I interviewed Christiane Wells in Denver, CO, on February 26, 2015. She was 41 years old, a writer, and Ph.D. student at the time of our interview.
It’s very hard for me to figure out how to tell my story because, it’s funny, suicide was such a big part of my life for so long, and it would come and go. The first time I ever thought about it, I was eight. I wasn’t suicidal at eight, I was just envisioning. I was visualizing what it would be like and what people’s reactions would be if I blew my head off, like right there in front of them, on New Year’s Eve.
After that, I don't know. I thought about it a lot. I pictured it, but I didn’t feel like I wanted to die. It’s more that I was thinking about the fact that it could happen. I could do it, theoretically. I was picturing doing it with a gun, and the logistics of that, at eight, would have been really hard to pull off.
I feel like I had my first real depressive episode in seventh grade, but I grew up with ADHD. I know that now. It helps things make sense. It helps me understand why I became so depressed in seventh grade. The transition from elementary to middle school is really difficult, and I had gone through all of elementary school like I didn’t have to try. I just got all As. It was nothing. Then I get to seventh grade and, all of a sudden, I’ve got a locker, and I couldn’t [handle] the shame of not knowing how to remember my locker combination or make it work. Not even honors kids, but special ed kids, were helping me open my locker, and that was really hard. That’s the first time I ever felt really depressed.
A year later, I was in eighth grade and my mom had gotten me these X-ACTO knives in this special box because I liked to make balsa wood bridges with them, and models, because I was a super dork. I was president of the American Industrial Arts Student Association. I was also really fucked up.
When I look back at it, if I had been a boy, my life would have been so different. No one knew what to do because I was a girl who was just like a crazy boy. I would hit people, skip school, and smoke pot in the bathroom, but I was also in gifted. No one could make sense of it. They were like, “What the hell? You’re smart. Why can’t you figure this out?” That’s a big problem. People kept talking to me when I was an adolescent like I had the maturity of an adult, and I didn’t.
It’s funny because, last Friday, I went to a giftedness conference, and I ended up writing an email to the woman who did one of the keynotes. I wanted to express to her how, in Connecticut, I had great educational experiences. I had teachers who really cared. They would take the time to be like, “You’re a little asshole, but you have potential and you’ll be okay.”
Another thing I’ve been thinking about is: it’s funny what you think is a suicide attempt when you’re fourteen. I look back at it and I’m like, “Did I really think I was going to kill myself?” But yeah, dude, I did. I cut on my arms, saw the blood, and was like, “What the hell? Why aren’t I bleeding out?”
When you’re young, you don’t know, but failure was the reason why I was so depressed. Really, when I think about it, all of the times when I’ve wanted to die the most, it’s because I was failing. It was always a reaction to failure.
In seventh grade, I got dropped from honors, and they kept me in a gifted class. It sounds so ridiculous at times to explain to people, but now I know it’s not. It’s a legitimate thing. Giftedness isn’t about achievement or your IQ. There’s a weird wiring in your head that just makes things feel too intense and leaves you unable to deal with things, unless you’re explicitly taught how to, apparently.
So, what I wrote to this woman after I saw her at this conference last week was about the teachers and what they did right. There was this one dude who was my homeroom and social studies teacher. I tortured him. I mean, I just tortured the man. I was a real asshole, but he would talk to me in the hall, and he would tell me, “No, you have worth. You can do it. The older you get, the more challenged you are. You’ll be okay.” That was this consistent message.
I tried to run away after I tried to kill myself. At the exact same time, in the week or two after I made the attempt, I won this [computerized] drafting competition. There was this weird paradox of, “Wow, Chris is really fucked up. What are we going to do? Get the school counselor involved.” But they were also like, “Wow, you’re going to win this thing for our school at the national conference.” It was all very confusing. I tried to run away because I [felt like] I failed at killing myself, but I could run away.
At first, I snuck out of my house, and went to my best friend’s house. We were in West Haven, Connecticut. I took a cab to New Haven, and I went to the Greyhound station. I just turned fourteen, so I had $127 or something, which felt like enough. I carefully chose. I could take the train to Manhattan or I could take the bus to Boston. It was around the first week of April. I thought, “Well, it’s going to be cold. It might be safer to go to Boston.” I don't know why I thought that, because now I don’t necessarily agree with that.
I bought a ticket, and I don’t think that would happen now, where a fourteen year old could go up and buy a one-way ticket. Or did I get a round trip? I don't know. But I got on the bus, I looked back at everyone, and it was just misery. The people on the bus smelled bad, and I thought, “I don’t think that’s the life for me, either.” I went home and I made it through the rest of that year.
I decided to go to a private, all-girls Catholic school for high school. My parents couldn’t afford boarding school, [even though] that’s what I really wanted. I struggled. I wanted to reinvent myself, but I couldn’t. It’s not easy to reinvent yourself. I wanted to be more feminine. I wanted to fit in. I liked that we had to wear a uniform because it took away the whole “I dress like a boy” thing. On days when we got to wear our own clothes, it didn’t even feel like a cool thing to me because I was better off camouflaged.
School was good. My sophomore year, I had friends. This guy that my friend and I had spent a lot of time with—he was older than us, it was very inappropriate—he killed himself. We didn’t know. [My friends and I] called this tattoo shop that he would hang out at. I was like, “Yeah, is Mike there?”
They were like, “Oh man, we buried him last week.”
We were fifteen, and it was just so devastating. I was already feeling like shit, and I was like, “Oh my god. What the…?” He was nineteen. He was known to have a cocaine problem, but it was very devastating. It made me think that, if he did it, that might be the answer.
Things just weren’t good in my head. I couldn’t stop thinking about death. I just couldn’t. It was a pervasive issue that had gone on for years. The year before, I had written a lot of poems about death, and I wrote a lot of poems about killing people. Not just my own death, but homicide as well.
I published a book when I was twenty, and there are two poems in it that are evidence of that period. I wrote a poem to this girl, Bridget. It was called “Killing Bridget.” I wrote it in class real quick and I handed it to her. I know it by heart. Should I tell you? Because it’s kind of funny. It’s funny, but not funny.
