Erin Seto drove all the way from Atlanta to meet me in Orlando, FL. She was 29 when I interviewed her on January 10, 2014.
TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of methods
I really don’t know where to start. I thought, when I first volunteered I thought I was totally prepared, and then I ended up going into the Institute over the summer. I had never been in the hospital for any of my suicide attempts before, so it was kind of a completely new experience.
Des: This summer?
Erin: This summer. I had a trip where I went to Tybee, Georgia—it’s Tybee Island—for over a week and, when I came back, it was really rough, ‘cause the trip, there was a lot of drama between my friends. Two of my friends broke up and, at a point of it, one of my friends got thrown in Institute. His girlfriend broke up with him right when his grandmother died, and the trip was really rough, ‘cause I remember her telling me—sorry, I get really teary-eyed when I talk about it—she had told me she didn’t understand people who [attempted] suicide. She thought it was really weak. It was kind of a shock for me, ‘cause I knew she was a psychology major.
She had not made it to her masters yet, so she’d never done clinical, but she was like, “Yeah, I think he tried to swallow sleeping pills once for attention,” and that made the rest of the trip really awkward ‘cause she rode with me.
Des: Did she know?
Erin: She knows I’ve gone through depression, but she didn’t know about my suicide attempts, I think. So she came back and I heard that she walked into the apartment and broke up with him, so he kind of went crazy and they called the police and he asked the police to kill him, and then she posted it on Facebook.
It was really dramatic for me, hearing that, that she was announcing someone’s psychotic episode on the Internet. I guess I had my birthday, and then two days later I tried to swallow a box of sleeping pills. She was supposed to be moving in with us, which was kind of part of the psychotic break, for me, I guess.
I went to the hospital and I got admitted to Ridgeview. I’m actually surprised. It’s one of the best places in the South East. It was an interesting experience for me, I guess. I’d never really actually been admitted into a hospital for it.
A year before, [my ex-husband stopped me before I could make an attempt]. Before that, I had actually been going to Georgia State, and there was a point where my ex-husband and I almost—well, we split for a year—I found out he had kind of cheated on me. We had been having relationship problems.
I didn’t know I was going through bipolar, so I’d be depressed, and we were having relationship issues. I was not doing well in school. I tried to jump off a building on campus. A security guy saw me up on the building, talked me down, and told me to go to the counseling department at Georgia State.
They were like, “Here’s some paperwork. You should withdraw for the rest of the semester and pull yourself together,” and so I withdrew.
Well, I stopped going to school, but I never got the paperwork in, ‘cause I was just too depressed. I moved away and I kind of went through a really rocky phase.
Des: That was how long ago?
Erin: Back in 2008. I guess I’ve gone through depression most of my life; I just never knew about it. It’s all jumbled up in my head when I try to think about it.
It was funny. When I first got [into the Institute], the first 24 hours you’re there—even if you’re voluntary—they make you stay on the 24 hour suicide watch. It was hilarious.
Everyone’s like, “You’re in the fish tank.”
I’m like, “What’s the fish tank?”
They’re like, “Oh, it’s this glass room. You can’t leave there except to go to the bathroom and they watch you even then.”
During my first meal there, they’re like, “Here’s spaghetti and here’s a spoon.”
It’s like, “This isn’t going to work.”
It was like that, and they made us write a lot, and just, finding out that a lot of people who were there in the ward were like, “Well, I went off my meds and I couldn’t get a doctor, so I had to come in to the Institute just to get on medications again.”
I think the first time they let me out was really funny because one of the people who was in one of the rooms next to me told the orderly, “She’s going to make a run for it!”
I’m going, “What? No, I’m not!”
They’re like, “Okay, we’re going to have to watch you now.”
I’m like, “He was joking. It was a joke. Why would I try and run away?”
They’re going, “We’ve had people try that.”
I’m going, “Why?!”
Des: How long were you there?
Erin: I was only in for about 5 days. I went into the ER on a Wednesday and I was able to check out on a Monday night.
