Lex Wortleyis a suicide attempt survivor.
"I survived a suicide attempt."
Lex Wortley is a teacher. She was 35 when I interviewed her in Seattle, WA, on February 29, 2016.
CONTENT WARNING: discussion of suicide methods
My attempt was actually ten years ago this month. I don’t know the exact day. It was kind of like a week-long blur. I suppose if I went and found the hospital papers, they would be in there, but I know it was February.
Des: Good timing, then?
Lex: Yeah, because it has been ten years. Two years ago is when I started coming out about it and talking about it; I had kind of hidden it, or kept it buried for eight years. I might have said little things to ex-boyfriends, and they would just kind of brush it off as not a big deal… but I wouldn’t make a big deal about it.
I had just turned twenty-five. I was going through different relationships. I was kind of that person who just wanted somebody to like me, basically. I would get into these relationships with these guys who were definitely not good for me. It wasn’t like they were bad or anything, they just weren’t looking for the same thing that I was looking for. I would get too involved and try to help them, and when they wouldn’t reciprocate, it would kind of devastate me. I would go into these two to three week depression spirals where I didn’t want to get out of bed. There was that.
It was winter in Seattle, and I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, so that wasn’t helping. I was in a job that I couldn’t stand—I was teaching middle school at the time—and it was just not working out for me. I had just moved out on my own. I had been out on my own for about six or seven months, and I was lonely, living in an apartment for the first time. Everybody was nearby, but it was just a lot of things at one time I couldn’t handle. My parents had gotten divorced two years earlier, and my dad was with somebody else. My step-mom is awesome, I love her to death, but it was just this big everything wrapped into one.
For a couple of months, I wasn’t eating. I was losing weight, and people were noticing. One night, I was sitting at my dad’s house. I remember staring at the TV, and it was like, I was just done. I got in my car, and went home. Everybody knew I was depressed, and the plan was to get me into counseling and stuff the next day, so my mom was going to come over and spend the night with me. Before my mom came over, I was driving home, and I remember thinking, “Gosh, will something just take me out right now?” I was crying. I didn’t want to do it anymore. It was a very snap decision.
My mom came over and we talked for a little bit. I went to bed, and she’s like, “Tomorrow we’re going to see about getting you some help.” She didn’t see the Costco-sized Tylenol bottle on the counter, so I went to bed thinking, “Okay, this is it. I don’t have to deal with this stuff anymore.” I went to sleep.
The next day, when I woke up, it was like, “Oh, shit. I’m awake. This is not good.” I didn’t feel right, obviously. I had all the stuff going through my system. That’s when I kind of went, “Hmm, maybe it wasn’t supposed to happen.” I don’t know. Divine intervention. Of course, I figured out later that it was basically science.
I told my mom, and spent the next week in and out of hospitals. They tried all these different medicines on me. There was this one where I had to swallow this awful tasting concoction. I had to drink cups of it and chase it down with Coke, and it was the most disgusting thing that I have ever tasted in my life. That was at one hospital. They sent me home, and a few hours later, I started throwing up, just sick-to-my-stomach throwing up. [I] had to call 911 because I had my blood pressure dropping. I was just not doing well, only to find out that whatever concoction they had given me hadn’t helped at all, and my liver was starting to shut down. I ended up back at the same hospital, and they were like, “We can’t do anything, you’re going to have to go to Seattle.”
I ended up at UW Medical Center, and it was a blur. There was talk about liver transplants; there was this experimental drug that they could try to get my liver enzymes down. I was being poked and prodded constantly. I was on suicide watch, people sitting in the hospital with me, just making sure nothing happened. My parents came, different interns came in, and they’re looking at me and talking about me. I’m like, “What in the hell? What’s going on here?” [They were] not really talking to me so much as trying to cure me first—eventually, after a few days, they’d given me enough of this medicine that my enzymes had gone down.
I remember this one lady coming in. I don’t know if she was a psychologist. I don’t know what she was, but she finally started treating me like a real person. She closed the door and we sat there and talked. She asked me what I wanted and, “How are you feeling? What can we do to help you?” That’s finally where I started feeling like, “Okay, maybe I am going to be better, and get into some pretty heavy counseling,” which is what happened when I got discharged.
