Talking with Katie King

As I went again through this interview with Katie King, I realized that I still knew little of the details of her everyday life. Instead, she had guided me through the thinking that has occupied her since her attempt a year and a half ago. It was pretty fascinating, because she hadn’t figured it all out and didn’t mind saying so.

She appreciates the growing number of mental health resources out there, but she makes a good case for resources specifically for attempt survivors. “I’m on medications, I’m seeing a therapist, and absolutely it helps. But for me, it’s hard for me to fit into quote-unquote normal living,” she says. “How do I deal with, you know, all my friends knowing that I attempted suicide? How do I deal with getting back into normal living?”

Here, she talks about certain parallels with the world of eating disorders, the practice of “suicide baiting” and her desire to hold on to just enough of her experience to be able to connect with others who are having their own.

Who are you? Please introduce yourself.

My name’s Katie. I’m 28 years old. Currently, my husband and I own a toy business. We’ve been doing that for the last five years. I have an eating disorder, a severe eating disorder. I’m getting help for that. I’ve had it for six years. I’ve been in and out of treatment centers. And I’m on the road to recovery, a long road, but I’m headed in the right direction. I have a dog who is my life, who keeps me going sometimes. But, you know, overall, things are looking up.

How did you come to be talking to me?

I had attempted suicide a year and a half ago. I had struggled with passive suicidal thoughts since I was 18, from various issues that had come up throughout my life. I had started struggling severely with depression. I wasn’t getting help for that. And when I attempted suicide, after the attempt, it’s like, “Well, what do I do with this?” I had so many questions. How does this fit into my life now? Where do I fit in? And how does this fit into my story? What do I do with this attempt, with these feelings? I had no idea, so I just looked online for any kind of support groups, any research I could find to cope now.

And how did that go? Did you find any?

Not as far as the suicidal ideation and the suicide attempt. I found a lot of help for mental health issues and the depression and things like that, but as far as support groups for suicide attempt survivors, I found very little. And so I came across you guys.

With resources out there for broader mental health issues, are resources specifically for suicide attempt survivors needed?

Absolutely. I think there’s a huge gap right now in society and mental health for … I don’t even know what the word is. There’s so much now for the mental health field, so much more research is done, we’re learning so much, there’s the new DSM, but I think that suicide is such a taboo in society, something that is unspoken, that’s so “You can’t go there” right now in society. And there’s support groups for suicide survivors, who know people who have committed suicide, but when it comes to suicide attempt survivors, we kind of get pushed under the rug or are tried to fit into some other mental health category. A lot of times there’s carryover, but not necessarily. I think that absolutely, we are a group that needs support. We learn a lot through the attempt, but there’s still all sorts of questions: How does this fit in? And right now, I don’t see or haven’t come across any kind of help in society with that.

The usual suggestions are crisis lines, therapists, medication. Are those enough?

Personally, no. I’m sure that absolutely, those help. I’m on medications, I’m seeing a therapist, and absolutely it helps. But for me, it’s hard for me to fit into quote-unquote normal living. How do I deal with, you know, all my friends knowing that I attempted suicide? How do I deal with getting back into normal living? It changes you, obviously, in such a marked way. And yes, you can see a therapist, get medication for different other issues, but even going to therapy it’s still a one-on-one thing. And I personally need help getting back into a larger group where I can talk about my struggles in a safe area, where people can understand what I’m going through. Even though I have supportive friends, there’s the gap of, “We don’t know what you’re taking about, we haven’t had those feelings.”

Have you found any kind of group?

I haven’t. I know there’s SA, Suicide Anonymous. I had gone to a couple of their meetings. And I’m sure there’s other stuff, I just haven’t found it.

What more do you think is needed?

I don’t even know if it is possible, but in a perfect world, I would love to physically be able to go to a group. With Skype, with the technology we have, you can sit in the comfort of home and attend a group, potentially. But to physically go and physically be with other people, I think there’s power in that, comfort in that, safety in that. I don’t know even if it’s possible to have such groups, but it would help me immensely.

(I mention the concerns some professionals have about people in such groups potentially comparing and refining methods and inspiring each other to kill themselves.)

Absolutely. I have come across that with the eating disorder groups I’ve been in. There’s a risk that people are gonna share methods, that talking about it will keep you stuck in it. I think the same thing would be the case with suicide attempt groups. I don’t want to diminish the risk by any stretch of imagination, but sometimes it’s worth the risk. You know, if you save some lives … To me, it’s worth the risk, but it’s definitely a risk.

What has been most useful to you in recovery, both shortly after your attempt and overall?

Well, I attempted suicide in a pretty graphic way, so I was in the hospital for two and a half months. So the immediate help wasn’t, you know, a couple days or a week after. I had two and a half months to sit and dwell on it before I came out. I have physical complications because of the attempt. A lot of it was just things I had to learn to do again and put energy into something tangible. I think part of it, even though it wasn’t getting back to a job or anything, was being busy, doing something tangible. Therapy is invaluable. I have learned to do so much. Finding a good therapist. I’ve had bad therapists, but I’m seeing an awesome one right now. Invaluable. I personally have the support of my family, and even though they don’t understand, they are hurt, they are angry about it, all those feelings, they ultimately … To have people to want you to live is awesome, and it’s safe and it helps me process things in a safe way. It’s hard because I can’t necessarily talk to them about how, you know, “Well, I lived. I didn’t want to live, and I’m alive.” I can’t necessarily talk with them. But to have them say on a daily basis, say, “We love you, we’re glad you’re here,” that’s been huge. But I think for me, it’s now a year and half later, it’s … I don’t even know how to express it. I’m a thinker, I like to think, I research things, and that’s personally helped me so much, to learn the reasons why I did what I did. Getting to the root issues has been very helpful. It wasn’t, “Oh I’m crazy, and one day I just chose to do this.” There were so, so, so many things that led up to the attempt. And getting to the root of them helped me stabilize.

Have you found reasons that you didn’t even know were reasons at the time?

Absolutely. I guess it’s hard, after doing work since the attempt, and still doing work, you know, as issues come up. It’s hard for me because the attempt still makes sense to me. I haven’t figured out how to take the information and the issues leading up to it and say, “Well now, looking back, I would make a different choice.” The attempt still makes the most sense to me. I know conceptually it’s distorted, but part of it is still logical, and I’m working through seeing the illogical side of it. That’s specifically what I’m working on now. That’s an issue that’s really surfaced, the illogical side of the attempt. So I guess what I’m saying is, a lot of issues I did know because I was going to therapy beforehand, but what surfaced after the attempt were the connections from point A to B to C. At some point, there’s a disconnect there. It’s OK from A to B, but you kind of missed it on point C. … It’s something that’s kind of opened my eyes.

Can you look to a day where the illogical side drops away, and do you know how to get there?

I don’t have a clue! Which is why I’m still in therapy. I don’t know, to be completely honest. Part of me would like that to be the case. Part of me doesn’t, because I don’t ever want to lose that relatability to someone who’s struggling. I want to use those feelings to reach others with those illogical thoughts, to say, “I’ve been there, but being on the other side of it, I know there’s another choice. I know you can’t see it, but there is one.” I hope for me, I come to a place where I see the illogical. But as far as helping others, I still want to hold a piece of that, so I can truly empathize with someone struggling.

Did you have someone who truly understood?

No. I … no. And I think it’s hard to find because it’s so swept under the rug. Maybe there are people I know who have attempted, but it’s one of those things that’s unspoken. Absolutely my therapist gets it, but outside of therapy, I haven’t had anybody who necessarily even tried to get it. Which I understand. That’s absolutely a scary place to go. But that is hard, and that’s one of the reasons why I personally would like to see a support group.

How did your family take it?

My family got help. And someone had once told me that the people that love you will change with you. And I’ve seen that firsthand with my family. They have gotten help to see, “How do we show her that we love her in a more real way for her?” And when I say that, I grew up in a very loving home, so that’s not an attack on them. But it helped them really open their eyes to, like, that something big is going on. They couldn’t live in denial when slammed in their face. “Your daughter wanted to die and tried to die.” They can’t ignore that serious internal issues are going on. My husband and I don’t have the best relationship, so it did not … It was rough, and it’s still rough. It’s still something he doesn’t acknowledge. He didn’t come to the hospital. And it’s a big black spot in our relationship. So that’s, I don’t know if that’s his form of coping, that being in denial is his way of coping with it, I’m not sure. But I feel very alone, for sure.

Did you bring it up with him, have you tried?

I’ve tried. It’s something where his mentality is, “You’re crazy, so go get fixed. Take medication, go to therapy, get fixed and life will be fine.” So there’s a big disconnect. In his mind, there aren’t reasons for it. “You’re crazy, and you went off the deep end here. Go get as much medication as you can, as much therapy as you can, get fixed and come home.” I have found in our relationship, it is an easier way of living in the home if I don’t bring it up. When I have brought it up, it’s been detrimental to both of us. So in our home right now, we don’t go there.

What if the feeling comes back, what will you do? Will you talk to others, will you be secretive?

Right. I have created a plan of when I start to feel this: “Here’s step one, two, three. If I start to feel this feeling, here’s step one, two, three,” and I play to different scenarios. I have people, my family, a couple of friends who have gotten help, who know as best as they can what to do if something comes up. The feelings have come back. A lot of times, people who attempt suicide, a couple of days later they feel like, “Oh, that was such a terrible decision, I’m so glad I lived.” I can’t say at this point I’m glad I lived. There are reasons I wanted to die, and they still make sense to me. The difference is, I’m not going to act on it now because I see that my life is more valuable than all those reasons. Maybe I don’t feel or see it, but the fact that I lived tells me that I’m here for a reason. If it was up to me, I would have died. But I think that one of the things that keeps me safe is, I’m not necessarily in complete control here. There’s something bigger than me that kept me alive for a reason. And that reason for me right now, what I hold onto, is helping others. To use it to say, “I went through this so others don’t have to.” So when I want to turn inward, just fester inside of myself, it’s that getting out and even just going to the park and sitting with people that’s just helpful for me. For me, it’s something I have to nip in the bud as soon as I have the initial feeling, get that plan in place before I get to a place where I’m melting inside.

Because what you did was so serious, do you think it put more space between you and those thoughts?

Yes,  absolutely. If it wasn’t so drastic and so blatant, I think I would feel like I still have an option of it. Now, after doing it so graphically and somehow living, it’s like, “Well, this is out of my hands a little bit, and if it didn’t work the last time, it doesn’t matter what I do, it’s not gonna work.” So absolutely, it’s one of those safety things I have written down on the cards.

Like index cards?

Yes. Because sometimes I have found in the past that when I just keep it all upstairs in my head, those distorted thoughts really have a way of worming their way in, twisting up my game plan a bit. If they’re tangible, written down, I can’t get away from this fact, right there, staring me in the face. It helps me stay logical when my mind wants to deviate.

