"I survived a suicide attempt."
About ten or twelve years ago, at this point, I tried to take my own life.
I had suffered from depression for a long time up to that point. Since I was about thirteen years old, I remember being depressed, or having problems with depression. At the time, I didn’t know it was depression. I came to learn about that later on.
I’ll back up and start from the beginning.
When I was thirteen, I started to get a lot of violent thoughts in my head, a lot of intrusive, violent thoughts that would happen a lot during the day. That’s one of the first things I remember about it, and I didn’t know how to deal with that or talk to anybody about that, and then I would just kind of keep it bottled in inside, bottled up inside, and it came to the point where I thought that I was never gonna be able to talk to anybody about it.
At one point, I said to myself, “Okay, I’m never going to tell anybody about this stuff.” Then, I guess, at that point, I made my decision, and from that day on, I don’t exactly know when that day was, but I decided that I was never going to talk to anybody. It just snowballed from there.
Over the next ten years, I was kind of living like a dual life.
Over the next ten years, I was kind of living like a dual life. I would, smile for everybody, my family and friends. I was really sad and disturbed on the inside, and never opened up about it, and that got me nowhere fast. I mean, it took a while. I was good at keeping it bottled in for a long time. But eventually it caught up to me.
I don’t know how to transition to the next phase of the story from there but, I think, at some point a few years later, I started to think to myself, like, “The only way this is ever gonna stop is if I take my own life.”
Talking to somebody wasn’t option at that point. The only other option, I thought, was gonna be to end it all and, at that point, things started to get even worse, ‘cause then I thought the only way out was to die. From that point on, there was probably about three years maybe—I’m just guessing—that was spent living thinking that I was basically gonna kill myself really soon, and a lot of suicidal thoughts. I was just thinking that I was gonna keep going through life until the time would come that I had to end it…
One thing I’d like to say is that nothing ever happened to me. I think that, sometimes, when I talk to a lot of other people who have had depression and suicidal thoughts, a lot of them had had a specific trauma. I wouldn’t say that I necessarily had one, but it’s important to say that that doesn’t need to happen for you to want to kill yourself, to want to take your own life. I think that people were shocked when they found out that I was having these kind of problems, and that I had a mental illness, and that I had to be hospitalized.
Des: You were saying you felt like something would happen, that the time would come. Say more about that…
Matt: There was definitely a trigger. I went through high school fine, and I went away to college. When I went away to college, the big trigger for me that [helped me decide] that I actually had to do it was I was gonna fail out of school. The transcript was gonna come, and that was gonna be something that I couldn’t hide from anybody. That was the single biggest trigger that led to my attempt was failing out of school. I know it’s a common one, and so I’m just one of many. That was the single biggest thing.
I’m a pretty smart guy. I had great grades in high school, but when I was in college, I wasn’t really living. I wasn’t a student. I got a 0.0, okay? I never went to class. We’re laughing about it right now, me and you, and it’s funny, but it was kind of sad. It wasn’t just me partying too much, because all my friends partied, too.
That’s not what was going on. I never got out of bed.
If you see someone who’s not getting out of bed all day, ever, that’s a warning sign. I didn’t know that at the time. I never went to class. I failed out of school, and that was a big trigger for me.
I came home, and I knew I was gonna have to face it. That transcript was gonna come in the mail. I remember the day the transcript came and, that day, I was kinda freaking out that it was gonna come in the mail. I was checking the mailbox, and I got the mail before my parents could see it. They were blindsided by this. They had no idea that this was going on. I did everything I could to lie to them and tell them I was doing well. I don’t know how they could have known. They weren’t there. I was away at school, so it wasn’t like they saw me every day. There’s really no way they could have known. But in any case, I took the transcript from the mailbox and I hid it.
I thought I could buy myself a little more time before I had to do it that way, and how I bought myself a little more time was I got a car and I disappeared for a week. Nobody knew where I was. It wasn’t good. I drove around the whole country. I never called my parents once. I have great parents. I’m a lucky guy. They had no idea where I was. They were heartbroken and completely taken aback by this. As was everybody else who knew me and knew them.
