Ann Taylor is a mom, suicide prevention advocate, and volunteer. She was 52 years old when I interviewed her in Los Angeles, CA on October 28, 2015.
Des: [Before you go into your story,] tell me more about what you're doing with the Didi Hirsch Survivors of Suicide Attempts Support Group, because that’s really new. That’s an innovative new thing that’s happening in LA, but not in many other places.
Ann: It is new. I joined the Didi Hirsch support group for people who’ve attempted suicide about two years ago. Probably about seven to nine months ago, they asked me if I would peer facilitate the support group for suicide attempt survivors, so I’ve started to do that. It’s been difficult, but it’s getting easier and easier. At first, I felt so much like I was still a member of the group, but now I’m transitioning into facilitating. That’s really rewarding.
Coming out of that, I decided I wanted a little more experience and I wanted to work the crisis line, so I’m in training for that now. I finish up in two weeks, and then I’ll be able to work the lines.
It feels really good. I’m really excited to start doing it. Really excited. I feel like it’s a passion that’s coming out for me.
Des: What if you’re talking to someone who’s in crisis? Does that feel okay, given your history with suicidality?
Ann: It feels great. It takes me out of my own place. It’s a different role. I’m the one listening, trying to put myself in their place and really understand. It makes me feel really good about myself. That builds me up. There’s also a little bit of the adrenaline going because it is scary. Somebody could do something. You don't know the results of your conversation. There’s always a little bit of fear of, “What if this doesn’t go right?”
Most of the time, from what I’ve seen from the beginning of the conversation to the end of conversation, they’re very deescalated and feeling safer, ready to call it a night or go do something else. It’s pretty exciting to watch that happen within a thirty or sixty minute span of time. It feels really good.
Des: Why did you decide to jump into that?
Ann: I think, since I’ve come out with my story, I feel like I want to do everything I can to share that. I want to help other people who need to talk about it. Facilitating that support group is kind of the first step in reaching out and trying to help people. I feel like I do have a skill in helping people, and I do know what it feels like to attempt suicide. I feel like I’ve got this little extra edge where I can relate to people who are calling on the phone or chatting.
Des: Tell me about that.
Ann: About what it feels like to be suicidal? There are parts of me which are glad I’m alive, but there are parts of me that really wish I wasn’t. The “wishing I wasn’t” is probably stronger than the “glad I’m alive” part.
Des: Tell me more about that, if you want to.
Ann: I still struggle with suicidal thoughts. They’re not as strong as they used to be, but they definitely come up. Thoughts where I feel like I can’t possibly go on anymore. I feel like everything is too overwhelming, or even the smallest things are so overwhelming that I have no idea how to handle them. Small things. My mind starts to spin, and I feel like I can’t control myself. Or I feel like I don’t have the strength. I feel very vulnerable, very fragile, almost like I can’t take care of myself.
I do feel very, very alone. Both my parents have passed away. My husband left. It all happened within a year and a half. Another very close friend passed away in that time, too. It became too much. It was a bombardment. A slam of all the people that I trusted and loved, the people who I knew unconditionally loved me… I felt like they all disappeared at one time, and I was alone.
Ann: My story… I feel like I’m alone. I feel scared. I have two really amazing kids who bring me up, and I think I’m a very good mom to them. We have a very strong relationship. They keep me going. That’s the reason I’m still alive.
I’ve attempted four times. My mind was in such a spin that I couldn’t think straight at all, and my kids didn’t even come into the picture. Now they’re in the picture.
I don't know if I’m really safe. I don't know if I’m out of the woods yet.
Des: When was your last attempt?
Ann: Two and a half years ago.
Des: [Why do you feel like] you’re not out of the woods yet?
Ann: I have always felt like it’s a possibility I could do it again, but I feel stronger than I have in the past. I feel stronger each month, but not strong enough yet.
I feel like I could do it again, but I don’t want to. I think my kids are holding me back from that.
Des: What led you to your first attempt?
Ann: My first one was about six years ago now, maybe five years ago. Very, very spontaneous. I was at a friend’s house with my two kids, and I started to feel very overwhelmed and very scared. I said I needed to leave.
They said, “Oh, let the kids stay. They can spend the night at the house.”
I went home and I proceeded to take a bunch of pills—nothing I had stored up, I just took whatever there was around, and chugged a bunch of wine. My friend actually came over to check on me, realized what I’d done, and took me to the hospital.
That is an attempt that wouldn’t have killed me. I know that now.
Two years later. I went through a breakup with my boyfriend, which was my decision, my choice. That was very difficult. I checked myself into the hospital a day after we’d broken up, for safety reasons.
