I used to think of death as one of my closest friends when I was young. Not that many people in my life had died.. Now death was just my imaginary playmate. Mental illness ran in my family like a creek. The waters were dirty and filled with parasites, but you could sit by the edge and dip your toes into it. It cooled you down, but you could feel the rapid force of the stream, sucking you under. At least, that’s how I viewed depression as a kid. First I got my feet wet in childhood, experiencing a level of sadness that I knew was not typical for a “normal” kid. When I was eleven, I was diagnosed with “mood adjustment disorder” after having been bullied out of my middle school. I was put on Zoloft by my pediatrician and my mother believed that would be the cure.
I viewed death as the best cure. Especially during the years I was bullied. I had an entire school against me and I got the first taste of suicidal ideation at that time. It was 2006, mid spring when I attempted suicide for the first time in my life. I remember clear as day passing out in my closet after a half-hearted hanging only to be awake by dinnertime. I picked myself up off the floor and ate, pretended like nothing ever happened. To this day, my family still doesn’t know.
In May of 2015, during my sophomore year of college, I was diagnosed as “bipolar 1 disorder with psychotic features.” Otherwise known as schizoaffective disorder. But I remember my symptoms worsening much earlier. In fact I can trace it to one gloomy day in October of 2014. I was going to school in Indianapolis and that day it was raining harder than it had that entire year. I wore a black dress, black boots, and had a black umbrella over my head as I made my way to group therapy.
This group was run by my school’s counseling center. Free for any student to come to talk about homework stress, relationship stress. They weren’t equipped to handle my case, as I soon learned. “It’s always about you wanting to kill yourself,” I remember one of my group members, the perky yet depressed sorority girl saying to me. And I looked at my hands in shame as everyone else around me nodded their heads. I could feel stress swelling in my back. I was a burden, too much of a burden even for the group and the therapist, who encouraged the sorority sweetheart to “speak her mind.”
She was right, though, I did always talk about wanting to kill myself. I’d spend most of my waking hours looking around at all the tall school buildings. I wondered which ones I could jump off of, how my body would look on the ground. I imagined the vigils held in my name, down to how some vague student in my stats class would claim they were “close” to me and wished I’d have said something. Anything. How my professors would wish that I had spoken up. I was still close friends with death. I believed that one move and it would be over for me and I would no longer be in pain.
* * *
I’ve attempted suicide 6 times. One hanging, four overdoses, and one slit wrist. I’ve since learned that my body is incredibly resilient to my attempts to destroy it. One such attempt occurred during my freshman year before my diagnosis. I had a bottle of Zoloft that night, approximately ninety pills I had stopped taking previously. I woke up the morning after and hobbled myself to the communal bathroom. I vomited for three hours. I heard a girl walk in and mutter “wow, this early into the semester?” I knew she assumed I was just a new college girl who partied too hard the night before. I brushed my teeth after, and went to class. Once more, nobody had knew what really happened.
Depression still has its claws in me. I am medically stable but nowhere near perfect or healthy. But here is where life gets interesting: I moved to California eight months ago. I walked across my graduation stage in Indianapolis to catch a flight to Los Angeles the next day. I wanted better for myself. I wanted to distance myself from the friendship I made with death and possibly learn who or what life actually is.
That’s when I ended up inside a Planned Parenthood to get an IUD. I had a boyfriend at the time, and the thought of pregnancy scared the shit out of me. Likewise, hormonal birth control has fucked with my mood swings, especially with my bipolar and suicide ideation. The Paraguard is a useful, hormone-free way of baby proofing your uterus. But the insertion and cramps I experienced afterward had me doubled over like I was about to deliver a baby right there in the parking lot. After two or so weeks of this mess, I found myself sitting panicked in my studio apartment, begging to be taken to the hospital.
I was screaming, at-the-top-of-my-lungs screaming. I felt sharp pains from my uterus to my back to my ribs. It felt like I was bleeding on the inside. I felt like I was moments away from dying, and for once the thought scared me.