After I went home, I had to go back to teaching. I had friends who knew and they were supportive and helped me out. The school I was working for? Not so much. They didn’t understand stuff like that, so I had to talk to them and say, “Please don’t let this get out,” that type of thing, and just went on with my life. Eventually, I changed schools. I started teaching elementary school in the same district. Turns out that that’s where I needed to be. I was moved to fifth grade, and the school that I was at [had] amazing people. I have very dear friends from there, who were good morale for me.
Still, everything was swept under the rug. It was never talked about again. Parents never mentioned it. My sister, every now and then when she’d see me get depressed, might say something like, “I don’t want to have happen what happened last time,” but that would be it. It was all swept under the rug.
I’ve been going to counseling since I was probably fifteen or sixteen, so I have been in and out of counselors. I’ve been on medication since I was nineteen. I’ve been on Paxil, I’ve been on Prozac. Now I’m on Zoloft, Welbutrin, and something called Lamictal. I was just started on that, actually, a couple weeks ago. The psychiatrist I met with did the whole evaluation on me, and he diagnosed me basically with mood disorder and ADD.
Des: I was going to ask if he diagnosed you with bipolar disorder.
Lex: No, he didn’t. That’s the thing is he did notdiagnose me with.
Des: Mood disorder NOS.
Lex: He just said mood disorder with ADD, yeah. I know for a fact that I’m not bipolar, because I don’t get the mania. I get the extreme kind of lows, but they’re very situational. I’ve never been manic, ever, and so, when I read that that’s what [the medication was] for… I’m actually going to see him today, and I’m going to ask him, “Why did you put me on a medicine that’s for people who are bipolar?” It’s also to control seizures. I’m not any of those.
Des: A lot of bipolar [medicines], like mood stabilizers, are also anti-epileptics. But, yeah, Lamictal. I’m bipolar! Lamictal is good specifically for bipolar type II, so that might be the question to ask him. Type II is hypomanias—you sleep less, sometimes you’re more productive, sometimes you’re peppier, you talk more, more charismatic, but you’re not going out and fucking everyone and spending all the money. It’s not that kind of mania.
Lex: Right. There are times when I’m doing really well, and then there are times when I’m not. It kind of scares me a little bit, the bipolar. Just the things I’ve heard about it. I think it goes back to the whole stigma thing: people hear “bipolar,” and they immediately think, “Okay, are you crazy?” I don’t know. It’s something to ask. He just said mood disorder, because of the constant anxiety in my head, the swirling thoughts, the racing thoughts.
Des: Yeah, that’s interesting. I would totally ask him, now that they have that mood disorder, not otherwise specified diagnosis.
Lex: Well, my major issue is the anxiety. My anxiety can get off the charts. In fact, that’s how it first started when I was nineteen. I started having panic attacks because of a relationship. I have found that a lot of my issues have to do with guys, and relationships, and whether or not things are working out in that arena. I don’t know if that comes down to, “Do I want to be loved so badly?” type of thing. I’m an introvert—I feel things more, I guess. I’ve read that about introverts, that they tend to internalize things. When things don’t go well, we don’t want to deal with stuff. My sister is the type who, when she gets down, would be out with friends, partying it up, having a good old time, and trying to get over it that way—whereas I’m home on my couch, depressed, can’t eat, and hating the world. And then it would just take a really long time to get over it.
I’m very lucky that I now have somebody who understands that, simply because he has been through anxiety and stuff like that. He understands and he knows when my low points are. He knows when to just leave me alone. He just understands how I work, that if I’m quiet and I don’t seem like I’m all there, it’s best to let me do my own thing. Then there are times when he can tell that I really need to talk, and I really need to get it out, so we talk. I’ve been able to finally find somebody who gets me and understands me, so when I’m going through the anxiety, he’s good about just being there. Even if I don’t need him to solve my problems, I just need him to listen. I need somebody to let me know that I matter. I knowthat I matter, obviously. I have good friends, a family who loves me—but he’s the one who lets me know that I domatter.