I worry that some people take huge risks when they attempt because they have no idea what they’re getting into. And it goes both ways. People think they’re going to die and end up blind, in a wheelchair, with permanent effects. And other people think they’re not really going to go too far but die. Is there any usefulness in addressing methods and risks and realities? Or is that just causing more trouble?

I realize there are differing opinions on this. For me, absolutely, there’s value in awareness. And I have found that’s true in the eating disorder world, that yes, there are, if you’re sharing methods, that … A lot depends on how it’s presented. You can present it in a way that encourages it, almost. But if it’s presented in such a way as to highlight the severity of it and the realness of it and the potential side effects, I know for me, if someone would have, you know, talked me through it, “Here is something that can happen, OK …” Now, on the other side, I know it, but it wasn’t on my index cards before. I think it’s hard, especially for young people. There’s suicide baiting, like, “Why don’t you go kill yourself?” thrown out there, like a ha-ha statement, and it creates a state of invincibility, where someone just does it for attention or other reasons: Just pop a couple pills and, “Yeah, I just attempted suicide.” And it’s extremely dangerous. This is a serious issue. And I think awareness in respect to, you know, this isn’t a joking matter, people can die, people are dying, would save lives.

You mentioned wanting to help others. What would you like to do?

I have contacted the suicide prevention hotline and would like to do that. And it’s in the works, as far as my therapy is concerned. They have a span of, like, two years before you can hop on that if you have attempted. Something like that. I’ve kind of been waiting on that. Also, and I don’t even know if it’s possible, but I want to have my attempt figured out a little more in my head. For instance, right now, I can say that I understand the pain someone is in. I can relate, and I can give insight into other options. But if someone asks me if I am glad I lived, I can’t say “yes” right now. So, in that regard, I would feel bad helping someone while still struggling myself and wrestling with the attempt in my own life. I want to be as prepared as I can be to really, truly help. The last thing I would want to do is go naively into “I’m going to save the world” and not really be prepared to help people. So I’m treading lightly with it. But definitely, absolutely, I’ve always had a heart for people. And now, going though it, I wish someone would have been there for me. And I’m sure there were, but I didn’t know how to connect, to talk about it. So I’d like to offer it to somebody else.

How would you prepare yourself? Internally or actual training?

Both, for sure. I think the more knowledge I have on the subject, the better. For me, it’s a ton of research, a ton of background, a ton of psych work. Here are issues going on with people that could potentially lead to a suicide attempt. I think the more I can learn about others and about myself, the better prepared I can be. And saying that, I don’t believe that I can save anyone, I don’t have that power, but I believe people can be utilized to help. I really, truly believe for me it’s a lot of research, just connecting with people who are quote-unquote normal people, just to see how they tick, what’s behind the things they say. There’s something deeper going on there, and the more I can let myself go there and see the deeper side, the more able I will be … Training is absolutely necessary in my mind, so I think it’s a combination.

And who is this who would qualify as a normal person?

No, nobody is normal! I hate that word, but in society, that’s what people are like: Either you’re normal, or you’re crazy. And that’s kind of the way society operates right now. But absolutely, everybody has their own unique story, and everybody’s story makes sense in their context. So I don’t think there are any crazy people. People have mental issues, but no one’s crazy, and no one’s normal. There’s no set definition, “If you’re X, Y, Z you hit the criteria for being normal.” If there was, the world wouldn’t be the place that it is. The individuality of people really makes the world tick in a beautiful way.

(A very large-sounding dog barks in the background.)

You don’t just have a dog, you have a very big dog.

Yes, he is. He gets his way.

How can we make this topic a more comfortable one to talk about, both one-on-one and in general?

Great question. I don’t necessarily have the answer. I think awareness is huge on both sides of that question. When I say awareness, I’m not talking about like, “Oh, suicide is real!” Flippant statements. But true awareness of, you know, these are issues that lead into a suicide attempt. Here are some reasons why and the mental process side of a suicide attempt. If there’s awareness brought up on that level, that would really help. As far as someone reading this and saying, “That would be great, how to get there?” I don’t have an answer. I’m still working on it. I don’t relate. I feel old. People my age are having babies, and I don’t relate to that. I don’t, I feel old and disconnected, and I’m not sure how to just have fun again. I don’t know how to do that. And I don’t know, on the other side of that, how to say, “I’m ready to help people, this is how I’m going to do it.” For me now, it’s using the resources that are out there. I mean the hotline, the AAS, stuff like that, with the professionals who know what they’re doing. So, plugging into them, finding, “OK, what do I do with this?” If I tried to do it on my own, I would be up a creek without a paddle.

(I mention the situation where many professionals in the mental health and suicide prevention fields go into those fields because of personal experience but don’t feel comfortable disclosing that.)

I don’t think it should be this way, I don’t. I think that the more genuine you can be, the better able you are to reach other people. And I’ve found, the more someone is willing to share truly who they are, I feel safe enough to share my struggles and to ask questions of, “OK, you’ve been there, or on some level you get some issues in the mental health field. Can I run this by you? I don’t know if this is normal, I don’t know what to do with this thought.” And it’s hard for me to do that with someone who’s quote-unquote professional, that is, like, cold and textbook. And I mean, I’m the type of person and have done enough work that I’m willing to talk to someone who’s textbook, but it’s absolutely easier for the majority of people to open up when someone is opening up with you.

What else would you like to add? Or what are you glad that I haven’t asked?

No, I’m a complete open book, you could ask me absolutely anything. I guess my ultimate, I would just really hope that .. I want my message, I want someone to hear this or read this and think, “Hey, maybe I’m not crazy. Maybe this does make sense, the feelings that I have do make sense, and maybe there’s another choice for me other than suicide. If she’s saying she thought there wasn’t another side but there was, maybe that’s true for me, too.”

For the high-achiever types, or anyone who doesn’t want to disappoint people by opening up, that factor, how do we get over that?

I think a really helpful thing with that is learning to value your own life. To say, “No matter what anybody else thinks of me, I’m extremely valuable, and my life is worth more than what they think.” I found that was one of the things that led me to the conclusion, “I am always going to let people down, and there’s no other way to relieve them of the burden other than to die.” I valued their opinion and what they did say to me more than my own life.

Who else are you?

That’s something I’m working on discovering. I’m not exactly sure. I know I’m multifaceted. I know I have a gigantic heart that can truly … I have the desire to help others. And I think that I am capable of doing that. I could never say that before the attempt, I would never say I was capable of anything. But fact I’m still alive, though not my choice, says I’m capable of something. Of what, I’m not sure. But it’s a starting place for me.

What are some other parts of your life?

I’m Christian. My faith is very strong. Does that mean I’m perfect, I’m above a suicide attempt? No, but when it ultimately comes down to “Who am I,” I know I’m a child of god. That’s at the core of my identity. But you know, as far as on a day-to-day level, I’m an animal lover, I love to paint, I’m an artist, I love to work, I love to study, I love to think and feel and to be alive, I love to be outside. So a lot of things I’m learning to enjoy again. I had lost that for a long time. I’m getting back into that side of me.

Talking with Joel Phillips

Joel Phillips’ turnaround came on a bike ride.

He had been overweight, inert, depressed. Enough factors fell into place to click him into a final decision: He would ride out to a quiet spot and shoot himself.

Instead, he returned that day in 2009 and has become a passionate advocate for biking in his Colorado community. He has shed weight and certain mental burdens from childhood. Now he can cycle 100 miles in six hours, which is about four hours faster than we can go.

“I let my mind get out of shape, like I let my body get out of shape,” Joel says. “You eat junk food, and your body doesn’t work right. It’s the same thing with your mind. Fill it with junk, and it doesn’t work right. I had to clear that out.”

He started telling his story earlier this year with a post in a bike forum, and it’s grown from there. He’s now one of several people featured on the ADDY award-winning Man Therapy website.

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Joel Phillips. I live in Lakewood, Colorado, in the foothills surrounding Denver. I was born and raised in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I was adopted by my parents.

How about your upbringing?

I was an inquisitive schoolboy. I think I presented certain challenges to instructors, when I look back at what I call my yellow-colored glasses. I asked questions people were not prepared for. In the third grade, my teacher scolded me for daydreaming. I said I wasn’t, and she said, “What are you doing?” I said I was thinking about what was going on in the battle we were talking about, which was Sherman’s March during the Civil War. August in Georgia must be dreadfully hot, those uniforms, they had no latrines, etc. I questioned my teacher, did more solders die from disease than battlefield wounds? I was told to stick to what we’re doing. I got bored really quick in school because I could easily remember names and dates. It caused some conflict. I started to create a world around me where I did was what was easiest for me at the time. As I got older, I realized that a lot of things came easy for me, so I was able to fool myself for a lot of years.

Fool yourself about what?

Oh, being happy, for the most part. I created these wonderful fantasy stories rather than deal with the reality that I had abusive parents. I was able to gain a lot of self-esteem and confidence through athletics. I was very involved in sport:  football, baseball, basketball, track, wrestling. I was able to maintain a presence of fairly normal, but on the inside I was trying to figure out a lot of things. It occurred to me no matter what effort I put in, the world would treat me the same way. So I kind of quit trying.

That was in high school?

No, there was a very specific event in grade school. It was around a paper I had wrote in fourth grade after we had moved to another house, a starting-fresh situation, and I wrote a report on escape velocity. The instructor wanted us to write something neat about space. I got interested in the actual rocket getting off Earth, so I wrote about the speed to break the Earth’s gravity. The principal was impressed and wanted to enter it in a contest, and he asked my parents to come in the next day. When I came home, my mom asked what I did wrong. She said, “The principal doesn’t ask us to come in for nothing.” I took a pretty bad beating from my parents that night. You know what, you told me to be on my best behavior, and this is the result? And I didn’t care anymore at that point.

And this carried on into older years?

It’s certainly the basis of the story I built my life around: No matter what I do, I’m not right. I’m a burden on everyone around me. Those thoughts permeated my life. That’s why I was in the situation I was in before I decided to take my life back. You can only have so much success when you’re afraid of having success. Because I was able to fool myself, I was able to talk to people, I was a good salesperson. In my late 20s, early 30s, I had a six-figure income. I started to believe this was not supposed to happen to me. I started looking for ways to screw it up. I was being late for meetings. And my safety net was disappearing. One big client did leave, and I lost nearly half of my income overnight. It was because one company was bought out by another and we were not the preferred vendor by that company, but because I was living by my story, I let all the things I was doing as a salesperson to insulate myself go. And I got a divorce. And that proved to me I was right. And I never took responsibility for things, because I had a great story to pin it on: I was abused as a kid.

Was that the beginning of your low point?

This was when I first started entertaining thoughts that I wanted to end my life. In about the year 2000. I just went for jobs with the least amount of responsibility and the easiest to do. When you’re in the printing industry, it’s hard to get a job anywhere else. I stayed in the industry, fooled myself I was happy. I met a girl, got married. This is an amazing woman. I’m lucky to have her, but I was not being fair to her because I was not letting her in, letting her love me, letting her family love me. I started to do things I did with my ex-wife.

