Amanda Clevengeris a suicide attempt survivor.
"I survived a suicide attempt."
Amanda Clevenger is a cosmetologist. She was 26 years old when I interviewed her in Seattle, WA, on March 1, 2016.
CONTENT WARNING: lengthy discussion of self-injury and trichotillomania
I grew up with my mom, my sister, and my stepdad. My mom got into alcoholism and for a good chunk of my childhood wasn’t really alert. My stepdad really took care of us. After a while, she met this person and he moved in with us. He ended up marrying my sister, but he wasn’t really great with me.
For a while, I had a restraining order, so I ended up getting taken from my mom. The courts put me with my dad. I had a not-so-great childhood which, I think, played into some of my issues.
2014 was probably the roughest year. I attempted suicide multiple times. I was inpatient psychiatric care eight times in 2014. I was in the ICU a lot from overdosing.
It’s kind of strange talking so openly to somebody about it, because usually people don’t ask, and they look at you funny and stuff. It’s not a bad thing, because it’s kind of nice to talk to somebody about it who’s not going to look at you weird.
In the beginning of 2014, I met somebody who I had been talking to online in a spiritual chatroom. I met him for the first time face-to-face. [He was] somebody who I’d been talking to for over a year. [I] thought he was a good guy. He wasn’t. He assaulted me in my home.
I down spiraled after that. [I] decided I didn’t care anymore. I had shared my entire story with this guy. He knew everything about me and I thought I could trust him. I mean, it wasn’t a romantic relationship. We were friends. We met to watch a movie and it just didn’t go well.
A couple days after that, I overdosed for the first time that year. I was in ICU and then thrown into inpatient. But it’s not long-term care, it’s short-term. They see you for three to five days, maybe seven, then send you home and tell you you can handle it after that. But I didn’t, so I ended up right back there a couple weeks later.
All throughout 2014, I was inpatient, in and out. Eight times total. I didn’t really start to get the will to live until towards the end of the year. I started intense therapy, counseling, and groups. Then I was put in this housing at the beginning of last year with intense therapy. I’m still working through it, but it’s been a year and a half now since my last attempt, which is really great.
I kind of went through it really quickly.
My whole thing is: suicide is such a taboo topic. Nobody wants to talk about it. We’re not supposed to talk about it, but we need to. Someone needs to start the conversation. That’s why I got involved in this, because I feel like you’re helping the conversation. It’s so important, because I don’t want anybody to ever feel the way that I felt.
The resources that we do have are filling up. Some of them aren’t that great. I’m lucky to have a really great place to go for counseling, but eventually it’s going to fill up. Not everybody has these resources. Not everybody has this support system. Not everybody talks about it, because like I said, we’re not supposed to. I’m tired of it. Getting healthy, being well, and being sane isn’t a luxury. It’s a right. That’s why I got involved in this, with you, because I feel like you’re really starting the conversation. That’s really important to do. It kind of makes me emotional. It’s great. It really is.
Des: How much of your childhood and the things that happened contributed to what happened with you and your suicide attempts?
Amanda: I think a lot. It really put in a lot. Even before 2014, the first time I attempted suicide was in 2010, meaning this wasn’t a new struggle. It wasn’t just because of the assault that happened in 2014. A lot of my childhood really played into it.
For example, the biggest part that played early on was when I was taken from my mom. My mom had an opportunity to get me back. She had to go to court, she had to kick out this guy who lived with us. She said she couldn’t do that to him, couldn’t put him on the street, and didn’t even show up to court. Part of me is like, “My mom didn’t even care. What’s the point in living if your mom doesn’t even care? Why should I care?” It put a lot into it.
I think a lot about my childhood. Sometimes I’ll sit on my bed and think, “What do normal families act like?” Because it doesn’t seem normal. It definitely played a lot into it, because I think everybody’s self-worth is put together by their family, their friends, their history, their lives. Who are you as a person, and how did you become that person? I felt like I was becoming everything I promised myself I wouldn’t be because of my history. Because of my mom. Because of this guy. Because of everything adding up.
The straw that broke the camel’s back—that was the part that everybody looked at first instead of looking at my whole history. I think it absolutely played a lot into it, because if my mom doesn’t care, why should I? If that makes sense.