It’s kind of interesting. When I started deciding to come out about the attempt and everything, at the time I was like, “I’m done with men. I’m just done. I’m going to be single, I’m going to enjoy being single, and not have to worry about trying to find somebody.” Of course, as soon as I swear off men, he comes into my life, and everything works out wonderfully. We were friends before we got together. We had met like six months before we got together. We met online, went out on one date, and at the time, it just didn’t really mesh. I went and dated some other guys who, of course, broke my heart. We kept in contact through Facebook and stuff, and were talking about different things, and then he’s like, “Well, hey, do you wanna get together?” We got together, and it just worked.
He has been very supportive through the whole attempt thing. I did the Out of Darkness Walk here in Seattle, I did a couple interviews, and I did some things with Christine Moutier, and then everything just kind of fizzled after that. I got busy with teaching, and I was in a new relationship that was actually working. I was happy, and I kind of just stopped. I wanted to really get involved in stuff, and tell my story. I wanted to be able to somehow find a way to talk to people about it, but it always came down to: I’m a teacher first. The schedule does not work to just take off and go talk about this stuff. Being also that I am a teacher, would parents be understanding of that? Would they want to know that their kid’s teacher is going around talking about her suicide attempt?
Lex: I don’t know if I have extreme emotions. My issues are really all anxiety-based.
Des: Isn’t it funny when it’s your baseline? You’re like, “My baseline is being really anxious.” Do you feel like that’s normal?
Lex: Yeah, that is normal, and now I’m on three medications that have really helped. Especially being on the Lamictal. I’ve only been on it for a few weeks now. I started doing half pills. Now I’m on the full pill, and then I’ll be on the two pills. I’ve just noticed that I’m very even-keeled. I think about stuff, and stuff doesn’t bother me, and I’m not getting the heart-racing [feelings].
But I don’t want to be a robot, either. I was upset about a couple things yesterday, and it’s like, “Wow, I really want to cry,” but I couldn’t. It just wouldn’t come out. I know that crying is okay, I know it’s okay to do that… I talked to my husband about it, and I said, “This is what’s bothering me,” and after that I was fine. So, I don’t know.
Des: Do you like that, or do you hate it? I can’t tell.
Lex: I don’t know how I feel about it. I don’t want to become a robot. I don’t want to be somebody who can’t feel, who is like, “Yeah, well. This is how it is,” you know? At the same time, maybe that’s what I do need right now. There have been times when I’ve been so anxious that I’ve been shaking, chest-hurting, and feeling like the whole world is going to crumble around me, so maybe that is what I need right now, to [be able to say], “Alright, things happened, and we’ll deal with it the way that we deal with it.”
Des: Yeah. I feel like being on that medication makes me even-keeled. I don’t freak out, and I don’t get too happy. I can be happy and I can be sad. To me, it’s like, “I think this is what a normal range of emotions is.”
Lex: Like, “This is what regular people feel when things go wrong.”
I also wonder, am I going to be on three medications for the rest of my life? Isn’t medication supposed to help you for a while, and then you’re supposed to be able to get off of it? That’s what a psychiatrist told my husband—the goal on medication is eventually to be able to not need it anymore. But I’ve been on medication since I was nineteen, and no psychiatrist or psychologist has ever said to me, “The goal is to get you off of this.” They just keep changing the dosages, or putting me on a new one, so I’ve kind of resigned myself to the fact that I just might be on medication for the rest of my life.
Des: That’s interesting. When you have this bipolar thing, a lot of people say, “This is life long, so prep for that.” I remember, for me, when I was twenty-three, really fighting that stuff, like, “I don’t want to be on fucking medication for the rest of my life. That’s terrible. Are you kidding?”
I wasn’t on medication for eight years and then I found that the Lamictal [worked]. If this is what I need to feel the way I do, then I want that. This idea of the psychiatrist changing things is scary.
Lex: I was told the Paxil wasn’t working, and that the Prozac would work for [me]. It worked for several years, but when I met my husband, he was on Zoloft. He was like, “Zoloft has been awesomefor me, so maybe ask your doctor about putting you on Zoloft.”
