Lauren Kaminsky is a behavioral therapist and teacher. She was 30 when I interviewed her in New York City on June 1, 2013.
TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of methods
Through my teen years, I dealt with depression on and off. I didn’t really recognize it as that, though—just a lot of mood swings and turbulence and supposedly typical teenage stuff. I lost my grandmother when I was in middle school and I never really dealt with that. I went into denial at first and then the real deep sadness and depression, and I didn’t go to therapy. I didn’t do anything that I probably should have done. Me and my grandmother were really, really close, and I didn’t have a lot of other people. I had my parents and an uncle, but the bond that me and my grandmother had, I didn’t really have with anybody else. And not dealing with that, it just resurfaced.
I was 17 years old and I got into a huge fight with my mother, I mean, huge. I said horrible, nasty things to her. She had never, ever laid a hand on me, but she slapped me. I said some horrible things, trying to put that pain out there, I guess. I had to get a reaction. And that was it.
I was like, "Okay, I have no one now. I lost my grandmother and the only other person I’m close to is my mother." We would fight a lot, and when that happened, it was like, "That’s it. Alright, I’m alone and I’m miserable and I’m done," and I was done.
I went upstairs in the house and I went into the medicine cabinet looking for whatever I could find that I thought would end it. I took a bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol and took a huge handful and just swallowed them, and I didn’t realize that my youngest sister saw me do that. I went back downstairs and I wrote my suicide note, my goodbye, and went to sleep.
I was like, "That’s it. Okay, so I’m gonna go to sleep and I’m done."
My little sister went to my parents and said, “Lauren took a bunch of pills out of the medicine cabinet.”
I was asleep and my mother came to my door. She asked me if I did and I said no. I went back to sleep and then she was really worried and she came back and asked me again. She had got my father.
She said, “Tell me the truth. What did you do?”
I admitted that I took a huge handful of pills. Actually, I think I said, “I took a couple Tylenol, Mom, I’m fine.”
My father got me out of bed right away and my mother called the poison control hotline. They said, “You have to take her to the hospital right away.”
I can remember my dad walking me up and down the street trying giving me tons of water, trying to get me to throw up and to stay conscious. They got me to the hospital, but they didn’t call an ambulance. They drove because the stigma was still there, and I think they were scared even to take me to the hospital. I was 17 years old and was this gonna affect my future, somehow? Even though I wasn’t ready to have a future, they were still worried about that.
At some point I lost consciousness. I still wouldn’t admit to the nurses at the hospital how much Tylenol I had actually taken. I said, “I just took a couple of pills.”
Eventually my blood work came back and she said, “You took a lot more than a couple.”
I ended up in the ICU overnight. At one point, it was late at night. I had woken up and I guess the nurses were taking my temperature, doing something, and they thought I was still asleep.
I overheard them talking about me—the fact that I was there—and one nurse said, “I just don’t understand. I can’t understand how someone this young could think things are so bad that they would want to end it.”
It just made me feel horrible laying there. The other nurse said she could understand, and that debate right there, that argument was part of my depression and made things worse for me because I had a fantastic childhood, for the most part. I grew up in a middle class family in the suburbs. I wanted for nothing, and so feeling miserable and feeling like I couldn’t be happy in that situation—how am I ever gonna be happy?
It was tough and it was really hard. I know it was hard for my parents. I was in the hospital for a few days and it was difficult after the fact with the shame of it.
My father was bringing me flowers to the hospital and I was like, "I don’t deserve flowers. I didn’t get sick. I did this to myself."
Accepting their love was really difficult. At that point, I just wanted to hide. I was still depressed and I just wanted to be finished.
I got a psychiatrist and I got onto medication and there was a complete change. Not everything was misery, I guess. Not everything. I wasn’t constantly anxious.
It just allowed me to walk around and be like, “Wow, this is how people walk around. Everything’s okay. This is normal, right?"
Even now, it’s been 13 years, and I think back to, episodes of my childhood where I was full of anxiety and didn’t realize I was, and didn’t realize how—I don’t even know what the right word for it is—how not carefree I was. I was just not a carefree kid. I was shy and nervous, anxious, but I was able to hide it really well. My teachers would notice, but I did really well in school. That was really important for me.
My teachers would say things like, “Lauren knows all the answers in school, but she doesn’t raise her hand. It’s like she’s scared of her shadow.”
That’s just the way I was. I didn’t know any different. When your body is that way, probably since birth, my brain chemistry is that way, and that’s all I knew. After everything, being on medication, I think, has saved me, because it’s gotten me to an even playing field. This is how most people can exist and not [have] the crazy ups and downs...
Des: You’ve been on medication the entire time?
Lauren: Since then, it’s been crazy. When it happened, I was 17, so I was on my father’s insurance and I could get the medications and I could get therapy, and therapy was fantastic. I lost my father’s insurance when I was 20 years old and I haven’t had my own insurance since then, so it’s been all Charity Care or the local clinic and whatever medications they could give me. I couldn’t necessarily get what I needed, so I tried new things and had some really tough times, really tough—horrible anxiety, panic attacks.
To this day, I struggle, but I’ve been on some type of antidepressant for the last 13 years. It’s like my safety line, my safety blanket.
My psychiatrist has asked me, “Do you think you can go without it? You want to try and...?”
