship with my boyfriend who was also my roommate in a house with a number of our mutual friends, and when we finally split up, loyalties were divided, largely I felt at the time, not on my side. I had started counseling via the free program offered by my university, and I’d just started taking an antidepressant six weeks prior. Those who have taken antidepressants will be familiar with the effects, especially in the first two months: in increase in suicidal thoughts, insomnia, nausea, and my least favorite, the “brain zaps.” I had them all. I hardly slept at all, I was too nauseous to eat much, and my eyes had a persistent twitch.
This peace for me fell apart one Sunday morning when all of the roommates went out to brunch together without me. Prior to then, when sorrow struck, I would go for a long drive westward down country roads until I felt better. That time, feeling humiliated, I stopped along the way, bought sleeping pills and a bottle of Cherry Coke, and drove the half mile to park behind a building at my university in private. I listened to the radio and took two pills and a sip of soda with every new song that played. After 8 songs, I wasn’t upset anymore, I thought I wasn’t feeling anything, and I decided to drive home. Thankfully, the weight of the sleeping pills didn’t hit me until I tried walking up the stairs to my bedroom, and my roommates and ex-boyfriend had come home by that time.
My ex-boyfriend immediately knew something was wrong with me, called 911 and my parents, and forced me to vomit up the medicine. My parents met me at the hospital, where the doctors had me drink a charcoal cocktail and told me to make a decision: agree to enter the psychiatric ward voluntarily (where you can get released immediately if the doctor says so) or refuse treatment and be forced into what they call “Rescue Crisis,” which is also psychiatric care, for 72 hours. I chose the former, thinking I would get out easily.
They moved me to another hospital, needlessly in an ambulance for which my parents would later be billed. They said that each ward has a different specialty, and they were finding the right fit. When I arrived, however, I found that the right fit simply meant, “wherever we can fit.” I shared a ward with a dozen other patients of varying degrees of psychosis: the obsessive compulsive who regularly spends holidays in the ward due to manic episodes, the war veteran with anger issues waiting for the VA to move him to a PTSD program, the old schizophrenic man who claimed to constantly hear frantic and terrifying voices. My roommate was a woman who had to have a life flight helicopter ride after her fifth suicide attempt. Her snoring was the only thing that drowned out the periodical nighttime screams of the other patients of the ward. One of the patients told me that I should ask to sleep in the padded room since it was the only quiet spot.
I had the same psychiatric doctor as my roommate, but she was released after just a day. When I told him I wanted to go home too and that I had “learned my lesson,” he told me, “I can keep you here as long as I want.” So he did, for 8 days, until with the help of my angry mother and an angry insurance company, I was released (good news: he got disbarred). In the meantime, I participated in a combination of group therapy, seminars on different medications presented by pharma reps, and infantile activities like painting pictures of butterflies and planting spider plants.
Finally, just before Thanksgiving, I was released to my family and began the difficult but rewarding road to recovery. It has now been 9 years since my failed suicide attempt, and with work, pluck, luck and opportunity, I am able to honor the misguided but lovely me of my past.
LIKE THIS POST?
WE’D LOVE IF YOU SHARED IT!
Pin an image below, or click a social link to share!
In life, things happen that move us, grow us and shift our perspective. Then, there are things that completely rip the ground right out from under our feet, shake the very core of our soul and abruptly change our lives forever. Losing a loved one to suicide falls into the second category.
It’s life shattering.
You’re like a piece of glass being dropped on the floor, scattering into a million pieces. And as if that isn’t bad enough already, every time you try to pick the pieces back up and attempt to arrange them the right way, you’re only cut, scraped, and wounded by the sharp fragments.
November 20, 2015 will mark 7 years since I lost my dad to suicide. No, the wounds don’t heal; the pieces of me don’t fit back together the way they were, and they never will.
The hardest part is that he didn’t die from a sudden accident, or an incurable disease - he died from a choice, and because of that, now I had a choice to make too. I could let this keep me broken in pieces, or I could try to find a different way to put myself back together.
I did stay shattered for a while and learned that you can’t try to pick up your fragile glass pieces too soon. At first, I tried to jump back into normal life and pretend like everything was fine - which didn’t work so well. Slowly, I started to accept what life has given me, which I am still in the process of today. Then one day I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a post about a girl I was good friends with in elementary school that had gone missing. A few weeks later, they found her body in a river and concluded she had jumped off a bridge. That’s when it hit me that I could do something - that I had to do something.
It was that moment that motivated me to change my outlook on what happened. No one should be left unaware of the resources available to the point where they feel like suicide is their only way out of life’s hardships, and no one should ever feel shame or embarrassment for seeking out help for their mental health. I had a story and a voice and I became dedicated to using it.
It took everything in me to start talking about my dad’s death. When I first wrote the story on my blog, I cried writing every word and it took me days to work up the courage to hit “publish”. But it ended up being one of the best things I have ever done. I had so many people open up to me - telling me their stories. I was initiating a conversation that needs to be had. For the first time, I started to feel a fraction of peace within me since my dad has been gone.
I definitely don’t believe that my dad died so that I could have this voice and empower other people to talk about suicide. But, I do believe that I have the power to decide what I do with his death - to let it keep me broken, or to cultivate a purpose from it - which is exactly what I did, and what I’m still doing.
According to U.S.A. SUICIDE: 2013 OFFICIAL FINAL DATA, roughly 41,149 people commit suicide every year, which leaves roughly 1 in 65 Americans who have lost someone to suicide. Our biggest mistake is negligence. If you haven’t been impacted by a suicide loss, ask one or two of your friends. I can almost promise they have been.
Seriously sit down and talk to your friends. Communicate with everyone. We absolutely have to talk about mental health. We need to become aware of how many lives it affects. There are so many things we can’t prevent in this world, but we can 100% stop suicide. We don’t know when we’ll find a cure for cancer, or if we can ever create a vehicle that is so safe no one could die in an accident. However, if we commit to becoming more knowledgeable on mental health, if we learn the signs to look for, if we become aware of the resources out there, and if we are open to discovering how to truly help someone in a suicidal state, we can start preventing more suicides starting today.
I’ll leave you with this: You are important. Your life has a meaning, even if in some moments (or a lot of moments) you can’t see it. The world needs you, and everyone around you, in it. The best and the worst part about life is that everything is only temporary. Take care of yourself and do everything you need to do to survive during the hardships - remind yourself nothing lasts forever. Cherish the good times and soak in all the love, happiness, and lessons that you can - again, remind yourself these moments won’t last forever either. Most importantly, share your stories. Share what you’ve been through and the lessons you’ve learned. Change and awareness happens only when we expose the raw truths of our journeys to the world.
If you are in crisis, please call 800-273-TALK (8255). If you are worried that someone in your life is suicidal, call the same number and they will help you. For more information on suicide, prevention, and coping with a loss to suicide, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has a number of informative and helpful resources - https://www.afsp.org.