Mind you, all this happened more than thirty years ago. And are the recollections of a seventeen-year-old. All caveats about eyewitness testimony should be included.
To set the stage a little—
My depression began when I was around fifteen. I don’t remember it being a feature of my 9th-grade year, but it was salient in high school. Later analysis—mine and others—incorporates a handful of source-factors: existential depression (when one’s brains show one the hopeless muddled horror that is our world), chronic pain (from the structural anomalies of my shoulders), family predisposition, the overwhelm that comes on the gifted as they try to slake their mental hunger, routine teenage skill gaps.
Only in my sophomore year was I under psychiatric care. Another time I’ll tell how she put her foot wrong, and with the ruthless implacability of a teenager I shut her out. Or perhaps I was, even then, too tired to be willing to do all the explaining needed for the two of us to have had a working relationship. But the former’s more likely.
By my senior year in high school, my depression and suicidal thoughts were routine enough to, I think, acquire some inevitability to them. They’re also exhausting, suicidal thoughts, and since they visit themselves on the already-depleted, they give themselves an illusion of respite. Of rest, even of a vacation of sorts…though I didn’t notice that last part until later.
In the fall of senior year I had a near-miss episode. My friend Steph coaxed me back from the metaphorical ledge that night, made me give promises. The exhilaration near-miss-ness can provide got me to school the next day, shining like a peeled crustacean and just as raw. I don’t remember how far into the day I got before I fled into my favorite counselor’s office (she who had coached Steph from the other line…thank you, Steph’s parents, for springing for the multi-line phone). It wasn’t far.
But I was patched up enough to keep on keeping on for a while. My promises seemed to be holding.
I don’t remember why the winter orchestra concert. Maybe it was why-not the winter orchestra concert? In my gut, I think there was a ‘flirting with publicity’ component…but I don’t remember ever teasing that aspect out of the mess, so I’m not likely to know now.
I took 40 ibruprofen before we went on stage. Which is highly toxic, though not in itself fatal. Dr. G pointed out to me that destroying one’s liver could possibly be reckoned as suicidal, but in a verrry long, slow way.
Research has indicated that girls are more likely to choose reversible suicide gestures than boys are. (These acts are called gestures. I think of a dancer’s arms moving from first to third…) Research indicates that most gestures are not designed to be permanent. From my experience, I would say: not fully designed to be, but not considered a failure if they are.
Remember the yearning for rest. And there’s also the burden of one’s darkness on the people one cares about most…and there’s no apparent way to remove the darkness. Or the burden…they refuse to quit caring, these people. They don’t seem to know what’s good for them. Or you, since you worry about them caring about you…
The black hole aspect of suicidal depression may be clearer now.
Concert completed, I went routinely home with my mom and sister—my dad was away.
I was going to say “in Houston,” but the chronology doesn’t work unless that was his interview trip-? No, I would have had to have already visited Rice and chosen them for my school, because there’s not time to fit that in otherwise. So he could’ve been working in Houston already. Interesting, how that part of my narrative hovers on a different through-line!
I got ready for bed, climbed in—and lost my resolve.
I got out, went to my parents’ room at the other end of the hall, and told my mom what I’d done. She was reading in bed.
I know we pulled on clothes and drove to the emergency room of the community hospital. Logically, my mother had to have made phone calls—my sister was asleep, and would need an adult to mind her—but that’s not part of my memory.
We were hustled through triage; my mom and I separated. Again, logic points out that someone would need to be filling out the paperwork, but what I remember is feeling unshelled: vulnerable, alone, and lost without her. I was so afraid. And I had no map for what might happen.
What happened next was my choice, since I was conscious: ipecac, or a tube down my throat and my “stomach pumped.” The powerlessness of the tube frightened me even more, so I went for the emetic. It’s white, and slippery-feeling. It takes effect in the stomach when combined with water, so they handed me 8 oz styrofoam cups of water.
Sixteen of them.
Because there was nothing else to do while we waited, but drink, and count.
When the ipecac finally took effect, the vomiting was relentless. It was as if a switch flipped: quietly sitting, then body-cramping spasms. I think my mom had arrived while I was still drinking water, but I don’t remember. I remember thinking I would never stop throwing up.
When I did stop, they gave me charcoal grains suspended in a liquid. To absorb any remaining toxins in my system—one drinks down the 8oz or so, and it works its way through one’s gut.
Except when the fluid hit my stomach, I vomited it across the room. I guess I’d merely run out of material, and not out of response to the emetic. The room was all white, cold, and tiled.
I remember feeling panicky, as if I’d failed, and that I’d be punished for failing…that tubes or something would happen because I couldn’t keep the charcoal down.
But they merely handed me another dose of charcoal. I don’t remember now whether we waited, or did some other thing to check to see whether the ipecac response had truly finished. I remember the relief of getting to try to drink the charcoal again.
All during these procedures, the two staffers who interacted with me were talking…giving instructions and so forth. Theyyy spoookke verry sllooowwwly iiinnn eevveerrryyttthhiinngg ttthheeeyyy ssssaaaiiiddd—incredibly annoying! I may have been frightened, but my brain was working fine, thank-you-very-much! I don’t know what they thought they were accomplishing. I later told my friends it sounded as if they were on Quaaludes, as if I knew anything about ‘ludes beyond the films teachers showed in health class.
Once the procedures were completed, we moved on to the next phase. As I recall, Pennsylvania law at that time classified a suicide gesture as attempted homicide. So the slow-speaking staffers explained that we had two choices: I could be voluntarily committed to a mental hospital, or I could be legally committed to a mental hospital. Notice that the outcome is almost the same; the chief difference is that under the latter one’s release from the hospital requires not only one’s doctor’s say-so, but also a judicial hearing.
We went the voluntary route.
With that, I was wheeled up to the top floor of that hospital, through the double set of locking doors. And so began my next six weeks’ work.