Jonathan Bierutis a suicide attempt survivor.
"I survived a suicide attempt."
I interviewed Jonathan Bierut in Seattle, WA, on February 28, 2016. He was 28 years old at the time.
I’ve had depression that was suicidal thoughts, self-harm behavior, for several years now. Probably 4 years, at least. It’s a never-ending battle with that stuff. I guess my most recent one was back in the spring of 2015. That was pretty tough to deal with. 2015 is a year I’d rather forget now.
I thought that things were starting out well, and I decided to look for somebody to help with my therapy—do something in addition to regular therapy and try this mindfulness stuff. I used Psychology Today.
Things were going well, and I guess I thought, “This person’s closer to my age,” but you gotta look at what the therapist is capable of dealing with. Just because they deal with depression, this person has only been in practice for 2 years, so they really weren’t the best person for somebody with stuff that I dealt with in the past. They don’t have the training. She was really just a marriage and family therapist, so for me, it would be better if I see somebody like a psychologist. I’ve learned that.
I’ve learned my lesson, because I kinda go through life and then things come up, and it starts to get worse. If you have a therapist who’s never dealt with somebody with suicidal thoughts, they may not know how to properly deal with them. Sometimes I don’t even know how to deal with them.
It’s just, they overwhelm you, when you think of jumping off a bridge and then you go visit that bridge, and you tell the therapist you’re gonna plan on just checking it out. You tell them and they say, “Well, you know, that’s a red flag.”
It was the whole month of April—things were pretty bad with suicidal thoughts. I really didn’t have any desire to live. I think it was April the 20th when I couldn’t contract for safety; she didn’t like to end the session that way, but I was allowed to leave. Somebody like that needs to learn… if I can’t contract for safety and I walk out the door and kill myself, that’s a problem. It doesn’t make sense and I can’t figure it out. Nobody has seemed to’ve been able to answer my question: how’s that’s okay?
To me, after I look back on that, with the new therapist I have, it’s like, “Hold on a second! That doesn’t make good sense to me. I should’ve probably been in the hospital that time.”
I asked people at the Department of Health about that, and they didn’t seem to think that was a big deal, but if a little kid can’t [contract for safety] and you just let him leave, saying, “Hopefully I’ll see you next time,” it’s like, “Hmm? No, no, no.” If they can’t make sure or they can’t say, “Oh, I’ll keep myself safe until next time…” I thought that was their responsibility as a therapist, but I don’t know. It’s mind-boggling.
The next session was on Wednesday and then my parents were called, as well as my other therapist, and she says, “Oh, I think you need to go to the hospital.”
So I did that, and I spent 5 hours in the emergency room—in one of those rooms where they lock ya from the outside. That was an experience. I’ve never been in one of those, and I didn’t really care for it, but the same time, it made me feel better, ’cause I didn’t feel as bad after being in there. Kind of calmed me down. I got out of there and I thought I was gonna be better. It made me feel better for the time; I guess it was just temporary, but I did feel honestly better. I told them that.
I thought I was gonna see this lady again. I don’t know. There was all this stuff going on, so I didn’t understand, really. I tried to make an appointment on that Monday, ’cause I usually had Mondays off, so I was trying to make it.
They said, “Oh, you need a higher level of care.” People can’t be straightforward and honest. Just tell me you’re not capable. I’d understand why.
[It’s frustrating] when therapists say stuff like, “I can’t help you.” But you were helping me when you weren’t qualified to begin with, so what’s the deal now? If you were doing it for 3 weeks when you knew I had suicidal thoughts and you’re not trained to deal with them, you’re already 3 weeks in and now you’re saying, “No, I can’t do this.” You knew, and you have a supervisor. If you’re talking to your supervisor about my case in those 3 weeks and he knows, somebody’s slipping up there. If you know you’re not qualified to deal with somebody, say, “Hey! Sorry, we’ll work on this.”
The new therapist told me that she’s had people go in the hospital and they see the same person afterwards, so that’s what I was thinking. But then it was, “Oh no, I can’t help you anymore.” All of a sudden. It’s like, “What? Why can’t you just tell me yourself instead of telling other people?”
That day made me feel like giving up, ’cause I was suicidal for several weeks before this occurred. It took the extreme stuff before you stop. It’s not the worst thing in the world. Now, I look at it, I’m glad I’m not with that person anymore because it would be not the right fit for me.