Then I started outpatient therapy, ‘cause they’re like, “You’re responding really well to the meds!”
Which, ironically, one of the reasons why I had my mixed episode was because I couldn’t get meds. Every psychiatrist I talked to said they had a waiting list to admit people.
Des: To take people on?
Erin: To take new patients. They’re really, in Atlanta especially, they have a long waiting list. The doctor I have now, the only reason I got in is because my ex-husband let him know I was coming out of Ridgeview.
He was like, “Oh, you’re coming out of Ridgeview Institute? Yes, definitely, we don’t want you to go off your meds for too long.”
It was nice ‘cause I got to learn a lot of things. I think being in the Institute was the first time I ever talked to anyone about when I was raped. I hadn’t even talked to my ex-husband about it, but they were like, “Okay, you’ve been raped in your past. Alright, here’s a special class just for you.”
It’s like, “What? Really?”
They’re like, “We have [classes for] if you’re an alcoholic, if you’re dependent on prescribed drugs, and—here you go—rape and battery! This is your class!”
I’m going, “It was ten years ago, it’s not that big of a deal!”
They’re like, “Yes, it is.”
The whole time, they do a lot of religious connotation in there even though they’re not a religious place. We did, I guess, I can’t remember what the prayer’s called.
Des: The Serenity Prayer?
Erin: Serenity Prayer. We had to do that beginning and end of every class.
Des: It’s a good one!
Erin: It’s okay.
Des: It’s the idea behind it, you know?
Erin: The idea behind it’s okay. I know one of the teachers made me laugh.
She’s like, “If you don’t believe in God, you know, you could always have a Serenity Prayer like you’re praying to your psychiatrist.”
I’m like, “Really?”
[She’s like,] “You know, you’re praying to your meds! Please give me the strength, you know, whatever.”
I’m just like, “Okay, I pray to you, meds.”
Des: That is not a better alternative. When was the first time when you attempted?
Erin: I think it was when I first went to college. High school, I had always really been depressed, but I never had a really good reason to.
When my parents were going through the divorce, I was like, “Oh, everyone feels like this when they’re going through that kind of thing,” and I think it got worse ‘cause my senior year was when I was raped.
When I went to try and talk to my friends about it, a lot of them did the whole, “Oh, you deserved it, you provoked this, you provoked him, he’s a great guy, he would never do that... I think you’re misconstruing things.”
I never told my family. And all my friends at that time were kind of like, “You’re just trying to get attention,” so they stopped talking to me and I lost a lot of my friends.
Des: I was going to ask you if you got rid of those assholes.
Erin: I ended up losing them. For the longest time I blamed myself, but ever since going to Ridgeview, I was kind of realizing it wasn’t my fault.
Des: So rape class was helpful.
Erin: It was.
Des: Tell me more about the hospital. Is there terminology they use in Georgia for being committed?
Erin: [It was a 1013.] The hospital was crazy. I didn’t want to go. My ex-husband took me because poison control told him that’s what you need to do. By the time he found me, it had been hours and hours after I had taken the sleeping pills. We spent like 24 hours in [the hospital], ‘cause they put you in a holding area after the ER, and they try to assess you and where to put you.
Des: Try to find a bed for you?
Erin: Yeah, they had to do that. It was really crazy. I also have diabetes, so they were really freaking out about that. When I was in the Institute, they never believed me on how much medication I was supposed to take.
They were like, “Oh, no no, you might be trying to hurt yourself with your medication.”
I had to call my ex-husband and be like, “Call the nurses and tell them I need more insulin! I feel like crap!”
Des: Didn’t they have your records?
Erin: They didn’t call my doctors or anything. They were like, “We work on a sliding scale here, so we’ll take your blood and we’ll give you insulin based on how high your blood sugar is.”
Des: That sounds negligent, [not having the records].
Erin: It was a little crazy. The only good part was it got to be at the point where I didn’t even have to worry about my insulin.
