*Warning: This article contains a graphic description of a suicide attempt.
On Jan. 17, 2010, I stood atop the Oak Street Bridge and waited for a break in the headlights of passing cars. I had been diagnosed with depression four months earlier and was unable to experience joy, happiness or even halfway-decentness with any regularity. For several months, thoughts of suicide followed me as I waited for SkyTrains and walked along busy streets. I had gone to emergency at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) a couple weeks earlier to see if I should be admitted, but after being assessed, I was sent home. Eventually, I decided on a way to end my life. When a break in the headlights came, I turned and leapt over the railing.
For years, I lay in bed at night regretting missed opportunities. I wished the courses I was taking would lead somewhere. I wished I had made more friends. I wished I had asked all the girls I ever liked out. Four months before the attempt I became more severely depressed and began to wish I was dead. I felt heavy, gross and tired. I lay on my couch, tried to eat small servings of yogurt and cereal, and trailed around the block with my parents for exercise.
Anyone who has lost a close relative or friend, or seen the end to a once-loving relationship, knows the pain that sadness can induce. I didn’t need these reasons to feel terrible. I couldn’t figure out a way to get better, and as the weeks and months piled on, I was no longer able to bear it.
Before I jumped, I had texted my brother. Fortunately his phone was within reach and he saw the message right away. Hitting the water was the most physically painful experience I’ve ever felt.
When I woke up floating in the water, I was shocked to be alive. I felt doomed and pathetic. I did not want to be awake to feel myself drown. As adrenaline flooded my system, I looked for a place to swim and saw a platform under the bridge. Once I had taken a few strokes I was determined to survive and I dragged myself out of the water. I cried out for help and it wasn’t long before I heard sirens answering my calls. An emergency crew came on boat and picked me up.
I spent the night in the intensive care unit at VGH and woke up to find myself barely able to move, with a tube draining fluid from my chest. I had six broken ribs, five hairline fractures in my vertebrae, one punctured lung and I’m not sure how many mild contusions in my brain. No spinal cord injuries.
In the hospital, I felt sadness, anger and hate but also love, happiness and amazement to simply be alive. Distorted and fleeting as these positive emotions were, the ability to still be able to feel them convinced me recovery was possible.
Today, I continually work on ways to manage my illness. I’ve talked about my mental health with my family, visited my doctor, started taking anti-depressants and sleep medication, and improved my diet.
I was assessed by the VGH Outpatient Clinic, read depression workbooks, attended counselling sessions, talked about my mental health with my friends, started physiotherapy for back injuries, developed stretching and exercise routines, saw a psychiatrist weekly on a long-term basis and read about others with mental health issues.
I’ve also helped to create the Kaleidoscope (a peer-led support group at UBC) and co-founded the UBC Mental Health Network. I’ve given over a dozen public speeches about my experiences with mental health to students, staff and faculty at Douglas Collage, Kwantlen, UBC and Vancouver Community College. I’ve completed my degree, began part-time work, hiked up the Grouse Grind and provided feedback as a patient voice for outpatient services.
Several times since my attempt, I have felt hopeless and beaten, but part of managing and recovering from a mental illness is learning to be strong when I am weakest. It’s allowing myself to sometimes feel like shit while remembering that these emotions, though exceedingly painful, will pass. In the days and weeks before I tried to kill myself, I believed I was past recovery.
I am lucky to know I was wrong.
To learn more about mental health at UBC, attend the Mental Health Symposium on Jan. 26. More info at ubcmhn.com.