Des: Totally. How does it feel to be working through it?
Amanda: It’s hard. I’m seven months into coming off of a bunch of my meds. When I was hospitalized, every new doctor would come in and be like, “Oh, you’re feeling this way. Let’s give you another med, but we’re not going to take you off of what you’re already on, and we’re not going to look at how they interact.” Within the last seven months, I’ve come off nine meds, but I’m still on a handful.
I had been pretty numb for a good portion of last year because of all the meds. I decided I didn’t want to be numb anymore. Now I’m starting to feel and remember things. I’m starting to think, “I’ll take numb for five hundred milligrams, please. I’d be okay with numb again.”
It’s hard. It’s really, really hard working through my past, and then [being] constantly afraid that I’ll end up back in the hospital. If not from attempting suicide, from just going crazy, because coming off of my meds is hard and takes a lot of work. It’s not just, “Oh, we’ll cut off your meds and you’re feeling great.” We didn’t know what was working and what didn’t need to be there. To figure it out, I have to come off of everything. It’s been a seven month process. It hasn’t been easy at all. But it’ll be worth it in the end. I hope. If not, then I’ll be really pissed.
Des: That’d be fair.
Amanda: Yeah. I tell my doctor that all the time. If it ends up being crap in the end, I’m going to be really upset. It’s hard, it’s really hard. Some days, I’m sitting here thinking I should just go into the hospital to stabilize the meds, but I know that they’re not going to do that in the hospital—they’re going to give me more, because that’s what they’ve always done. I’ve asked to come off meds before and I’ve been told no, and then I just stopped taking them all. Then I’d end up back in the hospital. Right now, I guess my biggest struggle is just staying sane, staying on the path, and not getting too overwhelmed. It’s hard, but it’ll be worth it.
Des: How did you get into your housing situation?
Amanda: The housing that I live in now is through King County Mental Health and then through a program, Standard Supportive Housing. Basically, my rent goes by my income; I pay thirty percent of my income, which is great. And I get support.
I have my own apartment, so I don’t live with anybody else except my cat, and she really counts as a person or two. But I live by myself and they have people in the office if I ever need something. Sometimes they’ll take us to go get coffee to try and socialize us like we’re feral animals or something. It’s great. It’s support, and that’s what I needed.
I got into it because in 2014, I was living in my own apartment in Federal Way, but I was in the hospital more than I was at home. The doctor suggested that I shouldn’t live alone, so I moved in with my mom for the first time since I was sixteen. While I was living there, she let my sister and her husband move in—her husband was my abuser when I was a kid. It turned really, really bad, really fast.
I applied for housing, but it’s a waiting list, and it’s usually a very long wait. Things got really bad and I was thrown out, basically. I was staying in my dad’s garage for two weeks before I got the call saying that I’d made it into this new housing. They had just opened up the month before I moved in there. They opened the whole building. It’s brand new. I got really lucky, because usually these waiting lists can be a year, if not longer, and I waited four months. I got really lucky with it.
If I wouldn’t have gotten in so quickly, things could’ve turned worse and I could’ve ended up back in the hospital again. Maybe that’s why I got through so quickly, I don’t know. Maybe it was triage. I got really lucky. It’s great housing. We have great staff and people that will come around and knock on your door to see how you’re doing every so often. Every few days, they’ll check on you if they haven’t seen you. It’s nice. It’s independent, but supportive.
Des: That’s pretty cool. Things more people should have access to.
Amanda: Exactly. That’s one of the reasons why I really like what you’re doing, because it opens the conversation. And the walk that I’m going to be participating in—all of the funds are going to fund more research and more resources, things that we desperately need.
I look around. We have a lot of homeless people living out here, and a lot of them have mental health issues or have been in the hospital, but they have nowhere to go. They’re not supported and it’s not right. It kind of makes me feel guilty; like, why am I more special than them? I mean, I’m really glad I have housing, but everybody should have that opportunity. I really want people to open their eyes and see that. It shouldn’t be a luxury. It shouldn’t just be for certain people.