It was like, “Killing Bridget. You pushed me just a little too far, a little over the edge, and now you’re going to pay the price. I’ll push you off a ledge. I think you should be killed by stabbing you in the face. When they’re looking for the killer, there won’t be any trace. Maybe I should shoot you to get it over fast. No, I think I’ll let you suffer. I want the pain to last.”
I wrote this on a piece of paper and I handed it to Bridget in religion class. She read it, looked back, and just gave me this look like, “Ugh, whatever, asshole.” Nobody was worried that I was really going to kill them, but they were really worried that I might kill myself.
Sophomore year, people were worried. I didn’t see that things were going to get better. I kept trying to reinvent myself and failing, so I thought that maybe the answer might be becoming a Young Republican…
Des: I think you just traumatized me.
Chris: Right? That’s why I don’t talk about the book that I published. It’s not that I don’t want people to know—it’s out there if you really want to find it.
[Eventually, my mom] called my cousin, who was a therapist. She referred me to one of her friends who was a marriage and family therapist. My mom took me to her, and I sat down. She was like, “So, why are you here today?”
I said, “I want to die. I’m obsessed with death. I can’t stop thinking about killing myself.”
She was clearly uncomfortable, and she was like, “I think you might have a chemical imbalance.”
I was like, “Yeah, I mean, I’ve thought of that. That’s possible, right?”
I went home with my mom after that. The next night, this woman calls. She told my mom that she’s been thinking about this, and she needed to take me to the emergency room right then for a psych evaluation. She’s decided that, after twenty-four hours, this is a serious situation. We needed to go now. My mom needed to hide the razor blades.
My mom was like, “We’ll go tomorrow after school. Go to school. We’ll go to the hospital after. We’ll do this fucking thing. We’ll see what happens.”
I’m like, “Alright, cool.”
I went to school in the morning. I told my best friend, and I’m like, “Yeah, fuck that, though.” But this priest heard us, and he asked my friend what the deal was. He told on me. He totally narked me out. I was very dramatic in high school. I had a sense of entitlement or something. I was a real smartass, and I had very little respect for authority.
I’m in class, and they come and pull me out. They’re like, “We called your mom. You have to go to the emergency room. You have to get your evaluation now.”
I was like, “Oh my god. Who the fuck told you that? Did my friend tell you?”
They were like, “Uh.”
I’m like, “Whatever, dude. We’re going to go after school. What am I going to do? Kill myself during the school day?”
It was ridiculous. My mom worked in a trade. She was an elevator mechanic, hourly. It was a hassle for my parents to have to leave work. They didn’t work on salary.
Des: I didn’t even know that existed.
Chris: I should tell you my mom’s very interesting history of non-traditional work, which is probably why I questioned gender roles so much.
Des: I want you to talk about that, and I want you to define “twice exceptional.”
Chris: Okay. So, my mom came to pick me up, and she just told them off. I was so appreciative of the way she was like, “Oh yeah, she was really going to kill herself during the school day.”
She took me to the hospital. We had to wait for hours. They called in the people from the Clifford Beers Clinic, which meant nothing to me at the time. He was one of the most important trailblazers of human mental health treatment. He was a psychiatrist who was mentally ill, and his clinic is in New Haven.
They sent someone, and they did the evaluation. The longer I waited to see her, the less I was going to tell the truth. I was like, “I am depressed, but no, I don’t want to kill myself.” I tried to throw it on drugs. “I do smoke a lot of pot and stuff.”
She let me go with my parents, but she said, “She has to see a doctor.”
That was a debacle. That was my first experience. The day I went and they told me I needed to be in the hospital, my grandmother was like, “Are you trying to ruin our family name?”
I was like, “Number one, what family name? Number two, what’s more important? Me? I’m an only child. I’m an only grandchild. I wish I was dead.”
But that night my mom had me stay at my grandparents’ house, and they were very upset. I found out that one of my grandfather’s best friends, his son had killed himself, and that’s part of why they were so upset. They were like, “You have no idea what that did to Frank and his wife.”
So, twice exceptional, or 2e, means I was identified as a kid as gifted, but now we know that I also have ADHD.
After that sophomore year suicide thing, I really pulled my shit together because people cared. I had this year or more where I felt kind of adrift, to people being like, “We want you to be okay.” Even my classmates. Everyone really rallied around me. When I look back on it, I was so lucky that happened. Kids can be so mean, but they weren’t.
I started my own clubs. I was like, “I’m not interested in any of your clubs, so I’m going to start some.” One of them was called Students Against Drugs. It was really more of a social thing, but we wanted to do stuff. I really had a thing about wanting people to not be addicted to drugs or alcohol—my father was an alcoholic, and I could see the damage that it caused. I was clean, and I was trying to do well.
Junior year was going pretty well, except it wasn’t. There were these paradoxes. We start junior year, I’m class treasurer, and we had a meeting with this guy. I’m going to call him Ben. Ben was a great guy. He was the drug and alcohol coordinator for the public schools. I was pressing my private school. I was like, “Why don’t we have a drug and alcohol program? What the hell? The public schools do. Oh, do you think that there’s no drugs here because it’s a Catholic private school?”
I was all in their face, and they were like, “Okay, well, we’ll call this dude in and see what we can do.”
I was unable to regulate myself, and I was in the meeting. I was kind of going off on them because the administrators were saying, “Well, this doesn’t happen overnight and stuff.”
I’m like, “No, bullshit. It happens now. There’s stuff I can do. I want to do presentations and stuff.” They were giving me a hard time.
Ben was like, “Why don’t you give me a call tonight and we can talk about what happened here?” I did call him that night. He was like, “You need more credibility. Your heart’s in the right place, but you’re a real hothead.”
Then a series of things happened. I brought a gun to school on Halloween, as part of my costume. It didn’t have a trigger. It was my friend’s gun, and he took the trigger out. I wore it on a holster and brought it to school. No one noticed all day or cared, until someone did.
Then the principal wanted it, and I was like, “No. Fuck you. It’s not even mine.”
She was like, “Give me the gun, Chris.”
They gave it back to me at the end of the day; this is the difference between 1989 and 2015.
