Erin Edwardsis a suicide attempt survivor.
"I survived a suicide attempt."
Erin Edwards was born and raised in Davis, CA, and spent time working in the medical field. She was 38 years old when I interviewed her in Berkeley, CA, on July 20, 2016.
I was raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, so I have a religious background that’s still present. It will always be part of my life.
I grew up in a working class family. I had a lot of early childhood trauma. I had an older brother who was very abusive. Violent, very aggressive, and angry at me. My dad believed that I was better off not having any self-esteem, so there was an absolute destruction of my psyche early on, which put me in a place of being easily victimized. I went through my entire teen years, all the way up until I was eighteen, being molested by a family friend, which led to all of my suicide attempts. It was very hidden, all the stuff that was happening. My parents didn’t know what my older brother was doing to me. My dad was well-intentioned but misplaced.
When all of my issues came out, I believed that I was at fault for absolutely everything that had happened in my life. That was the point at which both of my parents were truly there for me and picked me up emotionally. I mean, they had already been there for me through my teen years. They knew something horrible was happening to me, but they didn’t know what. When I finally admitted what happened to me, when I was nineteen and already married, they endeavored to put me back together emotionally.
I spent a lot of years in therapy, but by the time I admitted my abuse, I had already been in therapy for five years. It took many more years of therapy past that to really come to terms. But all the therapy in the world wouldn’t have been anything without having that family support—people who love me absolutely unconditionally, told me so, never held any blame for me, and told me over and over again that I was not to blame for anything that had happened to me, that I didn’t want it, and that I wasn’t vile or filthy for being a child.
My last suicide attempt was the worst. I had a really rough start with my marriage and was very depressed and unhappy. I drank [a large amount] of vodka trying to absolutely just end my life and woke up in ICU three days later. I was in a coma for three days. But, again, after that was a whole-hearted effort from everyone around me to rebuild me, to show me that I was loved, appreciated, and needed. Not just loved, but, “Don’t go, we need you.”
That last attempt was in 2001. That was the point at which it finally made sense to me that I wasn’t so completely worthless that nobody could need me. It was like that epiphany, that breakthrough moment of, “I am being selfish.” I never could equate that. How could it possibly be selfish for me to end my life?
I knew from the time I was very small, six years old, that I was going to take my own life someday. Depression haunted me so early. I knew that I would die by own hand rather than be sick, in pain, alone, and unhappy.
I knew from the time I was very small, six years old, that I was going to take my own life someday. Depression haunted me so early. I knew that I would die by own hand rather than be sick, in pain, alone, and unhappy. I would take control of my own life. That’s always been a part of me as a person. But in 2001, that last attempt was that kind of game changer. I had people rally around me.
For me, there was never any warning. No warning signs or verbal attempts at attention seeking. It was people coming home, finding me in disaster, and having to rush me to the hospital or call paramedics. That last moment of people rallying around me and saying, “We need you. Don’t go,” finally made sense. It finally got through all of the pain, heartache, and worthlessness that I had lived with. It had such a profound shift in my personality, at that moment.
I thought, “Now I have to choose to be happy. I’ve been so unhappy my entire life and living in it. This is making other people around me suffer, people who care for me. How would I feel if the role was reversed, if someone I loved desperately was disregarding my feelings for them so categorically?”
I put myself outside myself for the first time. I put myself in my mom’s shoes, my dad’s shoes, my husband’s shoes, and really felt what they were going through. I made the choice: from this moment forward, I will find a way to be happy. Even if I’m unhappy, I can never be so unhappy and so ungrateful.
I live my life now with gratitude for being alive. I stopped breathing. My parents didn’t know how bad I was in that last attempt. They decided to drive me to the hospital and I stopped breathing before we got there. There were massive resuscitation efforts to save my life. I’m very, very lucky and grateful to be alive. Grateful that I am alive, grateful that I have so many people who love me. In the little ways, in the big ways, in everything, I find things that are worth living for.
Des: Talk about your faith. When you say it’s still there, are you practicing?
Erin: I am practicing. One of Jehovah’s Witnesses. When I say it’s there, it’s definitely a very ingrained part of who I am. Because of that whole mindset and starting out early in experiencing depression, my religion gives me a balance in life. A reason to hope. Many religions offer kind of a false sense of comfort. When bad things happen, they tend to blame God. My religion balances that for me and gives me a reason to not despair at all the negative things that this life has to offer.
This world can be so violent, so ugly, and so horrible, and yet, it doesn’t destroy me emotionally because I know that Jehovah will fix it. Without that hope, that expectation, and knowledge that this will get better, that this will not always be the way… what could life possibly be worth living without hope? I will always be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses for that gratitude in life, that sense of security knowing that my mom may be dead, but she’s not gone. It allows me to continue to function and be happy in spite of some pretty awful world events.
Des: How is suicide viewed?