I didn’t ask a psychiatrist about it, I went to my general doctor, and she was just like, “Sure, we’ll put you on Zoloft,” and just switched it on me. I don’t know if that was the right thing to do, but the Zoloft has been fine, and the Welbutrin has been fine.
Because of health insurance things, I’ve had to switch doctors quite a few times. Now I’m with this new psychiatrist because of military insurance, and he wasn’t beating around the bush. He’s like, “I don’t know why you’re on both of these, but okay, we’ll see how that works.” He did not understand why I was on Zoloft and Welbutrin. He’s like, “Who put you on both of these?”
I was like, “She was a nurse practitioner with Multicare, [who] ended up leaving with no word or anything.”
He’s like, “If these are working out for you, we’re going to try this one just to get rid of the racing thoughts.”
Literally the only reason he put me on [Lamictal] is because of the racing thoughts that I was having. But those are due to anxiety. My racing thoughts only come when I’m stressed out. If I’m not really, really stressed out, I don’t get the racing thoughts, so I may have overstepped how often I have them. At the time I saw him, I was stressed out. I thought I was moving to Colorado, teaching was driving me crazy, and my husband was gone, but now that things have kind of settled down, I don’t have the racing thoughts anymore. Or it could be the medication, I have no idea!
So, yeah. I’m gonna ask him that today, like, “Why did you put me on this medication?”
No doctor has eversaid to me, “You sound like you’re bipolar.” Not a single one in almost twenty years, but then he’s just like, “Let’s just try this. You have a mood disorder. And I base that on clinical depression, seasonal affective, and anxiety.”
Des: Did he put you on that the first time you saw him?
Lex: Yes. He’s like, “Let’s try this.” He also said, “I want to treat the mood disorder before we move to the ADD medication. Maybe this will also help your ADD.”
I was researching it and there was that little note that said, “Could also be used for adults with onset ADD,” so, I don’t know. All questions that I’m going to be asking, like, “I need to know, do you think I’m bipolar?” And if he says, “Yeah, you’re the Type II,” or whatever, then that’s not a big deal.
I also know that I need sunshine constantly. I am somebody who, when it’s sunny outside, my whole demeanor completely changes. I don’t know if that’s a bipolar thing, or if it’s just the fact that the sun is out, and the gloom isn’t hanging over me. I noticed when I was driving here, the sun came out, and I automatically just went like, “Oh, if the sun stays out, it’s gonna be a great day!”
Des: I don’t think I could live here.
Lex: It’s tough. We have pretty [high] suicide rate here because of the dark and stuff like that.
Des: It’s fucking beautiful here.
Lex: Yeah. During the summer, this is the place to be. Last summer was spectacular! We didn’t have rain for three months straight. We were in a drought, even. We, of course, have made up for that since, because we also had the wettest winter on record. But, yeah, I need to get out of here. I need to be somewhere where it’s generally sunny all the time. I grew up in southern California. My depression issues didn’t start until I moved to Washington, so I don’t know if there’s a correlation there. Anyway, I have just totally gotten off topic!
Des: No, that’s totally on-topic. I like to talk about the way doctors treat us, the way they put us on all these medications. One thing I noticed that you said was, “They told me it wasn’t working.” I get a little like, “No, I’m the expert on me. I tell you.”
Lex: Yeah, but then I also think to myself, “Okay, you’re the doctor. I’m not a doctor.” I said that to this new psychiatrist when he suggested it. I was like, “You’re the doctor!”
He was like, “Thank you!”
I want to believe that what they’re doing is what they think is best for their patients, but at the same time, I also know that they’re on crunch time, too. He had an hour to sit with me and go through all this stuff, and I could tell that, toward the end, he kept looking at the clock like, “Okay, let’s try this,” and I had a lot of questions about putting a new medication in there.
Des: I feel like one of the things, when you deal with your mental health stuff, that people don’t really tell you is how to advocate for yourself. And, essentially, that even psychiatry is an industry!
Lex: Yeah, that’s true, they prescribe medicines, and—
Des: And they’re manipulated by pharmaceutical reps. It’s a huge thing.
