Beverly Kikutais a suicide attempt survivor.
"I survived a suicide attempt."
The first time I attempted suicide, I was a junior in high school.
It was around the time of college applications. Everyone’s like, “We need to figure out our future.” I was like, “Oh, god. I can’t do that. I have no idea.” Plus, I’d been depressed for a few years, starting in middle school, so it was that and the uncertainty of leaving high school. I had no idea what I was doing, but apparently I should have known at that point, which is a terrible thing to tell teenagers.
I was at a school that was pretty high-achieving, so I was surrounded by people that were really on-track. They had their shit together. They knew what they were doing, and I was floundering. I thought I was supposed to be one of these put-together people, but I couldn’t quite do it. Eventually I got way too overwhelmed. I was like, “I can’t. I can’t do it. I just can’t deal with this.”
Going to school was so terrible. I’d wake up every morning and go, “Goddammit. I have to do this again.” It was painful going through the motions.
One night, I was home alone. I lived with my mom at the time, but she was out. I overdosed on pills I found around the house. Shortly after I took them, I thought, “Maybe this was not a good idea.” I called a friend. She came over and called the ambulance. I was taken to the hospital, and I voluntarily went into a psych ward. I was only there a few days because I was a minor at the time. Pretty much whatever my parents said went.
After a couple of days, my mom was like, “Yeah, I think you’re good now.”
I was like, “Alright, let’s bounce, I guess.”
My time in there wasn’t really helpful. I expected people, in general, to be really judgmental because there’s still such a strong stigma, but I didn’t expect medical professionals to be that judgmental. The mental health techs were really nice. They interacted with patients all the time; they knew what was what. When I talked to psychiatrists, they would be like, “Oh, you know, what you did was really serious. You really worried your parents.”
I was like, “I know. I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant to do. I’m just a teenager, my brain is not good yet.”
I was put on medication. They didn’t really talk too much about it. [They just said], “It’s an SSRI. This is how it works. Take it every day. You’ll start feeling better in a couple weeks.”
At some point, I stopped taking them cold turkey. They always say not to do that, ever—it’s terrible—but I did, and I felt horrible. I thought, “I don’t really need these pills anymore. I’m feeling better,” so I stopped taking them, which was probably a bad idea. It was definitely a bad idea without consulting someone.
Then, I was alright. I was pretty stable for the next couple years, living at home, and going to community college, trying to transfer out. I really wanted to leave home and go anywhere but California. Maybe three years later, I transferred to upstate New York to go to school. It was not a good idea. I didn’t know anyone in New York.
It was about two hours out of the city—a really small place. The only person I knew lived about five hours away from me. All my friends were back in California and I don’t make new friends easily. I got along well with my housemates, but other than that, I didn’t really have any friends. There wasn’t much social support.
Part of my deteriorating mental state at that time was [due] to taking really early classes. They were at 7 AM, so I had to wake up around 6. It sounds kind of dumb—it’s just waking up early—but I get super crazy when I don’t get enough sleep, so I’d stay up really late because I wasn’t thinking of consequences. Then I’d wake up at 6 AM and drudge through the freezing cold into class every day. On top of that, I still didn’t really know what I was doing. I was technically majoring in theater at the time, but I didn’t really want to. I was thinking maybe English, but I couldn’t decide.
So, I was up here, super far from everyone, doing something I wasn’t sure I wanted to do. I felt really bad because my parents were paying for it, and it was really expensive, especially because I was out-of-state. I got super inside-my-head again. I actually did go talk to a therapist at the school and got medication, but I, again, stopped taking them. I’d miss some doses, [realize it], catch up, and then I’d forget again. I was not consistent, which I think is important to taking medication.
That was messing around with my brain. Everything was not good in my head. I didn’t know how to deal with these feelings. I hadn’t dealt with them the first time I attempted. They were coming back, and I [didn’t understand] why I was still feeling like that.
I attempted suicide again near the end of the quarter. One of my roommates was home at the time, and she took me to the hospital. This time, I was involuntarily committed to the psych ward, which was not fun. My psychologist scared me. I didn’t like talking to him. He put me on a bunch of medications—maybe three or four.