Erin: Well, that’s the interesting thing. Our religion has changed a lot in regards to mental health issues. A lot. Forty years ago, it might have been viewed very differently than it is today, but with both the individual members of our religion and on a whole, the information that’s published is far more consoling and supportive. It’s enough so that I’m not afraid to tell anyone. There’s eight million Jehovah’s witnesses, and whether I’m close to them or not, I can say, “Yeah, I’ve attempted suicide,” and not have a bad reaction. Not even fear it. Like I said, everyone who knows me knows that I’ve been through this, it’s a part of who I am or who I was, and [they] have nothing but compassion and love and support.
Erin: It’s a really good place to be.
Des: Do you still struggle?
Erin: Actually, yeah. I do. I am happy, and the gratitude, the hope, and the happiness keep me anchored. But I will always view suicide as an option if the circumstances were severe enough. I actively work to make sure that those [circumstances] won’t ever happen. It’s just a part of who I am and whether it goes away or not, I can choose differently.
I am happy, and the gratitude, the hope, and the happiness keep me anchored. But I will always view suicide as an option if the circumstances were severe enough.
Des: So, what happens on a bad day?
Erin: On a bad day… my bad days are usually, actually, fighting with my husband. Or, sometimes, my dad.
When things get bad, I find outlets to cope. I will go for a walk, I will go to bed, I will put music on. Music is incredibly powerful. Mood altering. So I will turn to music just to turn it on and listen to something that makes me happy. I talk things out because there’s no situation that any two people can ever get into that cannot be resolved by being patient and loving and just talking it out. You may need a break, to go cool down for a little bit, but anything can be talked out if two people are willing.
Des: You got married at eighteen.
Erin: Yes, I did. Eighteen. I was ready, and I viewed it as a way to get out of the issues that I had grown up with. An escape and a security blanket. A way to wrap myself in love that I hadn’t experienced before.
It was definitely where I was headed at that time. I wanted to go to college and that was nixed early, so for an eighteen year old in our religion, there wasn’t much left other than to just get married.
Des: You said it was rocky at the beginning?
Erin: Well, I was eighteen and my husband was twenty-three. We were still kids and making stupid mistakes, and not really understanding what it was to put another person truly first before yourself. We were still figuring stuff out. At eighteen, it’s not the same as when you’re twenty-five or thirty-five.
Des: That’s what’s so impressive about it. It’s like, “How did you guys do that?”
Erin: Lots and lots of talking. Lots of bad moments and lots of talking. There were really rocky, ugly, horrible moments, but we always managed to pull things back together. You know, sort out whatever it was, really get down to the core of any issue, like, “Okay, if the group of people that we’re friends with right now is not positive, let’s cut those out. If this is not working for us, let’s change it.”
Des: It sounds like he’s always been really supportive.
Erin: Oh, yeah. Very supportive.
I’ve been lucky in my life. Very. I have other family members who have gone through similar and worse life experiences, had zero support, and struggle emotionally to this day. I recognize that the place I’m at, at thirty-eight years old, is a product of a lot of love. I just know that I am lucky and grateful.
Des: What makes you so willing to be open? Has it always been that way?
Erin: I have always been very open. Really, I view any kind of concealment as a form of lying. I was raised with the belief that—I heard this over and over growing up—even a lie of omission is still a lie, so I don’t hide anything.
I got in trouble for stuff that my brothers did growing up that wasn’t my fault, and I would get punished for it. So, no. Everything is just out in the open, but especially things related to the heart. I am far more open.
I tell my best friend’s kids what I went through with my older brother and how it affected me. Her oldest is a boy and then she has girls. That relationship he has with his sisters is so crucial in those girls’ lives. He gets mad at them. I’m like, “No, you can’t do that. You need to be kind to them because they adore you.” I’m just all surface when it comes to emotional stuff.
I learn from my mistakes, I learn from other people’s mistakes. My dad’s last words to his father were spoken in anger. I grew up hearing that my entire life, so very early I decided I would never miss an opportunity to tell someone I love them. No matter what the relationships look like, those words are so powerful and people need to hear them. We don’t have enough kindness in our lives. I won’t live with the regret of having missed telling someone, “I love you,” not seeing them again, and that was the last opportunity. I refuse to live with regret.
Des: Do you still have a relationship with your brother?
Erin: I have a strange relationship with my younger brother and a non-existent one with my older brother. My younger brother and I love each other, but there are other issues that kind of intervened. We actually started getting along really well after my mom died, but then another female influencer came into his life. That’s put a strain on our relationship, but it’s important for him, so I just let it be. We need our space and that’s fine.
Des: Siblings. What benefits do you think came out of your attempts?
Des: If any.
Erin: I don’t think that my attempts benefited the people surrounding me at all. There was only pain, grief, and turmoil for them. For me, I was forcibly shown how much I was loved. It was not a choice. It wasn’t an option. I couldn’t look away and pretend that it hadn’t happened. I was shown how much people care for me, how much people were suffering on my behalf, and how much it was hurting them to see me hurting.
The benefit came from being able to accept that, for as worthless as I felt, I was loved regardless. Really learning what true love is, I was able to turn around and reflect it back to be there for other people; to be supportive in a way that, people who are on the receiving end of my love and support now, remark upon it being an amazing thing. They can’t quite fathom how I can be the way I am and yet, had those experiences not happened, I would not be this person.
