Editor’s Note: May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Suicide prevention advocate Christine O’Hagan shared her story with CNN iReport after reading Erin Schwantner’s recent essay, I was an accomplice to my brother’s suicide. This essay was compiled from her iReport submission and entries from her blog, Second Chances.
Christine O'Hagan says November 30, 2012, was worst day of her life
She's now a suicide prevention advocate
Share your story of coping with mental illness
I am a mother, a wife, a college graduate, an executive, a marathon runner and a member of the church choir.
And I am mentally ill.
I attempted suicide in November 2012 and was hospitalized. I have not attempted to kill myself since, nor did I previously. But that’s not because I don’t have the urge to.
I used to be that person who judged those who took “the easy way out.” I felt particular disdain for adults who would do this, leaving children and loved ones behind. For two years, I managed to swallow my self-hatred and continue to trudge through life unhappy and sick, having no clue this was not normal.
It had been a rough and challenging time. Work was overwhelming. I had just changed jobs and moved myself and my two girls to a new town. My relationship was ending. I was tired and lonely.
I knew I needed to get help, but in my mind, the repercussions for doing so were so great, I couldn’t risk giving any clues to anyone that I was in crisis. I was afraid I would lose my job, career, my children, and that my family would turn their back on me for being “crazy.” I started to hope and pray for a fatal disease or accident that would take me soon. I didn’t care how physically painful it would be, I just needed to go. If a car wreck or cancer took me, my children would get sympathy, and my parents would have help and a reason to remember me fondly. They wouldn’t have anger, shame and stigma hanging over their heads for the rest of their lives.
I tried to talk myself out of wanting to die. “Think of the positives,” I would tell myself, over and over. “Be thankful for what you have.” “Look at the angelic faces of your children who love you and need you here.” I started running marathons and boxing to keep me busy, but it didn’t help … at least not for long.
That last day of November, I had the sudden realization that every breath was more painful than the last. I was in the darkest place I have ever been, and I saw no way out.
The pain had to stop. I’d been through some painful moments, but nothing was comparable. I survived skin cancer as a pre-teen and live with lupus. I gave birth without pain medicine or epidurals. I’ve been hurt emotionally and mentally and never felt anything like this before. So when my children left for school for the day, I called in sick to work then said what I thought would be a final prayer for peace.
I had thought about killing myself a million times before. I had researched it extensively. I knew what would be most effective, the least painful. Alone in my kitchen that morning, the plan quickly began to take shape. The end was in sight.
Then, my cell phone rang. “You are my Sunshine” filled the room – my daughter’s ring tone. The zombie in me broke. I managed to call for help, and began to lose consciousness as the ambulance arrived.
I intentionally don’t go into the details of my attempt because I find it to be triggering to others who may be on the brink of an attempt. It has been shown to be dangerous to read or learn of others’ methods. Also, I do not want to be disrespectful to my family by sharing the literal details.
There were several times I wondered why I survived. I was so angry and devastated when I woke up in the hospital. But those feelings quickly passed when I saw the look on my best friend’s face and realized that I was really sick.
My official diagnosis was generalized anxiety disorder, major depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. I discovered that there is a legacy of depression in my family.
Once I was released, I began to see a therapist and a psychiatrist who prescribed the right combination of medication that has worked for me ever since.
My now-husband’s unrelenting support and my family’s love have gotten me through the past two years. None of them judged me and I needed that to compensate for my self-judgment. My children kept me functional during my “zombie period” when my medication and therapy was just starting to work. I HAD to get up and move for them. They still needed their mom. Even if I was broken.
Other non-medication strategies that help me with my illnesses are exercise (I truly believe running has saved my life); sleep (no less than 7 hours a night); and setting aside one day a week when I do not schedule client appointments, answer work e-mails or phone calls, or volunteer for work-related activities. No exceptions or guilt allowed. This is for my health and I get that now.
What doesn’t help? Hearing people say if I had a “positive attitude” or would “stop being so negative” or maybe just “believed in God a little more/ better/ faithfully, etc.” I would be absolutely fine. During a depressive episode, all this does is make me feel hopeless and like more of a failure.
Now, all these months later, I understand what I could and should have done differently. I could have asked for help. I should have reached out sooner. I might have recognized that what I was feeling was biological and not my fault. This was not a weakness or a character flaw.
Speaking publicly about my attempt, healing and my occasional trips and falls on the way to a healthy future has saved me. I am very open about how I felt and what I did. I was afraid I would lose my career, or even my children, for speaking so openly about my illness, but it has brought nothing but positive returns so far.
I have an overwhelming sense that I survived for a reason. I want to tell my story to help people, so no one else feels like I did. I want to help the people left behind, so they don’t feel responsible for their loved one’s death. I want to speak for those who completed suicide and let people know how much pain they were in. The pain and the disease were to blame.
There are days when I wake up wondering if I will be OK today, and days I wish I hadn’t woken up at all. But still no days that are like that terrible, numb, bloody day back in November 2012.
I believe wholeheartedly there will be a difference made in how society views mental illness. And I pray it is in my lifetime.
If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They have trained counselors available 24/7 to provide free, confidential help.