The next day I tried to kill myself with my medication. I took enough of those where they were concerned when I went to the emergency room that I was gonna have a seizure, so I had to have an IV stuck in my arm. I had a heart monitor on me, and I went to intensive care and spent the night in there ’til 11 o’clock the next day—about 24 hours after I’d taken my medication. That was probably the scariest day I’ve been through in a while, ’cause when they told me they were worried about me having seizures from my medication, I thought, “Oh god!” I’ve done Advil before, and I’d only taken twice the daily dosage. They just let that ride out, but this time, they gave me charcoal and then they had the heart monitor on me for 24 hours. I had an IV in my arm for easy access in case I had a seizure, so it was rough.
I’m not blaming the therapist for what happened, but at the same time, it feels like there wasn’t good closure for me. It would’ve been nice for a person like that to be able to say, “Hey Jonathan, I’m sorry,” instead of just not stating directly why you can’t see me. I was confused! People sometimes expect you to understand, and they think, “Oh, well, yeah. You understand.” They don’t explain it thoroughly to everybody.
When you’re suicidal, sometimes you don’t understand things clearly. You’re not thinking. Especially when I found out what she was explaining in that Wednesday session—which was the last one—the options and stuff. I don’t remember any of that. I was so worked up. You’re trying to explain things to me when I wouldn’t know. I don’t remember that.
I got in the hospital after my attempt and I said, “Not that I wanna blame anybody, but I wanna let her know how bad I felt. Maybe in the future, if somebody is suicidal, she can do things a little differently.” If you just stop seeing somebody who’s suicidal, what do you think that’s gonna make them feel like? They’re gonna feel abandoned, let down. It won’t make them feel better.
I tried to be nice. I was in the hospital. I used a computer there. I don’t like to attack people, ’cause I don’t think that everybody’s bad. It’s not like they’re trying to be a horrible person. People make mistakes. I do too, but if they learn from that, that’s what I’m really hoping for with people—that it doesn’t happen to anybody else. That’s really what I was concerned about. I didn’t hear anything back.
My new therapist, who I saw after I got out, said, “Have you tried writing a letter, because with email, sometimes people get bombarded. Who knows if she even read it?” So we did an official letter. It was really nice, and I opened up. I got a response 2 weeks after I’d sent it in the mail. It was like the coldest thing I’d ever heard. They say “cover your ass,” and that’s basically what it was.
She was very thorough in explaining things to me, and that my behavior was the definition of harassment, and if I even responded to her email, she’d file an anti-harassment order against me.
I thought, “Okay. That’s enough of that. That wasn’t even necessary. I don’t wanna have continuing correspondence with you.” I told her that. Like, fuck. That’s the way you’re gonna treat me? No, no, no. I woke up the next day and I thought, “You’re making me feel worse, ’cause if you woulda just said nothing to that letter, I would’ve been much happier. It wouldn’t have caused me emotional distress, because I don’t know if you filed that thing against me, what it’s gonna do to my life. I’m not lookin’ to bother you. I just want you to acknowledge that your actions, all our actions, impact others, whether you mean to or not.”
It’s a part of life, you know? Sometimes I do things and may not make somebody feel better about themselves, but I honestly care. I wanna say, “Hey, I didn’t mean to.” That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about, “Oh! I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not trying to make a quick buck off of you.” You’re gonna make mistakes as a therapist—everybody will in their job. But when I get in trouble at work, I say, “Hey, I’m sorry.” They accept it, but it’s just the denying, like you don’t do anything wrong. That’s kinda like a slap in the face.
So I woke up the next day and I said, “No, this isn’t okay. I gotta do something. How can I make it right?”
I looked up how to do a formal complaint—not because I want to ruin somebody’s life, but obviously you didn’t learn anything. You could’ve just said, “Hey, I’m sorry that happened,” and I would’ve been okay.
I gotta look out for other people, because I’m not the only one who has suicidal thoughts. The number of people who have ’em is a lot. I’ve looked up the statistics, and it’s almost half a million people visit the hospital and emergency rooms for self-harm-related behavior. Oh my god! I’ve been in the hospital with people, and I know how hard it is to find a bed around here in the Seattle area for somebody. That’s where I spent an hour or two in the intensive care unit. It was Wednesday to Thursday. I spent my time waiting for them to find the bed, and even when I did, I had to wait on an ambulance, ’cause it wasn’t like an emergency, but I had to wait a few hours for the ambulance to arrive. There’s a lot of it going around. More than people know.
It’s really sad, and that’s why I think it’s important for people in this role who comes across somebody who’s suicidal. Even if you’re just a marriage and family therapist, relationships can end badly. Anything can cause you to be suicidal. I’ve learned that. It doesn’t take one specific thing.
I thought, “I wanna help this person be better.”
