A plastic coat hanger.
Simple, cheap, and durable. Easy to twist and mangle, even for a young child. The inside edges of the hanger were rough and sharp; so sharp, in fact, that if you ran your finger across the edge quickly enough, you would likely end up with a somewhat nasty cut. It was what I had access to, and, not having taken a physics course yet, I thought it would work.
I bent the plastic to my will, warping it ever so slightly, so I could fit the simple little device around my neck.
Ha! Cheap, indeed. It snapped before it could serve the purpose I had intended for it.
I was ten years old, and that was the first time that I tried to kill myself.
* * *
No one ever found out about the hanger incident.
At that point, I had been in therapy for about a year. John was my therapist. He was kind, gentle, and easy to talk to. I was told that talking to someone would help. So far, it hadn’t been. The more I spoke, the more that I was forced to face the demons that had put me there, the more I resented myself for something I had been repeatedly told was, “not my fault.”
I was in therapy for about four years. As the treatment progressed, I eventually found other ways to cope, and as I was on the verge of entering middle school (or as it was called at the time, junior high), my sessions came to an end.
The choice to stop treatment was probably a mistake. I could have used a sounding board during my teenage years. Looking back, I now realize that this period of my life was when I started developing the first symptoms of what I would later come to know as social anxiety disorder.
At first, things weren’t that bad. I was awkward around girls; but what teenage boy isn’t? I began to spend very large amounts of time alone; but what teenager doesn’t feel a sense of isolation at some point? I told myself that these feelings were normal. By the time I had graduated to the real world, I had learned to suppress an increasing sense of anxiety with alcohol, sex and just about any other distraction I could find. Life wasn’t good, but it was managable. I had moments of what I believed happiness to be, and I thought that was good enough.
* * *
For the last several weeks, I have been physically ill. Originally taking the form of a skin rash, it quickly spread throughout most of my body. Doctors at the emergency room were of little help, offering a hodgepodge cocktail of corticosteroids, Benadryl, and Zantac, and telling me that it was likely an allergic reaction, though they could not say to what, if anything, I was reacting to. They suggested that it could be caused by stress. It could also be depression. It could be fucking anything.
The skin issue notwithstanding, I’ve become acutely aware of many other symptoms that suggest that I am, in a word, unwell. The last year of my life has been a turbulent one, and I haven’t handled it well. And if I’m being brutally honest and self-aware, the issues go back much further than that.
Unchecked, my anxiety has continued its development into a completely debilitating disorder. I avoid all social situations that I anticipate could possibly be awkward, which is most of them. I’ve missed birthdays, celebrations, and other gatherings of people that I care for because I worry about a range of minute details that most likely cross the minds of no one but myself.
Sometimes, this anxiety manifests itself as paranoia. I worry that people are making fun of me behind my back, that they secretly criticize me or judge me when I’m not around, that they only act friendly toward me because it’s easier to be nice than to be honest. I obsess over small details about my character or behavior. I get angry and hurt when I’m not invited to an event and I take it personally. I tend to perceive the reasoning as an intentional slight, and ultimately, I blame myself.
This creates a loop that strips away all of my energy and self-worth. I feel down because I’m lonely and lonely because I’m down. As my depression has worsened, I’ve lost the ability to reach out to people and my relationships with others are mostly nonexistent. In the last year, I’ve pushed away nearly everyone that cares about me. I’ve damaged my relationships and I fear that much of that damage may be irreparable.
* * *
The last time I attempted suicide was in 2009, on the eve of my 27th birthday. On good days, I tell myself that while that was a truly low period in my life, it was ultimately good for me because it taught me what rock bottom really was. Armed with that knowledge, I would never let myself get to that point again.
On good days, I tell myself that everything is fine … that I am fine. I have a good, well-paying job. I have a cat that’s mostly well-behaved. I live in a nice townhouse. I’m able to pay my bills every month and have extra money left over. Sure, I may be lonely, but that’s normal, right? Everything is nice and normal, right? This is just the way things are.
On good days, I’m particularly adept at lying to myself.
I am not okay, and I haven’t been for some time.
I don’t enjoy activities anymore. Things that used to excite me now do nothing. I overeat out of boredom or loneliness. Panic attacks come out of nowhere. I think about committing suicide every day. I get overly emotional about things that don’t merit it. I shy away from people and tell myself that they’re better off without my presence. I feel as if in a void that nothing can fill, numb to just about everything that the world has to offer.
I am alive, but I am not living.
I say these things not as a cry for help nor a plea for sympathy, but rather because I need to. I need to cope with the fact that things are most certainly not alright, and sometimes that takes staring at the cold, unforgiving words on a screen as a constant reminder; evidence that I cannot deny.
The “good” days happen less and less frequently now. My poor attempts at coping have resulted in cutting myself off from the world even further, fracturing the remaining relationships I have left, and chipping away at what remains of my psyche.
I need help.
A friend who’s dealt with his own mental health struggles asked me what I was afraid of. As I told him, I don’t want to be labeled. I fear being dependent on chemicals. I don’t want to experience the loss of control that typically comes with treatment. But I also need to accept the truth of the situation. Is my fear of a label worth dying for? Am I really “in control” now? Not in the slightest.
I am scared. Terrified, even. But I’m slowly beginning to realize that these concerns are not nearly as important as the knowledge that I can’t keep going like this if I want to see my 31st birthday. I have very real problems, and they need to be addressed. And while it pains me to admit it, I can’t do this alone. I don’t want to do this anymore.
They say that the first step in solving any problem is recognizing that there is one. Done. This is a very real problem and it will not go away on its own.
The worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves. So, this is me holding myself accountable. Here’s to no more lies.