I drove around the whole country trying to delay killing myself for about a week. Eventually, I ran out of money and gas, and I had to pull over to the side of the road. There were a few times during the week when I came close to using a knife on myself, which is what I had with me… but the way that ended was I sat there with a knife, and I had it pressed against myself, and I decided I wasn’t going to do it. For some reason, I was too scared to do it. I called home, and they came and got me, and they started to get me some help.
I didn’t go to the hospital or anything like that. I ended up just going home and they got me some help. I started to see therapists. I think they started to put me on some medication, and I didn’t take my medication, or I took it and I didn’t take it on and off. I did that for a while. A lot of people who’ve been in therapy know about that. You switch therapists, you don’t take your meds, your meds have side effects. I think, at that point, I wasn’t really into therapy wholeheartedly. I was still scared and young, and I wasn’t really making progress with it. At that point, I knew what was wrong with me or what they were telling me—that it was depression—but I still basically lived for another year and a half or so before I really tried to take my own life.
That year and a half, I would call it a period of almost walking around like a zombie, not really taking to the therapy. I was still trying to fool people. I was still trying to fool my therapist that I was okay. I was still trying to fool my parents and tell them that I was okay, and I was pretty good at it, too, because I’d had a lot of practice. I had ten years of lying about the way I really felt, not talking about how I felt. So I kept doing it. I said, “Oh, hey! I got a way out.” I don’t have to face the music. I was still alive and I still had the same problems going on in my head, but yet, I didn’t have that urgent trigger, like, where I didn’t have to do something about it anymore. I was now kind of in a limbo stage, so that didn’t work. As I learned in the long run, I was only fooling myself because nothing went away. My head was still messed up.
I’m trying to think about what brought up my real attempt, the second time around. Let’s take it from there. I enrolled back in school. I was living at home, though, and… I want to make sure I get the details right because this was a while ago.
One of the things I’ll just tell you real quick is that I’m trying my best to recount this correctly, but a lot of my memories are hazy from those years. I don’t know why. It’s probably because I was sick and I was living in this alternate world of depression. I wasn’t listening to anybody else, I wasn’t aware of what was really going on and, I don’t know, for whatever reason, I have a hard time remembering dates and places and things that people might normally remember.
Des: I think there’s a component of memory loss associated with depression.
Matt: You might be right. I feel like I didn’t care what year, month, day, or what. I didn’t used to remember anybody’s name who introduced themselves to me because I didn’t care. There was no real emotion going on with me. I felt like I lived like ten or fifteen years with no real emotion. I shouldn’t say that because I did experience some emotions. I had girlfriends, but I never was really able to—it was like a shell. I don’t think I ever had any real—see, I was going to say no real connections, but that’s not the right way to say it because I had friends, that I still have to this day. I don’t know, it’s weird.
Des: Some sort of barrier?
Matt: Yeah. I mean, I definitely had connections with people, but they didn’t know what was going on inside. They only knew me up to a point, so that’s not really a real connection, is it? Or it’s a half connection. Whatever you want to call it. I don’t know, it’s a hard one to say. I mean, I never told even my closest friends about what was going on with me.
Des: Why do you think that is?
Matt: Well, I was afraid that someone was going to think I was fucking crazy. Excuse my language. I was afraid of what people would think of what was going on inside of my head, that I was some kind of psycho, Columbine, some type of mass murderer, which I’m not. These violent fantasies I used to have would get out of control, and I think there was a lot more to it than just that.
Des: Columbine happened right when you were going into college.
Matt: Well, I went to school in ’97.
I really used to just think that I couldn’t talk about the thoughts inside my head to anybody because nobody else had had them or could understand them or relate to them or help me with them, and that’s totally not true, because lots of people have all kinds of thoughts very similar to what I used to, and still do right now. I know there are kids out there—people out there—who have trouble with their thoughts. I didn’t know that back then, though. I thought I was different.
Des: Do you think it has anything to do with you being a man?
Matt: That’s a good question. No, I wouldn’t say that I was afraid to ask for help because I was a man. I think I was just afraid to ask for help.
Des: So, you weren’t telling people what was going on, but it was getting bad again.
Matt: Yeah, my head was a mess. It never really got any better. I’ll try to fast forward to the attempt. I think it was 2000. So, about three years after that little run away trip—if I’m getting the dates right—about three years later. I was still struggling in school, but I was doing some of the work because I was forcing myself to go there. I was under a little bit more supervision at the time. I was living at home and I had some therapists, so I couldn’t just blow everything off, but I wasn’t succeeding in school. I was still failing some classes, and I was drinking and doing drugs a lot, and that doesn’t help.