I was there for about two weeks. The first few days were really freaking horrible. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know the routines. There were people telling me what to do all the time. It was a strange experience.
After the initial adjustment period, it was actually kind of a relief to be there. It’s not like anyone in there was going to judge me. Everyone was in there for a reason, and it felt nice to not have to put on the appearance that I was I fine. I could be super sad or… just be myself, I guess. Whatever I was at the time.
After I got out, I moved back to California. I didn’t really want to stay at home or deal with living with my mom again so, shortly after that, I moved to Georgia to stay with one of my friends. I thought this was definitely a good idea. It would be a new start, in a new place, with new scenery. This time I’d have friends—one of my friends from California came with me. It was the three of us and a couple more people living in an apartment, and I thought it would be great.
It was alright for a while, and then I realized… living with friends is not necessarily the best idea. I love my friends to death. We’re still really close, but we did not live well together. Maybe if I’d been in a better place, then it might have been okay. We had a ton of freedom; we all worked part-time jobs, a couple hours a week. Other than that, we could do pretty much whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. Stay up till 4, sleep in till 4.
That was not helpful at the time, not at all. There were people coming in and out all the time. There were lots of drugs—mostly weed. I was not into it at all. I reacted to that by being a horrible, horrible roommate. I was super passive-aggressive and picked fights all the time. I made everything super toxic for everyone who lived there, which made it worse for myself.
At this point, I was really angry that I couldn’t get out of this funk. I didn’t understand why I felt so bad all the time. Even back in middle school, when I first was diagnosed with depression, I didn’t know why. They don’t really talk about it a lot in school, which is where I got most of my information. What I knew about mental illness was from movies, TV, books… and it seemed like, in those cases, there was always a catalyst or something that happened in their lives that derailed them—a reason why they’re depressed. I didn’t have that. I had a really good childhood. There was no big trauma, nothing like that. So I thought, “Why am I feeling like this? There’s no reason. It’s not legitimate. There must be something wrong with me to feel this way.”
I felt like that for a long time. When I was in Georgia, I was like, “Why do I still feel like this? I need to just get over it or something.” I didn’t go see anyone. I think, when I moved there, I still had medication leftover from when I was prescribed them in New York. When I ran out, I honestly didn’t know how to get more or where to find a new psychologist. It was so daunting and I had no motivation to do it. I stopped cold turkey again, which is way worse when you’re on a lot of medication.
I was going through the withdrawal type things, which were awful. I was working a part-time job at a restaurant nearby, and I hated it. I don’t really like talking to strangers a lot. It was so much interaction constantly. People were always getting mad at me for stupid things I had no control over. I’m like, “I don’t actually cook the meals. I just bring them to you and then take them away.” [It’s a high-pressure job], and I just couldn’t do it. I’d only been there for a month or two, but I hated it. I hated living with my friends, and I hated everything about the situation.
One night, I was sulking in the room alone and thinking, “I have to get up early tomorrow for work. I really don’t want to go to work. It’s terrible.” Then I got this thought in my head, “Well, I still have [medication] left. If I take all of those and don’t wake up, I won’t have to go to work. I won’t have to deal with work or my friends or any of this.” It wasn’t a logical thought at all, but it had lodged itself into my mind like, “No work tomorrow. You don’t have to do it. Just take the pills, and that will solve everything.” I was like, “Yeah, I’ll just do that.”
The other two times I attempted, after I’d taken the pills, I realized it was a bad idea and I shouldn’t have done that. This third time, the most recent time, I honestly didn’t care. I didn’t tell anyone. My friends were all outside sleeping or doing whatever. I didn’t want to stop it. I wasn’t sure if I was going to wake up or not, but if I didn’t… cool.
I went to bed, and woke up maybe a couple hours later. I was super sick for the rest of the night. In the morning, one of my friends found me passed out in the bathroom—so much puke everywhere. They had to call an ambulance.
