Content Warning: Self-Harm, Mental Health Issues
On New Year’s Eve I came dangerously close to attempting suicide.
The root causes are a history of alcoholism, depression, mood disorder, and suicide ideation.
The acute triggers were alcohol, financial stress, anxiety, and shame.
Author’s Note: This is Part 2 in a series of essays. Part 1 can be found here: Near Miss – Part 1
If you or someone you know is in crisis please reach out for help.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Text 741741 – Crisis Text Line
New Year’s Day
New Year’s Day I woke up around 3:30am in the guest bed at our friends’ house. I’d only gotten a bit more than two hours of sleep. My body wanted water and my mind was chewing on the events of twelve hours before. I went to the bathroom, drank a glass of water, and tried in vain to will myself back to sleep.
I ran through the options in my head.
- A) Wake my wife up and tell her what happened. Tell her that I needed to go to the hospital.
- B) Call 9-1-1. I thought if I called 9-1-1 I could go wait outside and just send my wife a text that I’d gone to the ER. She could meet me there and I wouldn’t have to have the conversation at 3, or 4, or 5am.
- C) Hide. Pretend that nothing had happened. Lie about the drinking and deal with the half day of my wife being pissed off. We’d go out for breakfast, we’d be around people, I’d function at my highest level all day long, and I would clean up the mess. No one had to know.
Option A was the scariest one. I knew I would scare my wife, I’d make myself vulnerable to judgment, and I’d have to bear that judgment all on my own. There wouldn’t be a room full of hospital staff to deflect the energy off of.
Option B was my negotiation with myself. I knew that it would be a crappy thing to do – have my wife wake up to a text that I’d called an Ambulance. It would have been hurtful and scary for her. But, it gave me that buffer of other people to blunt the vulnerability of owning my actions to my wife.
Option C was my classic way of dealing with the fear of judgment. Just hide it. I’m a good sled dog, I will bear any burden and keep quiet. I can be dragging a broken leg behind me and I won’t “Wince or Cry Aloud” as Henley put it. There would be a few hours of discomfort and I could just move on. But, I’d still know.
I ran through permutations of those options for two hours before I settled on the only real option – A.
I woke my wife up and told her I needed to talk.
“I got drunk yesterday. I came close to killing myself. I need you to take me to the hospital. I need help.”
I poured out my feelings. Stress about finances and business success were the acute triggers but there was more. I shared how I had to fight back tears watching Rise of Skywalker because it triggered so many emotions in me. Most importantly the idea that the only way I could atone for my failures as a person was through sacrifice. I wept as I shared how I still feel a massive void in my usefulness since having to walk away from the fire service in 2014 because of my TBI. I shared how my depression and suicide ideation have been much more acute since that injury and how it has worn on me.
We got up and went to the Emergency Room at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood. Our friends’ house was close and my physicians are all part of Loyola. I wanted all my records to be easily accessible to everyone.
The drive to the ER was quiet. It was a bit after 6am and it was still dark. The streets were clear. The day cold but crisp. I was scared to death about what would come next.
For anyone reading this an ER visit is an ER visit on a lot of levels. You walk in, tell them why you are there, and you get seen. Now, when you walk in and say you want to hurt yourself you do not pass go, and you do not collect $200. A very nice nurse comes out, you skip triage, and they put you on a cart in the hallway where they can watch you. At least that was my experience. They do vitals, and draw labs. I talked with the Doctor who was supportive and encouraging. He showed kindness and compassion – when he asked my wife if she needed anything it was with genuine empathy. When she said she didn’t even want the Jewel Coffee Cake he offered I knew she was really worried – my bride has never turned down a piece of Jewel Coffee Cake.
I sat on the gurney and Heather sat on a chair by the foot of the bed. As awkward as an ER visit can be it’s even more awkward when you are experiencing all your emotions in a hallway in plain view of the world. I could see the exhaustion and fear on her face. We both just waited to find out what would happen next.
It turns out my hospital doesn’t have an in-patient psychiatric unit. I’d need to be transferred. The social worker offered ideas and asked where I would want to go. I had no idea that you have to be accepted by an inpatient unit. It wasn’t as simple as saying – “I want to go here.” The social worker explains why you came in, your current status, and the kind of help you are seeking. It’s up to that unit to accept you as a patient. There were a range of options: McNeal Hospital, Hartgrove, Riveredge Hospital, and Christ Hospital were all on the list. I was secretly terrified of what any of these places would be like. I worried that the wrong place would be hell and things would get worse.
My first choice was to go to McNeal Hospital in Berwyn. They are under the Loyola umbrella so there wasn’t going to be any insurance issues and it would be easy for my doctors there to see my records. One of my biggest issues with seeing any kind of Doctor these days is having to work through the story of my head injuries. My career ending injury in 2014 resulted in nearly 18 months of physical therapy and medication variation before I was declared at Maximum Medical Potential and unable to return to work. The list of medications we tried is one full column long on letter sized paper when you account for the various combinations and dosages. I’ve had a subsequent concussion and been admitted for a ketamine infusion to break the headache cycle. There is a lot of brain stuff that I’ve dealt with. Trying to remember all of it is hard when I’m not steeped in guilt and shame ,and uncertain what the hours and days to come hold.
The Loyola Social Worker did her magic and got me into McNeal. Then came the fact that I’d be transferred by Ambulance. I hadn’t even thought about it, and a wave of fresh anxiety filled me.
You used to take people from the ER to the psych ward! Now you’re gonna be the dude on the cart. What the hell happened?