And I got bigger and bigger. I go to work, I come home, maybe smoke pot and watch movies on cable, eat pizza. But Thursday nights I go out and play softball. But I couldn’t run the bases. I had to have an extra runner. As a kid, I could dunk a basketball. This was really weighing on me: Look at what I’ve done to myself. I had a hernia surgery, then gall bladder surgery. I thought I was having a heart attack when I had my gall badder surgery. I went through stress tests, and the cardiologist says, “I was gonna yell at you because you’re 378 pounds, but your heart’s in great shape. You won the lotto, but you’re not gonna stay like that.” So when the conversation came up, I needed to do more than walk my dog. Then my gall bladder went septic, and they removed it. In post-op, my general practicioner and cardiologist sat down with me, said that I was lucky, I have great markers for being as overweight as I am, but I need to do stuff. I finally say. “OK, maybe I’ll ride my bike at lunch.” And that was the end of that.

I started to grow deeper into my story: I’m not even worthy of being a shipping clerk at a printing company. I had one particular day where I mistook some info and didn’t get a shipment delivered on time. It really caused some big problems. It was the last straw for me: I’m even failing at this. I decided I would ride my bike at lunch tomorrow and shoot myself.

I went home that night, locked myself in the bathroom, wrote an apology letter to everybody I thought I’d hurt, and … I went to bed. And I had a peaceful sleep because I felt finally some relief from all of this. And I got up the next day, and I gave my wife what I thought was a last hug and kiss goodbye, and the last time I see my dog, and I went on that morning. I was very peaceful that morning and calm and calculated in everything I did. And I had gone to great lengths to make sure I wasn’t giving off any signs a person does who’s suicidal. I was very smart about reading what the signs were and avoiding them.

I left at lunch on my bike, fully intending to put the gun in my mouth and pull the trigger. I was riding towards Denver on the Platte River trail. And I rode underneath I-25 and across the river and turned north toward the amusement park, and that was a hill for me, a struggle. And whatever it was that kept me turning those pedals, that had me stop and take a look at a place _ it’s really beautiful where the Cherry Creek and the river come together, and you can see the mountains rise up _ and I got a taste of life right there. I remembered what it was like when I got my first bike. It wasn’t the bike, but it was I felt anything was possible in the world with that bike. And maybe for the first time since then, I got a taste of that. And I decided to ride more than do what I had planned.

About three weeks later, I told my wife, I said I wanted to ride my bike home from work. She said, “How far is it?” I said, “It looks like just over 14 miles.” She said, “You think you can handle it?” I said, “There are bus stops along the way. I think I can do it. I want you to give me ride to work Friday morning.” So we got in my truck that morning. After I dropped myself off at work, I reached with right hand across my body and grabbed the seatbelt and was able to buckle it, and I stopped. It had been 10 years since I had been able to do it. I had set the steering wheel a certain way so it wouldn’t interfere. I buckled it and was like, “Wow.” I hadn’t been doing anything but riding the bike. I did notice I had been wanting to eat better, not craving sweets. I wanted solid proteins. I started listening to my body more. The next thing I knew, I was able to sit up out of bed and put my feet on the ground instead of roll out. I had energy, my clothes were fitting better.

I decided I needed to look at what’s going on here, see what other changes I can make. I started examining what was going on in my life. I wasn’t training for nothing. I wanted to do something on my bike. I wanted to get more people like me to ride a bike. I would quit on myself, but I would not quit on other people. I started a site, Reasons 2 Ride, and blogged about what I was doing while training. I wanted to train for something crazy. I picked Ride the Rockies, a six-day tour over the mountains. Seventy miles you ride each day. I had a year to get in shape for that. I was doing it, and in the middle of that I thought, “How can I weasel my way out of this?” Then I had a stranger out of the blue who was following me and said, “I’ll come up and ride with you.” He was from Texas. I was like, “OK, I have to do it now.” So I did it. I didn’t ride every mile, but I didn’t realize what was the big prize. The big prize was doing what I did to get there.

I started getting emails, comments on blogs, media interactions that were extremely touching, how I had inspired them to take a chance at life. One person started playing the flute again, and their life’s happier because they go to the park and play. And I looked at myself and said, “I never understood why people listen to me. It’s not that I have anything to say, but when I’m engaged in life, playing it fully, I do so with integrity and honesty. And people can relate.” So I embraced that and decided to make it my life’s work, to get more people to ride bikes, to contribute to make a happier community for everybody. That’s the role I’m committed to.

And where you are now?

Now I teach a spin class three days a week, and the days I’m not teaching, I take other fitness classes. I do that in a group environment. Reasons 2 Ride has evolved into an ad agency whose campaign encourages people to ride more, with a network of businesses who are willing to offer discounts to people who ride a bike to their business. The website will have a mobile app. It’s social media, with me and interns out there interacting with people. And also, I started a nonprofit called Arapahoe County B-cycle. I’m going to manage a bike sharing program in the Arapahoe County area. It’s just taking it to the next level, having the confidence to do what I’m doing. I’m also working quite extensively with Landmark Education, I’ve done their Curriculum for Living, and I’m going to take part in their leadership program. This was an ontological view at life, what it means to be human in our relationships with each other. In these classes, seminars, I really learned how to get rid of my blind spots in life, fully express myself, be powerful about what I’m doing, be a cause for action, be a person for my community. It’s the first time in my life that I understand that I am my community, and my community is me. And now I life live joyfully. That’s the best word I can use.

How has your wife taken it? And your family and others you know?

Well, it was a big surprise when everybody around me learned I was at a point where I had wanted to commit suicide. That was something I couldn’t come clean with myself until really this year. They noticed I was a completely different person than the way I had been acting, but it was a person they’d always seen in me. The disappointment I had seen in others, what was disappointing them was they saw I failed to recognize the potential I had in myself. That was most disconcerting for them. That was true for my coaches, even educators. Because who I was as a person was not the person I had acted out in my life. That was the disconnect in the resistance I felt growing up. And I couldn’t see that because I had a tainted vision of who I was. And through Landmark, I’ve been able to see who I am for the first time and be able to act and speak in a manner that agrees with that. I like to think of it as those yellow-colored glasses. Have you ever put on yellow- or rose-colored glasses? The world takes on that tint, but after a while that tint goes away. That’s way I lived my life. I believed I was a burden, untrustworthy, those were my sunglasses, but after a while that faded into background. And now I was able to take those off.

The world occurs to me very differently now. I was able to make great peace with my parents. They passed away. I never let them love me. They did love me, but I didn’t accept it. It’s so emotionally debilitating not to let your parents love you. I was able for the first time to take a look at our situation from their side and feel empathy for them. They maybe were overboard with the beating I took, but what stresses were in their life that I didn’t understand? I was able to forgive them for making a mistake. I really got closure in my heart. It allows me to live. Like, if you have a wobbly tire on your bike because of a bad spoke, you tweak that spoke and everything runs true again. In my life, that was still a wobbly tire because I hadn’t let my parents’ love in. And just by acknowledging that, it kind of trued that wheel. It makes life easier as it comes at you.

I’m not saying everything is easier for me. My wife and I still struggle, but I’m able to accept what comes at me and, in the moment, choose to be happy.

You said this year you became open about your experience. Why?

What made that happen was, I was working with a life coach, and we were able to gain great avenues to getting to the root of why I was mad. I finally admitted to the story about the beating I took in fourth grade. And she called me out, she goes, “So what you’re trying to do with the bike program, the passion you have for that, there’s a disconnect here. You’re almost too passionate about this. It’s really overwhelming.” That’s when I started to say, “Well, the reason I went on that …” And I stopped myself. She said, “What?” I said, “Well, I told you about that ride I took, but there’s a reason I took it.” She said, “Because you promised your doctors.” I said, “That’s true, but the bike had been sitting at work for months.” And I admitted what had happened there. And she enrolled me in the Landmark forum.

And it was in that forum that people were sharing experience from all walks of life, from doctors to clergy to people like me. We learned that as human beings, we’re meaning-making machines. When something happens, we want it to mean something. That emptiness is so incomprehensible. And it’s through that process that we’ve created the world that we live in. All the racism, the hate, everything around us is, we created it because through our thoughts and actions we believe it to be true. And we can choose to not believe it to be true. And when I did that with my parents, that opened up the space for new and exciting things to happen in my life. To make the distinctions. When the voice in my head tells me to listen to my story again, I can stop it and say, “Wait a minute, what’s really going on here?” Mostly what it does it, it opens up my heart and soul to be vulnerable and truly be connected to people around us. To truly experience life, you have to be vulnerable. It’s been a big transformation. Allowing myself to be vulnerable in life has led to more joy than I thought I can ever have.

You mentioned still having difficulties sometimes. What kinds?

So I was let go by the printing company I worked at, almost a year after I decided not to kill myself and the spring before the Ride the Rockies. And so I’ve been working odd jobs, doing social media consulting, other things to scrape by financially, while I stay committed to getting Reasons 2 Ride and Arapahoe County B-Cycle off the ground. It’s a financial strain on us. That can be the source of so many other problems because there’s a lot of stress about it. However, my mental state of being, what I’m doing, my commitment, allows us to deal with the stress that can come up. We can handle it. It’s like a bike ride, not all rides are downhill or flat. Sometimes a hill is steeper than another hill. Keep pedaling, get to the top. That’s the philosophy I operate from. Rather than being attached to a certain outcome, I’m committed to an outcome, which means I’m doing what I need to do instead of finding an easy way or avoiding it. That’s where the stress comes from. Stress doesn’t go away. It builds up. If a bill collector calls, you talk to him, say, “Hey, this is our situation.” They’ll work with you. We can deal with everything life throws at us.

That feeling of wanting to end it all, it’s never come back?

It’s come back in, “God I can;t believe I thought that way once, how did I let myself get to that point?” And it re-empowers me to keep doing what I’m doing.

How did you get into Man Therapy?

As it happened, I gave a presentation to the city of Centennial about B-Cycle. My presentation was going to focus on all demographic and statistical info that painted a picture of a feasible, sustainable operation. But I didn’t want to do that because I had handed everyone a copy of the report that shows it’s worthwhile. “I want to convey to you how useful this can be to people.” I told my story, told how it could lead to a happier, healthy society. It was a left-field approach, but I guarantee each of those council people remembers my name.

That led to an introduction to a person in audience, his friend is COO of the Carson J. Spencer Foundation. They said “Wow, I really want to introduce you to our director, Sally.” We met, and what an amazing meeting that was. There’s something I can do to bring to the table of the foundation and Man Therapy. There’s synergy with Reasons 2 Ride. She asked me to share my story so she could put it on a blog, and I said, “No problem.”

Since then, I’ve come up with an idea for a fundraiser centered around … I love Man Therapy, so my brain immediately thought of “man cave.” So we’ll have a setup in a park, with a big-screen TV, we will have a punt, pass and kick competition, we’ll serve hot dogs and hamburgers and watch the Washington-Denver game. It’s gonna be really family-oriented. No alcohol there. We encourage people to ride their bikes, and I want to raise $10,000 for the foundation and Man Therapy.