I was involuntarily committed again, but this time was really scary because my friends didn’t know where I was. I didn’t know how to get in contact with anyone. Apparently, once they moved me from the ER to the psych floor, they weren’t allowed to tell anyone I was there, unless it was my family or something. I didn’t realize that, so I was there for a couple days like, “Oh my god. Why aren’t my friends contacting me? I don’t have any of my stuff.” I was in a hospital gown that was three sizes too big, so I wrapped it around myself and shuffled through the halls like, “Where is everyone? I don’t know where I am, exactly. I don’t know how long I have to be here. I really want to see someone familiar.”
That was really scary, but eventually I did get in contact with my friends. I was there for about two weeks. I got out, and that was the last time. That was nine years ago.
I’ve been doing a lot better. I wish I could say it was because I went to therapy and I started taking medication regularly like an adult. But I didn’t. I probably should have. I think my brain chemistry maybe settled down because I got older and into a more stable pattern of living. I wasn’t moving around constantly. I got a job. I started going to school. Sometimes I still feel little glimpses of how I felt back then. It’s terrifying, but generally those don’t last long.
Des: Why do you think they don’t last as long?
Beverly: I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s a conscious thing where I’m like, “No, I can’t go back there again. It took too much out of me,” or if it’s like, “I am too old for this shit. I literally don’t have the energy to feel that intensely.” That was one of the things I hated about the anti-depressants: they dulled everything. One of my diagnoses was bipolar II, so I was used to being at extreme ends and feeling things really intensely. I don’t know if that was just because I was young and adolescent, when emotions are pummeling you constantly.
Des: Do you feel like any benefits came from your attempt?
Beverly: One of the good things wasn’t a long-term effect, but being in a psych ward was really interesting. Most people don’t experience that. It’s so strange being an adult and not having control over your life.
The first time I was hospitalized, I was in with the kids, so we couldn’t do anything. We couldn’t have our stuff with us—that was all locked up. We weren’t allowed to have strings for safety reasons, so we couldn’t have shoelaces. We couldn’t have the ties in the hoodie or around the pant waist. They took all those out, so my clothes were always falling off. There was a dress code. You couldn’t show any skin, so they would do clothes checks every day. They would have us raise our hands above our heads; if the shirt went up it was too short, and you’d have to change.
Everything was really regimented. There were set meal times. You have breakfast, you have therapy, then you go outside for an hour. Then you have more therapy, do an activity, eat dinner, and have a snack.
The bathrooms didn’t lock; some didn’t have doors. I’ve never had so little privacy in my life because I was raised mostly as an only child. I was used to having my own space all the time. All of a sudden, I was with a bunch of people, I had no privacy at all, and people were telling me what to do all the time. Shaving was allowed as long as the door was open and a staff member was watching. For the guys, it was fine. Theoretically, the same went for girls, but I wasn’t going to have a staff member sitting there watching me shave my legs. These were little things I’d taken for granted, and I felt like, “Well, I can’t do that now because I’m too insane.”
Des: Too crazy to shave your legs.
Beverly: Too crazy to shave. Just going to have to be super hairy now because I’m so crazy.
At the same time, there was less stuff to worry about. You didn’t have to make decisions. You didn’t have to worry about things, because you knew what you were going to be doing. That was kind of nice. There were always people around you could talk to. If you were like, “Hey, I’m feeling super depressed right now,” there would be people around, and it wouldn’t be weird. They’d be like, “Okay, well, let’s talk about it.” I met some really cool people there.
It was funny—we’d swap stories… My friends would never talk about stuff like that. They’d be like, “Oh, we don’t want to make her feel bad or trigger her or anything.” [It’s like], “I’m fine talking about it, but it’s making you uncomfortable—which is making me uncomfortable—so let’s not talk about it.”
I think the longest time I was hospitalized was in New York. That was really hard to adjust to, partly because of a man there who was kind of old. He was suffering from some kind of dementia and undergoing electroshock therapy fairly regularly. He was a regular. He’d been there for a really long time, and he was not very good with change or new things happening. Whenever new people came in, he’d get all riled up and get in their faces.
When I first got there, he kept yelling at me. “Who are you? Why are you here?” He’d call me a China doll, angrily. “Look at the China doll over there.”
I was like, “I don’t know why you’re yelling at me, but it’s very upsetting.”