I talked to my therapist about this the next day I saw her, and we worked on a complaint. It was not like an attack, and I don’t really care and believe in being vengeful against people, but if people aren’t gonna learn, I figured maybe I’d say something. I was talking with my therapist about it, and she was rolling her eyes and going, “Oh my gosh! She didn’t do this?” Some of the things that she probably would have done, [my old therapist] didn’t. It was a big eye opener for me, going over the events that happened. That’s where I really thought to myself, reading some of the emails that I’d sent, how bad I was in with the suicidal thoughts, the red flags were something that I couldn’t believe.
The one that still bothers me is that I was allowed to leave the room when I couldn’t contract for safety. Just let the person walk out and kill themselves. Unless you make them go to a hospital, don’t let them leave until you know they’re gonna be safe. That’s really it.
I just had to do that, even though it states that no violations of the law occurred. I was confused how some of the stuff that happened. I thought at least threatening somebody with an anti-harassment order when they’re not trying to say, “Hi, how is it? Why aren’t you…” I wasn’t looking to do that. I’m just trying to get the sense that you’re gonna change your behavior and then you go and do this. And the state, they don’t think that’s inappropriate behavior for professionals.
If I did that at my jobs, I would’ve been fired for doing something like that to somebody, ’cause that’s not professional behavior. I know because it’s not like I’m trying to text somebody every day. I try to be reasonable. I don’t look to make somebody’s day miserable, but at the same time, if you don’t acknowledge mistakes, you could be making other people’s lives miserable. I’d hate to have that person end up being negligent like that, just not thinking they’ve done anything wrong, and then somebody walks out of the room and kills themselves. Because she’s not the only one, I guarantee you.
I’ve read online after my experience, ’cause I was irritated with it, there’s a number of people who have bad experiences with therapists who don’t care. If you’re in the business of supposedly helping people, you should at least give them the time of day, ’cause apparently they’ve never been suicidal. I’d like them to be suicidal and have nobody respond to them and see how they feel. It’s just gonna make you feel like, “Okay, why do I even bother doing this?” It’s a nightmare.
People have told me, “Oh, just let it go.”
I eventually decided I should get my money back, because I paid this therapist money and then they ended up making me feel worse than I should’ve. If they wouldn’t’ve threatened me with an anti-harassment order when I was just acting on good faith for others… that’s what I believe. I wasn’t acting in vengeance, trying to blame them. I would’ve been okay.
I went to small claims. I wasn’t prepared for that. I actually got letters and stuff from Judge Mathis and one from Judge Judy, but we didn’t go on there. I thought, “Wow! I can’t believe I got these letters in the mail.” They looked it up and everything, and found out my information.
I went there and it wasn’t gonna be resolved that day, so I said, “Oh, shit. This isn’t what I expected. I don’t wanna come back and have to see this person again.” Not to mention, I’m by myself, so I said, “For $550, when she’s making it seem like there’s no way I can measure the damages… if you don’t think that the stuff you put me through by threatening me with an anti-harassment order is worth $550, oh my god.”
I showed up and I basically told the judge, “I can’t do this anymore,” because she had 2 other people with her. I said, “I think I’m gonna look like the bad person here. She’s gonna try to become the victim now, like I had been causing her so many problems that she’s had to seek a therapist for this and that.” I haven’t received anything to this day, and that was back in October, so apparently it didn’t go through, ’cause the police woulda served me with that a long time ago.
Some of the stuff I think was just not true—saying that I would stop at nothing and use any device to see her again. It’s like, “I told you when I requested my records I didn’t wanna see you again, because you’ve caused me so many problems and so much pain.” I just wanted my records, just to see what you had written down, but you played these games, like, “Oh, I can’t do that. I’m not allowed.”
Just stop with the shit. I basically had to put somebody in their place. I told her, “That’s enough of threatening me,” ’cause she did it again. She said, “Any other correspondence will be reported to law enforcement.” I’m like, “Okay, you’re done. Just either file the damn thing or shut the hell up about it, because I’m tired of you threatening me. That’s all mind tricks. You’re just trying to play psychological stuff and I don’t do that.”
I didn’t say, “If you don’t do this, I’m gonna file a complaint against you. I woke up after you threatened me with that and said, ‘You know what, maybe I should look into that.'” I didn’t threaten you with it. Either do it or shut up about it. Otherwise you’re just causing more problems for me.
After court, I was sad that I didn’t get the money back, but at the same time, I wasn’t willing to be dragged into that stuff. I said, “No! No more of that. If it’s not gonna be resolved today, I’m not gonna be made to look like an idiot for $550, ’cause that’s not worth my stress and emotional stability.” So I said, “Nope!”
Luckily, I’ve had a better psychologist/therapist and since then, things have been a lot better. But that was my story from 2015, and it was kind of crazy.
Des: How useful do you think safety contracts are?