Des: True. And it is a luxury. Being able to have access to care at all is luxury, and it’s a shame.
Amanda: It really is.
I think that’s really all I want by telling my story: for one person to see that I made it through. They can, too. I didn’t think I could. I didn’t think there was another side. I didn’t even care if there was another side, honestly.
I didn’t really have a good support system at first, because I didn’t talk about it. I didn’t talk about how I was feeling. It was like it was shameful, like I was letting people down, letting my family down. My dad was really sick at the time and I felt like I couldn’t really talk to him—what kind of daughter am I if I’m telling him all my problems when he’s really sick? I mean, he was waiting for a kidney. What kind of person am I to stress him out? You know what I mean? I really can’t talk to my mom, because my mom just doesn’t have the capacity to parent. She’s a good person, all around. She can be Mother Teresa to people she doesn’t know. She just doesn’t have the capacity to parent, and some people are like that. I love her, but that’s just how it is.
For a long time I felt alone, and that’s not fair. I don’t want anybody to feel like that. I’m hoping if anybody reads my story, if even just one person can say, “Okay, I can make it through,” then it’s a job well done. I think it’s really great what you’re doing. I really do.
Des: Thank you. You’re doing it, too.
Des: Do you still have suicidal thoughts?
Amanda: Yeah. That’s kind of a loaded question coming from certain people. Not you, but doctors and stuff.
Des: Say more.
Amanda: It’s totally loaded, because there’s not a correct answer. If you say no, you’re lying and not telling how you feel, and then they’re not able to help you. But if you say yes, then it’s like, “Okay, what hospital are we going to put you in today?”
Yeah, I do. Sometimes. They’re not constant like they used to be, but I do think about it. I think about how it would be easier. Like I said, I’m seven months into coming off of meds and there are some days where I’m like, “God, it’d be so much easier if I didn’t have to deal with it and people didn’t have to deal with me. That would open up a spot for somebody else to live in my housing. That would open up a spot for somebody else to have appointments with my doctor.”
In the long run, it’s not like it used to be. I mean, there are days like last week where I went four days with no sleep. Sometimes it comes across my mind, but I think the point of it is that I’m using tools now that I’ve learned in inpatient or from counseling. I think that’s the whole point of it all—use the tools that you have in the situation that you’re in. You can’t really expect anything more, I guess. If that makes sense.
Des: I feel like being suicidal is almost like a result of not having tools. An inability to communicate, either because you actually can’t get the words out or people not being open to it, you know?
Amanda: Yeah. And having a support system. A support system is a huge play in it, because in any group that I ever go to, we always talk about a crisis safety plan. They talk about it in the hospital before you’re discharged. You have to have one. On it, you have to list at least three people you can contact if you’re feeling suicidal or even just having a hard day. If you don’t have people to put on that list, how are you going to get better? You can’t resolve everything on your own. You can’t see your doctor every second of every day. Without a support system—it sounds bad—but you’re almost set up to fail. It’s like you’re given a test that you weren’t given anything to prepare for.
Des: Yeah, it’s tough. And because the Internet is still kind of a new thing to people, we don’t utilize it the way we could.
Des: I have never had a problem making friends, but I have so many friends from the Internet. I have communities that come from the Internet, and I’ve met all of these people. They’re lifelong friends. But culturally, we don’t value that, and people think you’re weird.
Amanda: Yeah. I am more cautious about it just because of my experience with this guy that I met.
Amanda: It was a spiritual chatroom… I used to go on there and people would talk about medium shit, but they would also talk about real life stuff. I was skeptical about the whole psychic stuff, but it was real people. I actually have a few friends who I still talk to who I met on there, who are really great people. But you also meet some pretty not-great people. It kind of alters your view of the Internet. I think that the Internet can be such a dangerous place, too, with Internet bullying.
When I was in school, like elementary, middle, and the first couple years of high school, I was bullied a lot until I moved in with my dad. Really small town, everybody knew everybody, and everyone was really cool. But before that, I got bullied a lot. I still get messages on Facebook from some of those people, saying really cruddy things.