I just recently started to see a new psychiatrist, myself, and I said, “I just moved. I’m having a lot of issues with my family. Things are really not great right now.”
She was like, “Let’s put you on an antipsychotic!”
I was like, “Absolutely not! I think this is situational. Let’s wait it out.” It was the first time I saw her, and I was just like, “You need to put down your prescription pad, lady. Chill out.”
Lex: That’s interesting that you said that. The first time I saw him, I just said, “There’s a lot of situational stuff going on right now,” and after I saw him things immediately started calming. In fact, when he prescribed the medicine, I think I went two weeks before I even filled it because I just couldn’t get to my pharmacy on base. So, I didn’t even take it for two weeks, and I noticed that in that time, I had calmed down considerably. Things had changed a little bit, and then I was like, “Well, I probably should take this.”
I didn’t want to. I was really concerned about the whole treating-the-mood-disorder thing. I didn’t want to deal with the side effects, which I haven’t had any, thank goodness, but then my husband was like, “Maybe you should try it. He prescribed it for you, don’t self-diagnose yourself.”
I was like, “But I know how I’m feeling, and right now I don’t feel like I need to take it.”
But I started taking it, and I think it’s been three weeks now. I don’t know if you can feel any kind of difference in three weeks, but at the moment I feel fine. It takes what, three to four weeks for something to even kick in?
Des: I’ve heard six to eight, but I definitely started feeling different right away. Just that even-ness.
Lex: Again, I don’t know if it’s the medication, or if the fact that the situation that I was in just happened to stop.
Des: Yeah. It’s fun, self-diagnosis. There’s a fine line between advocating for yourself, and… I just think that we like to give the psychiatrists too much power.
Lex: Yeah, and that’s why I’m going to go today and just be like, “Tell me why you put me on this. You just said there’s a mood disorder—which I know, because I’ve been told that throughout the years—but not one doctor, or anybody, has ever said bipolar. Not one. They’ve just said ‘mood disorder, unspecified, depression, generalized anxiety disorder.’”
Maybe he really was like, “Let’s try this. Let’s see if this is the one that might work for you.” Maybe it’s not a bipolar issue. Maybe he was just like, “Okay, here is the one that I think might be for the mood disorder, and hey, it might help your ADD too.”
As we’re getting into spring, and the days are starting to get longer, I’m not as moody. Winter is my hardest time. I will get anxious and upset when it’s nice out, but it won’t be as bad. I’ve dealt with relationships that ended in summers and it took a lot less time to get over it when it was nice out. If it happened in January or February, it took a lot longer to get over it. So, really, I’m somebody who has to have sunshine. Even if I don’t have to go outside in it, I just like the fact that it’s out there. I’m gonna tell him about that today. The days are getting longer, my moods are much better because I’m driving to work, it’s 6:30, and the sun is freaking coming out; it’s not pitch dark. When I’m leaving work, the sun is still on the horizon, it’s still there.
Des: That might be a thing to tell him, like, “I want to minimize the amount of medications I’m on, how can we do that? Can we do that?”
Lex: There have been times when I was on a lower dosage of Zoloft—like a year ago. It just so happened that around that time, we got engaged. I was starting to think, “Gosh, I need to find a job closer to home,” because I was commuting an hour each way for teaching and it was not working out for me mentally or physically. I was like, “Oh shoot, I’ve got to plan a wedding, and now I’ve got to think about possibly quitting the job I’m at with the people I love, and finding something else,” and that’s when all the anxiety started. I had to get on a higher dosage and then things, again, calmed down. Marriage stuff, I ended up getting a new job, and then it was fine. Situational things.
I think a lot of it may be that I don’t have good coping skills. I don’t know how to cope with stuff that comes into my life. My first reaction is automatic anxiety. Again, I have a lot of anxieties now, but it’s not taking my breath away. It’s not heart-pounding anxiety. Like, I’m worried about the possibility that Trump is going to be our next president. I’m terrified that that could happen.
Lex: I mean, I am the type of person who worries about losing people who are close to me. I’m worried my husband’s going to get in a car accident and die, and what am I gonna do if that happens? Obviously I worry about things I can’t control—that’s my main thing. I can control whether or not I get my schoolwork down for the night, and I don’t freak out about that, but I’m worried when he goes out. What if my dad dies? He drives tanker trucks. What if something were to happen?