Jonathan: I’m not a big fan of safety contracts. They’ve shown that they don’t actually do anything, but at the same time, if somebody says, “No…”
I said, “I don’t know.” I obviously said I wasn’t sure, which, if somebody states honestly that they’re not able to contract for safety, maybe you should look into giving them help. I’m no expert, I haven’t researched it, but I’ve kinda read that some places don’t even use ‘em. People just say what they want. Although at the same time, you can’t prevent everybody. I know that. Some people will always slip through. I believe that, when you’re seeing a therapist, usually people are able to be more honest in the privacy versus with other people. As long as you have a good relationship with them, I don’t see any reason that people won’t be honest about needing help. Usually when you’re like that, you need somebody to kinda say, “Okay, this is what you need.” Just a little help.
Des: What would you rather she had done? In an ideal world, what would that day have looked like?
Jonathan: Now that I look back on it, when I wanted to visit the bridge here…
Now they have a fence. I figured I could climb that fence if I really tried. It’s not that hard for me to climb things, usually. I just walked out. It’s pretty high above the water.
When I went and told her that, I think that was like looking back on the first red flag, and probably that should have been it. I’m visiting a bridge after I told you I had thought of jumping off of it. Even though I didn’t jump, because I didn’t have the motivation or anything like that. If you just feel depressed, but you really don’t feel like acting on it, you have to have that motivation—the follow through, that’s what it is.
I should’ve gone to the hospital then, so it would’ve been a week or two earlier, before the supposed termination of therapy.
When somebody’s not able to contract for safety, I’d say, “Whoa! No, no. You’re not leaving.” Why would you want to worry about whether somebody’s gonna show up or not? I think to myself, “I wouldn’t wanna have that on my conscience,” like, “Oh, somebody’s gonna show up because they weren’t able to contract for safety. Will they be there?”
Make sure they get help earlier. Go to the emergency room. Have their family take ’em there, and then once they’re in there, they can’t just leave.
Des: So you told her you were gonna go to the bridge and then you went. Why did you go to the bridge?
Jonathan: Because it’s something that I’ve thought about for a long time. I know it’s a place where you could easily jump off and you probably wouldn’t live. It’s a really tall bridge above the water, and even the area and the neighborhoods below. It’s still really high in the middle. I figured—’cause I’d been thinking about it for so long—I said, “I have to at least check it out.” And I did. I don’t know if that was the best idea, but it was just something that was calling me. I’d been thinking about it on and off for a year. I’d come up months and months before, and then I kinda reappeared when I was feeling depressed. I’d never actually walked on the bridge. I’d driven over it numerous times, but never walked on it, so I just checked it out.
Des: Were you trying to psych yourself out?
Jonathan: No, no. It wasn’t anything like that. I didn’t think about psyching myself out, to be honest with you. Because when I was real depressed like that, it was just to see if I could jump off the bridge. I know they have that fence because they had to put that—it’s like 8 feet tall or something like that—because a number of people would jump off that bridge. If you look at the old railing, you’d easily see how somebody could just [“pfft” sound] right over. But the new one’s a little taller. But it was just outta curiosity. I was just really depressed and suicidal.
Des: It’s funny that you would tell her that, and she’d be like, “Alright.”
Jonathan: She said, “Well, I’m glad you didn’t,” when I saw her Monday. I did that on Saturday, so Monday, “Well, I’m glad you didn’t…”
It’s like, “But hold on here!” Some people are kinda, I guess the word is incompetent, or I don’t wanna sound like an ass, but you don’t understand how serious the stuff is if they’re not fully trained to deal with it. Because if you deal with a lot of family or relationship issues—not to say that this stuff won’t come up in that either, because it can happen in relationships too, so that’s why I think even if you’re only a marriage and family therapist, you should still be trained, because how many people do you think have been depressed and suicidal because of relationships? It’s just something to think about, but why didn’t things get acted upon sooner? I don’t know.
Especially since this person has to have a therapist as said by the state because they’re a therapist associate. They have to have their supervisor. Between the two of them, somebody was slipping up a little bit. That’s just the way I feel, ’cause it should have been dealt with sooner instead of waiting ’til I was extremely bad. That’s just my opinion. I’m kinda the one that wants to get people help, because after this whole experience, I had more of a passion for helping others with this.
Des: Would it surprise you to hear that in 47 states, suicide management is not a required course for training clinicians?
Jonathan: That wouldn’t surprise me, because I know how they treat this stuff. When I talk with people at the state, they say, “Oh, she tried to get you help when she realized it was out of her scope of practice,” but if somebody waits until they realize it’s too late, we failed.
