At age 58, I never thought I would suffer even a fleeting moment of depression. I was always upbeat, encouraging others. As a financial advisor, I attended many seminars that promoted a common message, "If you can just attain and maintain a positive mental attitude, success will be yours." I followed that directive very well and became an expert at avoiding any emotion that didn't feel good.
When I first encountered anxiety and depression, I was at a complete loss as to how to cope. I had always been able to reject any feelings I didn't like. This frightening anxiety, however, was not going away! I was deathly afraid of letting anyone know that I was struggling. My siblings, my children, my peers and my clients always had viewed me as a pillar of strength. I was the first call for help whenever anyone had a financial or emotional need. Now, instead of taking care of myself by asking for help, I tried to do it alone. I tried to push those very uncomfortable thoughts and feelings out of my mind but they wouldn't go; they just got worse.
I started waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning, in a cold sweat and a state of sheer anxiety. I lay there for hours, projecting the worst things that could happen, while watching the clock, thinking, "It's late, it's later, this is crazy, it's too late...it's almost time to get up...now what do I do?"
My paranoia and anxiety made it difficult to face my own children, let alone transact business with clients. Some days I'd put on my suit in the morning, and not be able to go into work until noon. I remember one day in particular when I got dressed in the morning, then sat on the couch the whole day, ridden with anxiety and not feeling competent enough to leave the house and go into work. At about 5 p.m. I gave up, took my suit off, and went to bed.
Up until that point, I thought my life was in balance. I arose without an alarm at 5 a.m., ran and worked out, played music, read, and prayed regularly, all before going into work. I had a social network of over 3,000 people. I would have been the last person you'd think of who would struggle with thoughts of suicide. When I became depressed, I began avoiding social events that I normally loved. I avoided spending time with my children because they were beginning to notice something was wrong. I got to the point that I couldn't process thoughts well enough to make simple daily decisions. Sleep deprivation and anxiety had me feeling absolutely lost and out of control.
In a state of hopelessness, I attempted to end my life. I took a bottle of pills from the medicine cabinet and hid in the bushes on the side of a mountain by my home. I sat there for hours and tried to take the pills over and over again, but couldn't. Eventually I went back home, put on my suit, and went to work.
Unbelievably, the next few days I functioned pretty well at work. At night, I would pray for strength and healing and then wake up to anxiety and hopelessness a few hours later. After a week of this I went back to the side of the same mountain. This time I was able to take 80 different pills. A little after dusk, I somehow woke up, staggered to the car, and tried to drive home. I made it about five feet and hit a parked car right in front of me. Witnesses determined something must be wrong with me and called the paramedics, who whisked me off to the hospital. They pumped my stomach and released me two days later. My sister, a surgeon who'd flown in from New Mexico, didn't feel comfortable with the idea of sending me home without any supervision or treatment. I agreed to self-admit into a psychiatric hospital.
For the next two weeks, I endured grueling anxiety and depression while acting as convincingly as I could to indicate to the staff that I was improving, and could be sent home. After two weeks, I was released to the care of good friends. If I felt afraid to face my clients before this episode, I was now petrified to have them learn of my suicide attempt.
I still struggled with suicidal thoughts. I thought that my family would be better off without me. I had a good-sized life insurance policy and I didn't think they'd really miss me anyway. The depression and anxiety were relentless. I've looked back at my journal and read entries that said, "All I can see is darkness; no light; it's like being locked inside a safe; walls closing in, can't breathe...no hope."
My mind was in such a state of torment that I couldn't see the devastating affect my behavior was having on those who loved me. I attempted again. One morning I went to the mountain behind my house and took numerous pills. I passed out and hours later, somehow woke up. All of a sudden I had an entirely different attitude. I didn't want to die; I WANTED TO SURVIVE! But I quickly realized that disastrous effect those pills had on my body—I couldn't stand up. I crawled through the bushes. It took me hours (at 85 degrees and no food or water), to crawl to the street. About 6 p.m., a passerby found me and called the paramedics. I was so dehydrated that they said I was within an hour of complete kidney and liver failure and, (not diagnosed until four days later), my colon had burst. I spent close to three weeks in the ICU. I had trauma surgery to perform a colostomy and then my heart stopped three times the evening of the surgery. The doctors called my family in, telling them that they didn't think I was going to make it.
The long road to recovery wasn't easy, but I refused to give up. I believe that God gave me a second chance at life and I was determined to make it worth something. I spent four months in the hospital and cognitive therapy after-care. Hoping to be of help to others, I filmed an interview with my pastor. After the initial showing, people came up to me (some as long as six months later) and said that hearing my story had helped to save their lives. I had not only been given a second chance, but a real purpose to live again.
I became involved with the San Diego chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and found opportunities to continue to share my story. I now serve as the chair for the local advocacy and public policy committee which exists to increase public awareness of suicide as a public health problem and promote local, state and federal policies and programs that prevent suicide.
San Diego, CA