Des: It’s so often that sexual abuse comes up in these conversations. And not just that—the project has made me realize that we don’t talk about suicide, but there are a million other things that we don’t talk about. Things that I didn’t even think of, like postpartum depression and miscarriages, and how they’re all related to suicide.
I honestly believe that suicide is not just something that happens out of depression.
Erin: I honestly believe that suicide is not just something that happens out of depression. Ultimately, every experience that I ever heard had a prompting event that was just that straw that broke the camel’s back. You could not handle one last thing, then that one last thing got heaped on your head, and you can’t cope anymore. That’s not where people want to be. That’s not the place.
It always made me so angry—early on when I was fifteen or sixteen, I first started attempting suicide and the doctors would say, “Well, she’s just trying to get attention.” It made me so angry because, first of all, they didn’t know me. Didn’t know me at all. It wasn’t until my mom got me into a child psychiatrist who really did work with kids that I actually got a level of understanding from a doctor.
Everyone prior to that had been really awful. I mean, judgmental and unkind and, “Oh, she’s just doing this for attention.”
It’s like, “Well, so what? Maybe there’s a reason why I’m needing some attention here, but you don’t really get it.”
For me, it was doing the attempt first and then everyone finding out about it. I was not a warn-er until, after my first four or five attempts, my mom made me promise to ask for help. Once she forced me into that promise, I felt obligated. Like, I didn’t want to, but I made my mom a promise, so now I have to at least try. My mom never disregarded it, not once. If I said I felt like hurting myself, she stopped what she was doing. She took me to doctors, she did whatever she needed to do, but she never treated my verbal expressions as insignificant or unimportant. Never dismissed me. Those verbal expressions weren’t threats, they were, “I want to hurt myself.” For me, hurting myself was very much an external pain source that felt like a release of the internal. Somehow or another, that mind-body connection would actually give an emotional release to feel my body in physical pain.
Des: I recognize that.
Erin: My support network was amazing.
Des: Sounds like it.
Des: You knew I was going to ask you if suicide is an option for you.
Erin: I mean, I think I recognized a possibility that it was going to be a question, but that’s almost a knee jerk response for me. It’s such an ingrained part of my psyche that, yeah, it will be… but I choose. Life is about choices.
Des: That’s one of the only questions I ask everybody, because I feel like—aside from the fact that these narratives of ours have been erased in the past—it’s been like, “Oh, look! This person lived and they’re healed forever!” It’s like, that’s not how it is for most of us. It’s unfair to give us those expectations.
Erin: Yeah, I agree. I’ve known of people who died by suicide. One of my brother’s friends [died by] suicide. That’s very final and very permanent, but suicide attempt survivors aren’t in any less pain than a suicide victim. They find a way to go on, to get past that moment in time. They survive, for whatever reason—it’s going to be different in every case—but there’s still going to be pain there. So, yeah. I get it.
Des: I think a lot about how we’re viewed by a lot of people as weak.
Erin: Not weak.
Des: There’s nothing about me that’s weak.
Erin: No. It’s the strong person that goes until they break. There’s nothing that’s weak about me. In fact, I was always expected to be far stronger than I wanted to be and could deal with. But I’m still an emotional creature and feel everything very intensely. That intensity, that level of emotional output is not a negative output, but I feel other people’s emotions viscerally. If someone’s sad, I feel it. I mean, I can just walk into a room and feel other people’s emotions. Happy, sad, angry, anxious; I am very in tune with that. It makes it hard, too, when those emotions are directed right at me, to cope.
Des: Yeah. Therapy? Meds? Anything?
Erin: I am functioning well not on meds at this moment in time, but I am not averse to medication when medication is necessary. I will seek it out. If I know that there’s something off kilter for me, I will go to the doctor and say, “Hey, this isn’t working. I’m not functioning at my best,” and go get meds or go get into therapy. I put taking care of my psyche as a priority, because to not do so is to just backslide too far, to that part where now it’s gone from being an option to being an imminent issue.
Not going there. That’s where choices come in.
Des: Self-care is a really interesting thing.
Erin: It’s hard. When you’re depressed, you don’t want to take care of yourself. You want to stay in that place that almost becomes a safe place to be. Those thought patterns are hard to change. Self-care is scary and there’s so much stigma attached to it, like you said. It’s embarrassing for the vast majority of people, this idea of, “Oh, it’s going to follow you from doctor to doctor. Once you’re diagnosed, it’s going to be on your medical records for the rest of your life.” So what? For me, it’s a big, “So what?” I don’t care. I’ve been labeled with so many different things in my life—all different kinds of autoimmune diseases—everything that you can think of, I’ve been diagnosed with, and no two doctors can agree on anything. So, who cares, anyway?
Des: What would you want to say to someone reading your story?
Erin: I wish that I had known, and really, truly understood, how not alone I was. How normal it actually is to feel the feelings that I had. If I could say anything, it’s that. Don’t stay in that spot where you feel unloved and unsupported. There will always be someone out there who will love you and support you. Just don’t be alone, because being alone is what gets you every time.