I’m afraid to lose people, because I don’t know how I would react. I think that’s what makes me really anxious. I’m getting to that point in my life when I could potentially start losing people. People are older and such, and I don’t know how I would react to that. I finally have somebody who loves me, and I love him—what would happen if I all of a sudden lost him? You read on the news every day, “Oh, there was an accident in Seattle. One person died.” It’s like, “Oh my gosh, that person’s life just [ended]. Everybody’s life completely changed.”
Then I think about my family, and what they went through when I tried to kill myself. They told me they were devastated, they were confused, they didn’t know why I didn’t come to them for help. Later, I found out, two years ago when I started talking about this, that they didn’t talk about it because I didn’t talk about it. They were totally willing, but I never brought it up. I was the one who pushed it and said, “I’m ashamed of this. I hurt people. I don’t want to talk about this.” I still bring it up now, like, “During the attempt,” or “When I did that,” and there is always a slight uncomfortableness, but they don’t brush it aside, I guess.
I try to be very frank about it, like, “Yeah, when I tried to kill myself…” I’m not afraid to tell people that. All my friends know. I told all the people I worked with, and when I told them that, it was amazing how supportive they were.
They were like, “Yeah, I’ve had those thoughts, and I’ve got kids, and work.” They told me, “Everybody has dealt with that,” or, “I know somebody who’s going through that.”
It was really awesome starting to talk about it and realizing how many people out there are actually dealing with that kind of stuff, or know somebody who is dealing with it. That’s when I start going, “Well, if everybody knows somebody, or is actually going through these emotions, how come it’s not brought up more?” I think that’s where I was like, “I have to get more involved.”
I think what was even weirder is people weren’t surprised when I told them that. I don’t mean that as a bad thing. A lot of people knew I had anxiety issues, and I’ve always been a very melancholy type of person. I read that Abraham Lincoln was like that. Experts have said he was most likely very depressed, but he found a way to get through that, and just had a general sense of melancholy about him. That’s how I’ve always been. I don’t get overly excited about things, and when I do, it’s like, “Oh, great! Yay!” I don’t freak out or anything like that. When things go bad, things are bad. I internalize it, I wait a few days, and then I cry about it or something like that.
There’s a lot of people who just don’t understand. There’s certain people who I can kind of tell that, no, I really shouldn’t say anything to them. How are they going to react to that?
The problem that we have with social media is everybody thinks that they’re the expert now. When Robin Williams killed himself, I got to the point where I was like, “Why am I even trying to explain to this troll, ‘You don’t understand because you’ve never been there?’”
All the comments about, “He’s so selfish, how could he do that?” or, “I’d never do that!”
It’s just like, “You don’t know if you would ever do that, because maybe you’ve never been in that situation.”
Des: So, [one of the questions I have]. I wanted to know: when I talk to people about overdoses, especially Tylenol and stuff like that, they’re like, “It’s painful, it’s real painful!”
Lex: I don’t remember it being painful.
Lex: Well, no, I take that back. I remember doing the overdose on a Thursday, waking up Friday, going to the hospital, spending the night in the hospital, drinking that awful concoction, being released Saturday, and going home—that’s when I remember having horrible pain in my side, and then just vomiting. This pain like, “Why is this happening?” I thought it was that stuff they made me drink, only to find out that my liver was going, “Okay, now we’re going to start rebelling on you!” But that’s the only pain that I can remember, the time when I was doubling over and then started throwing up.
Des: But was your assumption when you took the Tylenol that you were just going to go to sleep and that was going to be that?
Lex: Yeah, that’s exactly what I thought.
Des: Where did that idea come from?
Lex: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I didn’t want to do anything messy. I didn’t want anything that was going to cause pain, and I guess I just kind of was thinking that this might be the best way to do it. Maybe it would just shut down the organs in my sleep, and it would be almost kind of a natural thing, like I just wouldn’t wake up. I guess, in my mind, reading about overdoses, how they go to sleep, and just don’t wake up.