There was an incident where I locked the health teacher in her office, and I was like, “If you fail me in gym, I’ll kill you!” I was that kind of kid. I was also class officer and a club person. You know what I mean? It never made sense.
People were like, “You make no sense. We can’t understand why you want to die, ever, because you’re smart, and surely you have this great future.”
I was like, “Oh my god. I’m not going to have any great future because I just can’t stay alive.”
Things were going well when the whole gun thing happened. Then me and my friend got expelled. It was kind of the last straw for them. The day I got the letter was the day that I would say was my first [attempt]. As much as I had thought I tried to kill myself in eighth grade, this time I tried much harder. It’s been a long time, and I still have my scar. I just remember I’m bleeding all over the place, but I can tell it’s not going to kill me. I’m like, “Son of a bitch. What does it take?!”
The doorbell rang and the health teacher was at my door. I’m all bloody. I’m like, “Get the fuck out of here. I don’t want anything to do with you. I just got this letter saying they’re kicking me out.” It was failure that made me want to die. I couldn’t even imagine switching to another school. I was a junior, and it had taken so much work to [get where I had], because I never felt understood.
One of the biggest issues with 2e is that you never fit in. As a kid, I was identified as gifted and put in only part-time, with only other gifted kids. I didn’t belong with that because I was different than them. I was like a freak, but I also wasn’t like the other kids either, even the ones who did drugs or whatever. I could connect with all of them, but I didn’t feel like I belonged with them. The idea of starting over at a new school where I knew five people was like, “Are you kidding me?” It was social disaster.
I had recently gotten a therapist. Honestly I had known the man for less than a month when I did my arm. I showed up to his office with a short sleeve shirt on because I always wore short sleeve shirts.
He was like, “Nice arm.”
I’m like, “Really? That’s all you’re going to say, dick? You don’t even care!”
He was like, “If you were dangerous, I would know.”
I flipped out on the man. I was like, “You son of a bitch,” but he did help.
Even when things were going well at this school, I could never stop thinking of death as an option. It was always there. It was like my escape hatch. I’d think, “If shit doesn’t get better, then I’ll just die. It’s cool.” I really didn’t think that it would be that big of a deal. I thought that my parents could then do whatever they wanted to do.
I made it through junior year. Ben, the dude that I had talked to that night, he was at this new school, so I connected with him. I was very honest with him. By the end of the year, I trusted him. I was honest, and I was like, “I wish I was dead.”
They called my mom in. I was like, “You motherfucker.”
Again, there’s this [paradox]. I interviewed people [from my past] over the summer, and they were like, “Yeah, we let you swear us up and down and stuff because you were different.” They can’t really articulate it, but I feel like they were afraid that, if they didn’t handle me properly, I really would kill myself or someone else.
Then I decided to start using drugs. I was like, “Well, fuck this. I’ll just smoke pot, drink, and do cocaine.” I was obsessed with doing cocaine for some reason. I can’t really even explain it. It’s like I knew I would love it and, unfortunately, that turned out to be true. But I made it through high school, mainly because I could never really get the mental health treatment I needed, but I could get treatment for substance abuse.
I ended up going to rehab, kind of—it’s not that I wasn’t using drugs, but I was no addict. That’s a long story. It’s hard to really know. I smoked pot to make sure I had a dirty year when I showed up at rehab. That’s kind of evidence that it wasn’t an everyday thing, but I went.
It kept happening, where I didn’t want to be mentally ill. I didn’t want to go to the mental hospital, and yet that just kept coming up. I’d go to rehab, and right away, the nurse is on the phone, and she’s like, “Oh, this kid. This is a psych kid. We’ve got to transfer her.”
I flipped out on her, and I started looking for a phone. I said, “I’m going to call my mom. Fuck you guys.”
But they were like, “No.” They were a for-profit treatment facility, so they just ignored the nurse, who was actually correct. They were like, “No, no. You can stay in our drug program.” I only stayed for a week.
Things got better after that because I went into recovery. I embraced it because it was a plan I could use to be better. They kind of outline it for you, right? Go to meetings. Do this. Do that.
Then I wrote a book. It was the end of senior year. I’m certain that it was my first manic episode because all of a sudden, I just wrote a book. Bam. I didn’t really sleep, and I was just busy.
It’s funny. I’ve been putting my journals on my blog. It’s hilarious, because when I look at them, I’m like, “Oh, what the hell? Did I ever sleep?” I was such an idiot. It’s funny. Now, I mean. It wasn’t funny at the time.
I was going away to Arizona State, and it looked like I was doing great by the time I went. I’d given a copy of the manuscript to this author in my hometown because he interviewed me for his book about kids and addiction. I’m like, “Oh, dude. I just wrote this book. Here.” Two weeks after I arrived at Arizona State, I got a letter from him saying that Macmillan wanted to publish it. I was like, “Um, oh. Holy shit.” I’d just started college. It was a good impression to make on all of my new friends there.
So there’s the book, and everything is cool, except I’m having panic attacks. I didn’t know they were panic attacks. I kept going to the emergency room because all the symptoms of panic attacks are like you’re going to die. I would pass out sometimes. My heart was over two hundred beats a minute.
I had to leave ASU my first semester. I went back, but that was a blow. Now there was a contract [for the book], and I had to do it. The book was disastrous. You can’t write a book exposing all the shit you’ve done with all your friends in high school and expect that people are going to be cool with that at all. People have no idea, when they do autobiographies and stuff, the ramifications of it.
The panic increased. Of course, I relapsed before the book came out. I had not been suicidal for a long time. The book came out. I’m like, “Cool, I’m a published author. I’m using drugs again.” It was incredibly bittersweet. I could not enjoy it, and it should have been incredibly enjoyable. It should have been the best thing ever. Instead I was like, “I’m such an asshole.”
I returned home to Connecticut. My parents were like, “We can’t afford to keep paying for you to go to school. You’re not even doing well. All you do is smoke pot.”
I’m like, “Yeah, alright. I’ll come home, and I’ll make a go of this book thing,” but that’s not how it worked. I got home and my thinking changed in a different way.