On the flipside, I got a message a few months ago from a girl who used to make fun of me, apologizing for it. So, the Internet can be a great place, but it can also be a pretty dangerous place. I think finding that happy balance is what we need, and I think finding sites like yours puts a really good view of the Internet. There are good things out there.
Des: It also depends on the person and how they choose to use the Internet. I have been working on building the Instagram account for Live Though This. Some of the people I follow are younger kids, and they’re posting pictures of cutting. That’s one of my triggers, so it freaks me the fuck out, but it’s just like, “This is a way you’re choosing to use this.”
Amanda: I think also that the Internet is a way of telling everybody your problems, but nobody your problems. The Internet can be really great for that, you know? For example, did you ever hear of the guy, Jonah Mowry? He posted the YouTube video with the notecards and then it became a huge thing.
He was bullied in school and he was gay, and people made fun of him. So, he pulled out these notecards and he wrote his story. He had music playing in the background and he just flipped through the cards.
Des: And he was completely silent.
Amanda: Yeah. It became this huge thing where people started doing that. When I lived in South Carolina, I had done a video similar to that. I wrote on notecards because, to me, it was a way of telling everybody my problems, getting it out there, and feeling some sort of relief from it, but not telling anybody. Nobody was going to judge me, because chances are not very many people were even going to see my video, because I don’t have a popular account.
I think, in the aspect of these kids posting things like that on Instagram, it’s a way for them to get it out there, but not feel judged for it. I do understand the trigger part. It’s a huge trigger for me. But I do kind of get where they’re coming from. It’s hard, especially as a child or a teenager, to talk to your parents or your counselors at school. I mean, really, who’s a trusted adult when you’re going through something rough?
Des: True. Yeah. It’s hard to see them, because I don’t think cutting is a bad thing. I don’t want you to think that, because I cut myself for a long, long time.
Amanda: No. It’s something that I still struggle with.
Amanda: It’s hard to see it, especially with the younger kids. It tears my heart up to see it, but part of me—this probably sounds bad—part of me is almost glad that they’re posting, in a way. They’re at least getting it out there to somebody. People are going to go on there and some people may say some horrible things, but there are going to be people who are going to say good things and maybe lift them up out of whatever horrible feeling they’re in.
Des: That goes back to how you use it. Some of them do. I see good things happening. Then some of them, it’s kind of like, “I’m not sure…”
Amanda: Then you get the trolls, the people who go on there just to be rude and make people feel worse about themselves. It goes back to how they use it.
Des: Why did you go on the psychic’s website to chat?
Amanda: I had actually done a Google search of “supportive chatrooms.” I was feeling pretty down when I first started using the site. I read an article and it said that it was linked to a chatroom. I went there just to check it out, and there were some really great people on there.
I had gone just for support, to talk to people who weren’t my family, people who weren’t going to judge me, because honestly, I probably would never meet these people. In my mind at first, that’s what I thought. But originally, I had made a Google search of “supportive chatrooms,” and that’s when that popped up.
Des: So, you didn’t care about the actual medium guy?
Amanda: No, not really. I mean, I have a couple of his books now, because he’s insightful, for sure. I’m skeptical about medium shit. I think a healthy skepticism is good. But it’s interesting. He’s written a few books. I don’t really agree with everything he says. He’s made some pretty crazy comments about suicide and stuff, with a couple of other mediums following him.
Amanda: Yeah. It kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Not a huge fan of his, but his books are insightful in other ways. There’s one, I think it’s called Unfinished Business. There’s a few of them. They talk about those who have passed on or whatever. It’s insightful to hear other people’s input, but I’m not particularly fond of him after his whole suicide incidents. There was another psychic who he was collaborating with. They were talking about suicide and gave some pretty poor advice to a grieving mother. It was pretty bad. Some people still follow him, so whatever.
Des: I mean, I think that people want to have hope when they’ve lost someone. Why did you go to South Carolina?
Amanda: I wanted out of Washington. I wanted away from my mom and all the drama. I threw a dart at a map and it landed on South Carolina, so I packed up all my stuff and drove over there. I lived there for a couple of years. I loved it. Went to school.
Des: What happened?