After things settled down and I got into the routine of things… it wasn’t relaxing, but I didn’t feel the huge burden of having to maintain. Other than not being able to leave when I wanted, which is not great, it was an interesting experience.
I don’t know if [attempting suicide] had a benefit for me. I think it obviously shaped who I am now… maybe it helped me get whatever was going on with me out of my system. Maybe if I hadn’t attempted then, I’d still be feeling super depressed and suicidal now. I don’t know. [I think my first attempt was a cry for help. Maybe my second, too.] But in order for it to be beneficial, I would have had to actually get help—go to therapy and do meds properly. I never did. I never really invested, especially not in therapy. I was really against it. It wasn’t going to help if I was fighting it the whole time.
It didn’t help that I didn’t like any of my therapists either, and I didn’t know how to say I wanted one I didn’t hate. I don’t even talk about my feelings with my friends who are the whole world to me, so I’m certainly not going to talk about my feelings with some stranger I’m not really connecting with. It’s so hard because every time you see a new therapist, you have to tell your whole story and answer a bunch of questions again. Can’t I just write this all down and spam a bunch of therapists?
Des: Why do you think that taking medication is the adult thing to do?
Beverly: I think I say that because that’s what I was told. The first time I was hospitalized, I was like, “Yeah, I guess that makes sense. Maybe this could help.” After that, I was like, “I don’t know if this is good.” I wish someone had told me more about it, or that I’d taken the initiative to read up on how [medication] works and the long-term effects.
Des: I feel like a lot of us don’t know how to advocate for ourselves while hospitalized, or in dealing with a psychiatrist or therapist. The psychiatrist is doing a service for you. You get to make choices, too.
Beverly: I had this hang-up of not saying anything because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings, which is so dumb.
Des: I went to a new psychiatrist for the first time recently. I was having a tough time because I’d just moved to Philly from New York. She did the intake questionnaire and clearly did not understand suicide or cutting. Those are issues relevant to me. I was like, “Yep, that’s where we’re at. I’m here for medication management. The medication I’m on is good.” She wanted to put me on an anti-psychotic.
Beverly: I was on one of those. It’s like, “I don’t think I’m psychotic, but… okay.”
Des: Right. I’m anxious, certainly. Anxious and depressed, but not psychotic. [I refused that medication.] It’s frustrating when they treat us like we’re five years old.
Beverly: Yeah. I liked one of the psychiatrists I saw in Georgia… he would have a conversation with me. He said, “To me, it seems like you’re showing signs of this and this. What do you think?” I’d say, “Yeah, that sounds accurate.” Instead of him saying, “Clearly you are this, so you need meds for this.”
Des: You mentioned that thoughts of how you felt back then return sometimes. Is there anything specific you do to get rid of them?
Beverly: It’s not really the thoughts as much as that sinking vortex-y thing. It’ll hit me out of nowhere, which is kind of scary. It usually helps if I distract myself and do something really involved—anything to get my mind off of it. I’m not thinking about [distracting myself], but I’m like, “Well, I guess I’ll just clean the apartment and try to cook…” I hate cooking. It’s awful. Our kitchen is [so small]. Every time I go in there, I’m filled with rage. “Ugh, why is there flour everywhere?” Then, the rage kind of pushes everything else out. That usually helps.
Basically, I know not to wallow in it now. That was a big thing I did when I was younger. I would sink into the feeling and nurse it. I’d listen to really sad songs all the time and sleep a lot. Now I know I can’t do that. I’ve got to get up and do stuff.
Des: Is suicide still an option for you?
Beverly: I don’t think so, no. I wish I could tell you why. I don’t know why I got better. Probably because I don’t know why I was depressed to begin with.
I was very confounding to a lot of the therapists I talked to. They’re like, “How was your childhood? How was your life?”
“Okay. Well, do you have any big problems?”
“Not really. I live in a very secure stable household. I have friends. I don’t like high school, but lots of people don’t like high school.”
“Okay. Are you sure nothing bad happened? You can tell me.”
“Nothing bad happened.”
[I was irritated by] one psychologist because he thought I had been raped, based on some of my behavior at the time. I think I was cutting. It’s harder than you’d think to convince someone that you haven’t been raped.