And then the role I want to play is, I’m all about inspiring people to live a healthy, happy life, and I know what it can do for people mentally. And if sharing my story can prevent one suicide, I’ll share it a million times. I have cousins who committed suicide. And I’m getting to know their parents now. I had kind of abandoned my family, and now we’re reconnecting. And we’re really forming special bonds because they had children that committed suicide, and I almost did but chose to live. We share intimate stories, how I in some ways remind them of their son. And that’s very special to me. If I can bring a sparkle to their eyes just a little bit. This is what it’s about. I realize in making a stand for others, I don’t have to stand alone. And being a helping hand means I will always have one when I need one.

What have been some of the more striking responses to your story?

The emotion it evokes in others, I guess, has been the most striking to me. But just that, really, how caring and wonderful the people around me are. And I don’t just mean my immediate family and friends. And I think it’s because I’m really living life joyfully, and it comes through when I interact with other people. And I get to see a side of people others don’t get to see. Being vulnerable means others can be vulnerable around me. It’s easier to interact. I don’t feel afraid anymore.

What would you say to people whose minds are where yours was back then?

For me, it was like a light switch of emotion. Prior to deciding, I felt things had come to a head, pressure from all directions. In the snap of a finger, I decided I would do it, and it was calm over me. If you experience that, call someone. Tell someone. Tell them, because you’re a danger to yourself. You have the peace and resignation to end your life. I got lucky, I’ll be honest with you. Life slapped me hard. My legs were burning, my heart was burning, I got shaken out of what I was in. That’s my biggest advice. If you’re thinking about suicide, and all of sudden you come to complete calm, you’ve somehow made the decision to go through with it. You’ve come to the most dangerous point. That’s when you should seek help. And maybe signs of that are wanting to know what signs of suicidal people are, so you can avoid acting like that. Because you’re prepping yourself.

Is suicide something we choose or something that happens to us?

I chose to do it because I felt I was an overwhelming burden to others. I felt my being on Earth was a disruption.

Is this a mental health, mental illness thing, or a decision you made outside that?

I was diagnosed as depressed. That was the time when I was on antidepressants. But really, it all really came from living inside a story that I had believed about who I was. It was poor mental health. I let my mind get out of shape, like I let my body get out of shape. You eat junk food, and your body doesn’t work right. It’s the same thing with your mind. Fill it with junk, and it doesn’t work right. I had to clear that out.

I mean, god, you go on a 100-mile bike ride, it  takes six hours to do, and I didn’t want to think about how bad my legs were burning. It’s really easy to talk yourself out of a bike ride when that’s going on, so I wanted to do anything besides think about how my legs were burning. So I started going through my life: “What did I do that for?” I started to do the mental fitness part of my brain, too.

And that’s an interesting thing that you bring that up. One thing I recognize as a big problem in this country is, we are weaning out physical activity. Never before have we had more devices to avoid physical activity. There’s a big link, I think. We’re still mammals, and we’re still an evolved primate, and deep inside our wiring of our brain we have this desire and need to accomplish something, and what’s more, something physical. When we ride a bike, at our primal state, we’re accomplishing something physical. At our primal level, that’s satisfaction. And if the only thing we’re doing is getting into SUVs or electric cars and getting in cubicles and insulating ourselves there and coming back home, we’re missing something there. We even have schools cancelling PE, and our labor’s outsourced to different countries. Maybe this needs to be more seriously looked at. This is why I’m doing it. If more people get out and exercise, there’s the whole domino effect. Put physical activity in our lives, then some of the problems we have will start to disappear. It bothers me to a deep, deep level that we have a tragedy, and now it’s defined by how many people are shot in a public setting. We want gun legislation instead of talking about what in the world caused that kid to pick up a gun in first place. We as a society are easy to share our nightmares, our horrors, but we don’t share our most precious dreams. What would this world be like if more of us shared our dreams, rather than our nightmares?

What else would you like to do, accomplish?

Really the only thing I plan on doing is committing to helping create a happier, healthier society. As Reasons 2 Ride becomes more sustainable, it will be absorbed by the community, and i can move on to another project. I want to be a messenger of joy. We don’t have to be caught up in our stories. It doesn’t have to be a world of hate and un-health.

Who else are you?

I’m a class clown. I love it when I can make an absolute stranger laugh with a snort. I’m a big kid. Part of the reason I ride my bike is, I go to the park and get on a swing. A while back, my  wife and I were on the playground, letting our dog run around the jungle gym. They had this rock wall there, and I’m climbing on it. I said to my wife, “This was made for a shorter kid.” She said, “Did you just say that? Maybe it’s made for a kid!” And I was like, “That’s who I am!” I’m an adult that can still be a kid. And I don’t know who said we needed to lose that, but man, everything I do is so much more fun because I’m a kid.

Talking with Darick Reed

“I didn’t want to die on my suicide prevention walk. It kind of defeats the purpose.”

So there he was, Darick Reed, about 100 miles into an epic walk for suicide awareness and stuck in the biggest heat wave of the year. In remote Montana, too. He ended up in the emergency room being pumped full of fluids, and we recently spoke before he set out again.

If you’re driving through the West and come upon a young man walking along the road and pushing a double baby stroller, that would be him. He’ll explain the stroller below. Meanwhile, by now he should have something like 1,000 miles to go.

Please introduce yourself.

I’m 36 years old now. I just relocated to Missoula, Montana, to train for the walk. I lived in Las Vegas for several years and was homeless for four months. And then … My background essentially is, I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety and have been diagnosed with bipolar. What I put on my site is, in May of last year I had a suicide attempt which was the turning point in my life.

I was born and raised in upstate New York, raised by a single dad, and we moved around a lot growing up, where I think I got my itch to travel. I kind of got the adventurous side.

I started working with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and they have these walks, these Out of the Darkness walks. I don’t know if you’re familiar with them, but they gave me the inspiration, after the second year I volunteered with them, to do a grand-scale walk to raise funds for them. The second walk I did with them was pretty … It really hit me emotionally, the people, what it was all about. I got inspired in 2012, planning this walk. I’ve been slowly putting it together. In May, I kind of made it official, put it out there, gave it a name. Here we are, I guess.

Talk a little about your project.

I will be walking across four states, from Missoula, Montana, all the way to … Originally it was Santa Barbara, but since the word spread, I think I’ll end up in Los Angeles as the finale. But yeah, along the way I’ll be stopping in communities, talking with media. I have a few speaking engagements in larger towns like Sacramento, Twin Falls, Idaho, where there are chapters for AFSP. So I have signs, a card with the website name, AFSP. It brings a lot of attention wherever I choose to stop, a gas station or somewhere to eat. Typically a conversation is involved. In Montana, especially, the suicide rate has been at the top of the nation for over 30 years. It’s good to let them know I’m walking for my state. I take it as it comes. I do my best to talk to as many people as possible. I walk and talk.

And you’re doing this alone?

Yeah, for the most part, I’m walking alone until I get into populated areas. I’m starting to build a little more of a following, with more people spreading the word. They want to walk a mile with me. Yeah, as the word spreads, they’re becoming more involved. Essentially, it’s just me. I can’t find someone else crazy enough to walk 1,200 miles and live out of a backpack.

Have you taken other epic walks before?

Not epic walks. Once I committed to this idea, I ditched the vehicle and walked everywhere, with weight, and with the inclination to get conditioned. Like today, I walked around the community and did errands and ended up with 15 miles. Yeah, just walking. We do it every single day, and it’s not really that hard. It’s just what I do.

How did you come to be talking to me?

I was probably in my early 20s when I noticed the symptoms and kind of sought help. I struggled with it well over 10 years. I divorced in 2002, and that was the start of the downward spiral for me. For a point, I lost everything from the divorce, went off the radar, so to speak. Hid. I stole my father’s truck and a bunch of money and went to Las Vegas for some crazy reason and chose to be homeless and hide from my family, and I was on the missing person list for a long time. It all came to a head last year, where my suicide attempt came into play, Although I had made attempts to be back with family, we had been in touch, a lot of emotions had built up, and last year is where I ended up. I attempted suicide. There’s a long story in between. But that’s pretty much the gist.

Were you back with your family at the time?

Yeah. it was 2010, New Year’s Eve, when I came back to Missoula to stay with family. There was just a lot of, due to the fact I had been gone for so long, there was a lot that bubbled up with my family and my dad. It kind of put me back into a dark place, so to speak. So the last two years was a big struggle for me to reconnect with my family and deal with issues.

How did your family react to your attempt? And how was your recovery?

I didn’t really make it well-known. My father knew. He was there for me throughout this battle. And I slowly kind of made it known to the rest of the family over the last year, and they’ve been great. Obviously, I was dealing with some issues. But they are on board with what I’m doing. My relationship with my family is now better than it has ever been. It gives me a lot of confidence in what I’m doing.

What helped you come back from your attempt?

I have a 10-year-old sister. There’s a huge age separation, but we’ve grown close. For a long time I went without love, but she’s like having a kid. It’s changed my life. Someone who loves you unconditionally. Between her and just my own will.

You know, with an unsuccessful suicide attempt, coming out of that, I got the feeling I was meant to be here. I wanted to use my experience to make a difference. I’ve written about it. After a week in the hospital, physically battling to stay alive, I made a commitment, and I really haven’t turned back since then.

How have you learned to manage things, if certain feelings come back?

Anxiety has probably been the biggest battle for me. I’ve tried to educate myself. Anywhere from yoga to just talking to people sometimes. When I’m in the worst of it, I reach out to friends and family. Sometimes when you’re in your own head for too long, you make things out to be terrible when they’re really not.

I dealt with it a long, long time, and I don’t know, post-attempt, that whole process for me was physically a struggle, and it was almost like something in me flipped, like a switch. I’d gotten mad that I did what I did. It motivated me to not go back there. And it’s kind of like taking on the walk. The bigger the challenge for me, it keeps me going on the right path. Extreme things to keep me happy and motivated, I guess. I gotta embrace the adventurous side of myself, and it’s made all the difference in the world.

My Facebook page is called Me Against Fear. It was for my family initially, but it kind of grew on its own. I kept with it, turned it into pretty much my life, to communicate with people who’ve been through what I went through. It made all the difference.

What have been the more striking responses?

Once I announced I was doing a walk for this cause and came out with the attempt and made it known, people anywhere from within AFSP or who do individual pages in memory of a lost family member … You know, I’ve heard so many stories and cried with people, talked with people … Once I came out with the attempt _ initially, I didn’t say a word about it, it was fear issues _ but once I came out, the page really grew, the blog grew, everything. Just an outpouring of people reaching out. I started reaching out to different Facebook page administrators. It became a cause I’m extremely passionate about.

Have you done any public speaking?

My background has been anything from promotional work to sales to … I haven’t stood up with a microphone in front of a seated audience, so that’s something that’s gonna be new for me. It doesn’t frighten me. I want to tell my story, reach people. So yeah, you’ve gotta start somewhere.