I’ve tried. I’ve gone, like, a month without and it’s... I can’t. I feel like I need it. I really need that to keep me sane and even.
Des: You don’t have insurance now? What happens in those times when they switch your meds?
Lauren: Well, now I’m working three jobs and I have a psychiatrist that I just pay out of pocket. And, thank god, I can take my prescriptions to the local super store and get them for relatively cheap.
But in years past, that wasn’t the case. It was just whatever medication they were hawking at the time was what I could get, so I would have different reactions. Some would turn me into a zombie. I remember I was sitting at my desk on one of the medications and doing some homework for college, and I just had this rush of, ‘Oh my god, I’m gonna die.'
It was the worst panic attack that I ever had and I couldn’t move. I couldn’t get myself to move, but all I could think was, ‘I have to open the bedroom door so that somebody will find me.’ That’s how bad my reaction was to some of the medications.
Right away, I said, “Okay, this is not gonna work,” so I would go back to the clinic and try something else or take myself off for a while. Whatever I had to do to get through.
Des: So, do you rely on the medication? Do you ever feel trapped by it?
Lauren: I do. I definitely think it has affected certain aspects of my personality. The creativeness, I feel, is severely limited. I don’t know if there’s something to that idea that every artist is a little nuts, but [my creativity] is gone. I like to paint and I want to paint, but the inspiration almost isn’t there and the talent, somehow, is gone. Sometimes I think my sense of humor is less. I’m not as quick. I don’t know, that might just be because I’ve been on antidepressants for so long on and off that I feel like my memory [is affected], and I’m not as clever or as quick as I once was. But that’s something that I have to live with, because the other option for me is not something I want to go back to. I just can’t get back to that place, so I’m willing to take that to make that switch.
Lauren: Yeah, that tradeoff.
Des: Do you parents talk about it?
Lauren: No. I mean, it’s acknowledged.
I told my mother was I coming here. My father overheard, but we didn’t really have a discussion about it. I told my little sister, who I credit with saving my life, because I would have just went to sleep and that would have been it.
My mother thought it was really cool. She was like, “Say whatever you need to say and get it out there. This is really awesome.”
They’re very, very supportive of me. My mother was instrumental in getting me the help that I needed early on—the therapy and whatever medications I needed and whatever doctors I needed to see—and she’s done her best to help me since then.
It’s almost hard to say the word 'suicide' or, “I tried to kill myself,” out loud. I would use words like, “that time,” or “when that happened,” or “the episode,” or “when I was in the hospital.”
I would work around it and I wouldn’t really say what exactly had happened except when talking to my parents or extended family members that knew because, when I was in the ICU, they weren’t sure if I was gonna make it or not. My mother made phone calls to her sisters, and so I felt the next time that I saw them that it had to be addressed. I couldn’t act like it didn’t happen, but I don’t think I ever did use the word 'suicide.' They would question me about it and I would somehow use different words to talk about it.
Des: Has that changed?
Lauren: No. It hasn’t changed. It’s still so difficult for me right now even to talk about it this many years later, even with all of the support that I have, ‘cause I’m afraid of being judged. I’m really afraid of what people are gonna think if they hear that about me. Is it gonna affect my relationships or my jobs? I work with children, so are parents gonna think I’m nuts or that I’m not stable?
Des: So your friends don’t know, then?
Lauren: No. I’ve never told. When it happened, I was in high school and I was petrified. I didn’t want anyone to know.
I could talk about my anxiety. For some reason, anxiety is more accepted and it’s not a big deal. Everyone has anxiety, although it kind of gets written off.
Like, "Oh, everybody has a panic attack."
I’m like, "Not really. You really didn’t just have one. Let me tell you what a panic attack really is."
So, that I could talk to my friends about, or just try to make it the typical teenage mood swings, or just be like, “I can’t stand this.” But I never told my friends that I tried to kill myself.
Des: What made you decide to come here?
Lauren: I think what you’re doing is really, really important. To get rid of that stigma, to get it out there is important, and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to do what I’d been afraid to do.
I wanted to say, “This is what I did,” and put it out there finally.
Des: Are you scared of what your friends might say?
Lauren: No, I’m not. I’m really not. I don’t think everyone would understand, but it is what it is, so I think it’s something more important than my friends understanding. This is for someone who it might help.
Des: Do you still think about suicide?
Lauren: I do in a way that is completely different. It’s more anxiety-induced.
It’s not a planned out, 'Well, I can just end it.' It’s more of a, 'I’m having a bad day. I could just run into a pole.'
It’s quick and it’s me telling myself it’s an option, and in the next second it’s not an option. I don’t even really know how to explain it. It’s so different, though. The thought is still there. Every once in a while, it will pop into my head, but it’s not something that I want. I guess it’s an impulse now that I can control more than I could at that time.
Des: [Is suicide still an option?]
Lauren: It’s not.... Like I said, I’m not gonna lie and say it’s not a thought or something that pops into my head, but it’s not an option at this point. I think a lot of times about what I would have missed if I had [died], and especially at special occasions. I graduated from college last summer and that would have not happened. At happy moments, it kind of hits me that I’m lucky. I’m so lucky. I’m really so lucky to be here.
If you’re feeling suicidal, please talk to somebody. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 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.
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