Washington requires a 6 hour course. I looked it up. I was curious about this all summer when I was going through this. And they were supposed to be implementing something new in November. They didn’t really say what that was, but it was a new suicide-related program.
Des: Yeah, 6 hours. I think Washington is the newest one that passed this mandatory training law. California, Kentucky. That’s it. That’s kinda ridiculous. You said you started struggling when you were 24.
Jonathan: Going up to it, I felt isolated and depressed before. Back then, I didn’t really know how to deal with it because I didn’t really want to admit that I had depression. I thought, “No, no. I don’t have depression.” That’s the way I felt because I thought, “Then you gotta take the medication for it,” like, “Oh, you got this mental illness.” And now I really don’t care. They say, what is it? 10% of the population suffers from depression at one point during the year? That’s a lot of people who have depression. Obviously, there’s varying degrees of it.
Back then, I kinda had somebody. I guess he wasn’t the right fit. He wasn’t bad. I’ll give him this: he never threatened me with an anti-harassment order, so that’s a big plus. He just wasn’t the best person that I’ve seen. I’ve seen two other people since then, and both of ’em I can see at any time if I want…
For me, the big thing about dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts is to have somebody who you can call or text when you’re not in session, and they’ll actually acknowledge you. This other lady, she was new, but she always used to say, “Call the crisis line.” That’s all fine and dandy, but I don’t wanna talk to some stranger about my stuff. Not to say that they’re not helpful, but it’s not personal and I don’t know them and they don’t know me, so if I gotta explain the whole story to somebody when I’m really in trauma or crisis, that’s not gonna be beneficial to me. If I can just have a text with somebody and they say, “Yeah, okay,” or they just talk with me for 5-10 minutes, that makes me feel so much better in dealing with it. I used to be the kind of person that would never want to burden other people, but now I realize, no, I can’t do that anymore.
Dealing with this stuff sometimes you gotta give in, whether you want to or not, and let other people help you. Especially people who are genuine people, like the people that I’ve seen. They’re genuinely nice people, so that’s really what they enjoy doing. That’s kinda the way I feel about it. If I were a therapist, I’d want to go the extra mile for people, just because it makes you feel better about it that somebody actually cares enough, instead of only caring about you for the 50 minutes you see ’em once a week. Or that you pay them to care about you. That’s something that’s crossed my mind, ’cause you’re paying them and, oh, they care about it, but do they really? Because people who really care about you, I think, sometimes will go the extra mile.
Granted, some people don’t wanna blur the lines in terms of patient and provider. But nobody’s gonna complain about you going the extra mile. If anything, you’ll be rewarded for that, ’cause it’s like, dealing with all this stuff, it’s hard to deal with. It’s nice to be able to have people. If you see them only once a week, what if something happens on the weekend, and you’re like, “Oh my god!” You feel like garbage. What are you gonna do? Suffer the whole weekend? It’s nice if they can just say, “Hey, sorry to hear you’re going through that.” It’s kind of reassuring. I know, ’cause it’s helped me. It’s the thing that someone like me really needs—somebody who’s more caring and goes the extra mile just in case I need it.
Des: Aside from therapy, when you’re in it, how do you deal with it?
Jonathan: The number one thing I’ve been told most of the time in my two stays in the hospital and through therapy is distraction. And the thing you do is something that’ll get your mind off of it, whatever you do. Watch a movie, watch TV, or even just getting out of the house. Sometimes it can help. That’s what I do. Even though I’m looking for a job, I don’t sit at home 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That would drive me crazy. Even if I get out an hour or two, just driving my car somewhere, just explore this area or get on the ferries and go somewhere. It’s really nice here, so just getting out and doing things has really helped me, instead of me moping. When you’re in the house, you feel like, “Oh, I haven’t done anything. I’m not doing anything.” You’re getting depressed. When you’re really depressed, sometimes it helps just to change your train of thought. That’s probably the easiest thing to do. Whatever you enjoy doing. Sometimes you gotta force yourself to do it, but it’s certainly better than just suffering.
Des: Yeah, ’cause you get in the spiral… Can I ask about your arms?
Jonathan: Oh, I’ve done cutting with a razor blade. That was back in the beginning of March. They still haven’t gone away. I did it on both arms. I haven’t done anything like that since, and it really wasn’t deep. I don’t know how deep some people go. I’ve never needed stitches, but of course, a little blood comes, but then it just scabs up and then you’re left with these scars. That’s been there since March.
Des: For a lot of people, self-injury is usually a control or trying to get the emotion out to a place where it’s like, “Well, okay, I can see this. That makes this real.”