How do people treat the topic of a suicide attempt?

I think altogether. some people, especially my family, is pretty … I haven’t had any really deep, meaningful conversations about what happened with my family. But with strangers, I’ve had deep discussions. So it’s all across the board. It’s uncomfortable sometimes, and sometimes deeply emotional. We share, we get inspired to battle this thing. You know, with my dad, he’s fully behind me, but we’ve never spoken about the scary stuff, the dark stuff. It’s “I love you” and “I’m glad you’re still here,” but no why or what. It’s hard to talk with people, sometimes, for me, depending with whom you’re talking to.
You really can’t accomplish anything with silence.

Do you have any advice for friends and family of people who’ve made an attempt? There’s a growing number of resources, but not really in that area.

It’s so hard to either admit or to reach out, to get over the pride or the fear of asking for help. Like you said, resources are starting to be more and more, but take for instance Montana, where the suicide rate is so high. A lot of areas have no resources other than a 800 number. But if that’s the step you have to take, reach out. I have people who say, “I haven’t told my family, but I’ll tell you what I’ve gone though.”

It’s enough to know you’re not alone. That’s part of what I push. You have me. Who cares if it’s the Internet, you know? Reach out to somebody. It’s difficult to do, to admit, but there are people out there who do care. There is help.

When I found out about AFSP, the programs they push, the walks, the resources in my community, I felt a part of something. There are people who’ve gone through what I’ve gone through. We all want to belong to something, and I latched on to these people. More so than my family, unfortunately. But it helps to know there are people who have made it through. It gives you a lot of hope to know you’re really not all by yourself.

That’s for people who’ve had the experience. And your advice for loved ones?

Education is completely critical. I’ve had people tell me they lost their son and had no clue that … “I had no idea he was in this state, that it was gonna happen.” I think people need to educate themselves.

You know, like my dad, I wish he would have figured out it was this bad: “What can we do? I’ll do research, find a place where I can figure out how to deal with it.” For alcoholics, there are programs to figure out how to live with people, figure out how to be there for them. I feel like I’m speaking gibberish here, but education is vital. That’s the thing I try to push. I talk to so many family members, especially, now, and they’re curious to know what they can do. I just aim them to AFSP, to Facebook. There are a million pages out there that deal with it.

So, a completely different question, just because I like to hike: What are you carrying with you on your trip?

It’s a long list, but funny enough, it all fits into that tiny cart. The key is to travel light. A small tent, a sleeping bag, a little bit of clothing, It’s minimal, I’ll have to say that. I have water filtration equipment. The wilderness you’re walking through has water sources, and you kind of have to reply on that. Three pairs of shoes. Yeah. Food, tent, sleeping pad and bag, the clothes. When walking on a highway, you have to take the opportunity to replenish in every town. You carry food for three or four days, nothing more. Weight’s a big issue.

I don’t know if you read about it, but I actually walked through one state and had one setback. I experienced heatstroke, went to the hospital, doubled back to Missoula to regroup. It’s where I am now. I took three weeks to regroup, formulate a different plan. I left at the hottest point in Montana in three years. Bad timing. I made about 100 miles and had heatstroke. I didn’t want to die on my suicide prevention walk. It kind of defeats the purpose.

I told everybody about it, that I wasn’t gonna quit. It turned out to be a good story, but it was pretty scary. It took me a good week to feel alive again. That’s why I’m leaving again from Idaho, where I had left off. With completely new equipment. I was pulling a specialized cart behind me. I switched to, actually, a twin baby stroller, which a lot of cross-country hikers use. So this is round two, and I’m a lot more prepared.

So this image of a guy along a highway pushing a double baby stroller …

That’s why you put signs on it, so people don’t think you’re a crazy guy pushing kids in 100-degree heat! There’s a guy, we connected, who doing something similar, with his own cause. He got pulled over in 100-degree heat, and the cops thought he was pushing a kid in the middle of the desert. I have signage to make it look functional.

Have you had any response from law enforcement so far?

Yeah. The key is to contact them ahead of time. One for safety, two to keep them from thinking there’s trouble. But this type of thing is becoming more popular, on bicycle or on foot, taking it to the highways. There’s safety factors involved by contacting law enforcement. They kind of become your friends. They would stop give me water. They’re curious, like anybody.

Are there any stops on your journey that you really look forward to making?

With AFSP, they have an event in Sacramento. I’ve been there before, but I’m looking forward to the stops where there are people. I’m well-traveled, so the exciting part is seeing people. When you walk for four days by yourself, when you see people, you get pretty excited. You talk to gas station attendants like they’re your best friend. Maybe I’ll see some sights, but the purpose of this whole thing is the people, not so much the land.

With so much time by yourself, what will you be thinking about?

Good question. You know, anywhere from the next speaking engagement … I read a lot, meditate. It is pretty weird. I walked 100 miles and would find myself almost in a weird trance, and the next thing  I know I’m five miles down the road. It’s like a road trance. Walking becomes redundant when every single day you’re walking 20 miles a day. I try to think of family, write in my journal. When I have cell service, I try to reach out, update the page, text family, friends. I think they get annoyed because I do it incessantly.

What are you saying to them?

I think of weird questions to ask people. Because it does … I went through a stretch of four days in Montana where there really was nobody, and it gets pretty lonely. So you know, you pray for cell service at the worst points. If not, you write or read.

What will you do after this is all over?

Great question. I don’t know. I’m hoping something will manifest itself along the way. I’ll stick around in LA a while, maybe spend the winter there, look for work, continue to talk to people somehow. I’d like to turn this all into a book, self-published, Amazon, or … I think anybody who completed a long-distance walk has probably written a book, but I look forward to that.

I want to get into some formal training through AFSP. They have what’s called gatekeeper training, where you talk to people. I want to become as educated as I can, from mental health to suicide, Maybe I’ll get into counseling. I don’t know. I’m just a year removed from being at the worst point in my life.

I didn’t give you the fraction of my story, but I pulled myself through a lot of stuff. And I just hope to inspire people and encourage them to maybe do the same and realize there is hope. I try to keep it somewhere simple. I’m not a complex dude. Every day it grows, and I get different ideas, want to do more. I think over four months, I’m gonna end up in a completely different, great place.

I often ask this question: How to make this topic more comfortable for people?

Great question. I don’t know if you can force-feed it. It’s tough. If you advocate, you can go too far. For people who have been touched by it … I’m just learning. I don’t know. I came out with it and just tried to tell my story, and people kind of gravitate towards it. I haven’t gotten good at just saying, “Hey, you need to hear these issues. I know you’re trying to go to work or Starbucks or whatever.” I don’t take it to that level, and I don’t know if I ever will. But I want to be there for people who are searching and want to be inspired. That’s enough for me. I’m not a crazy ninja advocate at this point. Who knows? Like I said, it’s four months. Let’s say somebody tells a story that really touches you, wants you to push harder. I’m pretty new at being in the public spotlight. I just want to tell my story. I keep looking for ways to be able to grow.

You’re right, you didn’t tell much about your background, and I had a couple of questions. Were you all right in Las Vegas?

Initially, I didn’t have a choice but be homeless. The way the divorce transpired, I gave up everything. Plus, emotionally I lost it. I was hiding. I was in a lot of pain. From a failure standpoint, I just felt like I completely failed. I hid from stuff for a long time. But in Vegas, I was successful, I worked for the Venetian hotel. It was just another place to live. I got caught up in drugs, alcohol issues, but it was my home too. I could have lived in Rhode Island and had the same lifestyle. There’s more to Las Vegas than the strip and partying. It’s not a bad place for me. I lived a crappy point in my life there, but at the same time, I like the community. You glorify it: “I’m gonna run off to Las Vegas.” I did, and I ended up living there on and off for a long time. In a weird way, it’s my other home.

How did you decide to come home?

Through the magic of Facebook. I can’t remember what year it was, I think 2008. I finally got a Facebook page, and my family was like, “Hey, Darick is alive!” We slowly started getting into contact.

I was doing fairly well, I let them know, and we started talking more. And my dad, the reason why I came back, my dad had a heart attack, he was having health issues, and it really scared me. My little sister, I knew I had to come back for her and for him. And so that’s why I ended up saying, “Hey, you need to get your crap together and be there for your family.” You can’t go 10 years without family and not want to see them. Half I hid, half I longed to be back with them. I love them. Me, the black sheep of the family.

Are you still the black sheep?

Yeah, yeah. I have a huge family from upstate New York. We all have boats and blah, blah, blah. People would call my family the Kennedys sometimes. And then there’s me, adventurous, doing my own thing. But it’s becoming more accepted now. For a long time. I ran away from stuff. I walked away from lot of things, now I’m walking toward them. It’s taken 36 years to get my life figured out.

Who else are you?

Family is extremely important to me. Like I said, my little sister is extremely important to me. And now that I feel like I have a purpose with this cause, getting involved in mental health and suicide prevention and, you know, that’s kind of become my life. Those things are important to me. It used to be being selfish, doing my own thing. Now that’s what drives me, is people, one way or another. Whether it’s family or people I met though my blog. In the community. That’s me. It’s weird for me, but it’s becoming more and more familiar, to be about something. And people know that now.

Since that’s still pretty close to your experience, what else would you mention?

God, for the last year it’s all I’ve done. I love to travel, experience new things. I’m a lake person, a river person, and Missoula fits that. I like the outdoors, being on the water. I have always been into some sport one way or another. So yeah, I just like to live an active lifestyle. Hence the walk. It just kind of fit. It just fit what I’m about. I wouldn’t have taken it on if I weren’t confident about it. This is the fun part.

Talking with Jessica Blau

“Almost on a daily basis, when I take a shower, or I’ll be looking in the mirror, brushing my teeth, putting face lotion on, and sometimes I’ll be staring in the mirror and be like, ‘Who are you? And what are you now?'”

Jessica Blau is making her way back from a fairly recent suicide attempt, and this is just the top layer of questions she’s been asking. After years of thinking about suicide, to the point where she obsessed over the bridges in the San Francisco area _ and dismissed the Golden Gate Bridge as too cliche _ she’s exploring electroconvulsive therapy for the first time. And openly writing about it online.

Here, she talks about the sharp need for mental health resources even in one of the richest counties in the U.S., her search for the feeling of gratitude in surviving an attempt _ and how eating Popsicles with a stranger outside the grocery store reminds her of the power of social media.

Please introduce yourself.

I’m a pretty typical 39-year old, a pretty typical woman. I include these details for specific/statistical purposes: I’m caucasian, I grew up in a pretty solid family, my parents are still married and just celebrated their 46th anniversary. I did go to college, however, I left with one class to go and never went back to take it, and I’ve worked since I’ve been 15. The majority of my career has been in the nonprofit field, in fundraising. I mention these things because I think people have misconceptions about people who live with mental illnesses or have depression. They sort of picture them a certain way, make assumptions that maybe they didn’t go to college or they aren’t smart or they come from a bad background, but I don’t have that at all. So, yeah, I have been fundraising many years, but I had to stop working because of depression. I got to the point where I was making a lot of errors in my work and missing a lot of days of work.