The nurse would come in at 7 AM and be like, “Give me your hand.”
I’d be like, “Okay,” and then she’d take my blood, and she gave me a shot and I’d go back to sleep for another hour and I was okay.
Then they’d come in and go, “Here’s your night insulin,” and they’d give it, ‘cause they don’t let you handle anything sharp.
I was like, “Oh, I can go to sleep; they’re going to give my medication to me.”
Des: So you were born with diabetes, then?
Erin: No, I actually got diagnosed with diabetes the first time when I was going to Emory for a depression study.
They’re like, “We do a free study at Emory,” and they got me through all the stuff. They’re like, “We think you have borderline personality disorder,” which I don’t, but they’re like, “We’re going to start you on these medications, but your blood sugar’s come back a little high. Can you go to your physician and get that tested and then come back to us afterwards?”
My doctor’s like, “You have diabetes! We’re gonna put you on meds and see how it goes.”
Emory’s like, “Come back once you’ve got that handled, ‘cause we can’t, cause that can skew the drugs,” and I never got it under control.
I’m still juggling my diabetes…
My doctor, I told him about it, and he’s like, “Yeah, diabetes and depression, they go hand in hand.” He’s like, “50% of my patients have depression because your blood sugar can affect your mood really badly.”
Des: I’ve never heard that. That’s interesting. Wow.
Erin: Yeah. I was kind of surprised.
He’s like, “I’m so proud of you for going and getting medicated.”
I’m going, “Thanks, everybody else is telling me to ‘shut up and just take the pills, crazy.’”
Des: That’s funny. I’ve been staying with my grandparents [in Orlando], and I pulled my meds out and just sat them on the kitchen table for in the mornings so I don’t forget to take them.
My grandmother’s like, “Take your crazy pill yet?”
She’s got depression too. It’s not a judgmental thing, it’s just funny. It’s like, “Got your crazy pills?”
Erin: ...I have bipolar so I have to take—God, I can’t even remember [how many meds]—then there’s also meds for my anxiety disorder. I have agoraphobia. I don’t like going out in large places or huge crowds.
Erin: Oh, it’s fine. Tomorrow will be the test: I’m going to Disney! I’m going to do something depressing and then go to the happiest place on earth!
Des: Seems fun! Lots of people. Holy shit.
Erin: I’ve brought all the Klonopin.
Des: So you’re never coming to visit me in New York, then?
Erin: I want to come to New York sometime. I’ve been brave. I go to Detroit occasionally for a convention. I drove this year and I was like, “I drove across the country! I can do anything!”
Des: Your ex-husband was with you for 2 or 3 of your attempts?
Des: How did he handle it?
Erin: I think this last one was kind of the biggest one for him. There was actually talk about divorce right afterwards when I was in the hospital. This last one actually tested a lot of my friendships. It was kind of hard. Nobody came to visit me in the Institute except my ex-husband, ‘cause a lot of people were scared and didn’t know how to handle it. A lot of people told him I did it just to get attention.
They’re like, “You know, she’s just doing this to hurt you, man. You should probably leave her. You should get out while you can. Just leave her in there.”
When I got out, it was kind of hard trying to readjust to a lot of my friends who helped push me into that emotional state.
They’re like, “Well, I don’t want to hear what you went through. I don’t want to know what happened to you. Just take your meds and shut up about it.”
For awhile I thought it was going to be really bad, but I started going to therapy for my anxiety. I ended up quitting my job at the bakery ‘cause I got too anxious. It was just long hours and lots of stress. My coworkers would yell at me every time I’d have an anxiety attack and I’d start crying, and you know, the last thing you need when you’re crying is someone going, “You need to stop crying, you’re upsetting the customers.”
It’s like, “I’m trying to stop crying, but you’re yelling and that makes me cry harder!”
Des: That was the first time you were hospitalized? Had you ever gone to the hospital, the ER prior to that?
