This is one in a series of posts I’m calling “Snapshots of my Depression.” These are memories of times in my life when my mental illness manifested itself in one way or another.
In my last entry, I shared the story of my first suicide attempt. This is the story of my third, and final, suicide attempt. There was, obviously, a second one in between, but I don’t recall any details of it. It’s odd. I have this clear memory of knowing that I attempted suicide three times, but I can’t recall anything about the second one. Weird. Anyway.
So it was my freshman year in college. I had been there about two and a half months. It was a crazy, emotional time for me. My whole identity was in flux. I didn’t know who I was, or who I wanted to be. Despite the fact that I quickly made some good friends, I was confused and alone. Despite the fact that a year-long period of questioning my faith came to an end, and I started believing in God stronger than I ever had before, I was confused and lonely. Not all the time…I certainly had many happy moments, many good days. But the overall tenor of my first semester was hyperactive confusion.
I don’t know that I felt particularly depressed that first semester, but I was always on the edge. My emotions were always on the razor edge of something.
Then one night in November, I was out for coffee with my dear, dear friend Kim. Kim was a sophomore, and I’d known her for years through the Lutheran youth events we’d both attended throughout high school. She was one of the reasons I went to Muhlenberg, in fact. We were never romantically involved, but we had this intense connection…our friendship was deep, abiding, and meaningful to us both. She was a rock for me at times those rough months. But then, one night in November, I did it. I gave Kim the Myke Treatment. I’d never done that to a friend before…only girlfriends. But I did it. I don’t know why or how…but I got into that familiar spiral of telling her that she shouldn’t be my friend, that there was nothing good about me, that I was hurting her, etc. etc. etc. And if memory serves, it upset her a lot. She had certainly seen me down on myself before, but the Myke Treatment gets personal…it has an edge to it that puts the other person on the defensive. She didn’t take it well. And that’s the funny thing about a successful Myke Treatment…it is utterly self-fulfilling. I did indeed hurt her.
And that did not go over well in my psyche. If I could do this to Kim, then there was something seriously wrong. This was too much. This was too far. This was unacceptable, and beyond the pale. And something had to be done. Something in me cracked, and I sat on that cracked feeling for a few days. It was quiet in my head. I knew what I had to do. I knew what was coming. I just needed the right time, the right method.
Two or three days later, at night, I walked down to a park just a few blocks off campus. I knew where I was going. Just the day before, I had scoped out a good tree. I had my Walkman on, and I was listening to Godspell. I wanted to hear some music to remind me of God…because I knew I needed courage to go through with this. I prayed for that courage the whole walk. When I reached the tree, I climbed. I found the limb I wanted, and I stood on it. I pulled a bungee cord out of my pocket. Yes, a bungee cord. I didn’t really know how to tie a rope into a noose, and I thought I’d probably do it wrong. (This was before the internet was really a thing, so I couldn’t really look it up.) But I had bungee cords, and I really thought that with the right jump, it would work just fine as a noose. No, I’m wrong. I didn’t pull the bungee out of my pocket. I was wearing it as a belt…I had taken to doing that over the last few months. Wow…what a versatile tool.
I wrapped the cord around my neck, and reached up to wrap it around the branch above me. I was crying. My survival instinct was kicking in, and a big part of me did not want to do this. But another part was so sure that I had to do it. I kept praying, praying, praying for God to let me go through with it, to give me the strength to do what I had to do…
…and I saw a light in the distance. Near the horizon, a bright light suddenly shone. In retrospect, I imagine it was a street light popping on, or someone’s garage door opening. I don’t know. But in that moment, it was a sign. When I saw that light, that star shining in the darkness, I felt like God was answering my prayers, and I heard an almost audible “NO.” I heard what I thought was God’s voice saying to me, “NO. Do not do this. Climb back down.” And I did. I climbed back down the tree, wiped my tears, and walked back to my dorm. I crawled into bed, and fell asleep surprisingly quickly.
Over the next few days, I didn’t tell anyone. Not my friends, not Kim, not anybody. Nobody knew except me and that tree. But I started feeling sick. Like bad cold symptoms. I got the idea in my head that I might have mono, so I went to the Student Health Center. After checking me out for a few minutes, the nurse asked me, “Have you been under any stress lately?” I wanted to be honest…how could I get the best medical care if I was disingenuous? So I said, in a matter-of-fact way, “Well, I did try to kill myself a few days ago.”
Yeah. That was an interesting choice of words. I didn’t know how powerful those words were. But they were powerful. With that one sentence, I created the next two weeks. But that’s a story for the next “Snapshot” post.