I can go all the way back to 4 or 5 years old and recall moments where I would be sitting on my bed and feeling really low and really down, but I didn’t ever say anything to anybody. I didn’t even know what language to use around it or that it was abnormal. It sort of followed me through my youth. Often I felt at a young age, 7 or 8, really isolated, even in a family of five. So I kind of kept rolling with it, entered grade school and immediately started having problems in school. I often got in trouble for talking a lot. I had incredible anxiety about getting good grades, even at that young of an age. I come from a very creative family where being “successful” was important. Good grades, being a good student, doing well in whatever you do was very important. And I was just always nervous of failing. And I was always nervous about not being good enough. But I never understood it, and I didn’t talk about it, so I internalized much of what I was feeling. I thought maybe it was normal and that’s how other people felt, too.

And so I made my way through junior high and high school, and the same kinds of feelings were still there. In fact, things got a lot worse in junior high. Not only was I worried about being smart enough and successful enough, but I had become chubby and had braces and was sort of like an ugly duckling. I started smoking marijuana very early in high school because it sort of helped with my anxiety issues. And I also started getting very interested in boys at the time. I had started to develop, got my braces off and dyed my hair blonde and started to get noticed by boys at my school. I started pouring all of my anxiety and feelings of depression into boys, and it made me feel a lot better and kind of carried me through high school and even college.

And after high school I had my first very serious boyfriend, and that’s the first time somebody said to me, “You might want to see a therapist about your depression, because you just don’t seem happy.” I had had two really significant panic attacks while traveling overseas with my boyfriend, and I had no idea what was happening. I couldn’t hear, see, and suddenly I was being taken to the hospital. We were in South Africa, and the doctors were saying, “What’s wrong with this girl?” And once I was back in the States, people said “panic” or “anxiety attack.” I actually didn’t see a doctor or talk about it emotionally until I was 22. So when I look back on it, I think, “Gosh, I think my life would have been a lot different if I had been to a doctor at 15 or maybe 14, a lot earlier,” to get the language, to get acquainted, to be able to say, “I’m feeling depressed” instead of “I just don’t feel right” or “I just have a headache,” because it didn’t make sense to anybody.

When I was 22, I finally went to a therapist, and by that time I was a daily pot smoker, what I call a wake-and-baker, and my boyfriend was also smoking a lot. Then we had relationship problems. I became pregnant, and we went through the whole process of deciding whether to keep the baby. We finally decided to terminate, which threw everything into overdrive for me in terms of emotional stability.

So it’s been pretty much since that time that I’ve felt the weight of my depression. I’m 39 now; I was 22 then. I was working, just getting out of school, with my first job, the career I wanted to be in, and everything started to sort of crumble around me. I kind of describe my younger years like I was living in the French 1920s, like having art parties with my friends, lots of pot and wine, long nights of dancing in dark, smoky clubs. After the relationship with my boyfriend, I had sort of a revolving door of men in my life. I spent a lot of money at that time. I was making good money, doing everything I possibly could to make myself feel better, but nothing did. I was having a lot of sex, smoking a lot of pot, drinking a lot of wine. I always had a very strong support system, great girlfriends, such a huge blessing in my life. But yeah, that period was very free for me. If I could be in a place like that all the time, I probably would, but that doesn’t always work in the mainstream world.

So I spent a good portion of my 20s doing that. Drinking and smoking and crashing on Sunday. But it was just really about trying to cover up how screwed up and sad I felt all the time. …  I’m sober now, for seven and a half years, the longest thing I have ever committed to, and looking back, I was doing it all to mask how awful I was feeling. I still very much live my life from a creative perspective. I love to write, and at some point I would love to publish a book. I paint, I love to express myself that way, be open with my life, and I love to be around people who are the same. I feel fortunate because I feel surrounded by people who are artists and live life on a more spiritual, open level, so they have great compassion, great capacity for listening, understanding. I feel very much supported by my friends and for that, I feel very, very grateful.

So, is that kind of OK, or are you looking for anything else?

How did you come to be talking to me?

Right. So back in 2007, I had a beautiful apartment in Oakland, and I had hooked up with this man who I met off of Craigslist who, after we met, three days later, told me he didn’t even have a house, he was a couch surfer. So I was like, “Move in!” Which was a huge mistake, but we had pretty awesome chemistry. So he moved in, lived with me for six months. I really fell for him. He had some really wonderful qualities, also some not so wonderful. We had this very intense relationship. I had a relationship just before him for two years that ended terribly, with a man who sort of was just going out with me, but I feel he never even really liked me; I think he was as lonely as I was. In hindsight, it was a very difficult relationship. It was like a pattern with me. Guys were not physically abusive but emotionally abusive. I didn’t know how to handle it. So I just kept taking it, thought this was normal, how all my relationships were going to be because of my depression and mental health situation.

So 2007 comes along, in this relationship, and we get to New Year’s, and I come home one day, and he has printed out a bunch of different ads from other women, and they were just sitting on my desk, women he was seeing on the side. I sort of flipped out and became very emotional. And he didn’t come home that night. The next day, when I went to work, I drove about 100 feet from my driveway and froze in my car. I couldn’t even do anything. I could barely get the phone out my pocket. I called my therapist, who had moved to Oregon, and told her what was happening. I couldn’t move, was stuck in the car, didn’t know what to do. She phoned my parents and they came, they lived about an hour away. They drove to where I was and got me back into my apartment, picked me up, and brought me to their house. That night, and I will never forget this, I heard my dad sob in their bedroom. I think they thought I was asleep. But earlier I had said I wanted to die, and later that night, my father cried, one of the only times I have heard or seen him cry in my whole life.

I basically had a psychological breakdown. And that was the first time ever, so I got an appointment with a psychiatrist, the first time I’d ever seen one. I had started antidepressants a while back, but with all the pot-smoking you couldn’t tell what was working and what wasn’t. So when I saw the psychiatrist, he said, “You need to go to the hospital right now,” because I was actively suicidal. So I went to the hospital straight from his office, like three blocks away. I didn’t have anything with me, books, clothes. My parents left me in the psych ward, and I remember the big door slamming shut, and I was standing there thinking, “Oh my god, what has happened to my life?” I completely crumbled. I felt everything I had known about who I was, who I had made myself to be, was totally shattered. It sounds really dramatic, but that’s what it was like. You’re just standing there. I couldn’t even believe it. This is what has happened. It’s my life. And so the first time, I was in the hospital for 21 days, and they loaded me up on a ton of medication. They put me on lithium the first night, Seroquel, Ativan, like a complete zombie. I couldn’t find my language, had trouble making sentences. And it worked, the lithium helped in about six hours, which was a little bit of relief. But yeah, I was so overly medicated.

I went through all the group stuff that you go through, individual therapy, trying to get my medication stable. After 21 days they let me go, and within about three weeks I was back in the hospital again because I just couldn’t function. When I was in the hospital the first time, my brother had moved me out of my apartment, so I was living with my parents. And that was really hard, because the people around you expect that when you come out of the hospital you’re gonna be fine, fixed. I certainly wasn’t fixed. If anything, I was worse than before. It’s probably less about expectation and more about hope.

In 2007, I went to the hospital four times in five months. And all of the times, I self-admitted
myself to the ER. That year, I remember it was Thanksgiving. And we always have
Thanksgiving at my brother’s house with my family and his wife’s family. And that morning I woke up and knew I wanted to end my life that day. My brother is a gun owner, and while I do not know where he keeps his, I was getting ready that morning with the idea that I would shoot myself that day. During dinner, we were all sitting around the table, laughing, eating … and I excused myself and went upstairs to use the bathroom. I was in the bathroom thinking about where his gun might be, ready to go find it. I must have taken too long, because my mom came looking for me. I think in some way she knew what was happening. I went in to the hospital the next day.

Each time I was feeling suicidal, and finally after the fourth time the doctors were like, “You have to get sober or else you’re going to be dead in the next year.” There was no doubt
I would have made an attempt sooner if I had stayed using drugs and drinking as much as I was. So just by good fortune, I don’t even think my parents understood what was going on, they sent me to a rehab clinic in Southern California. My family had not been a huge part of my recovery at that time. I was really confused. They felt it was their fault, I think they were nervous about being blamed for being bad parents. I went there two months and amazingly got completely sober, and I’ve been sober ever since. It’s the best thing I ever could have done for myself. I certainly miss it occasionally, but I feel like when you’re on medication, which I still am … I’ve probably tried over the course of the last 10 years 17 different cocktails of medication, so it’s been a long haul, a long trial.

Fortunately, most of the time I’ve been able to be my own best advocate. I had the ability to understand what the doctors were saying, what I was taking. I feel really lucky on that side of things. So many people who go through the same thing don’t have the good fortune to be able to communicate well with their doctor or understand what’s going on because they’re just so sick. I feel lucky to be able to make decisions for myself on most of my treatment options, and I feel lucky that I was able to do my own research on treatment options.

After I got back from rehab, I went into the hospital two more times in 2007, and then the last time in 2007 was Thanksgiving weekend, and I sort of left the hospital with the idea that “OK, you have to man up, get back to work and just do what you’re supposed to be doing in your life. Work, be a friend, have a clean house.” That didn’t work. So 2008 comes around, 2009 comes around, and it’s been five years basically in and out of the hospital, in and out of relationships, dating a lot. I was just going on night after night dating random guys, just all sort of like consuming me, shopping a lot, really making bad decisions even though I wasn’t smoking or drinking anymore. It just transferred over.

So I became obsessed with bridge jumpers in 2009, and it was sort of before the big movie came out with people jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, and Kevin Hines‘ story came out. I was thinking I wouldn’t jump off the Golden Gate Bridge because it was such a cliche. I would jump off the Oakland Bridge, just to be different. I became what would be considered OCD about learning every single detail about both those bridges: the highest point, the tides, others who jumped. I would drive across the bridges all the time to see where I would do it from. I wasn’t telling anyone about it. I was in my own head thinking about this. If I wasn’t driving, I was at the house thinking about my plan. When I would do it, which side I would do it on. Traditionally, people jump on one side and not the other. And it got to the point where 24 hours a day, I was thinking about it. I would drive across the bridge often because my family lives on that side of the bay. I would drive across on almost a weekly basis. A couple of times, I was stuck on the bridge in traffic, and I felt like it was calling me, “This is your opportunity.” I started getting scared and told my psychiatrist about it, and he was like, “Go back to the hospital!” I shouldn’t be laughing about it, but what else can you do? Everybody was very concerned about it. My doctors were super concerned about that. I spent 2009 to 2013 in full sort of suicidal ideation mode. It was all I thought about, all the time.