Erin: No, I never did. Let’s see, the attempt before, my ex-husband had caught me... I actually had done a lot of things.
In my head, I was like, “Okay, I need to get all my affairs in order.”
One of my friends who has depression kind of recognized it, and he called me up and was like, “What are you doing?”
I was like, “I’m doing nothing.”
He’s like, “Go talk to your husband right now, ‘cause I have the feeling you’re trying to do something stupid.”
I talked to my ex-husband and he pretty much took away all the stuff that was tempting to me to try to, and then the next day he’s like, “I found you a therapist. It’s not a psychiatrist, but a therapist, and we’re going to go.”
The time before that was on campus... That’s what shocked me the most, because I was on Georgia State campus and no one even thought to... I don’t know.
I was worried they were going to try to arrest me, but they were just like, “Go to a counselor’s office.” They weren’t even worried.
It’s like, “I’m not much better than I was a second ago...”
The counselor I saw on campus wasn’t very helpful. She’s like, “You know, everybody goes through this at your age,” and I was kind of shocked by that.
Des: Why were you shocked by that?
Erin: I guess everyone kept telling me all the time that this is what everyone goes through and you need to be able to get over it. I was always wondering, what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I, why am I not like everyone else? Why can’t I just get over it?
Des: So it was less comforting to hear there are others like you?
Erin: I guess it was kind of like that. It’s one of those “you should be able to fix yourself [feelings].” I’d always be like, I’m not able to fix myself. It’s like, what’s wrong with me?
Des: Why did you decide to tell your story?
Erin: I was really tired of being controlled by my fear and my anxiety, and I kind of felt like being able to share it with someone would be able to help me with that. It’s kind of hard to hide from it when it’s right there on the internet. I’ve been wanting to talk to a lot of my friends about what I went through, and a lot of them either stick their heads in the sand or they just don’t understand because they’ve never gone through depression.
Des: How would you want them to react if you shared this with them, or if you talked to them about it?
Erin: Everyone’s entitled to their own reaction. I guess the biggest thing is to accept it however they can. I guess that’s the biggest thing I’ve really learned from going in—it’s okay to feel sad.
Before, it was like, everyone was telling you, “Don’t ever be sad, don’t be upset, don’t be anxious.”
That was the biggest thing.
Des: How do you feel about the diagnosis, or how do you feel about the label and what is attached to the label?
Erin: It’s really actually kind of upsetting, but that was one thing they tried to hammer into you at the Institute.
Every session that you had, you had to sit down and say, “Hi, I’m so and so. I have bipolar, unstable moods, and anxiety,” and you have to say, “Well, today I’ve had homicidal or self-hurting thoughts…”
They go through this checklist and make you tell how much sleep you’ve had, what emotions you’re going through, so, at that point, you kind of get used to explaining what you’ve got. But I know, for me at least, it’s always frustrating because the medication is a pain in the butt. It’s one of those things where it’s like, you’re never going to stop taking those meds, because everyone who’s ever come back to the Institute, they’ve said, is because they went off their meds.
Des: You said you were cutting for like ten years?
Erin: Yeah. I think that was the big thing.
In high school, I never was able to really talk to anyone about feeling sad because I always felt sad, but my mom was always like, “Oh, you’re an A/B student, you are in all these different clubs, you shouldn’t feel sad.
All my friends would go, “Everybody feels like that. You just shrug it off and get over it.”
I don’t even remember how I learned to cut, but I remember that when I’d get really upset, I’d feel like I needed to be punished, so I ended up starting to cut. I’d be really careful about hiding it from everyone because I knew everyone would judge me for it, and it just kind of followed me into adulthood. Every time I’d get really stressed out and have an anxiety attack, I just would cut myself and it helped.
Des: Why do you think it helped?
Erin: I guess it just kind of externalized the emotional pain that I was feeling.
Des: [People don’t really understand the motivations behind cutting,] but it’s the same thing with suicide: “Why are you hurting yourself? Why would you do that? That’s so selfish, blah blah blah.” It’s the same thing, but unless you’ve felt it, you’re not going to get it.
