“I have become cumbersome to this world…” Seven Mary Three
This song was playing on the radio in my boyfriend’s car. We had parked outside the engineering building at the University of Western Ontario. I waited in the car while he ran inside to hand in a late assignment. It was about 3pm in June 2001. I was deeply depressed and in the grips of side effects of benzos and SSRIs, toxic soup which turned my brain into an impulsive, self destructive, hopeless mess. I felt like the song was a sign and a message to me that it was time to die. we drove home and a few minutes later I was in the bathroom, taking my 3rd overdose. I was serious this time and not messing around.
I remember sitting in my room, waiting to see what would happen. I started feeling bad fairly quickly and this time I was fully aware of the entire experience. My boyfriend drove me to the hospital and I remember during the drive realizing that an ambulance would have been more appropriate.
I remember sitting at the triage desk in the South Street ER, the nurse asking me questions: “How many pills did you take?”
Either my answer or my vital signs snapped everything into motion. I remember her checking the E for Emergent on the triage form and I was taken immediately back into the department. Things started to go downhill from there. I was given activated charcoal to drink, this time I was fully awake and the taste and texture was horrific. I still have regular nightmares and flashbacks about this. Even typing this I’m having flashbacks and feeling nauseous. The nurses took blood samples and started an IV. As we had found out on OD #2, I’m actually highly allergic to the antidote to the drug overdose. This meant I was having a life threatening allergic reaction.
I remember my face getting hot and swollen. I was receiving IV benedryl along with the antidote. I was vomiting over and over, the charcoal wouldn’t stay inside me. Eventually I was vomiting blood. I was given IV gravol.
My sense of time was somewhat confused but at one point I remember them paging the internal medicine experts. It was at this point I realized that I had F*#ed up. I realized that I wasn’t going to die, clearly. I felt like a failure at everything. I couldn’t even get this right! But at the same time I was petrified because I knew my body was not doing well. My liver was having trouble processing the OD. The specialist told me I needed the charcoal to absorb the drug and I would need the IV antidote for about 24 hours, I was being admitted to a medical floor. He also told me if I ever did this again I would die from the allergic reaction to the antidote.
Shortly after the Dr came back into my curtained area. A tube was placed down my throat and into my stomach. I was fully conscious and had no pain relief. I could not longer speak. My eyes were watering from the pain. The nurse was supposed to come immediately to pour the charcoal directly into my stomach. But for whatever reason she didn’t come and I was lying there unable to speak with a tube down my throat. Finally the nurse came, poured the charcoal into me and then pulled out the tube. I was gagging and crying.
Late that night I was taken upstairs to the 5th floor which was a cardiac monitoring floor. I needed a monitored bed because I had been admitted involuntarily on a Form 1 (72 hour psychiatric hold under the Mental Health Act). I remember waking up, if I had even slept at all, and dragging my IV to the washroom to vomit black charcoal. I could barely walk. I noticed that this part of the hospital was much fancier and the beds were much more comfortable than on the psych wards. I remember at one point using the phone in the nursing station to speak to my parents.
In the morning breakfast came on a tray. There was cream of wheat in a plastic bowl. A few hours late the psychiatrists came to assess me. I remember being angry and frustrated because they made me walk all the way down a long hallway to a meeting room to talk. I could barely walk and it felt like an eternity. I remember thinking they were punishing me on purpose, but maybe they just didn’t realize how terrible I felt.
I was moved to a bed on the 2nd floor, it was a general medical unit. Since I was not in a monitored bed and not on the psych floor (locked ward) I was assigned a “sitter.” Basically someone to sit in the room and watch me, presumably to ensure I did not harm myself again. It was embarrassing and invasive. This person just sat on a chair in my room. If I went to the washroom they would stand outside the door and listen.
I remember the day being overwhelming and scary. I was not grateful to be alive, I didn’t see it as a second chance. I felt sick and I felt trapped. I felt incompetent and alone.
Late that evening I was medically cleared, the IVs were removed. I was moved to the 7th floor. I was not allowed to leave the unit. After the 72 hours passed my Form was extended to a Form 3 which allowed them to keep me for up to 7 days. Dr. X was the one to sign the papers. He informed me that things had gone too far and he would not release me from the hospital unless my parents came to collect me. I had no choice but to agree.
Involuntary hospitalization feels like being imprisoned. Your right to freedom of movement is removed. You must stay on the psych unit and you can’t go outside. Sometimes they will let you go outside supervised but only on hospital property. Did I need to be involuntarily held at that time? Probably yes. Would I have harmed myself again at home? Probably yes. In fact, I went on to continue harming myself for years after this admission and I would be held involuntarily again. I couldn’t talk myself out of this one.
It’s very difficult to explain what is in the mind of a person who wants to die. Sometimes it feels like a terrible emptiness. Sometimes it feels like looking at the world through dark glasses. Sometimes it feels like a crushing weight, when you feel like you are separate from all living things, a shadow of yourself. Sometimes it is racing, impulsive thoughts of harm. Other times it is absolute quiet. I’d be lying if I said I don’t still have thoughts of dying. They come and go, as they have since I was 17 years old.
Thoughts of suicide are a warning sign for me. They are a giant red flag waving. Stop! Your stress levels are too high. You have too few spoons. You have too many triggers. You need to slow down and self care. Suicide is a symptom of depression and PTSD. Hopelessness is a symptom. It’s not a sign of weakness and it is not a sign of being “crazy.” It’s a symptom of depression in the same way sniffling and coughing are symptoms of a cold. Suicide and suicidal attempts can also be a side effect of many psych meds and this was certainly true in my own life. This is an issue with many layers. Ironically, suicidal thinking can be a way of coping and trying to survive desperate times.
I am a suicide survivor.