Meanwhile, all my siblings were having children, beautiful nieces and nephews being born. I had always wanted to have children but had not had the opportunity. I had been laid off a couple times, so my depression was getting worse at the same time that I was getting more and more suicidal. And I just started thinking that, kind of on a more philosophical level, why should anyone have to live like this? I didn’t grow up in a religious family, so I had no foundation of faith or god or what happens when someone dies. But I had always believed in assisted suicide, which has also become sort of a conflict for me. Because I started thinking, if I’m living like this and it’s such trouble just to get out of bed and have positive relationships in my life, it’s just everything’s getting too hard, and going to work was getting hard, even taking a shower. I started going days without taking a shower because I was just so exhausted all the time. People started noticing: “Oh, you haven’t washed your hair in a while!” I have very curly hair, and at one point it got really knotted in the back, so I had to chop my hair off. I would say, “I haven’t had the energy to take a shower.” I stopped seeing my friends, stopped dating completely _ which was a marker for me because that’s my fun thing, you know?

In the meantime, I have a very close girlfriend whose mother had lived her life with severe
depression and schizophrenia. I had been given a diagnosis of medication-resistant depression, and then bipolar I and II. And then back to depression at some point. But I started spending a lot of time with my friend’s mom, Joan, because we had a lot in common. I helped them make decisions about her medication. So we had become very good friends. And when I was laid off from my last fundraising position, I sort of became her care provider the weeks she would come up and visit. She ended up dying by suicide on Sept. 11, 2012. And it was horrific. She overdosed and didn’t leave any sort of note or anything. It was a very long and painful process for her body to let go. No one sort of had any idea because she didn’t give any indication she was thinking about it. We’d talked about it many times, but we both said we didn’t want family members to go through a grieving period. She completed the act, and I felt and still feel like she … it’s almost as if she ended her life for the both of us. So it’s been a huge source of guilt for me. I still have a lot of questions about it. Could I have prevented it? I knew our conversations, should I have seen the signs?

So I went into what I would consider my deepest depression. Or how I phrase it, my depression threshold was the lowest it’s ever been. Because I feel like you go through depression and mental illness, you have your better days and worse days, and that threshold at the lowest point moves all the time, so you’re higher functioning or lower functioning, depending on what’s going on. I sunk into a horrible depression after Joan died, and I just felt myself sort of, I was almost like out of my body. Come January, February, I didn’t think I was going to see my 39th birthday which is on Feb. 15. I was sure I was gonna die. My birthday passed. Then I was going through days like a zombie, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt like my whole life had been sort of blown up in a way. So come March, I was just, on March 10, I was in bed listening to music. You know when your apartment is in its best state and is so comfortable, how you love it? That’s how mine was. My cat was here, the Christmas lights were on, music was on, I had hot chocolate, I
was drawing. A perfect relaxing evening, but in a sad way, I knew it was sort of like my last
night. At some point, around 12ish or 1ish, I just kind of felt like I had sort of come to the end of my life and it was time to go, and that suffering was becoming too great to live with, and it needed to end. And I’ve done what I needed to do in my life. And I just started taking pills, and I ended up taking over 80 pills. Anything in my medicine cabinet, almost like drinking them, pouring them down my throat. I was like super calm, like it was something that had to be done.

They said I probably would have died, but at some point around 4 in the morning I texted one of my best and beloved girlfriends who lives in North Carolina. I texted her my email passwords and all my sort of passwords for things. And she called 911. She just knew what was going on. The paramedics got here like 10 minutes after, and I remember opening the door for them, but I don’t remember anything else. I woke up three days later in the hospital, and they said I talked about Joan all the time. I remember waking up and a nurse was standing over me and she said, “There she is,” and I just shut my eyes again.

Because I knew at that point that I wanted to start electroconvulsive therapy _ I had researched it prior to my overdose _ I was sent to a psychiatric hospital that provides that treatment. I decided to start ECT because I figured that was sort of my last option for treatment. I just had my 25th treatment, and I’ve definitely seen success through the treatments, and that depression threshold definitely moved up, which is a miracle. I never
thought I could feel like halfway normal again.

So that’s kind of where I am. And I still have suicidal ideations almost every day, but it’s sort of more like a stress response, almost like it’s conditioned. Because it’s been happening for so long that I feel like once I started having suicidal ideations, it sort of like landed in my head. So when I have a stressor, that’s the first thing I go to. So I’m trying to learn how to manage that, sort of trying to get back into my life.

So at the urging of my friend who called 911 for me, I started a blog in 2011 to chronicle my entire experience and all of my ECT treatments. So I’ve written about everything and have been getting really interesting responses from people all around the world. It’s been really interesting. But I’ve been having a hard time with it. It’s hard to integrate what’s happened into the rest of my life.

How so?

I’ll, like, go to the store, and I feel like now, regardless of how far someone is from me, I can almost pinpoint if they are having a challenging time, and now I hear people talking about suicide all the time. It’s kind of like that phenomenon where like, “Oh, see that red car,” and then you see it all over the place. I just keep running into people who’ve had that experience, and the language is all around me now. I’m trying to live my life like normal. I will be walking through the store and am hyper-aware that I’ve been through this experience, and I wonder if people know when they look at me. Can they tell? I have this knowledge that others don’t have. It doesn’t make me better or worse, but it’s just how it is now.

I have a porta-catheter under my clavicle, where my IVs go for my ECT. It’s a pretty significant scar where that is, it sticks out like a ball from my chest. For a long time, I put Band-Aids over it because I thought people wouldn’t want to see. But then I started thinking it’s part of my body, it’s part of my story. So I’d go out and sometimes wear tops that show the scar, and sometimes people would ask me, “Wow what happened?” And I’d say, “Actually, I have a port for medicine,” and they say, “You have cancer?” and I say, “No, I’m getting ECT,” and they’re like, “What? I didn’t know they had that anymore!” or “What is that?” And that’s been really interesting, to see people’s responses. I tell people it’s not a first-line option, it’s more like the last line of treatment options. And that I lived a really long time trying to manage my symptoms on my own, either through self-medicating or actual medicating.

So yeah, I just feel like life is pretty strange now, which is one of the reasons why I sit for hours at night researching online all types of things _ suicide attempt support groups, people who’ve written books about suicide or attempts, or foundations raising money for mental health. Everything I can possibly find. Which is how I came across your website.

What else are you still looking for?

Excellent question. Because I feel like I will know it when I find it, but I haven’t found it yet. But I don’t exactly know what it is. But yeah, I feel like, I’ve been thinking about starting a group myself because I feel like I could be around people who’ve had the experience.

You know, I have the memory of 10 paramedics coming into my apartment and making me
drink two whole bottles of charcoal, I remember the taste of the charcoal, I remember them asking me what I took and me pointing them to my cupboard because I couldn’t remember, but I don’t remember anything after that. After I got out of the hospital, I actually went to the fire station three blocks from my house to thank the firemen for helping me. I was really emotional. They were just so nice.

One thing I would like to be around other people who’ve had this experience is because I have not experienced what I read others have experienced  _ this overwhelming sense of gratitude for being alive, and I wonder if it’s gonna happen. And if it doesn’t happen, I wonder what that means. I think about that a lot, and I wonder why it hasn’t happened for me yet. And I’m not necessarily concerned about it, but it makes me think. So there are just some things I’d love to be able to sit in a room, have coffee with people, a comfortable atmosphere, and have a really open dialogue about what it all means. I try to stay away from things like, even before this happened, like boxing myself into things that define my life, and this is one of those things I don’t want to have define my life or inform how I look at my life, but it’s almost impossible not to have that happen, I feel.

Why?

I don’t know. It could be because I think about it too much, but almost on a daily basis, when I take a shower, or I’ll be looking in the mirror, brushing my teeth, putting face lotion on, and sometimes I’ll be staring in the mirror and be like, “Who are you? And what are you now?” You know? Like I feel like I have some memory almost on a molecular/cellular level that changed. Because of this experience. And people say, a couple of people said, “Wow, you seem like you’re getting back to your old self.” It’s been bothering me to hear that. I understand they’re being supportive. It occurred to me the other night, why do I want to become my old self when I tried to destroy my old self? And just saying that makes me incredibly sad. It makes me so sad for me, but also, I have these beautiful nieces and nephews and they’re so smart, so young, and they’re the loves of my life. If they were my children, I would be so happy. If this ever happened to them, or if they ever got to a point where they experienced depression or suicidal feelings, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do. I would go to the ends of the earth to help them. And I just hope they never have to go through any of this. Because it’s really exhausting, and it just makes you question, I feel like it made me question every bit of who I am. I feel like normally I’m pretty self-possessed. But I feel like I’m like a baby now and sort of having to recreate myself.

What supports do you have? Who do you have, what do you have?

My family system was pretty broken before this happened. I’ve been estranged from my sister for two and a half to three years. I don’t know why she stopped talking to me. My dad told me recently during an argument that my family doesn’t talk to me because I am so emotional and intense. That was really sad to hear. And that was sad for a really long time, but at some point I just was like, my stuff was overriding that. And I’ve always been very close with my brother, but we always used to party together, so when I got sober, our relationship changed. It’s sort of like any family dynamic, when one person changes, everyone else has to make changes or … My mom and I have always been very, very close, and she is definitely a big support of mine, but it’s put a huge stress on our relationship and, I think, on her and my dad’s relationship.

But my suicide attempt has completely shattered my parents, and they’re not the therapy type of people. They don’t understand why I have a blog. They think it’s ridiculous why I talk about my private life so publicly. For them, it’s embarrassing. So my parents are supporting me financially because I’m not working and am actually applying for permanent disability, which has been a huge, very tiresome process. And my dad is sort of managing that process. I just want someone to say, “I love you, and I hear you, and I feel for you, and you don’t have to be scared, and you can be exactly who you are in this moment, and we love you no matter what” and understanding that they have their own lives and need their privacy and private time. What kind of saves me in my life are my friendships, my girlfriends, my art, and knowing that I am a kind person and a good person, and I will do things to help people if they need help, and that makes me feel good. But I don’t need, you know, a clean car to feel good about myself. But that is something that is important to my parents.

When I get ECT, they have pretty set guidelines. You get your treatments; you have someone drive you, because they put you under anesthesia and meds so you can’t drive for 24 to 48 hours. They actually don’t know quite how it works, but they do know it causes your neurons to regrow, kind of reconnect with one another. So they want you after your treatment to be around people you love and love you and to do happy things and fun things and be engaged with people in the days after the treatment, because you’re reprogramming your thought patterns so they’re taking over with new positive messaging. Well, my parents have been in Tahoe most of the summer. And I don’t talk to my sister, and my brother never comes over to see me. So I haven’t had that sort of family reconnecting time that other people have. And I’ve had a lot of resentment around it, and it’s caused a lot of problems with my parents. They spend every summer in Tahoe, but I
don’t understand why, when I’m going through this treatment, why they have to be there this summer. So that’s been really difficult, but I just have had to sort of deal with it … and I just want to say that I’m making it sound like it’s been so easy, but it’s been a huge thing for me, this separation with my parents. Super upsetting to the point where I can’t stop talking about it with people. And prior to my last three treatments they’ve gotten into big arguments with me, which is terrible, because they want you to come in all calm and relaxed. I think that’s my parents’ way of coping. They won’t get outside support, meet with a therapist, or go to NAMI meetings. They’re not interested at all.