…I remember getting up, and deciding that that was the day that it was going to be it. I wasn’t going to go on like this anymore, and I was gonna end it. And I wasn’t going to get in the car and drive around the country for a week this last time, either. I was going to just go do it.
[A cop intervened on my attempt]. He said, “What the hell are you doing?” He said, “Why would you want to do a thing like this?”
I’m even shaken a little bit right now, telling you about it.
I couldn’t even talk. I was shambled into pieces. I’m even shaken a little bit right now, telling you about it. I couldn’t even answer the guy. An ambulance came. He stayed with me. They took me to the hospital, and that’s where I went inpatient for the first time. It was good. I needed it. It doesn’t always work out for everybody who goes inpatient, but I needed it because—I don’t know—a few more minutes, another twenty minutes or whatever, I probably wouldn’t have been here, sitting and talking to you right now.
My experience in the hospital was very interesting. I didn’t think I was supposed to be there. I thought I was going to be dead. I was a zombie in that place for the first three or four days. I laid there in the bed. I didn’t want to get up, brush my teeth, I didn’t want to do anything. I just thought that I’d failed, which is a weird word. I didn’t want to see my parents. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. They did try and come visit me. I didn’t want to talk to the doctors. I don’t think I talked to anybody for a week, actually, because I think I was in one hospital and they moved me to another hospital. The first three days, I didn’t talk to anybody. The second place, I finally started talking about a week after. I finally started talking to people and engaging with people.
To quickly fast forward, it took me a long time to get better from that point. The reason why I say being hospitalized was a good thing for me was because it’s definitely where it started for me. I wanted to get better. It’s where it started for me. I don’t even think I was really serious about my recovery until a good time later on. I was still playing the game with therapists, of not being fully honest, for a while. I think I started to know something had to change at some point.
That’s where it started. That’s why I say being in the hospital was a good thing for me. There was one doctor in there who actually helped me a lot by getting me started. I wasn’t talking to anybody. I think the very first thing that I did to reach out to anybody in the hospital after my attempt was write an angry letter to the attending psychiatrist. Where I was, the psychiatrist was a guy who came in like some kind of God once a week and sat with each patient for two minutes, then prescribed some meds and left.
Des: Pill fairy!
Matt: Right. He was more than that, though, but that’s what it seemed like. I think he saw me and prescribed me meds once or twice. The people who were really there to engage in talking therapy with you were the groups and the social workers and whatnot—not the psychiatrist. But, for some reason, I wrote an angry letter to the psychiatrist. It was one of the first things I did. I guess I thought no one was helping me and I was angry about it, or whatever I thought…
What he did was, he read the letter, and he came in for his meeting and he sat with me. In a matter of those two minutes, he was able to be smart enough, I guess, to reverse the logic on me. I don’t even remember exactly what he said to me, but he said something to me to show me that whatever I had written to him was completely based on falsehood, and that death was not a good thing. Like I said, I don’t remember exactly what he said, but he said something to me, and it made me realize, like, “Oh, this guy has a point. Maybe I should start taking my meds and start listening to people.” That was the extent of my interaction with that guy, really. But it was a first baby step towards [not wanting to be dead].
So, from the time I made the attempt, to about a week later, I really just wanted to be dead the whole time up until that point. Then I took a small step towards, “Maybe death isn’t the best way out of it. Maybe death isn’t the only way out of this.”
That’s why being in the hospital was a good thing for me. Now, I had a lot of steps to go in between now and then to experiencing happiness and things like that. It took a long time. That’s normal, I think. I feel like it took me, let’s call it ten years, to completely dismantle all of my emotions, and my feelings. It took that long to get them all back.
Des: Absolutely. It takes time, and then you don’t get to keep them, either. You have to keep working.
Matt: Yeah, you do have to keep working at it, ’cause they don’t stick. You don’t just stay happy forever. You have to work at it. I think that’s something I always try to keep in mind. I’m in a very good place now, emotionally. I never worry that I’ll slip back to where I was, because that’s way, way, way down at the other end of the spectrum, but I’m cognizant of the fact that I came from there, and I’m wary of things that lead down that path. I think that’s maybe why I’m a little bit of an over-sharer now. I don’t like to conceal anything. I think concealment was one of the big things that got me where I was, and so now I feel like concealing anything is the worst thing I could do. Not everybody feels that way. They don’t like to share everything, but… I don’t know.