Jonathan: The thing about it is, it distracts you, ’cause when your arms are sore, you don’t really think about suicidal thoughts. When I’m suicidal, I don’t cut myself. When I was cutting myself, I wasn’t suicidal. Suicidal thoughts and cutting didn’t go together for me. So when I’m cutting myself, I’m not having suicidal thoughts. It’s really kinda weird. It’s the depression. I don’t know. It’s always something that I’ve regretted, because you don’t feel any better after doing it, I can tell you. If people are thinking of doing it, you don’t feel any better. When you got that stuff on your arms, just picture it being all red. You shoulda seen it right after I did it; it was really all red.
Des: I’m familiar.
Jonathan: People don’t really seem to notice it so much. But people really noticed it back then, and people are asking you, “What’d you do?” And of course, I don’t tell ’em the truth, because it’s like, “Yeah, I’m not gonna sit there and tell you what I really did, because you’re gonna make judgments about me.” This and that. They don’t probably understand it, so I’m not gonna bother telling ’em the whole story of what really happened. It’s just not worth it.
Des: What did you say instead?
Jonathan: I shrugged it off.
Des: Got in a fight with my cat?
Jonathan: Well, I don’t really say too much. I’d say, “It’s nothing,” just try to change the conversation. That’s just me, because it’s easier not to have to tell ’em the whole story because not everybody can handle that. They’re asking you something which I’m not sure they would be able to handle the answer for, so it’s better not to say anything. Instead of having them [react with shock].
Des: What made you think to cut yourself? Was last year the first time?
Jonathan: No, I did it the year before. I’ve heard of people doing it. It’s just something that I thought about. Sometimes I used it as a way to punish myself, but it didn’t make me feel any better. I just kinda reverted back to that and I didn’t feel any better, so I haven’t done it since then. I don’t have the desire to do it because I know… Sometimes I think about it, ’cause I’ve done it before, but it won’t make me feel any better, so it’s like, “Eh, no, no, no.” I tell myself, “No, no. I can’t do that,” because it’s not gonna make me feel any better about after I do it, so what’s the point?
Des: Now you just focus on distracting yourself in different ways.
Jonathan: Yeah, ’cause look what happened. I’ve still got scars and I don’t need any more. I don’t wanna have that same kinda thing happen again. If it’s not gonna make me feel any better after doing it, it’s just kinda pointless. Why would I wanna do that anymore?
Des: It seems like you feel a little shame about it.
Jonathan: Well, I guess to a degree, but I don’t hide it. People don’t really ask about it anymore, but it’s not like, “Oh yeah, I cut myself.” Nobody says that proudly. It’s not like people shout out, “I have suicidal thoughts a hundred times a day!” People don’t blurt that out. It’s not like a shining moment in your life. You don’t go to a holiday party and people say, “How ya doin’? Nice to meet you, I had suicidal thoughts about five minutes ago. How ya doin’?”
Des: The depression set in when you said you were 24.
Jonathan: I’m not a native of here. I guess I came out in 2008 when my mom and my step dad moved out here while I was a sophomore in college. I was going to Michigan State University, and they lived in Chicago before that, so it really was close to there. I really never met anybody here, but it’s like kinda when you don’t know people and you don’t meet people, sometimes you get upset. That’s always been something that I’ve had trouble dealing with, ’cause we moved around quite a bit when I was younger.
We’d live in a place for a year, two. The longest place, from the time I was 8 when we left Michigan where I lived, was Florida. We lived near Orlando. We lived there for three years. And then we moved to Ellicott City, Maryland, twenty minutes west of Baltimore. We lived there for two years, and then moved to Chicago for the second time. Lived there for a year. Then I went to college, and then they were there for a year a half, two years, while I was in school, and then moved out here.
After I graduated, I just moved out here. I still really didn’t know anybody, so it’s like when you’re new and when you didn’t grow up here, you think, “Where do I meet people? Where do I do this?” You don’t have a job, and sometimes it’s frustrating trying to cope with your situations in life because it’s kinda depressing. That’s what kinda set it off.
Now, looking back on it, I could say that I’ve had symptoms of depression long before I officially went to the doctor and got medication for it. In college I probably had some episodes where I was depressed about it. I found out a little over a year ago that this other psychologist that I’d been seeing—she thought I might have Asperger syndrome. Now, looking back on things, it’s like, “Yeah, that’s probably likely that I have that.” It’s really interesting: I think 50% of the men who have Asperger’s suffer from depression.
Des: So you think that fits?
Jonathan: Yeah. I mean, I don’t fit every single symptom of it, but looking back on my life, it’s highly probable. Even in my own research looking at it I’d say I have it. Even without a formal test. She talked with my parents, and said the next day, “I think you might have Asperger’s.” I kinda kept looking at it and, yeah, I think that’s probably likely. Just kinda fits me, you know?