I spent three days in the hospital and came home on a Friday. I saw my psychologist on the way home. I was feeling great, feeling happy.
I came in my house and had a glass of wine. I started to write to friends, family, and my kids… and it turned into a suicide note. [I had] no intention of that happening. I had a few more glasses of wine, which made me feel really good, really happy, and really at peace.
Then I proceeded to take [many, many pills]. I marked each one down as I took it. I knew I was in trouble. I knew it was over.
Honestly, once I realized I was going to die, that was honestly the most peaceful, blissful, amazing feeling I’ve ever felt. I knew I’d crossed a line and I had to accept that that was it, and I wouldn’t be alive anymore. It felt kind of euphoric. I don't know if that makes any sense.
It was a really good feeling. That’s what makes me think I might attempt suicide again. I hope I don’t. I think I’m over that, but I really loved that feeling. It was a feeling of adrenaline, too. Everything was really, really intense.
I can’t believe I just said that.
Ann: I don't know. I haven’t told anybody that before.
Des: That’s honest.
Ann: It was just such a peaceful moment. It felt so good.
Des: Well, you spent so much time conflicted and scared, and then you made the decision.
Ann: Yeah, and the burden is off of you. You’re done.
Des: We often talk about people having that experience before a suicide attempt, and we point out that sudden calm as a warning sign.
Ann: That’s the calmness that comes with making that decision.
Des: So, what happened? You’re still here.
Ann: I had been texting that week with someone that I’d met in a psych hospital before. He picked up that my letters and words weren’t coming out the right way. I was misspelling a lot of things. He had the same psychiatrist as I did, and he texted my psychiatrist to say, “I think she’s taken some medication. She isn’t sounding right.” My psychiatrist was out at the opera and got the text about three hours later. He didn’t have my address but contacted my psychologist, who did, and then called the police and rescue.
Sure enough, they showed up at my doorstep. I was still conscious [when they arrived] and lost consciousness while they were there. I don’t remember. I was intubated in the ambulance and taken away. Police, fire, sirens—the whole bit.
Des: The best bit, right?
Ann: The best.
Ann: …I think the hardest thing to get over with having attempted suicide is the shame and having to see people again. I isolated. I didn’t leave my house. I had groceries brought in. I didn’t respond to any emails, texts, or phone calls.
I hired a company called the Life Adjustment Team, and they came to my house. They helped me take care of bills and got me out of the house to go to the market. I was too afraid to do that because I didn’t want to see people. They got me going a little bit more than I was able to do myself, but I was still very afraid to see my neighbors. I knew the police and ambulance were there again for the fourth time, so I really didn’t want to see anyone.
Des: Did any of them talk to you about it?
Des: Still no?
Ann: Still no. As far as I know, my neighbors [don’t know]. They might know or suspect. I did post The S Word trailer on Facebook this last Saturday night, so I basically came out.
Des: You mentioned that.
Ann: I went ahead and just posted it, realizing that people were going to watch it. I asked them to watch it, and I mentioned something about preventing suicide. A number of people did watch it. Probably about sixty people clicked “like” or sent a comment, and it was all extremely positive and very supportive. They were very proud of me for sharing.
That was actually a really huge step. I’m still a little nervous and a little fragile about that. Now I’m out there among all my friends. People know, but I’ve never talked to my neighbors. I was too ashamed. Now I would.
Now I tell people. It’s not a big deal. It actually feels good.
Ann: But I still am struggling. I just went to a treatment program in West L.A. for seven months to deal with anxiety, panic attacks, and suicidal thinking. I feel better, but I still have my ups and downs. I still see a therapist three times a week. I go to support groups. I’m living it and breathing it still. Can’t seem to shake it.
Des: What do you do when you’re not feeling safe?
Ann: I’ll usually call someone. I didn’t used to be able to do that. I never did with any of my suicide attempts. There’s a couple people I have that I know, and we help each other. We understand each other. I’ll reach out most of the time. Sometimes I don’t.
It really only [happens] when I’m alone. I’m fine when [my son is] around, and it’s just when I’m by myself that it’s a struggle. I do feel like I’m facing the world all by myself and it’s scary.
Des: Do you have the experience of feeling alone even when you’re with people?
Ann: Yeah, definitely. Absolutely. Most of my friends are a couple or married, and I’m very single, and I want to be single for now. I definitely feel like I go into parties by myself; I go to events by myself. I feel alone when I’m at a party, and I also feel a little bit self-conscious because of the suicide attempts in the past. I felt like people were whispering and talking. They probably weren’t, but I felt like that. Now they can do it all they want. I don’t care. If it can help, it helps.