I was taking film classes at NYU because I started to major in playwriting my second year at ASU. I was like, “Cool, I’ll go to NYU Extension for the time being, and that will be nice.” Since my hometown was on the train line, it was no big deal. I really enjoyed going to Manhattan at first, but then I started being delusional for the first time. It just felt really good. It didn’t feel like it was a bad thing. I would stand there on the subway, and I would think, “Oh my god, if these people only knew how amazingly fucking great I am. If they only knew the greatness that I have to offer the world, they wouldn’t even believe it.” I couldn’t even go to class. I would go to the World Trade Center and be up in the observation deck like, “I am on top of the motherfucking world, and I’m going to change the world.”
Eventually, that wasn’t sustainable. I was this published author/loser who worked at Barnes & Noble.
One of my friends from high school moved in, and she was kind of a mess. I decided one night that I was going to smoke crack with her because I was like, “Why not smoke crack? It sounds fun.”
I was losing. The delusions were gone, and I just didn’t even want to deal with the way I felt. I started hearing voices, and I started being very paranoid. I had a gun. I would imagine that people were threatening the house, and I would go in the driveway with my gun, loaded and ready to take on whoever was out there. I realized that it didn’t feel right. I didn’t realize the extent of how off that was, but it was. Things were getting worse and worse.
Long story short, I was like, “I either have to kill myself or I have to escape Connecticut.” To me, Connecticut was the root of all my problems—the whole Northeast.
It was winter. It was like the worst winter in twenty years or something, and I was like, “Well, I got to get back to Arizona.”
The girl who was living with us was like a nomad. She didn’t have any ties. I had the day off from work, and we had just bought twenty hits of mescaline, so I called her at her nanny job, and I’m like, “Dude, find someone to watch those kids. We’re going to Arizona now. Like, now.”
I was switching into mania because I was so psyched by the idea that we were fucking leaving, and she couldn’t even drive a stick. She didn’t have her license. It was an idiotic move to bring this girl with me to Arizona, but who else was going to go? You had to be fucked up to even go along with that plan. We packed all our stuff really quick while my parents were at work, and just headed out. I was so thrilled.
See, here’s the thing. I had been to a psychiatrist. Finally. I picked a dude from the phone book because the mental health clinic in town was so overbooked that they were like, “Well, you can see a doctor in four weeks.”
I was like, “I can’t wait four weeks. I can’t wait,” so I just picked a dude out of the phone book, and went to him.
He’s like, “You need to be hospitalized.”
I was like, “No. That’s the worst shame in the world. I won’t do it. If you try, I will knock your teeth out. Literally, I will stand up and punch the shit out of you.”
I just left. Now I had to leave Connecticut, so it all kind of fell together in that way.
We got to Arizona. Everything was great at first. I was so motivated. After feeling so depressed and just wanting to die, I got there, I was with my old roommates, and everything was fucking great. I got a job really quick as an admitting clerk in the ER at a Phoenix hospital as a temp, and I liked my job. It was midnight shift, which is like 7:00 P.M. to 7:00 A.M., which is not cool. Now I know that for people with bipolar disorder. You need sleep.
All this shit happened where I pissed all of my old roommates off. One of them was going to come back, and I was with my friend from Connecticut who didn’t have a job. The one solid roommate I had left for the summer to go live with her boyfriend. I was a little concerned about that because our rent was a lot, and I made like six dollars an hour. I did the best I could. I went to my job, but our friends did meth. I had never done meth. I had smoked crack in Connecticut, but in Arizona, it was meth. That didn’t help, obviously. There’s less sleep. I was doing it to stay awake at work.
All along, I had started hearing voices. In Connecticut, they had gotten worse, but in Arizona, it had gotten better. When I got there, the decreased stress made it better, but it wasn’t completely okay. It was manageable, but the more we didn’t have money, and the more it looked like we were just going to lose everything because no one had a job but me…
My parents were super pissed that I just took off. No one in my family was happy. I couldn’t admit to this failure. I had fucking failed. At the end of the day, when I think about it, every time that I actually made an attempt to die, it was because I had failed. I had not lived up to my potential. I couldn’t be homeless.
It’s funny because, without going into how I did it exactly, I did something so fucked up on my first attempt. There were like two attempts within a month. It was weird how that happened.
The first time, it started in my house. I was like, “Okay, in order to die, I need to leave the house, get in the car, and drive, because now you guys know and you’re going to call the police,” but they couldn’t call the police because the phone got shut off. The power and gas were two seconds behind, and that’s why I had to die. I was like, “I have to die. I can’t be homeless. I can’t call my parents and admit that I failed. I just can’t go on.” It was like a block.
I got in my car. [My roommate] gets in the car, too. I’m like, “Get the fuck out. No.” I can only make it a mile, by that time, in my condition. I was all shot. We get to Target because I’m like, “Okay, I can pull into the Target parking lot.”
She runs to the phone and calls my mom. By the time I get to the phone, she’s handing it to me. She said, “It’s your mom.” She’s handing me the receiver on the payphone. You can tell that was a long time ago.
I was like, “No, I can’t talk to my mom. I’m dying. What the hell am I supposed to say? No, I’m not going to talk to her,” but I went to another payphone because I was so out of my mind. It blows my mind that I was able to remember the calling card numbers and the number. I called my therapist from high school, but he didn’t answer.
I couldn’t breathe. I thought I would die way before. I wasn’t expecting to have respiratory distress. I’m like, “I need something so that I can breathe until I die.” I’m not even sure what that line of thought was, but I went into Target. That shit didn’t help at all.
Then I can tell [my roommate] is on the phone with 911, so I bolt across the street to this gas station. I’m leaning up against the payphone there because I can’t even stand anymore. I [decide] I’m going to call Ben. Ben was my teacher in high school, who had me sent home multiple times. He was such a great guy, and so concerned. I thought, “I would like to say goodbye to Ben before I die.” Partly because Ben was so fucking hellbent on me staying alive that there’s a part of me that kind of wants to let him know that I’m dying. There’s nothing that he can really do about it. I didn’t mean to say that, but once he was on the phone, I said it. I said, “I’m dying.” I’m laughing. “I’m dying and there’s nothing you can do about it.” I don’t think there’s anything I’ve ever done in my life that was asshole-ish and cruel as that moment.