Amanda: My dad was sick and I came home to be with him. I lost my stepdad when I was fifteen to kidney failure. My dad’s kidneys started to fail. He was on a transplant list, and I got scared that I would lose him and not be here. I came home to spend more time with him. He got his new kidney last year, so he’s doing really good—not last year, but the year before. It’s been a little over a year now. He got it at the end of 2014.
Des: And you were here in 2014, so you were…
Amanda: I was actually in the hospital most of that year. In the middle of August, he had gotten a call saying, “We have a kidney. You need to be here within however many hours.” We went up to the hospital here in Seattle. I was so excited. I was in the hospital room with him. I was going to stay the night with him because they said, “We’re going to do it tomorrow morning. We’ve got him on life support. We’re going to take his heart and lungs first, give them to somebody.” They came in a few minutes later and said there was a tumor on one of his kidneys and [my dad] couldn’t have them. They sent him home.
I was already not doing well during that time period, because I had just gotten out of the hospital not long before that. I thought, “I’m going to lose my dad. I can’t handle not living without my dad.” I overdosed again. That was the last time I was in the hospital. While I was in ICU after I overdosed, he got his new kidney, so I wasn’t actually able to be there for him, which was disappointing. I felt really bad, but he’s doing really well now. My dad and I are really close.
Des: How does he feel about your suicide attempts?
Amanda: I really put him through hell that year. He wishes I would have talked to him more, but I felt guilty doing so because he had been sick. I didn’t want to put more stress on him.
He’s always told me he thinks of me as a square peg in a world of round holes. He said that’s okay, because I’m different. He’s super supportive. Like last weekend, I was supposed to go down and visit him, but like I said before, I had gone four days without sleep and I was starting to go crazy. I called my dad bawling, and he was like, “No, calm down. Take a breath.” He talked me through it.
My dad’s super supportive. He’s great and I love him. He wishes I would have talked to him more. He says that all the time. But I know that he’s there now, and if I ever need anything, I can talk to him. Like I said, I really put him through hell that year. More so than if I would have just talked to him, probably.
Des: Talk to me about cutting.
Amanda: It’s another taboo topic nobody wants to talk about. Nobody wants to hear about it. For me, sometimes I get really overwhelmed, and it feels like my skin is crawling. Sometimes it feels like that’s the only way to make it stop, you know? If I cut, then all of the pain and all of the bad feelings are going to seep out with the blood, if that makes sense. It’s an instant relief, but not a permanent relief.
It’s embarrassing, because sometimes I go into this blackout mode where I don’t realize what I’ve done until it’s already done. I’m going to have to go to the hospital and get stitches. They stare at you, and then it goes in your chart, so if you go in there with pneumonia, they’re still going to see you were in there for that, because that’s happened before. They make preconceived judgments of you.
It’s shameful afterward, but in the moment, it feels like that’s what’s going to help. I know it’s going to help right away… not permanently. Five years down the road, I’ve still got the scars. They’re always going to be there, so it’s always a reminder. But I guess that’s part of who I am and who I was. I have to deal with it. But it’s a relief, and in the moment, that’s what I need sometimes. That doesn’t sound right, but…
Des: Oh, no. I agree.
Amanda: It’s hard to explain it. It’s nice talking to you because you do understand, like you said before. It’s hard to explain to people who don’t understand, because people can think of at least ten other ways to deal with stress, but in the moment, I can only think of one.
I had decided, “Okay, if I cut, people are going to notice,” because it’s like I get numb and I don’t feel it. That’s when it becomes dangerous, because then I have to get stitches. Then I started pulling my hair out, which is called trichotillomania. One of my counselors when I was inpatient told me this and it’s always stuck with me—I replaced one dangerous behavior with another dangerous behavior, because it seemed to be less dangerous. But it still was. So, cutting and pulling my hair out was like a release, but in the long run, it didn’t really help. In the long run, it’s more shameful.
Des: What do you do now?
Amanda: I still struggle with cutting. Mostly pulling my hair out. It’s not as bad as it used to be. I mean, I used to have no eyelashes. I used to pluck my eyelashes and my eyebrows. The cutting isn’t as bad as it used to be. But when I get really overwhelmed, it’s my first go-to. I don’t think about, “Oh, who can I call instead?” Or, “How about I take a walk?” I don’t think about stuff like that. Sometimes I still struggle with that a lot.