Des: Is suicide still an option?
Jonathan: I don’t know. I don’t wanna say yes or no. I’d like to say no completely, but I just go through life one day at a time. It’s never over. I still think about it, but that doesn’t mean I’m gonna act on it. I really would like to think the answer is no.
Des: So your parents know what’s up. How do they feel? Are they supportive?
Jonathan: Oh yeah. They know. They try to help out because they understand that it’s not easy to deal with for me. It’s not like a walk in the park. You can’t choose when you’re depressed.
Des: Have they ever experienced that? Depression or suicidal thoughts?
Jonathan: No, no. Neither one of them have, but I know my mom knows firsthand from my grandmother, who was bipolar, what mental illness can be like. This other psychologist who said I had Asperger’s thought it should be looked at. Because she had seen when my grandmother was kind of out there. I mean, drawing crosses, just weird… She was having episodes there, so she knows that’s really serious, too. So they understand that it’s not easy.
Des: Do you know anyone else who’s ever died by suicide or attempted?
Jonathan: No, I don’t know anybody personally. Well, actually, one of my college roommates did that—now that you mention it. My junior year. He was dealing with depression and he tried to take aspirin. He only told me he took ten. It was exams week, finals week. I had a Spanish exam. He said he only took ten, so I said, “Okay.” There were two other people. So I said, “Hey, can you watch him?” ‘Cause I was like, “Oh shit. I can’t miss this exam.” When I came back, he was throwing up, vomiting. He apparently took four times the number you should have in your system in a day, ’cause when we went to the hospital, they gave him charcoal. But what I learned is, his organs would’ve started to shut down because it was too much. I found out what happens if you don’t treat overdose of aspirin. That’s the only person that I know personally that has attempted and dealt with it. That was the first time I had ever dealt with that stuff, too.
Des: Dealing with knowing somebody?
Jonathan: Yeah. I was living with somebody who was dealing with that.
Des: And you hadn’t really been there yet?
Jonathan: No. I’d never thought of stuff like that. But he was obviously depressed because he’d spend most of that semester sleeping all day. Stay up. He wouldn’t go to class. He’d say, “Oh yeah, I went to class,” and it’s like, “I go to class, but when I leave at ten o’clock, you’re sleeping. When I get back at 2 pm, you’re still sleeping. So I don’t think you went to class, because there’s no way…” I just didn’t see it. I just think he was just trying to avoid… which is fine, but it was just like he was sleeping a lot during the day and not doing much. Lack of interest.
Des: So what do you do now? How do you distract yourself when you have a bad day?
Jonathan: Well, like I said, sometimes I’ll just get out of the house. One of the things is listening to music that can be really helpful, too. Sometimes if you listen to songs that have a good meaning to ’em or people that are genuine. I think now, more recently since he’s passed, listening to Motorhead. I’ve listened to rap a lot.
I watched all the movies, the two movies they made with Lemmy, and read that book he had. If you never really heard the guy talk—’cause they have this reputation—but there was one where he was talking and he said people come up to him and say, “I was depressed and was thinking about killing myself and your music got me through it.” He thought that was a really powerful and wonderful thing. How many people say that?
You hear this guy sing like he was born to lose and lived to win, like everybody was against him. No matter what they did, even if they didn’t do something wrong, people thought they were causing problems. That mentality makes you feel like this is somebody who’s known—granted, they might not’ve been suicidal—but they’ve been through a whole lot in their life. When you listen to that music and you understand what the person’s all about like that—they’re about treating people fairly. They’re a genuine person, because this guy would sign people’s autographs all the time after shows. He really cared about the fans and all that. A lot of musicians wouldn’t do that. They don’t really care so much. It’s just a genuine person.
You listen to some of those songs and you can relate to ’em. There’s that one they’ve done by Judas Priest. Have you ever heard Breaking the Law?
Jonathan: You know that one? That is the epitome of someone being depressed and suicidal right there. Some of those songs, you kinda just go, “Yeah, I know exactly—” and it’s like they’re not afraid to sing about that stuff.
Des: Yeah. I just came across this quote about, “The scars you share become lighthouses for other people who are about to hit those rocks,” and that’s what musicians do… What would you want to say to someone reading your story?
Jonathan: If you think that no one else knows what it’s like—people always think they’re all alone in this—just look at all these people who’ve died by suicide. Look up the celebrities who’ve died by suicide. Those are just the celebrities. There’s thousands of more like ’em. Kurt Cobain, Robin Williams. There was a guy who was on that show, I think it was Rizzoli & Isles. He was a Black actor who was 29 years old. He killed himself. These are people who are actors, musicians. It’s amazing if you actually look it up to see all the people who actually decided to take their own life.