“Where are you?” he said.
“Hah! I’m in Arizona, motherfucker! That’s why you can’t do anything. You’re in Connecticut.” But then [my roommate] showed up and slammed the receiver down. I was like, “Dude, Ben knows I’m dying.” Then the ambulance showed up. I tried to run. I ended up at the hospital.
Ben had called the Tempe 911 or whatever and told them what was happening. The cops showed up at my house, where my other two roommates were, with drugs all over the place. The cops didn’t care. They were like, “Your roommate’s dying, so that’s our priority.”
So, there was that attempt. My mom flew out. She was horrified by our home because the house was all in disrepair. It was fucking filthy because I had been working and wanting to die. My roommates hadn’t been working, and they didn’t care about anything. It was gross. She helped us get shit back on track. She got the phone reconnected, and she tried to get the landlord to let us out of our lease. He wouldn’t because he was a dick. Our rent was more than I even made in a whole month.
The next week, though, my parents were going to Las Vegas. Just a couple days before my attempt, they had bought me a ticket to go, too. Maybe they could tell there was something off. I went to Las Vegas, but my brain was just so shot. The pills really took a toll. I just wanted to sleep all the time, and I was in Vegas. I had just turned twenty-one; I could gamble and drink. It was so exciting, and yet there was this pall over it. I thought, “No, I’m okay, though. I’ll go back and it’ll be okay.” But, no.
It was funny because, the first time, I couldn’t believe they even let me leave the hospital. I didn’t have any insurance. I signed power of attorney over to my roommate. She was like, “Whoa, no.” I think that they thought that by doing that, she would say I needed to be in the hospital. I just walked out.
I went back to work, but the hearing of voices was much worse. It was getting worse and worse. I hadn’t told anyone because I was like, “You can’t be crazier than this.” It was very traumatic. I don't know if people understand how traumatic that is, to have it start happening to you.
I finally told [my roommate]. I was like, “What should I do?”
They had not been nice to me the first time in the hospital. They were really angry with me that I was going to leave them in a ditch with nothing. They weren’t concerned about my health so much as their own being fucked if I died.
I was hesitant to even tell her, but I was like, “Dude, what am I going to do? I’m hearing fucking voices.”
She was like, “Oh my god.” She was so nice. “Well, go to the clinic you normally go to and just tell them the truth. They won’t keep you there. They’ll just give you some medicine for it.” They did. They gave me Haldol.
I mean, I worked the emergency room. I’ve watched a million people come in and be shot with Haldol. I’ve watched them be restrained to the beds in the emergency room. I’m like, “Oh, my god.”
So, now I’m working and I can’t think. I extra can’t think because of the Haldol.
At work, they were like, “What’s your deal? Your performance is so shitty now. You used to be so fast at your job, and now you suck. What’s up?” I told one of the nurses that I trusted. I was like, “I’ve been taking Haldol.”
They were like, “Uh, you’re done.” I lost my job.
Now I really have to die. Now this is it. I am actually going to be evicted. I couldn’t have felt more like a failure. I was sure that this time it would work because I was still so sick from the first time, and now I had an extra pill to use. If I could just time it better and no one could notice.
The only reason my roommates found out the first time was because [one of them] was taking [one of my medications] and found it empty. She was pissed and came in the room shoving it in my face. I’m like, “What the fuck?” And then I’m theoretically dying. I’m like, “You thief!” I’m yelling at her.
The next time, I just took it all again. Neither time was there any thought. It was just impulse, like, “I want to do this, and this seems like the moment that it might work,” so I did it.
This time, they were like, “Fuck you. We’re not even going to call 911.”
I’m like, “Well, good! Awesome, because that’s what I want, right?”
Luckily, there was a kid living with us who was about eighteen. He was a little younger than us, and he was so sweet. He was from the country in Pennsylvania, and he had this accent. He was like, “Oh man, Chris.” He was tearful. He said, “You have got to call.”
I’m like, “If you call 911, I’ll kill you.”
He was like, “I don’t know how you’re going to.”
“Don’t,” I said.
He said, “Please, if I call—I don’t even know what you’ve done. Will you just tell them?”
I’m just losing it by the moment. He shoves the phone in my hand, and I just remember being like, “Hello?”
The next memory I have is on the couch with the paramedics. I’m not being cooperative and the IV situation was not going smoothly. Then I remember waking up in the hospital again, and this time it was worse. I was in the ICU, I had pulled the IV out of my arm, and went to get out of bed. I was jerking. The Haldol was making my body and my legs jerk. I was jerking so far off the bed and so uncontrollably that I was like, “Oh, my god. What kind of fucking hell is this that I’m not dead right now?”
To the nurse, I’m like, “Please. What can you do?”
They’re like, “Well, we can use better restraints because you’re clearly a threat—a flight risk.” In a weird way, it did help.
I was like, “No, no, you don’t need to do that.”
They were like, “We do. At least, until the psychiatrist talks to you.” In a way, it helped because my legs were no longer visibly jumping off the bed.
Again, with the doctor, I just denied it. I was like, “I wasn’t trying to kill myself.”
They were like, “Well, that’s just a fucking lie.”
I said, “But that’s what you’re hearing. I’m not changing my story.”
Again, I walked out. We were so poor. That was part of the problem.
They were like, “We need you to give us fifty dollars.”
I just was like, “Here’s this American Express card that doesn’t work.” They ran it and it got declined. I was like, “I don't know what the fuck you want from me.” I left.
That time, my mom flew out the next day again, and she was like, “You have to go back to Connecticut. You’re done.” She was right. There was nothing else to do. I was living in my car with no air conditioning in Phoenix and it was June. So we drove back to Connecticut.
Des: That sounds like the worst thing.
Chris: Right? It was fucking terrible. I couldn’t have felt more despair. At home, though, I had a gun.
I was like, “Well, I’m just going to smoke crack again,” because crack did help in the very short term. One night I had smoked crack, and it had been so unsatisfying because I had to share. I went home, I took the gun out from under my bed, and I was like, “This is it.”