Erin: Yeah, a lot of my friends are like, “Yeah, you tried to kill yourself. Why would you do that? It’s a cry for attention.”
I think the friends who really get it are… My online friend out in California, he called me afterwards. The whole time, I didn’t have a cell phone when I went in, and they don’t allow you to have one in the Institute.
When he heard from me, he was like, “Oh, I was so worried.” He’s like, “I don’t know what you’re going through, but if it’s that bad that you felt like death was the only option, next time, you can call me. Anything.”
I was like, “Wow, I didn’t even know somebody cared that much.”
Des: You’ve talked a lot about online friends, but you’ve also talked about in-person friends, and it sounds like the in-person friends—tell me if i’m wrong—are less supportive.
Erin: Most of them are less supportive. I’ve kind of dropped most of the ones who aren’t supportive. My social circle got smaller, but I do have a few friends.
One of them was supposed to come down with me here, but his job was like, “No, I’m sorry, we can’t give you the time off.”
I was really happy that I do still have one or two friends who are like, “I understand what you’re going through and I’m here for you.”
It was very surprising because I got to see a lot of people who, before, I thought they were my friends, but it’s like, wow, when you air your dirty laundry out, everybody’s like, “No.”
Des: What is the basis of your online friendships? Where do you find them? Is it roleplaying? Gaming?
Erin: Well, I play a lot of MMOs, and I guess I roleplay in those. I’ve found, it’s really weird, but a lot of people who roleplay have depression, and a lot of them have told me they do it because they’re unhappy with who they are in everyday life and it’s nice to escape and pretend. I play Guild Wars 2 right now. I used to play City of Heroes, but the server shut down.
People are like, “I want to play someone heroic, a hero, somebody who can make a difference in the world…”
I’ve actually met a lot of my online friends in real life, and it’s kind of funny because they do that whole, “You’re so open online, and then you get together and you’re so shy! What happened?”
I’m going, “I’m so scared! I don’t know!”
It’s like, if I do something dumb, I can log off and go away, and it’s fine.
I’ve known my online friends in Detroit for like five years now and I still get to see them like once a year. One of them up in Detroit, actually, she does counseling in inner-city Detroit. It’s been kind of crazy talking to her about stuff, because I didn’t realize she suffers from depression. She took a five month sabbatical because it’s really hard to help someone else with their problems when you’re going through depression.
She talked to me about talking somebody down off of a roof—one of her clients—and I was like, “If that was me, I’d probably be curled up on the ground going, ‘Oh my god, the person I’m supposed to be taking care of is on the roof; I don’t know if I can talk them down!’”
Des: I’ve met so many of my internet friends.
People are always kind of like, “Why the hell do you meet people off the internet? What are you thinking? You’re going to get murdered or something!”
My wife’s always like, “You have so many friends on the Internet!”
I’m just like, “Yeah, I dunno, they get you! They’re not all where you are. All the people who are going to understand you are not going to be in your immediate surroundings.”
I remember reading many years ago—around when Everquest was popular—about how depressives are drawn to these roleplaying games.
Erin: I’ve always been into video games, but a big thing for me is that I’m kind of introverted. For me, when my battery gets really [low]—I had a New Year’s party, I had like twenty of my friends there, and it was really great.
But afterwards I was like, “I don’t want to go out, I want to stay inside, I’m going to play my video games, I’m going to cook dinner for my ex-husband, but I don’t want to go out.” Going to the grocery store sometimes can be very [overwhelming] and I need to pull the Klonopin out, because small things start to freak you out.
I like being social. It’s just one of those things. When you’re online, you can gauge how much you’re being social, ‘cause you can easily go, “Alright, I’ve been online talking to somebody for thirty minutes, I’m going to log off and go read a book,” and nobody can really complain at you.
Des: Is suicide still an option for you?