So I’ve been feeling they have been wanting me to make them feel better about this whole
situation, but I just can’t. I don’t have the energy to make myself feel better and make them feel better. So that’s been really difficult, to not have my family sort of be in my corner. And in fact, we’ve had these arguments. A couple of weeks ago, my dad called me crazy, saying all these nasty things, that I’m crazy, so emotionally all over the map. He told me no one in the family wants to be around me. And quite frankly, it makes me not to want to talk to him.  My brother and I got in an argument a few weeks ago and he told me to “change my life,” and I just can’t even believe he is saying that to me when I am going through this incredibly physically draining, and to an extent, dangerous treatment. So it’s pretty sad.

But on the flip side, I have really incredible friends. I’ve had them for 20 years, really incredible women who’ve been through a lot themselves. It’s been very hard on them, I think, when I overdosed. It was very hard for some of them to talk to me afterwards. It took them a while to sort of talk to me, and I think it’s just shocking for people. And everybody handles it differently. But yeah, my friends have been pretty incredible, really open to talking about things that are normally painful to talk about. They’ve been really encouraging about my blog. They’ve been really encouraging me to keep that up. Because they see how it’s sort of helped me heal. It’s also giving other people the possibility to sort of learn about ECT, and I get messages from people all around the world who are thinking of having the procedure done. So it’s been great. And I feel fortunate to have them in my life. Even at my worst moments, my girlfriends can make me laugh.

I’d like to add that I do love my family. We are all very different in our needs, and I think we
just don’t meet each other where we need to be met. Maybe that will change one day. Maybe not.

What more would you like to do?

You know, since 2007, my first hospital visit … It’s ironic, since I don’t come from a religious background. I have this calling to become a nondenominational chaplain so I can go back into the psych ward and work with people there. I feel like it’s the perfect fit for me, sort of something I have to do in my life. I feel like almost it’s not an option for me, like something I have to pursue. It will take some schooling, which is expensive, but it’s definitely something I would like to do.

And I really want to stay on course in becoming a mental health advocate, really educating
people on … You know, I used to have a therapist who used this term, “Let’s break it down into the ridiculous.” Like you’re fighting with your parents or there’s a problem at work, and you break the situation down so it’s, like, smaller and smaller, to the point at the end where you’re like, “Wait a minute, it’s not a big deal after all!” I sort of remind myself of that occasionally, but I think about it in terms of becoming a mental health advocate, and people often go, “Oh, it’s a huge kind of job, a big responsibility,” and when I look at it using her model, I think it’s just all about being able to care for and care about people who can’t necessarily care about themselves at that moment in time. And when you’re in the hospital, you see it all the time, people not being able to make decisions for themselves, smart, educated people. I’ve been in the psych ward with artists and writers and teachers and mothers and a rabbi even, and I want people to know that mental illness crosses economic, social, intellectual, racial lines. There’s just no set model for who is going to experience this type of stuff. And that, I feel, is really important for me to get that message out there. Just what you are doing with your site. You’re breaking the stigma around mental illness.

So yeah, I want to keep pursuing that. I would love to, I’ve done public speaking as part of
fundraising, but I’ve never done it in terms of my mental health situation. But I’m very interested in that, especially in terms of the ECT process. A lot of people are interested in it, but a lot of websites are filled with negative information about it, back from when “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” came out and portrayed it as a violent act. But you know, it deserves some positive feedback. People need education about it, because it’s a great treatment option for people who are older, especially who don’t respond very well to treatment, or women who are pregnant because it doesn’t affect the fetus. Because medication will hurt the fetus. It’s a good option for a lot of people, but a lot of people are so scared that they don’t even think about it.

So yeah, I just want to sort of keep educating myself about the mental health world and be a part of the conversation and certainly put my story out there. I definitely think that if a person has it in their head that they’re going to end their life that not a lot is going to change their mind. I don’t share that opinion with a lot of people because I feel it’s sort of negative, it will make someone concerned, it’s not very hopeful. So I kind of keep it to myself. But just the conversations I’ve had with people in the hospital, once you’re at the point where you’re in the hospital, I’d sort of like to change somebody’s mind about that stuff. But I hope that my story can help somebody, and I don’t know how, but I’m hoping that it can.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about the reactions to your story, or maybe changes to system you’d like to see?

Something I’ve definitely been thinking about, I haven’t read the entire Obamacare document, but it will be interesting to see what happens to mental health with that. Everybody in the hospital, in the ECT clinic, all the nurses talk about it like it will be so life-changing for so many people, being able to access mental health services. It’s interesting, the foundation No Stigmas, it put an article that came across my Facebook page the other day. The article said “studies show a lack of mental health services in poor communities in California.” I said, “Huh, that’s interesting.” I think that’s true, however, I live in Marin County, one of the most affluent counties in the nation, but there’s a huge lack of services here. I threw out a comment mentioning that I have Kaiser as my insurance, and I’m in a group, like a post-hospitalization group through Kaiser, and there are 35 people in the group. Thirty-five. And the group is an hour and a half. The class is so packed with people that even if you raise your hand with a question, the moderator says, “We can only spend five minutes on this.” So they’ve packed people into this class, so it’s almost counterproductive. You go, you leave, and I feel completely frustrated because you’re not able to ask a question or didn’t completely understand something.

I don’t have the answer to how those things can be fixed. But I know they do need to be fixed. People need individual help. Even if you’re in a group, people need to be individually
recognized, acknowledged, that you’ve been through a difficult time. There are people in there who are having trouble with teenagers, or a person who’s bipolar who is having a bad case of compulsive shopping, people from all areas of the mental health spectrum. But it’s just so impacted. Even if a program is available, it’s just so impacted that it’s difficult to get individual care.

The conversation still needs to be talked about, and I really think social media has had a huge and important role in bringing the conversation to the forefront of people’s minds. There’s so many websites out there now. Suicide prevention sites and blogs, awareness groups.

Any favorites?

There are parents of children who have ended their lives who have started foundations, who are making strides by telling their children’s stories or their families’ stories, getting the message out on a national level just through Facebook or Tumblr, even, which is what my blog is on. These incredible blogs with these messages, “Look at your fellow neighbor, we are all going through something challenging, and life is really hard, but if we can help one another and support one another, we can make it through.” Which can be seen as a very Pollyanna and very kumbaya kind of feeling, but I think there’s real truth to it.

This is the kind of experience I have had. All my life has been in situations where I’d be a total stranger and someone shares their whole life story with me. It’s happened my whole life. Maybe I have one of those faces that say, “I’ll understand.” But three or four weeks ago, I was in Safeway, and part of my relaxation time is my grocery shopping time, it’s so silly but it’s relaxing to me. I was in the ice cream aisle and looking at strawberry fruit bars. I was reading the back, and this lady comes next to me. I ask, “Have you ever had these?” She said, “No are they good?” I said, “I don’t know, I’ve never had them.” She said, “They look really good, sounds good right now.” I said, “Yeah, are you having an OK night?” She looked upset. She said, “Well, I’m going through a divorce.” And out came this flood of emotion. I feel like she just needed someone to talk to in that moment. And she’s telling me about how she was leaving her husband, just devastated, married for, I think, 23 years, some really long time. So we went through shopping, finished and then sat outside Safeway and ate a Popsicle together. And it was like such a beautiful moment, one of those moments you never forget. Here’s this woman, I’m totally in my sweats all scroungy-looking, and she’s just opening up, and we’re two total strangers having Popsicles in front of Safeway. Then we hugged and left.

Those kinds of moments are so priceless, but they’re what people are yearning for. And I think social media has played a role in this, why they’re so popular. People just want to connect with other people and be listened to and be heard and be acknowledged as being important and loved. And I think on our most basic human level, we just want to connect with other people who are really hearing what we’re saying. I know I want that.

I had a couple other experiences like that this year. My sweet cat Moxie, I had to put her down about a month and a half ago because she had cancer. Terrible, traumatic. I had to rush her to the vet. I was by myself. A basket case. A woman who was there with her friend who was putting her dog down, she came over and sat with me and held my hand and put her arm around my shoulders for about an hour and 15 minutes, for the whole process. Then I went in, they put Moxie to sleep, just horrible and awful, and when I came out, she hugged me, walked me to my car. Just so gracious and so lovely, and I couldn’t thank her enough for taking time from her own experience to help me with mine. Then I got a new kitten, and I put flea medicine on him, he had this terrible allergic reaction, shaking, foam all over his mouth, so I took him to the emergency vet. And a woman was there putting her dog down. My cat was fine, so I got to sit with her and got to sort of pay the favor back. Her dog was 16 years old. I told her, “A woman did this for me a couple of weeks ago, and if you don’t mind, I’d like to stay with you while the process happens
so you’re not alone.” I sat, held her hand, I hugged her. Just the little things that are kind of
priceless in life. And that’s how I want to live my life. And I want to have those types of
connections with people, And I want people to know that I’m listening to everything they’re
saying, and I hear them. If I can successfully do that and be present for people, then I feel like I will have a good life.

Who else are you?

I don’t know. Did you have a feeling like, “I dove into all of this as a way to have control over it, because it’s such an uncontrollable thing”? Having a mental illness, you just don’t know how you’ll feel. Doing all this research gave me a sense of control over this. Did you have that?

Yes.

So, who am I? On a normal basis, I’m super relaxed. My favorite day is just hanging out with my girlfriends, eating good food and just talking about our lives. And laughing. I feel like when we together, we’re like five years old. We giggle. I feel like when I’m not sort of under the weight of this depression, I’m pretty light. And I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m easygoing because I’m sort of always in thinking mode, but I love art, I love being around people, I love film, I’m an obsessive book reader, I love getting lost in stories, and yeah, I’m a really awesome auntie. My nephews and nieces, like I said, if they could all be my children, it would just be fantastic. I love them so much. They’re these extraordinary little human beings, and you can already see how they’re going to be in their adult lives. I always wanted to be a mom, and that’s been sort of a heavy topic to talk about. Genetically, I’m
probably not the best person to have a biological child. I’ve thought about this a lot, but know I’d be a really fantastic mother, but biologically, not a good idea … And I would adopt a child in a heartbeat if I could, but genetically, I wouldn’t want to pass this down to my child. It’s something I never mentioned.

When I first got my diagnoses, my doctors were all very much on the same page about my depression being situational. It had to do with my boyfriend, relationships. Well, over the course of years, it’s become pretty apparent it’s more of a biological issue. So I feel like I have the spirit of a mom, just with no kids. It’s just like I always, always thought that I would be a mom, and now I’m 39 and thinking, “Oh my gosh, there’s a good chance that’s not going to happen,” and I’m trying to figure out what life looks like without that. So yeah, I don’t know, that’s a tough question.