Des: I haven’t cut myself in awhile. I made the decision to stop cutting myself ten years ago. Doesn’t always work.
Amanda: I got a tattoo to cover up two of my really big scars because I thought, “Okay, that’s going to be a way I see something beautiful, so I have something beautiful covering up something that wasn’t so beautiful. It’s still going to be there because it’s a part of me, but now it’s beautiful.” But then I just find other places.
It’s not a fix-all, or a cure-all like I thought it was.
Des: It’s tough. It’s tough because it’s the first thought. The only way I’ve been able to avoid it is to not keep my tool of choice in my house and really put obstacles in my way. Sometimes I have enough motivation to go jump over those hurdles.
Amanda: If I get out of the house, I can usually prevent myself from doing something, because I’m not in the house. I don’t have tools or whatever. My counselor had suggested, “Okay, put the tool in an envelope. Seal it up.” Because that way, if you go to it, you have to actually think about opening the envelope, right? That wasn’t as helpful as we thought it was going to be. We definitely thought that was going to be more helpful. But even taking the tools out of my house, there’s still a million other ways, and then it goes back to hair pulling. It’s difficult. It’s not easy.
Des: It’s really hard. And it’s scary. It’s scary when, even after you’ve “stopped,” it’s just constantly there.
Amanda: It’s not like it goes away.
Des: Can I escape this? Ever? So, how do those feelings and those actions compare? What’s the relationship with your suicidal thoughts?
Amanda: I think that in comparison… this sounds bad, but cutting is less lethal, obviously, than swallowing pills or killing yourself. It’s almost just as dangerous because, like I said, when I’m in that moment, it’s like I go numb. That’s when I take it too far and I’ve had to get stitches. What if I accidentally take it further?
When I’m in that moment, I don’t want to kill myself. When I cut myself, I don’t want to kill myself. I’m not looking to die, I’m looking for release. I’m looking for relief. I’m looking for everything to stop. I’m looking for my skin to stop crawling, you know?
But what if I take it too far by accident, and I don’t pull out of it as quickly as I do sometimes and bleed to death? Then it’s suicide, but not on purpose. But that’s not how people are going to see it, because I’ve attempted suicide so many times.
I don’t know if it’s exactly on the topic, but one of the biggest pet peeves that I’ve ever had is: people will say all the time, “Oh, you’re so happy,” because I’m good at smiling. I’m good at making myself seem like I’m okay. I’ve always been like that.
The first time I attempted suicide, I called 911 on myself. Because I wanted somebody to know I wasn’t happy, I remember telling the dispatcher, “I just want somebody to know I’m not happy. I want at least one person at my funeral to say, “She wasn’t happy,” because everybody else is going to say, “She was so happy. We never saw this coming.”” I just wanted one person to know I wasn’t happy, even if I didn’t know that person.
That’s one of my biggest pet peeves, like, “Oh! You look so happy, I could never imagine you like this.”
I’m like, “Well, this is why I won’t talk to you about it.” But I think that’s my biggest problem—the way people perceive me.
Obviously, I want them to perceive me as happy because I smile and I laugh, but when it comes to when I share how I’m feeling, it’s almost like an excuse. They say, “But you seem so happy.”
I’m like, “But I’m not.”
I mean, sometimes I’m happy, but not all the time. I don’t know if that makes sense or not.
Des: Totally on-topic.
Amanda: I get nervous sometimes when I’m talking about it because I’m like, “Gosh, I don’t even know if I’m making sense.” I ramble sometimes.
Des: I don’t feel like you’re very rambly. I feel like you’re very eloquent and articulate, like you know how you feel about this.
Amanda: That’s a problem, too! Some doctors, for example, would say, “Oh, you know what your problem is? You’re insightful. You know how you feel. You don’t need to be here.” Because I know how I feel, because I know I’m having a problem, because I know I’m not doing well, I can handle it on my own. That’s frustrating.