Erin: I don’t think so... When you’re reasonable it’s easy to say, “Oh, that’s not ever an option,” but when you get really emotional, and you think it’s the end of the world, it’s the end of the world, you don’t really think very logically.
Des: Tell me more about that, what you’re thinking when you’re suicidal. Tell me about how that feels, because I’ve noticed that, when we do talk about mental health, we’re not talking about exactly what that feels like. How can we express it to people who don’t understand?
Erin: When I get really depressed, it’s one of those feelings… for me, I physically feel terrible when I’m depressed. I feel achy, I feel like there’s this heavy weight on my chest like something’s just stepped on me. Even the smallest things, like knocking over a glass and breaking it, I found myself just sobbing for hours, angry at myself.
Like, “Oh, I shouldn’t’ve broken that glass, I should’ve been more careful.”
Everybody’s like, “It’s just a glass. You can go buy another one.”
And it’s like, “No, I shouldn’t’ve done that. I’m such an idiot. I’m a terrible person. I messed up.”
And now they’re like, “You’re so hard on yourself!”
I have all these voices in my head that are telling me, “Oh, you shouldn’t go out today because you look terrible,” or, “You need to make more effort. You’re not smiling so you shouldn’t probably show your face.”
I’ve never understood where all these voices came from.
Recently, my therapist made me become more self-aware.
He’s like, “What are these voices saying?”
I started pinpointing, and I’m like, “Yeah, I’ve heard some of my girlfriends talk like that.”
They’re like, “I just feel so fat today.”
I’ll look at them and I’ll go, “If you think you’re fat, I’m a lot bigger than you, so what do you think of me?”
To my face, I hear them say, “Oh no, you’re not that fat,” but then I remember hearing those same people talk about other people when they’re not around, and it’s made me very paranoid.
I’m like, “If you say that about someone else, what do you say about me when I’m not in your presence?”
They’re like, “You’re paranoid,” and I will usually try to think one step below because I just don’t want to be surprised when something bad happens.
Des: Go a little more into detail what it feels like when you feel suicidal.
I guess, for me, I’ve heard a lot of, “I know when I’m feeling that way I feel like a burden, I feel like no one would miss me.”
Other people have said some of that stuff. I’ve interviewed a couple of people who are moms and I’ve subsequently heard people criticize them, like, “How could you leave your kids behind?”
Are you selfish, or do you feel like it’s a favor? How do you feel?
Erin: I guess when I get into that, I get into a huge circular thought.
[When I was with my husband, I’d be like], “Wow, if I was gone, my husband wouldn’t have so many medical bills to take care of. He could be with a prettier wife. He’d be able to hang out with more friends.”
My ex-husband has a lot of really pretty female friends... I’d been paranoid that he’d find somebody who didn’t have emotional issues, who wouldn’t have fights with him.
It was like, “Oh, he’ll find Ms. Perfect somewhere out there if I’m gone.”
I used to think, “Well, none of my friends and family seem to notice when I go into a depressive phase, so they probably won’t care. It won’t be any different if I’m gone permanently.”
I get into that circular thought, like, “If I kill myself, I won’t be in this pain anymore.”
Being dead, there’s nothing else to happen, so it’s not like you can regret your own death.
I guess, at that time, I was always thinking like most people do, like, “No one’s going to miss you.”
For me, the biggest thing is when my online friend did call me when I got out of the Institute. He was crying in the voice messages he’d sent me. ‘Cause I called him right before I took the pills. I told him I was really sorry and I wanted him to let a couple of our friends know that I wouldn’t be around, and he kind of put two and two together. In the voice messages, I got so upset. I couldn’t believe that I put him through that.
If you’re feeling suicidal, please talk to somebody. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860. If you don't like the phone, check out Lifeline Crisis Chat or Crisis Text Line. If you're not in the U.S., click here for a link to crisis centers around the world.
Thanks to Kate Waide and the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, a Live Through This partner organization, for providing the transcription for Erin's interview.
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