Mind you, after telling Ben on that phone call that I was going to die, I [didn’t call him back] anytime soon. I never said, “Hey, I am okay.”
I’ve got the gun on my lap, and it’s like one o’clock in the morning, maybe. My parents are asleep. I’m at their house, and that’s all part of the problem. I shouldn’t be at my parents’ house. I’m twenty-one. I didn’t know what to do. I was like, “What should I do? I want to die, but I published a book last year. Maybe I could turn it around.”
I woke my mom up, and I was like, “I really want to die. I think that maybe I should go to the hospital. I know that sounds crazy, and I’ve avoided it for years, but I think that that might be the only thing that helps.”
She was like, “We’ll go in the morning.”
I’m like, “Sure. I’ve had this gun in my lap, but yeah, okay.”
I smoked a joint and just chilled. I managed to sleep for a few hours. I woke up, my parents were at work, and I was like, “Okay. Well, what I am going to do? Am I going to actually follow through and do this? I really feel like I could do something. I want to die, but maybe I should do this.”
I packed a bag to drive myself to the hospital. I wrote a journal always, so I grabbed my journal. I’m like, “I need a book to read while I’m at the emergency room,” so I picked The Iliad, of all the books in my room. It was just sitting on this shelf, and I’m like, “Oh, Homer. That will make me feel good.” No. That’s like the worst choice possible. When your brain is like that, you can’t read that shit. It’s way over the newly-overdosed brain. I also thought to myself—and this is important—“I’m going to bring this hat.” I liked baseball hats. I didn’t wear them frequently, but I’m like, “I’m going to wear this hat.”
It’s kind of my joke that Erving Goffman would think is fucking hilarious. I marked myself with a stigmatized identity. I chose to wear a hat. I drove myself to the emergency room, actually walked in, presented myself, and said, “I want to die, and I’ve tried twice in the last month. Last night I had a gun in my lap.”
They saw that as a borderline thing. I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t realize how it was viewed in the emergency room when you presented like that. I thought that I was doing something that would be seen as, “Oh, good. You’re awesome that you want to live,” but no, that’s not how it went at all.
So, even though I presented as voluntary, after a couple hours there in the locked crisis unit, I was like, “Dude, screw this, I just want to go home.”
They were like, “No, you’re not going home because we called your doctor that you last saw here, and you’re a danger to yourself.”
I freaked out and tried to punch my way out of there, which didn’t work out. I ended up hospitalized for the first time. Even more so than the suicide attempts, it was like the ultimate failure. It was a state hospital. I had no money.
I had this hat. They took the hat away from me in the emergency room. That’s important. I was like, “I’m wearing this hat once I get it back.”
I wore the hat every day for five years. A baseball hat, every day for five years. Until I chose, in 1999, to end that career of mental illness. I just threw it out because I had to stop because I moved to LA. I wore the hat the entire time that I had it—because between that hospitalization and Los Angeles was this period of time in Las Vegas where it just was all shit.
I got out of the hospital. I moved to Las Vegas with my parents a year later. I struggled in Connecticut. I really tried to get my shit together. I went to the hospital, but unfortunately, at the hospital, one of the issues is that you meet a lot of people. I was on a dual diagnosis unit, [with people] who were not only mentally ill, but addicted to crack and heroin.
Another thing that I found interesting: I felt I was treated very differently because I was the only one there who was white and middle class. The fact that I owned my own car was [unheard of] to the other patients. It didn’t occur to me really that when we got out and hung out, it would be in the projects. I kind of hooked up with this one guy. Didn’t really hook up, but almost.
Also, though, to think that the hospital can keep you safe is just ridiculous. Oh, they can keep you as safe as they can keep kids in a first grade classroom. My first time in the hospital, there was this dude, Juan. They were checking him for competence, and he was scary. He wouldn’t talk. I couldn’t tell if he really could speak English, but this guy that I was wanting to hook up with was Puerto Rican, so he spoke Spanish. He would be like, “Juan, stay the fuck away from my girl,” and all that.
Juan didn’t care. One day, I’m walking by his room. At that point, he’d been confined to his room, but he could walk out to this little line. I walked by, he steps out, and pulls me into his room, and he goes, “I’m going to fuck you,” and sticks his tongue in my mouth.
Because of the gender thing, I never had time for dating and shit. You know what I mean? I liked guys, but I was not what they were looking for. I was like, “Whatever. I’m sure it’ll happen eventually.”
I was pretty stunned when that happened. It also happened to my pretty roommate. He had done the same thing to her the day before. We had talked about it, and she had not told anyone. I was observing the people of the hospital and seeing how things worked, and I could see that telling people shit was useless, even though my doctor was fantastic.
But yeah, that happened. I ran in my room and told my roommates. Then my guy was all over Juan. In group the next day, we were all morose, and my doctor’s like, “What the hell?” [The hospital was] affiliated with Yale, so it was all residents and stuff, and my doctor was there all the time. You couldn’t even escape the fucking guy. He was nice.
Des: Which never happens.
Chris: Which never—exactly! The ten times in the hospital after that, I expected it to be like that, where there would be attention and people caring. Oh, no.
In group, Juan said something from his room to piss off my guy, who went over and just unleashed in Spanish on him. My doctor’s like, “What’s going on?”
I’m like, “Dude, he fucking pulled me into his room and said he was going to fuck me yesterday.”
He’s like, “What?!”
[My roommate’s] like, “Well, me too!”
He was like, “Why wouldn’t you guys tell me?”
We’re like, “Yeah, do you fucking care? Can you keep us safe from him?”
In another hospital, I had a dude climb in my bed, so I can’t be friendly with a man without him thinking that means I want him to climb in my bed? What’s up with that? But that’s another whole story.
I left that hospital and I just kept smoking crack with these people, and doing heroin now because my roommates did heroin.
Des: How are you alive?
Chris: I know. I would enjoy doing heroin and smoking crack and driving, but then I would have to puke because I was a total newb with the heroin. I had to pull over and [throw up] out of the car and just drive on. My parents were like, “Oh my god. What the fuck?” It was our proximity to New Haven that was really making it easy for me to slip on the highway and grab that crack, so we moved to Stamford.