Sometimes it’s like, should I just play stupid? Should I play like I have no idea what’s wrong with me? I’ve been inside my own body for twenty-six years—almost twenty-seven years. I know myself. I know my problems. I know what my triggers are—most of them. I know when I’m having a bad day.
But somehow that plays poorly on me. Because I know how I’m feeling, I don’t need that help that other people do. I’ve heard that from doctors before and that’s so frustrating. Being smart about myself isn’t always a good thing.
Des: On the flipside of that, what do the doctors do?
Amanda: Like if I act stupid?
Des: Not even if you act stupid. I try to advocate for myself really well in the same way.
Amanda: My doctor now, she thinks it’s great that I advocate for myself. I was the one who went to her and said, “I really want to come off my medicine because I don’t know which ones are helping and which ones aren’t.” I told her, “If you don’t help me, the end result is I’m going to end up stopping taking them,” because I know myself. I’ve done it before. I’m really lucky to have a really good doctor right now. She thinks it’s great that I advocate for myself, that I know how I’m feeling, and I know what I need.
At the same time, she’s still the doctor. She’s let me kind of call the shots for the last seven months when it comes to my medicine, but right now, she’s giving her advice on some of the medicine that I’m still on. You know, what might help or whatever, and of course, I take that. I cherish her advice because she’s given me an opportunity to become better and not just numb.
She thinks it’s great that I advocate for myself, which I like. But you have to find the right doctor, because not everybody’s like that. Some of the doctors in hospitals I’ve been in inpatient, they’ll say things like that, “Oh, you’re insightful. You know what your problem is. Why are you here?”
It’s like, “I’m so insightful that I took a bottle of pills. That’s how insightful I am.”
Des: My current psychiatrist doesn’t know what to do with me because I kind of know what I’m talking about, and she still is very patronizing. It’s kind of like, “Get the fuck out of here.”
Amanda: I kind of joke about some things because it’s the only way that I really know how to deal with it. I feel like I can joke about it because it’s mine to joke about, you know? I can make jokes about my experience because that’s how I can deal with it inside my own head. Like, when I say, “I’m insightful because I took a bottle of pills,” or whatever. It’s my way of dealing with the fact that I know how I feel. I just think it’s shitty that doctors can tell you that because you know how you feel, you don’t need help. Like I could just become a doctor today because I know how I feel.
Des: You know how you feel and you know that you need help, and it’s like, “How are you missing that?”
Amanda: Yeah. So, I’m saying I know I need help, but I don’t need help because I know I need help.
Amanda: Shoot me in the foot, because it’s just ridiculous.
Des: Is suicide still an option?
Amanda: Some days it feels like it, but no. It’s not because I’m starting to see this light at the end of the tunnel. For a long time, it didn’t even feel like I was in the tunnel. It felt like I was just in a hole. I think doing this walk that I’m going to be doing soon is really helping to see this light, because it gives me something to look forward to and to plan for. This whole fundraiser planning is crazy.
It’s really not an option, because I feel like I’ve got so much to look forward to now that I didn’t feel like I had before. So, no, it’s not an option. Some days it might feel like it is, but it’s not. At all.
Amanda: I was so nervous this morning when I was getting ready for this. I’m like, “Gosh, I hope I don’t say the wrong thing!”
Des: I don’t think you can say a wrong thing. That’s kind of the point of all this. A lot of people want to put us in boxes like we’re all the same person. No. We’re all very different.
Amanda: Yeah. Where I live right now, the entire complex is filled with forty-four apartments, so there are forty-four people there who are dealing with some sort of mental illness. I always try to remind myself that we’re all struggling with something.
We had a guy pull a knife on us once. We had one guy get beat up in the day room by another guy who lived there. Had a girl beat up another guy with a remote control. Crazy stuff. So, I try to remind myself we’re all here for a reason, and we’re not here for the same reason. I think that’s a huge thing, because when people hear “mental illness,” it’s like they just shove you in the mental illness box. They don’t realize there’s so much more going on.
Des: There are so many more people dealing with it than we know. Any of it, from the least severe to incredibly severe. And you can’t tell your boss you have depression.