Once I reached the hospital, I called my boyfriend. I had feared that this vicious device had somehow punctured every vital organ in my body and I was at death’s doorstep. And this time, death wasn’t the same friend I had in childhood. He was going to take me from my boyfriend, from my new life. By the time my boyfriend arrived, I was being hooked up to an IV and an ultrasound technician came in. He told us both the news: I had a softball sized cyst on my left ovary.
When I was a teenager, my doctor had told me me I had PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) “But it’s fine,” she said “unless you’re planning to have children these cysts are pretty much benign.” I took the notion of infertility as a blessing. I never wanted children, so maybe if I had cysts they’d be alright and keep me baby free. Even at the Planned Parenthood clinic they said that the only risk I had was increased cramps and possibly heavier periods. So I never followed up on this. Until now.
* * *
The doctor told me I needed to be in surgery immediately and that if I delayed any longer, or if I arrived at the hospital later, I’d be facing a rupture. A rupture that would be certain death. I cried, heavily. I didn’t want to be put under for surgery. I didn’t want to not wake up the next day. I thought about all the times I begged my body to die and for once I was frightened that it would actually happen. I was having it so good, despite my depression. I was actually living on my own, paying rent, and being responsible for myself. I initially fought with the nurses as they pulled me up for an anesthetic shot to my spine. The next thing I know, I’m awake.
Recovery was the worst part of my surgery. I couldn’t get any pharmacy to fill my prescription for painkillers. We just don’t keep them in stock. Try next week. I’m also a medical cannabis user but couldn’t get out of bed to make it to a dispensary. I got sores on my back from only being able to lay stiff and still. My scars were tiny, but the gas they pumped inside me had yet to pop and I could feel it everywhere. I panicked easily post op. I’d feel similar pains as to how I felt before and start crying, begging my roommates to take me back to the hospital.
Doctors were tired of me. Everything is okay. They said. My IUD wasn’t even much of a problem according to them and I should just expect to feel shitty because I just had surgery. I didn’t sleep for 3 weeks. When I did sleep, I feared I would not wake up. Death was now the hooded figure in my closet. Ready to put an end to any positivity I could have had. The type of pain I experienced exacerbated my depression. I couldn’t care for myself, couldn’t eat. And it caused me more anxiety about dying than ever before.
* * *
I’ve gained a new paranoid relationship with death and myself. Even on my worst days I enjoy living because, as an atheist, I believe this is it for me. Finito. But that doesn’t scare me. Instead, it’s the awareness of dying that makes me so afraid. During one of my other attempts at overdosing, I blacked out. I had taken a heavy mix of Xanax and a cheap box of wine. I cried so loudly that my neighbor called the cops. I remember being too weak to walk to the ambulance. I was so close to the end and I was distraught that they had stopped me.
I’ve heard most people who attempt suicide decide they don’t want to die seconds after they attempt. A lot of this happens to people who jump from high places. No one told me coming close to death, accidentally or otherwise, would give me more psychological trauma to have to heal from. My own mortality seemed very fragile. One cyst over time had the power to choose my end for me. Now I have nightmares where my brain tries to show me what death would feel like. In one I had a night ago, I was falling into water and I could feel myself drown. It was too realistic, the water caving in on my lungs. I was unable to wake up until I accepted that I am going to die.
As I’m writing this I’m smoking a cigarette, fearful of dying from cancer but too stressed to quit. I keep having night terrors of being shot, dying in a hospital, bleeding to death. I still have pain; the IUD still remains in place. I intend to go back to hormonal birth control when I can see a gynecologist. But I no longer have a therapist. Now, I can no longer turn to suicide ideation as an escape. I’m a functional depressive who can’t even experience the satisfaction of knowing death is the end. I sit and watch myself simultaneously twist back and forth from hanging by a thread and conquering the world.
Noel Ortega loves sarcasm, podcasts, and memes almost as much as she loves writing. She was born in Illinois but considers Los Angeles her true home. Trying this whole “grown up” thing while completing a masters in creative writing.