Des: Plight of the over-sharer.
Matt: I’ve learned that it wasn’t just me concealing my feelings that got me where I was, but it was a big part. I’m a big fan of CBT—cognitive behavioral therapy. I think that the last therapist I had was also the best for me. Something I always tell people who I talk to is that you might have to through five or ten different therapists before you find one that helps you.
Des: You gotta date ’em.
Matt: Yeah. You really do. It’s just like a marriage, and I finally found one.
I was at a point where I was not needing hospitalization, I was on medication, but I was succeeding at work and school. I was at a stable point physically, but emotionally, I had a lot of work to do. Then, finally, I landed with this therapist who was really able to teach me using a mix of CBT, psychoanalysis, and a few others. He was good. He was a hodge-podge of all the therapies. But what he was able to do was, from a CBT aspect, teach me when my thoughts were irrationally getting out of hand. So like, if I’m gonna fail a test, it doesn’t mean that I’m gonna fail the class and I’m also gonna fail out of school, and I am a failure. That’s just a simple example, but that was what my thoughts would be like. I would take any negative thing and I would internalize it and make it permanent. Using those techniques has really helped me recognize thoughts that are unhealthy and stop them in their tracks, but I think there’s more to me being happy now than just using CBT a lot.
It’s also about the whole spectrum of life, and being open and honest with people, and exploring the things that bother me too, psychoanalytically. I don’t like to use that word either, but it is what it is. We talked about things, in therapy, that bothered me growing up that probably contributed to my depression, like the fact that I was adopted. I’ll never label the fact that I was adopted as a cause of my problems, but I mean, it’s a part of me, it’s a factor, so it had something to do with it [that was worth examining]. It’s not something I’m angry about, but I did have a lot of anger that I turned inward. We talked about that in therapy, and that helped. So, it was more than just CBT and medication that helped me get to where I am, too. I don’t take meds anymore, though, which is rare. I’m very lucky.
I feel that I’m very lucky because most everyone I talk to has to take medication and go through therapy the rest of their life, but I don’t. I don’t like to rub that in people’s faces, but I also like to tell people that because I think that there’s hope. Whether you need the meds or the therapy or not, I think that there’s hope for anybody who is struggling with anything like I did to get to a place where they can live a happy life with or without the meds.
Des: What about the cop? He asked you, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” What did that feel like?
Matt: I think about that guy a lot. Well, not a lot, but I think of him from time to time. I thought about him yesterday before I came to see you here today, because he looked at me and said, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” And I never went back to look him up to thank him. If I could’ve answered him—I remember I was too shaky to speak—but he asked me what I could answer now. I was thinking that there was no other way out and that my only choice was that I had to end my life and leave this world, and that I would be better off, and I almost thought that everyone else around me would be better off. I think I knew, on some level, that people were gonna be very disappointed, but that did not outweigh the fact that I was so zoned in on the fact that there’s one way out of this, and that’s to end it. That’s all I was thinking all day long for weeks and months.
Your mind is very strong, and I don’t know if anybody could’ve talked to me before I went and did that, [in a way] that I would’ve heard anything they said. If you could have had, maybe, some magical intervention like a week before when I was crazily suicidal and all those days leading up to it, I don’t know that I would’ve listened to anything. I don’t know that anything could’ve made me stop, short of strapping me down to a chair with shackles, at that point. I don’t know what somebody could’ve said that would’ve made me listen to them, at that point. It’s weird, but I thought I didn’t have any other options. That was completely wrong. That where the cognitive thing shows up, how powerful it is.
Des: Two part question: Are you happy that you’re alive? Yes or no.
Matt: Yes, I am.
Des: Can you give me a highlights reel of what’s happened since your attempt that makes you happy that you are alive?