I was like, “No, there was never a rape. Never assaulted. Nothing bad ever happened.”
He said, “Are you sure? If you don’t admit it, we can’t deal with it.”
“Nothing happened. I’m fine. I mean, I’m not fine, but in a different way than that.” It was very bizarre.
…I feel really bad for my parents. A lot of times, [people assume the source of mental illness] has to be a bad childhood or a bad environment. Sorry, guys. It’s all me. Sorry if people think you’re terrible parents. You’re not.
Des: Do you think they felt guilty about that?
Beverly: Maybe. Probably. It seems like they would. We still don’t really talk about anything other than surface type deals. I don’t think we ever will. I started hugging my dad a couple years ago, and I was like, “Oh, this is weird. I guess we’re doing this now. We’re showing affection. Bizarre, but probably good.” That was our dynamic [as a family]. We know we’re loved, we don’t have to hear it all the time.
Des: Tell me more about your parents and how they handled it.
Beverly: My parents split up around [the time I entered middle school]. I still saw both of them, but I lived with my mom. Most of my formative experiences were with her, but we did not get along. We clashed on everything. She didn’t really understand depression, suicidal thoughts, or anything like that. It wasn’t really part of her culture. She didn’t grow up with it. There was really no reason for her to be familiar with it. So, when I started sleeping all the time, my grades slipped, and I didn’t want to see anyone, she didn’t understand at all what was going on. She was like, “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you snap out of this?” She tried to help. “I heard maybe it’s a vitamin deficiency. I heard that vitamin B12 helps with your mood.”
She was really frustrated because she wanted me to excel in school. I was raised to do really well in school. I was the “good kid.” I have an older brother who’s kind of slacker-y, so I was the one who was supposed to do really well in school, go off to a good college, and get a really good job. She had that plan for me, but I was derailing crazily, and she didn’t understand or know how to deal with it. She would get frustrated and angry, which made me feel worse, and I would lash out at her. It was this terrible infinite feedback loop. My dad didn’t understand either, but he’s a really mellow guy. He’s the opposite of my mom, which is probably why they didn’t get along very well.
[During my first hospitalization, we did family group therapy.] The parents were talking about their experiences and my dad said, “I’m an old-school kind of guy, the way I was raised. We didn’t talk about feelings, so this is all really new to me.” I was really weirded out because we also didn’t talk about feelings ever. We’re like, “Repress all your feelings and smile,” so it was really strange to hear my parents talking about stuff like that. He said, “I don’t really understand it, but I’m trying to learn.”
This has got to be incredibly hard on them. I didn’t think that at the time. Later on, I realized they didn’t know what was going on. They didn’t have to deal with any of this stuff with my brother. I think they did the best they could, but it didn’t help matters at all.
Des: You mentioned cutting. Was it a one-time thing, or more long-term?
Beverly: I cut for a fairly long time. I started when I was around 12 or 13, and the last time I cut was about ten years ago. I stopped around my third attempt.
Des: Why’d you stop cutting? Why’d you start?
Beverly: I really don’t know why I started. It was probably to deal with all these new, terrible feelings I was dealing with, but I don’t know why [I chose] cutting or what made me start.
Des: I’m constantly trying to figure out what motivates people to hurt themselves initially, myself included. Where did we come up with this idea? Girl, Interrupted wasn’t out yet. There was nothing on TV yet. I didn’t know anybody who was doing it. Can’t blame it on any of those things, so where did it come from?
Beverly: No idea. Another question I can’t answer is, why do we do it? Exactly what need does it fulfill? What does it do for us? I don’t really know.
Des: Did it make you feel better?
Beverly: I think so. Maybe briefly. If not better, it distracted me. Replace one thing with another, I guess.
Des: Or make it more tangible.
Beverly: Yeah, I think that helped too.
Des: Did something make you stop? Or did you decide to quit?
Beverly: I don’t actually know if there was a decision, or if I just didn’t do it again. I just kept going for a longer and longer period without cutting. I don’t think I ever tried to stop. There was never a point where I thought, “This is bad. I should cease and desist.” At some point, I stopped needing to do it.