Amanda: I got fired from my last job because of my anxiety. I had actually gone to the hospital. This was in 2013. I had been home from South Carolina for less than a year. I had gotten a job in a salon. Loved it, did great. Then my anxiety started to kick in. Did really bad. I tried to walk in front of a train—long story. Anyway, I was taken to the hospital.
After I got out of the hospital, I started working again, but my boss had this preconceived notion, because she found out why I was in the hospital. She came and told me that I wasn’t as passionate as I was when I first started working there. She packed up all my stuff for me and told me to go.
My anxiety was already through the roof and I was having such a hard time, but I was put into this box, and she didn’t even know the full story—which I didn’t really care to share with her, because it wasn’t her business. I did my job and I did it well. I had returning clients. I had the second highest retail sales in the shop. So, I did my job and I did it well, but I was let go because I was put into this category of “crazy.” And what are you going to do after that? In my head, I’m like, “God! I’m too crazy for this.”
Right now, that’s what I’m working towards. I volunteer and do haircuts at the place I go for counseling and stuff like that. I’m trying to get myself back into the work field instead of just doing it on the side, because I really enjoy doing it, but that put it in my head that I wasn’t any good at it.
It’s a shame because I’m not usually one to be like, “Oh, I’m so awesome,” but I was good at my job. I was good at what I did and I loved what I did. And to be fired… Washington is a no-fault state. I could get fired for not doing my hair and makeup when I go into work, because I worked in a salon. They can fire you for anything, basically—except race, gender, all of that, obviously. It just put it in my head that, “What’s the point of trying if I’m just going to be put into this category of ‘crazy’?” Maybe I amcrazy, but not like that. I didn’t flip out on any clients or try to stab anybody with my scissors.
It’s unfortunate that now that’s what people think. I think that’s why this is important, to make people see that, yeah, I attempted suicide. I failed, because I wasn’t good at it, which is good because I’m here. I still struggle, but I’m still a person. It shouldn’t affect how people treat you at all. Whether they treat you better or worse, it shouldn’t affect that. Some people pity you, so they’ll baby you, and that’s unfair, too. I think I hate that more than them putting me in a box.
Des: Are you on disability?
Amanda: I am.
Des: Is that difficult?
Amanda: I hate it.
Des: Do you?
Amanda: I hate it because I feel like I’m not working for my money. The only reason I haven’t actually started working yet is because I’m in groups so many days in the week. Today is the only day I’m not in a group. Monday through Friday makes it extremely difficult to even find a part time job. I don’t like it, but it pays my bills.
Des: Was it difficult to get on disability?
Amanda: It was surprisingly easy for me because I was in the hospital so many times. My mom told me, “Oh, you might have to apply more than once.” I applied and they gave it to me. I was lucky, but not everybody is that lucky.
I’m twenty-six. I went to school to do hair. I worked really, really hard to get my degree and my cosmetology license. Why would I work so hard for it if I wasn’t going to use it? Now I’m just chomping at it, because I really, really want to start getting back in. It’s just the anxiety of being in crowded places. That’s what I’m working on.
But yeah, I’m not a fan of it. It’s good if you need it, and I did need it. But I feel like now I’m starting to get to the point where I can start working again. That’s why I’m volunteering.
Des: Talk about the groups for a minute. Are you into it? Is it helpful?
Right now, I’m in a symptom management group, and that’s basically how to deal with symptoms and manage symptoms—figuring out what are persistent symptoms, what are side effects from your medicine, and what are warning signs before you have a relapse. It’s interesting and it’s insightful. But it’s from the ‘80s, so the videos are really corny.
I’m in a NAMI group. It’s like a “grateful for living” group. In the group, different people bring dinner every week. We eat and we say what we’re grateful for, we have an activity, and then we play games. It’s just for people to get together—like-minded people and other people who have mental health disabilities. It’s really cool.
I’m in a women’s group, which is awesome. I meet with a bunch of other women who go up to my counseling place.
I’m in a writing group. That’s through Path with Art. They’re a program that handles people with mental illness who are in certain agencies, and my agency is involved. It’s just a writing group and I actually get to perform one of my pieces at a showcase this month, so I’m kind of excited about that.
Then I have counseling and see my psychiatrist. It’s busy, but it’s worth it.