Des: Tell me about your experiences with hospitalization. Good, bad, however you feel. Whatever you want.
Ann: I’ve been in a psych hospital about fifteen times. All but four of them were voluntary. I felt like it was the only safe place I had. [That’s why] I checked myself in.
Not a lot of privacy. Not a lot of love and care. They take away your shoelaces. They take away your belt. They take away your jewelry. They take away everything.
It’s hurtful, but for me, it was also my safe place. I needed a safe place, so I chose to go back to the same hospital time and time again. Also, my psychiatrist was there, so there was a continuity of care.
I would show up and the staff would be like, “Hey Ann. How you doing?”
“I’m doing good. I’m back again.”
Overall, from stories I hear, I think I actually had a pretty good experience with the hospitals compared to stories I’ve heard. It’s kind of inhumane [when it is involuntary]. You’ve attempted suicide, so you’re crazy and you need to be locked up. That doesn’t seem right to me. It seems like you should be able to receive help outside of a hospital setting. Maybe you get a day hold or something like that to stabilize you, but two or three weeks? I don’t think that’s okay.
It was detrimental. It made my life a lot worse.
The time I was on the ventilator… I don’t remember anything about being put into the hospital. When I woke up, I still had a tracheotemy tube down my throat and couldn’t talk. One of my very best friends and my cousin were there by my side. I saw them and I wrote on a piece of paper, “Las Encinas.” I knew I was going to a psych hospital, so I chose which one. I wrote that on a piece of paper, and they were all very happy that I was able to write. That was a very good sign.
I don’t like a lot of attention. I don’t want people to take care of me, so I automatically went into, “Oh, everything’s fine. Everything’s great. What are you guys doing here? I’m good. You can take off.” I was embarrassed, not by what I’d done, but because I was receiving attention. I played it off like it was no big deal, like something that happens every day. I joked around a lot.
My friend had the suicide note that I’d written, so we read that out loud. That was hard to listen to. [The note] was talking to my kids, my friends, and people who are important to me, telling them how much I love them and what I wished for them in the future. They read that to me, and again, I kind of laughed it off like it was no big deal.
I recuperated within a few hours, they sent me in an ambulance to the psych hospital, and that was that.
I still don't know how it all happened. I still don’t understand what that final little step is that allows somebody to cross the line and not want to live anymore, to actually make the move to not live anymore. There are lots of people who think of suicide, but what takes them to that next step? It’s still a mystery to me.
Des: That’s exactly what I’m trying to figure out with this project.
Ann: Oh, really?
Des: Yeah, I don't know what it is. There’s a difference, and I don't know what it is. I probably won’t ever know what it is.
Ann: That one little piece.
Des: How do you approach self-care?
Ann: I take meds. [A glass of wine, in moderation, is a healthy thing to do.] My self-care now is working out. I fell off that wagon a while ago, and now I work out four days a week, with a trainer. It’s a good, hearty workout. I feel much better about myself physically. I play tennis, which I love.
Self-care is really just making sure to be in the right frame of mind every night. It’s making sure that I eat something and that I take some time to just not do anything. Maybe I take time to watch some TV or read a book. I’ll sometimes spend some time talking to a friend on the phone or texting with people. [It’s making sure I] take time to just wind down and slow down.
I do have an emergency list of things I need to do if I start to get in a negative place. It’s meditating, reading, listening to music, and going for a walk. There’s a whole list of things to distract me from my feelings and my emotions. It’s getting a little old. I’ve been doing that for a while. It’s like I’m really sick of hearing about it from all the different therapies, but I do have a list of things I would do, a list of people I would call.
I really don’t check that so much anymore. I kind of know what I can and can’t do. There’s a certain anxiety level where I can’t take care of myself. The anxiety becomes too high and it’s too late, at that point, to do anything. Trying to avoid that place, that’s my self-care.
Des: Do your kids know?
Ann: Yeah, they both know. They didn’t for a long time. They know I’ve battled with depression. About a year and a half ago, my younger son came home from school and said that a TED Talk was shown in their English class. It was Kevin Breel (https://www.ted.com/talks/kevin_breel_confessions_of_a_depressed_comic). Young guy. He’s going through depression and thought about [suicide]. My son came home, said that he’d watched this TED Talk and he wanted to watch it with me. [Along with] my other son, we watched it.
After that, my younger son asked me if I’d ever thought about killing myself. I said, “Well, actually I have tried. I’ve tried several times.”
