It was two days after All Soul’s Day when I decided to attempt suicide and reunite with my parents in heaven. But I wasn’t too sure if there was a designated space up there for people who take their own lives. Nonetheless, I tried to do it.
I frantically looked for my crumpled prescription—I was diagnosed with bipolar depression in 2015—and drove recklessly to the nearest pharmacy in a trance. I bought 30 tablets of my antidepressant and planned on taking all of them as soon as I got home.
When I gulped down the 17th pill, my sister woke up and caught me in the act. “I just want to die! Just let me die!” I screamed as she struggled to take the drugs away from me.
Not long after, we were on the way to the hospital, my crying sister holding me with one hand as she drove.
My sister is a new doctor, having just graduated from medical school. She took me to her alma mater’s training hospital, and like clockwork, dictated my history, medications and allergies to the emergency room staff while I was shaking in shock.
Soon I was taken to a private room, my vision getting blurred by the minute. I had to drink a revolting concoction of activated charcoal to absorb the meds I took. I was having auditory hallucinations, a form of psychosis, when a team of doctors walked in and interviewed me.
“We have a room prepared for you downstairs. Would you be open to getting admitted into the psych ward? You seem very tired. You’ll be able to have a good rest there,” they said.
Too exhausted, I gave a halfhearted “yes.” I felt utter shame. My master plan was an epic fail.
So what led me to attempt to commit suicide? Different factors—from work, family and finances, to body shaming, even love. I missed my medications for four days the weekend before I tried taking my own life. I was on a trip to the province and accidentally left my most important pill box at home. While in transit, I would cry uncontrollably for no reason and wrestle with thoughts of hurting myself.
As a doctor explained to me, mental illness is just like a physical disease. Fever is a symptom that tells us we have an infection somewhere in our body; the same way, depression is a symptom of a chemical imbalance in the brain.
Maintained by a delicate mix of neurotransmitters, the brain is the body’s most vital organ. Antidepressants help by adjusting the chemical imbalance. Missing the prescribed dosage leads to adverse effects, among them suicidal thoughts.
So what led me to attempt to commit suicide? Different factors—from work, family and finances, to body shaming, even love. I missed my medications for four days the weekend before I tried taking my own life.
I recently lost my mother and father to cancer, leaving me and two siblings orphaned. With most of our money spent on my parents’ expensive treatments, there is just enough left to send my 13-year-old brother to a private school for the next few years.
From a carefree 20-something with the world in the palm of my hand, I turned into a spiteful woman with a huge responsibility I wasn’t ready to take on.
Finances became a major problem due to recurring hypomanic episodes that included impulse buying. It reached a point when I could no longer meet our monthly expenses, as I had to pay a hefty credit card bill. I felt inadequate and insecure.
After my mother’s death, my then-boyfriend got burned out by my depression. It didn’t help that I resorted to debauchery to mask my grief— partying, alcohol and casual sex.
Soon after our breakup, I had a new partner who ended up a mere rebound. Hurting many people along the way, I started to hate being me. While I eventually asked for forgiveness from others, I just couldn’t find it in my heart to forgive myself.
Being confined in the psych ward for two weeks was just what I needed. With no gadgets allowed, I got to focus on my recovery and realign my priorities.
My doctor urged me to use the time to grieve for my parents. I had tried to escape the pain by traveling and getting away, so I wrote them letters and waited for them in my dreams.
I was also encouraged to love myself more and to take a break from romantic relationships.
Every day, I religiously attended the occupational therapy sessions in the hospital. Sometimes we would cook, other times we would have arts and crafts. It gave me a sense of accomplishment and purpose.
I kept a journal and entitled one of my vignettes “The Place With No Forks.” We had to eat with two plastic spoons all the time, which I found amusing.
Most importantly, I made new friends in my brief sojourn. My fellow patients had their own stories to tell, and we all had the desire to recover for our families and friends. It was such a nurturing and supportive environment, and the doctors, residents, nurses and orderlies took good care of us.
Public health problem
With the recent introduction of Hopeline, the Philippines’ first depression and suicide hotline, more Filipinos are now given the 24/7 support they need. Suicide is a public health problem, and we must raise awareness on it.
It’s a relief to know that the Department of Health is prioritizing a mental health law to enhance services and protect the rights of the mentally ill. Imagine my disappointment when I learned that psychiatric cases are not covered by health insurance. We had to dig into our emergency cash to fund my hospital stay.
Based on my personal experience, here are what I can offer people suffering from depression and thinking of suicide.
1) Reach out.
Depression can snatch your friends and family away from you. You have to realize and acknowledge that you need all the help you can get. Social isolation is one of the major causes of suicide.
2) Eat right and exercise.
Since I fell into a depressive state and started stress-eating, I gained 35 pounds in a few months. Take baby steps first to achieve your goals.
3) Invest in quality sleep.
The amount of sleep you get affects your mood the next day. Getting enough rest will give you a sense of balance and inner peace for a healthy mind. Oversleeping, however, is another sign of depression.
4) Develop your hobbies.
Learn a new skill or master an existing one. Cook, sing, write, dance, draw, paint, or play an instrument or a sport. Study things that excite you.
5) Stay away from vices.
Whether it be smoking, drinking, doing drugs or engaging in risky behavior, vices will give you only a temporary high. Seek healthier options to occupy your time.
“Things get worse before they get better,” my psychiatrist told me. It’s like bearing the pain of wearing braces, because in the end, you’ll have beautiful, aligned teeth.