Matt: Since my attempt, I have met and married my wife. She’s amazing. I couldn’t imagine my life without her, I really couldn’t. As a matter of fact, we actually broke up once before we got married, and I was miserable during that time. I know what it’s like to not be with her. That’s the biggest thing, the first big thing that happened. I was able to fall in love with somebody, and they loved me back, and that’s something that I would want everybody to experience at least once in their life, and hopefully only once. I have two kids. That’s gotta be number two. I can’t even put into words what I would’ve missed if I wasn’t here today. A lot of poop. That’s how great they are, I don’t mind getting poop all over my hands. That’s how great they are.
If you would’ve told me before my attempt, “You are going to get married and have kids,” I would’ve never been able to understand the joy you were trying to convey, and I probably wouldn’t have believed you, but it’s something that you need to stick around for.
Then, if I had to say another highlight, it would be that I’m really starting to find happiness in what I do. That goes for my job as well as my creative projects, which are writing and spreading awareness about this problem. I’ve always worked my whole life, but now I’m really starting to find happiness in my work, and that happiness and work can be the same, and that I can make a difference in other people’s lives with what I do in all the jobs that I have. I have two jobs: one being a writer, the other being a business man. And I have other things that I’m working on. I find, in all those things that, because of all that I’ve been through, I’m now able to really put my life into making a difference in everything I do.
So, the highlight reel: love, children, and work. “Work” is a bad word, so maybe love, children, and making a difference is a better way to put it.
Des: Is suicide still an option for you?
Matt: No, definitely not.
Des: Tell me why.
Matt: Let me backtrack a second. I’m very hesitant to use words like “never,” and definitive no’s, coming from where I came from, but I’m gonna use them now. I would never try that again. I would know enough to ask for help if I was ever in that situation again… I’m a 34 year old guy. I have my health. If I were to have another swing of depression, I think I would know enough, at this point, how to go get help for that, if it got to that point. I don’t know all the answers, but I know that, for me, 99.999% I will never try that again.
Des: If you could speak directly to someone reading your story, what would you want to say to them?
Matt: I think I would say that there is hope. I would ask them to wait, because things seem like they’re really, really bad, and like they’re never going to change, but they do. I believe that there’s hope for everybody. There’s a lot of people with some worse problems than I had, and I think that there’s hope for them to achieve some modicum of happiness, especially if they’re suicidal. I think that it’s very hard—when you’re there, when you’re feeling what I was—it’s very hard to see down the road, around the bend, and I think that, around the bend, there’s always a little hope. That’s what I would say. I could go on about it, but it’s really that simple. I think that’s all there is to it. There’s always some hope, and I’m a pretty practical guy. I’m not religious. We don’t have to debate religion, but I don’t put my faith in things blindly. I just have this feeling that there’s hope for everybody.
Des: It’s really interesting to hear the story of someone who feels like they had a good support system, like they weren’t picked on, like they were normal-ish.
Matt: Yeah, I mean, I really [was] a normal kid. I was as normal as anybody in my school.
Des: People will come to me—and this happens to me regularly—who have stories like [yours], and they’re like, “Well, I don’t know if this is what you want.”
Matt: Right, and what is normal, anyway? Maybe part of the problem was that I didn’t think I was normal. Whatever. Normal shmormal. Who cares? I’m so beyond that now, at this point.
Des: There have to be so many people out there who feel like, “Oh, well, I have no reason to feel this way.” But you don’t need a reason.
Matt: I think you’re hitting a good point, because I think that part of the fear, maybe, was like, “Who am I to ask for help? Nothing bad happened to me. I grew up in a nice house with nice friends and family, so who the hell am I to want to kill myself?” That’s just one way to look at it, but that’s not the truth—the whole truth. You might come from a nice house, and you might have a great support system, and you might have problems. There’s a lot people out there who have had real, traumatic, horrible things happen to them that make them want to [die by] suicide—that’s a problem too—but that doesn’t mean that you can’t [also feel that way].
Des: Yeah, there’s no hierarchy.
Matt: Right, well, I think that sometimes maybe people feel that there is.
Des: Oh, God, yeah! This comes up a lot when I listen to people talk. They’ll say something like, “Oh, well, I don’t know. I only took a handful of pills. It wasn’t that serious.” And it’s like…
Matt: No, no, you tried something there.
Des: You did something to try to make yourself die. That’s a big deal.