In Stamford, I started pulling my shit together. I got a job as a temp, and I was doing okay. I really was, but it completely changed my [perspective]. I was like, “Well, forget college.” I went from spending my whole life wanting to be a doctor to being like, “I just want a job at any national park. It doesn’t even have to be a national park. Any park service park in the west. Don’t care where. I just want to work outside, not have to talk to people, and be a hermit.” That’s all I wanted.
Stuff was happening with my parents. They moved to Las Vegas, so I went to Las Vegas, too. I’ll skip ahead through Las Vegas, but I just wanted to die.
I found a doctor. His name is Sam. He changed my life. He really did. He was a real dick at first, like many white men in their forties who are psychiatrists and make a ton of money. I think that he liked me. He saw that there was more to me than what appeared to be borderline personality disorder—I have a lot to say about that in some other area because the symptoms of that, of being intense and shit, they’re all symptoms of twice exceptionality too. There’s so much bias. But not with Sam. He was a good guy. He got me through some serious shit.
My last year there, I made it to Kansas State. Again, I had failed at the community colleges and UNLV. I would go and just screw it up somehow. The first time I screwed it up because I was agoraphobic. I had gone from having friends and being all about socializing to just living in my bedroom. I gained like one hundred pounds in a year.
That’s when I met him. All these people in Las Vegas never knew me. In Connecticut, everyone knew me when I was young, and they were like, “Oh, you were so smart and so promising. What the fuck?” In Las Vegas, they were like, “Oh, you’re so mentally ill. You’re so sick.” They wanted me to leave this guy alone, and that just made me want to talk to him more. So I made it my business to call Sam and be like, “No, you're going to help me. Really.” He did somehow. After three years in Las Vegas, he and his wife at the time helped me go away to school.
I get to Kansas State, and it was a miracle that I was there. I mean just seriously fucking miracle. What killed me was that I had a serious manic episode that summer, but when you look at it now, the shit that they were calling delusional is so not delusional. If you look at what I wrote that summer and you think about me now, you’d be like, “Oh, yeah. Totally. This is all possible and even happening.” But back then, it was like, “Oh, that’s a delusion.” I was still really high mentally when I got there.
Instead of embracing the classes I had registered for, I holed up in my dorm room trying to create my own major of something that didn’t exist and just spent all my time on that. I was like, “I don’t need to sleep.” I’m up in the middle of the night doing all my shit while people were sleeping. And I threatened to kill somebody.
I was clean for months, and I started smoking weed. One of the international students told me that this girl next door to me had dimed us out to the police, and I threatened to kill her. I didn’t realize it was a big deal to threaten to kill someone. So, I went to this guy’s wing and did a hit of acid or two. I’m tripping. People come in and they’re like, “Oh my god, dude. The cops are looking for you. Just stay here.”
I get kicked out of that dorm, move to another dorm. I’m like, “I can handle it, right?” Sam, being very helpful, was talking to me still from Las Vegas. But my new roommate, oh! She was a big pothead and all about the Kottonmouth Kings. The problem was that I was twenty-five, living with eighteen year olds, but I was at their level emotionally. I had the four eyebrow piercings. I always wore a hat. I was weird. I looked weird. After I got moved to the other dorm, I was starting to get depressed. Then I totally blew it and allowed my roommate and these two guys that we had befriended [to take my medication]. Between us, we took about fifty Clonidines. I really wanted to get high.
We all really wanted to smoke pot, so I encouraged [my roommate] to go out in her mom’s car with this guy and get weed. They were just not showing back up, and me and [the other guy], we eventually fell asleep. She, of course, wrecked her mom’s fucking car and had had sex with the guy. Her panties were in the car, so her parents were extra pissed about that. They were super wealthy Republicans, from Abilene, Kansas, right? They had so much money. I was fucked. My parents were broke, losing their house back in Las Vegas.
She couldn’t be in our room anymore. I was alone all the time, except when people would visit. I really wanted to die again. I had never wanted to die as much as I did again there at Kansas State, but the people at Kansas State were amazing. You wouldn’t think it. The stereotype of Kansas, generally, is not that they’re incredibly supportive of people with mental illness, but they were. At the disability resource center, everyone was on my side and helping. I’d had a disciplinary hearing over the threatening of that girl, and the assistant dean of student life had taken an interest in me. He was such a good guy.
I went back to the Menninger Clinic because it got very close. I had a real plan, and I was going to go for it. This time, I was alone and I could do it.
I was a Tripod [member]. I don't know if you remember [the website] Tripod. It was like 1998. People had their sites, and I did the mental health pod and the mad computing pod.
I put the newsletter out for the mental health pod about suicide being an option, and basically said, “I’m going to kill myself, and I want you all to know that there’s nothing wrong with that.” That was my message for the newsletter that went out to all these people. Someone called. Then I’m talking to Sam, and he’s pissed. He had never done this, but he called the mental health center and was like, “I’m worried. She needs to go to the hospital and be evaluated.” I went and they did. At the emergency room in Manhattan, Kansas, they were not equipped for that.
I went back to my dorm room, and Sam was pissed, but… This girl had read my newsletter, tracked me down, called the Kansas State police and had them come to my room. Thank god I was on the phone with my psychiatrist when they showed up because he was like, “Alright, bring her to the hospital and have a unit evaluation.” Again, unscathed.
Then I made new friends because there were always new people around, right? I went to Hays, Kansas. I had never been to Hays. I didn’t know Kansas. I was very new there. I went with this girl and these few guys, and I almost died accidentally from asthma. Seriously, I had been so suicidal two days, three days before. It was the most hilarious thing when I think back on it. All I wanted to do was smoke weed, and we couldn’t find any, which is good because I would definitely be dead, I think, if we had.
We were staying with my friend’s sister in her trailer in Hays. They’re all trying to sleep, and I’m just crouching against the wall. I’m turning blue, can’t breathe, don’t have an inhaler. Her sister was in nursing school, and she was like, “If you don’t take your friend to the hospital, I’m going to have to do it.”