You’re obviously not alone in this. Things, they’ll get better. You can’t ever say it won’t ever happen again. That’s gonna be a lie.
But if you look at it… like 500,000 people visited the hospital for self-harm-related injuries in the year 2013,they said, and it’s like, “Okay, so there’s how many people who‘ve done that kinda stuff? How many people didn’t go to the hospital? How many people just think about it? How many people come up with a plan?”
There’s plenty of people, but they just don’t admit it. They don’t go out publicizing it because they’re scared. They feel ashamed. It’s not something that is taboo for me because more people than you think have been through it. I’ve heard stories of Craig Ferguson, who was on The View one time, and he said he was really depressed and he was planning on going home and killing himself, except he got too drunk and forgot about it. He was planning on killing himself when he went home, and he completely forgot, he was so drunk. David Letterman’s been somebody who’s dealt with depression. If these people have dealt with it… no one is immune to it. You’re not the only one.
There’s so many people who deal with this stuff, whether you know they’re out there [or not]. Sometimes you never know. It’s interesting if you just start talking with people… that kind of stuff seems to affect more people than you think… But suicidal thoughts, it’s kinda hard to tell people about, because they think you’re crazy.
Finding ways to get help is the most important thing. Because if you can find somebody to talk to—a therapist—they’ll be able to help you. They might know somebody who’s been through it or they might have been through it themselves. Just getting help to get through it. Of course, it doesn’t go away forever, because life. In an ideal world it would, but your situation’s gonna change, especially if you’re young.
You’re gonna have things that are gonna make you depressed, and maybe you’ll have suicidal thoughts, but just because you have them, it’s not the worst thing in the world. I’ve had, just in passing, suicidal thoughts, but it’s when you’re really all worked up and you have the suicidal thoughts and then you feel like acting upon ’em is when things are really tough. It’s emotionally draining. It’s times like that where you really need help, especially because you can’t let that stuff go. It’s not healthy. ‘Cause you’re just suffering. You’re not gonna feel like anybody cares about you if you don’t have any help. If you don’t see a therapist or anybody through something like that, you’re gonna be in the same situation, probably. And it may not end well.
Des: Final thoughts?
Jonathan: Well, I guess, people shouldn’t feel ashamed of having depression or suicidal thoughts. Granted, you can’t help it. If you have bipolar, schizophrenia, you can’t really help those. Depression, you can’t really help it either, but it’s not always something that you’re born with, so much as people can become depressed, clinically depressed, from situations. Look at people who come back from wars; they have PTSD because of stuff they’ve been through. It’s not something to be ashamed of and hide.
I think as a whole, if you tell people that you’ve been through this stuff, most people will respond with compassion. There’ll be some people who don’t seem to care. Some people might think, “No, I don’t wanna deal with all that.” That’s the way they feel, but it’s not something that I like to hide. I think it’s better, especially if you’re going to school or at a job, if people know that you deal with that stuff, they can better accommodate you and be more understanding of what you’re going through. I’ve been to work when I’ve had suicidal thoughts. I don’t just stop. If I didn’t go to work every time I had suicidal thoughts, I probably would’ve missed months. You can’t do that.
Des: You can’t call out depressed.
Jonathan: No, you can’t. If you’re not gonna be productive, you could, but you gotta embrace it. It’s not something to be ashamed of. That’s the number one thing. I used to think, “No, I don’t wanna have depression. Do I have depression? No, I hope.” It’s honestly not the worst thing in the world to say, ’cause it comes and goes. You could be depressed all the time, yeah, not want to get out of bed. But things could be a lot worse. I guess if they told you, like Lemmy, you had six months to live and you have cancer, that would be worse. I’d rather just have depression than be told, “You’ve only got six months to live.”
Des: Not being ashamed of it. Talking about it. Why is it important to talk about it?
Jonathan: Well, I know if you talk about it yourself and share with somebody like a therapist, you feel better that somebody else knows and you’re not having to keep it all to yourself. That’s really hard. Keeping suicidal thoughts to yourself is probably one of the hardest things to deal with. You think, “Do people want to hear this?” But knowing that people aren’t afraid of it is such a relief…
Sometimes, if you talk about it, other people may pick up on that and say, “Hey, I know somebody who’s been through this,” like, “I have a family member,” or, “I’ve been through that.” They can get a sense that more people are going through it than they know. And if they’re going through it, they can feel like you automatically have that connection that you both have been through. It’s not like you’re all alone in that struggle.
Thanks to Andy Dinsmore for providing the transcription to Jonathan’s interview, and to Liza Walter for editing.