That’s how they found out.
Their faces were kind of in shock. They didn’t say very much in the beginning, and then started asking some questions. They were extremely supportive, extremely loving, and very interested.
That, for me, was when the three of us really became very connected and very tight. We started to really trust each other and feel like we could say things to each other. That was a big moment. It’s when I opened up. I didn’t have secrets anymore.
Des: Your youngest son was how old then?
Ann: Probably fifteen.
Des: And your older son was how old?
Des: What kind of questions did they ask you?
Ann: They asked me how I did that—meaning the method. They asked me why I felt like I wanted to die. We talked about sadness and we talked about depression. We talked about what had happened, and how I felt very deserted and alone. It was a really awesome moment. It was really good. We’ve been so much tighter ever since. Honesty… it certainly helps.
Des: So, parents should talk to their kids about this?
Ann: I definitely, absolutely think so. Yes. I think it raises awareness to the kids and their friends. So many teenagers suffer with suicidal thoughts. My son has been able to talk to some of his friends who have been struggling. He has shared what I’ve been through and what he’s been through as a result of me. I think he’s been able to help his friends.
It’s very powerful, the ability to be able to talk and have someone listen. I think, when I was very suicidal, I felt like there was no one out there—or I could put it on myself and say I wasn’t willing to share anything with anybody because I was afraid I would be burdening them.
Des: Is it different now?
Ann: I have a couple friends I didn’t have before, and I feel like I can talk to them. They have been in similar situations, so we’re there for each other. I feel like they understand, whereas I think some of my other friends don’t understand, but are willing to try, and that’s different. I feel like I’m putting them in an awkward position. I tend not to reach out, but there are a couple people in my life right now that I can do that with.
Des: Do you think it’s important to have a community of people who have been through this?
Ann: I think it’s been very helpful. The stigma is so great regarding suicide. People aren’t willing to talk about it. People are afraid of it. Having a community has been extremely helpful. We can pull together. We can understand each other’s thoughts and feelings, and we’re accepting of them.
I like having a support system. I like having people who have gone through similar experiences. There are not very many that have come out and admitted it, but I think I’ve got probably… maybe six or seven people I feel connected to, in regards to our experiences. It’s not very many people.
Des: What would you say directly to someone looking at your portrait and reading your story?
Ann: I would say that if you have attempted suicide, it’s okay that you did that. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s all okay.
Des: What about for the people who are reading it who don’t understand it?
Ann: If you don’t understand it and somebody you care about [is feeling this way], the most important thing I think you can do is ask them questions. Listen to them talk. Allow them to share their feelings, the sensations they have, and the fears they have. Allow them to express those things and ask them to do it. Talking is, to me, the most important thing. That’s what has helped me the very most.
Des: What didn’t you get that you felt like you needed in the times you were struggling?
Ann: Support. I felt like everybody was so scared. They didn’t want to deal with somebody who was suicidal. I felt like people shied away from the topic, and from me. They didn’t want to hear that. They didn’t want to hear anything. I feel like, if there had been a few friends who I could call and share my thoughts and feelings… people who just listened and didn’t say, “You should be over it by now.” I needed someone who really would just listen to me, where what I had to say was good enough.
I missed out on that, but I’ve reached out of my social circle and found some people now that I can talk to and feel supported.
Des: Why are our stories important?
Ann: Because it allows other people to share their stories. It opens the door to communication. It allows others to share their experiences, to talk about their experiences, which will help them. I know it will help them. Our stories are very important. There aren’t enough of them.
If you're hurting, afraid, or need someone to talk to, please reach out to one of the resources below. Someone will reach back. Please stay. You are so deeply valued, so incomprehensibly loved—even when you can't feel it—and you are worth your life.
You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada), or The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. If you don't like talking on the phone, you can reach Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, or check out Lifeline Crisis Chat. If you’d like to talk to a peer, warmline.org contains links to warmlines in every state. If you're not in the U.S., click here for a link to crisis centers around the world.
Ann's story is sponsored by a grant from the hope & grace fund, a project of New Venture Fund in partnership with global women’s skincare brand, philosophy, inc. Thanks also to Alison Rutledge for providing the transcription to Ann's interview, and to Sara Wilcox for editing.
Live Through This is made possible in part by donations from incredible humans like you. If the project moves you and you have even a single dollar to spare, please consider donating. Every dollar donated goes straight back into the project. These funds allow for gear, web real estate and hosting, travel associated with the project, professional fees, conference attendance, and more. If you would like to make a one-time or monthly donation, please click here.