They’re like, “Is it really that serious? She said she doesn’t have to go.”
She’s like, “I don’t care if this girl tells you. She does.” We get to the hospital and oh my god, yeah, I was going to die. I was so angry the next day. All I had to do was nothing and I’m dead!
Des: That’s what you get.
I had to leave school at that point. I had to go back to Las Vegas. Massive failure. I tried. I was like, I’ll just get back into my computer stuff and the pod and everything. Sam was pretty done. It took a while. I’m glad that it didn’t ruin our therapy relationship, but it definitely threatened it, and it took a long time to be cool with him again.
I became a serious crackhead. That’s how I didn’t have to kill myself. I just moved to the ghetto. I was the only white person within like a three-mile radius. I just smoked crack until eventually my crack friends and homeless friends were like, “You have to do more. You got to get out of here. Do something. Get educated and come back and help. This is fucked up that you’re just here smoking crack. It’s not right.” They were getting angry.
I was like, “I have as much right to be here smoking crack as anybody.”
My parents were moving to LA, and they were like, “This is it, dude. Do you want one more chance to start over?”
I was like, “Okay.”
Six months later, I met my husband, Jason, in California and things got better.
Des: You rode off into the sunset?
Chris: Well, not perfect. It took a long time, but yeah, kind of.
You know, it’s funny: from Las Vegas, the only time between 1999 and now that I’ve absolutely wanted to kill myself and been completely suicidal again, was after I had my son and had postpartum depression. I was so cocky [about breast feeding]. I was like, “I don’t need my medication and who cares if we’re going to Houston for a few months and I’ll know no one?”
I almost just walked out. I thought, “I’ll just leave. I’ll just go be homeless again because I don’t want to die on him, but I also can’t be his mother.”
Jason was like, “Hello, Ms. I Hate Cockroaches. We’re in Houston in July. Enjoy your time homeless.”
Jason is the reason why I am okay. He is stable. As soon as I lived with him and moved out of my parents’ house… he’s just solid. He’s such a nice guy.
I was like, “Why do you like me? Six months ago, I was a crackhead. I wear men’s clothes.”
I remember everyone was like, “Ooh, Jason, so awesome.” Obviously he would never want anything to do with me.
He was like, “Well, yeah, get over that.”
He just won’t take credit, and I’m like, “Dude, it’s not like I’m saying take credit, but just acknowledge that it was your stability and awesomeness that let me be stable.”
The thing that I hate most about my story is how little I can help other people with exactly what helped me. Oh, go find a man with great earning potential so that you can go to school for ten years and not have to work. It just worked out so well. It makes me feel almost guilty. I mean, luck, privilege—but we struggled for a long time financially because I was unable to work well.
That’s why I kind of had to do what I’m trying to do now, where I just kind of want to be an academic mercenary. I’ll make your training or whatever. I really want to speak. I feel like that’s where I can help people. I need to help other adults, especially, understand why they feel so fucking misunderstood, because that’s the thing. How many adults are there, especially when you open up your view of what giftedness is? Then all of a sudden, it’s like it’s a much broader group of people than it appears. You don’t have to have some awesome SAT score or whatever. It’s not about achievement. It’s about personality, and it’s about your reaction to things. Until like two years ago, I just couldn’t make sense of shit, and now things make sense. It’s crazy.
Once you understand these are the characteristics of having giftedness—and any sort of bipolar disorder, dyslexia, it doesn’t matter what it is. There’s like thirteen fucking categories of what could be twice exceptional, right? From blindness to dyslexia. There are all these adults right now who are like, “Why can’t I succeed? What am I missing? What is the piece of the puzzle that I can’t figure out?” Dude, it’s that, and there are other people like you. That’s why it’s the most exciting thing for me. To be like, “Oh, there are other people! It’s not just me.”
Des: Tell me about your feelings regarding gender, because you seem to pretty clearly identify as heterosexual.
Chris: It’s weird, dude. I know. I’m all about the pole. It’s just really weird. I think it’s because my mom just never dressed like a feminine person. I’ve always worn boys’ clothes. I just like them better. I didn’t understand. Why would you wear a skirt? It just didn’t make sense to me.
All my friends were boys until like sixth grade when I finally had a girl best friend. It never occurred to me that it was, like, even a deal until like seventh grade. Then I tried to reinvent myself and force myself to try to wear makeup and wear girls’ clothes, but I just couldn’t ever get into it. It was weird.
I was talking lately to one of the women I’ve been working with in Kansas. She’s a women’s studies person, and I told her I never felt sexism or that being a woman was in any way an obstacle of any sort until mental health services in Las Vegas. I just never felt like anyone treated me differently because I was a woman in any negative way until therapists looked at me pathologically because of my non-conformism with gender roles or whatever. I acted too much like a man. I was angry.
I remember my first times in the hospital with Sam in Las Vegas. I had these black steel toed boots and my hat and stuff. I was just like, “I will kick the fucking shit out of you.”
People were like, “Did you have a gender identity crisis?”
I’m like, “No. I know that I’m a woman and I’m cool with that, but does that mean I’m not allowed to wear steel toed boots and fuck someone up? No.”
It’s weird. I felt like I could never win.
Des: That was when they were saying that you were borderline.
Chris: Mmhmm. It’s not okay for women to be angry.
Des: The one question that I ask everyone is: is suicide still an option for you?
Chris: That’s a funny question.
Des: I like this question.
Chris: It’s technically always an option, right? I mean we all have free will and the ability to do it. Do I feel like it’s any longer an option? No, I couldn’t do that to my son. Honestly, I couldn’t do it to [my husband] or my mom either. So, personally, no, it’s not.
Des: What would you want the reader to take away from your story?
Chris: Especially after doing this autoethnography, spending so much time on it and interviewing people… it was my ability to ask for help and to reach out that made a difference. The fact that people were willing to look past how difficult I was and be there. It’s other people. My story is not my story. It’s all of these people who were there for me, for years—would still be there for me and are still there.
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.
Christiane'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 Christiane's interview, and to Sara Wilcox for editing.
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