I recently came across a diary I’d written during my hospital stay last autumn. I had voluntarily committed myself because I was having suicidal thoughts. I remember very little about the time I’d spent there because I was so deep in psychosis then. The writing revealed my paranoia and my desire to kill myself—the only answer that I had to my problem of loneliness, or so I thought at the time. I was desperate to stop the pain of being me.
In the journal were entries stating repeatedly that my life had no meaning and that I was a burden to others, two common themes of suicidal ideation. My solution was my death. I honestly thought that dying would make life better for everyone I knew.
I was checked into the psych unit of one of the foremost hospitals in our state. I worked with skilled practitioners who understood the complex puzzle that is schizophrenia, and the confounding force that is suicidal thinking. I was not an easy patient.
It was in this hospital that I was introduced to a new medication regimen. My old meds were replaced with more effective ones (and subsequently tuned a second time at another institution). My therapist worked with the lead psychiatrist. I was receiving the best care that my insurance could buy. I was one of the lucky ones. Yet, despite all of this, my intent to complete suicide persisted, culminating in not one, but two attempts while on the ward.
My depression was the most severe it had ever been. No amount of medication or therapy seemed to make a difference. After my first attempt, I had a nurse checking on me every fifteen minutes; after the second attempt, I was assigned a “shadow” nurse who was with me twenty-four/seven, along with my regular day and night nurses.
My friends and family were made aware of my situation. Visiting hours were few. No matter who came to visit me and how well-meaning they were, my thought process remained the same: end my life no matter what. My treatment team worked hard to come up with a solution. The decision to increase my meds and begin additional ones was deemed necessary to my survival.
Although my psychosis refused to abate, my desire to complete suicide was temporarily stanched. At that level of sedation, it was unsurprising. Audio hallucinations persisted, however. My paranoia about the patients and nursing staff increased. While attending group meetings to watch TED Talk videos, I’d see the speakers on the screen turn away from their audience and speak directly to me. I saw armies of spiders on the walls of my room. I watched them crawl into my arms. I could not stop thinking about carving my wrists and neck with cutlery from the dining room, even going so far as to consider the individually packaged plastic utensils. I’d agreed to inform my treatment team of any such thoughts, and, having done so, my medications were adjusted accordingly.
As I read through the pages of my journal, memories started flickering in, memories that had been swept away by psychosis, memories lost to amnesia. In talking with my therapist about the diary, I commented that I was disillusioned with myself, disappointed that I was so paranoid then, and stunned to read about my two suicide attempts.
While sitting in the safety of my apartment and reading about my failure to complete, I felt the kind of relief that only losing could bring. Even in the clutches of my illness at its worst, I had some shred of self worth that kept me clinging to life. In the end, I probably didn’t want death as much as I wanted the pain to stop. I hated my illness and everything it took away from me: ambition, success, and love. I hated that I was so misunderstood and maligned. Though I made up plenty of reasons to tighten that noose, it only took one thought implanted in my psyche to help me see that survival was possible, to know that my life had meaning—as others kept telling me—even when I couldn’t see it myself.
At the end of the day, I found the reason for journaling, then as now. Keeping a record of my thoughts, delusions, and hallucinations, as well as my day-to-day experiences, offers a window into my illness, empowering me to take action toward my recovery. I have something more to share with my therapist, to offer further insight into my state of mind. I would recommend journaling to anyone interested in trying it. More than a half-forgotten dream, it is a personal time machine capable of unlocking doors and imparting knowledge if taken seriously. At least that’s what I’ve learned.
Thank you. Mr. Jenkins. I have been hospitalized 30 or so times at Mclean since 2000. I have depression, anxiety, borderline, and schizo-effective symptoms. Your words really mean a lot to me as I have been slipping because of loneliness lately. It’s been a number of years since my last hospitalization. Suicidal thoughts were persistent for a very long time, then I learned how to cut down on the time I’d ruminate. It took several years until now where I can clip them away right off, more or less. I’m an artist, and I have always used writing to break cycles in my life. Any way a person who is struggling can find to release and examine their thoughts helps so much. I look back on old artwork now and feel so much better about my work and myself than I did years ago. They are like guide posts to our strength. Thank you.
Thank you for sharing this, Henry.
Thank you for sharing this.