Matt: Yeah, right. People will judge. People will judge the way you tried to do it, and people will judge your reasoning for doing it, but it doesn’t matter. People will judge anything and everything for all time, and you have to worry about yourself, alright? Those people who are judging you, they’re not the ones who are your friends, anyway.
Des: Yeah. It even happens within oneself. “Oh, well, I must not have really wanted it because I didn’t do it well.” That sort of thing, where it’s like, “Hold on, let’s take this back to the very basics, here.”
Matt: It’s true, it’s true. I sat next to people in therapy, in group, where I was like, “Why do I have to go next? This person next to me just talked about how her husband beat her within an inch of her life, and maybe raped her,” or something terrible like that, and I’m here like, “I just have thought problems.” What is that? But it was enough to land me in there.
Des: Yeah, exactly. That’s enough. I think this may be important for teenage boys, specifically.
Matt: Well, I think that’s definitely where I came from. That’s where it started for me—as a teenage boy.
Des: Tell me more about the violent thoughts—what they look like, what they felt like—because that seems to be a problem.
Matt: Yeah, it’s a problem. It would involve me sitting in class and imagining maybe having a weapon and annihilating the entire classroom of students and teachers. Things like that. I don’t want to get too gory, but those type of scenarios, those day dreams, would sometimes pervade throughout the whole day unless, maybe, you were talking directly to me and distracting me. If I’m sitting by myself in class, that might be going on a lot. Those kind of things happened not just in school, all around, and I was never going to act on those things. That’s not who I was. But they were in my head.
I don’t know where they came from, exactly, and I’m not sure that that matters, ’cause you could trace the origin of thought and spend a lifetime trying to do that. But when that starts to happen all day long, then you start to think that is how you are, and then you really start to think that you can’t tell anybody else about it, and then you start to think that you’re different from everybody else. I guess, if I could make a comparison, it’s apples to oranges, but… I don’t know a lot about OCD, but it’s kind of like that—a thought, an obsessive thought process. I was never diagnosed with OCD, but intrusive thoughts are a part of that world.
Des: You talked about the violent thoughts, and you mentioned Columbine later…
Matt: That’s an analogy. That’s the kind of image I would have in my head, doing stuff like that, but that was in ’97.
Des: So it was before Columbine.
Matt: ’93, really, is as far back as I remember. This is before that happened.
Des: Before this culture of mass shooters.
Matt: Yeah, I don’t know that I had ever seen that on the news before. I’m sure that there were some movies and things that I maybe saw, maybe that had happened, but I think there’s a feeling, as a young teenage boy, to want to know what you’re capable of—in all directions, good and bad. So, that can become a lot of bad. It’s not that far of a leap to know what a gun is, what it could do to someone, and what I could do with it if it was in my hands. It’s not that far. You could be in a day dream within a matter of minutes for a teenage boy. I’m calling it a day dream ’cause that’s how I describe it, but I would tend to guess that a lot of teenage boys have some pretty disturbing thoughts. As a matter of fact, I know they do, because other people have told about me that.
Des: The same sort of thoughts?
Matt: Sure. Some of my friends that I’ve known and have grown up with have had all sorts of issues with violence—in the real world and in their heads. It’s a big problem, for sure. I mean, teenage boys? C’mon. They’re one of the most aggressive groups out there. I don’t know how it goes for girls. I’m sure they are too, but adolescence, it’s a tough time, and I think that some of what I went through was regular adolescence.
Then, just maybe not knowing how to deal with it properly, and it expanded into adulthood for me. Maybe, on some level, I never moved past all that stuff. Now we’re getting into Freud or whatever. Whatever you want to call it, but I think, after the violence, it turned into a lot of despair and hopelessness—that I would never change, that I would always be unable to get help, that I was always going to be like this, and there was no way to get help, no way for hope.
Whatever our situation is, we think it’s not going to change, but the truth of the matter is that everything changes, and if you could just wait another week, things might change.
Hopelessness. That’s what it became. And despair. In the end, however we all get there, we all get to that point in different ways, but that’s where we all end up. We feel helpless, and hopeless, and we say there’s no other way out. Whatever our situation is, we think it’s not going to change, but the truth of the matter is that everything changes, and if you could just wait another week, things might change. Or a couple of hours. In depression, it sometimes takes a while to get out of those funks. It takes days or months. For other people, things change faster. But they do change.
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