Des: You don’t have the compulsions at all anymore?
Des: That’s amazing.
Beverly: There was a time when I hadn’t cut for a year, and I was just having a terrible day. I thought, “Well, maybe if I cut…” I did, and it didn’t do anything. I thought, “Oh, I guess I’m done with that.”
I think a lot of things in my life end up that way. I never made a conscious decision to stop doing drugs. I didn’t have access to them anymore, and I didn’t feel a need to go find some, so… no more drugs, no more cutting. It might be that I’m super lazy… and my brain just drops things. “Well, if you need to put in effort, let’s maybe not.”
Des: What about the scars? Do you feel shameful?
Beverly: I don’t like showing them a lot because I don’t want to get into a conversation about it. If I’m somewhere where I don’t know anyone, and I know I’m not going to run into anyone I know, then I usually don’t go out of my way to cover my scars.
At work, I would never show my arms. Not necessarily because I think the people I work with are going to be judgmental or that they’ll think less of me. I don’t really want them to know that part of me because I like to compartmentalize. Work is work; my personal life does not need to go into work.
All my friends know, so I don’t cover up around them, obviously, but I’m still not terribly comfortable talking about it with random people.
Des: Do you feel more shame about that than you do about suicide?
Beverly: Not anymore.
Des: Is it connected?
Beverly: The suicide attempts were so long ago, and there’s no real proof of them. It’s not something that’s always there, in my face, whereas the scars, they’re there. They’re always going to be there. My mom got really upset when she found out I’d started cutting. “Those scars are going to be with you forever.” I was like, “That’s the least distressing thing to me right now. I don’t really care.” I still don’t, really. I don’t regret it. That’s how I was coping at the time, and it did get me through pretty tough times, so I don’t regret doing it, but I wish maybe I’d found a better coping method that worked.
I guess I do feel a little more ashamed about the cutting and the scars, just because they’re there. They’re an ever-present reminder.
Des: That seems harder for me to talk about, too. It kind of had a positive benefit for a period of my life, and I feel like you’re never going to get anybody to understand how hurting yourself made you feel better.
Beverly: It was a point of contention with a lot of my therapists. They would try to get me to stop and I didn’t want to stop. Logically, I knew it was bad, but I would be more distressed if I didn’t do it than if I did, so I wasn’t going to stop.
Des: Yeah, I don’t think it’s really a bad thing. I think there are better things. Ideally, you’re going to get to the better thing.
Beverly: I know it’s not a healthy coping [mechanism]. I know that. I’m not dumb.
Des: Yeah. Teach me other things in the meantime, and then maybe I’ll get it myself.
Des: Did you have any friends who dealt with this stuff or did you feel like an outlier?
Beverly: As far as I know, I was the black sheep of my group. I hung out with really smart, high-achieving people… In high school, I was super goody-goody. I didn’t get 4.0’s, but my friends did. They were 4.0 honor students in AP classes and a bunch of extracurriculars. They all knew what they were doing. They had plans, and I was kind of floundering.
Des: Do you feel like that affected you?
Beverly: Kind of. I couldn’t help but compare myself to them—they were my peer group. I looked at them and thought, “Well, they’re all doing fine. Why can’t I just get it together and do what they’re doing?”
Des: It’s a lot of pressure.
Beverly: They were really supportive when I started having trouble in school. When I got hospitalized, they were all there and really supportive. “If you need to talk, we’re always here.”
But it’s not really the same as knowing someone who’s been through that, someone who has also felt that way.
Des: Why’d you decide to tell your story?
Beverly: Part of it is selfish—I’m trying to get comfortable with feelings. I don’t think I will ever be comfortable completely. I wish I could be, but half the time, I’m like, “Ew, feelings. No, I can’t deal with that.” I need to get over this thing I have about talking about feelings, myself, and experiences.
Part of it is the stigma of suicide, specifically. People don’t like talking about it, and that makes things worse. When I was going through everything, it would have really helped me if I’d talked to people or heard their stories; to hear what they went through and to know eventually it’ll get better. If I could help with that, I think that would be awesome.
Beverly’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 Beverly’s interview, and to Sara Wilcox for editing.