It was a very snap decision. I drove home and I was like, “Okay, I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to die,” and that was the only thing that I had available to me. I didn’t have a gun. I wasn’t about to slit my wrists because I knew that that would be slow and painful and I didn’t want to do that. I figured, “I’ll try some pills,” because I read books and stuff about that.
Des: I’m asking you this because I’m convinced that it’s the TV, it’s the books we read, the way that suicide is portrayed. They make it seem like you just go to sleep.
Lex: Yeah. Reading in books, or [characters] on TV shows, like soap operas or movies, where she just took a bunch of prescription medication. I was like, “I don’t have any prescription medication, but I have Tylenol, and hopefully that will be just as good.” I also knew that I’d have to take a lot of it. I knew the whole warning, you know, if you take more than eight… I’m like, “Well, let’s do eight times four.” That type of thing.
Honestly, I’ll say it was really stupid to [do that]. I was just reading about, “Oh, they died by taking a lot of prescription medication and then alcohol,” or with Anna Nicole Smith, they found drugs and alcohol all over the room, or stuff like that.
Now that I think about it, I can admit that’s probably where the idea came from, because I knew that I didn’t want to do it messy. I just thought, “I just want to end this. I don’t want to make it slow and painful.”
Des: Yeah, when you see it on TV, or when you read about in books, what are the ways that they do it? Like, top two.
Lex: Prescription medication, or I guess shooting?
Des: It’s just interesting to me.
Lex: It’s interesting—women versus men. I think I read somewhere that women do the medication part because they don’t want it to be messy.
Des: Yep, they tend to use less lethal methods, which may also account for why men don’t talk about it as much.
Lex: I come from a pretty long line of people, both on my mom and dad’s side, who were depressed. But they were living in an era when—early 1900s, 1950s, that kind of thing—you didn’t talk about that stuff, you dealt with it. You picked yourself up by the bootstraps, and you dealt with it. My mom will tell me how she knew that her grandpa was totally depressed, or her grandmother. My dad has talked about my great-grandmother—she was a worrier, just worried about everything under the sun—and that’s where he gets it from. He’s a worrier, but he’s an internal worrier. He will not portray that he’s even feeling bad.
For a while that’s how I was. I could hold it all in. I wouldn’t say or do anything, and then it would all explode at once. I’m learning not to hold in stuff when I’m feeling bad, because I don’t want to have that internal rage, or that internal anxiety, and have it all blow up in one fell swoop. I’m learning to communicate, I guess, is what it is.
Again, with my husband, I give him props. He’s like, “You have to communicate. You have to tell me if something is bothering you. If you let it fester and fester, it’s just going to drive you crazy. Then, when you scream about it a week after it’s happened, I’m not going to know what you’re talking about! We have to tell each other what’s going on and how we’re feeling.”
I’m learning how to communicate that. I’m learning how to say, “Okay, this is what happened today,” or, “You said this and I took it the wrong way, and this is how I felt about it.”
And he might be like, “Yeah, you totally took that the wrong way, but I’m glad that you said something. I’m glad that you didn’t hold onto this for a whole week and then get upset about it.”
It’s just a matter of communicating, I think. I didn’t grow up in a household where you talked about your feelings. I’m pretty sure that my dad would agree with that. We didn’t talk about feelings. That just didn’t happen, so I learned to hold things in very well. I did it very, very well, so it would just be one little thing, and I would completely lose it. I’m sure my dad would probably admit that that wasn’t the best way to handle things back then, but he didn’t know any better. He’s a marine. Again, it’s pick yourself up by the bootstraps and deal with it, and that’s how he was.
I suppose, in some ways, that’s what I teach to my students—just deal with it, you’re going to have to learn how to deal with stuff—not realizing that they’re ten! They don’t know how to cope, nobody has taught them how to cope, and I am being a hypocrite by saying, “Just deal with it.”
Des: You said your mom didn’t see the bottle of Tylenol. I’m wondering how she reacted when she found out that you had done this and she had been there. Does she know that part?
Lex: That morning, after I woke up, I told her what had happened. I remember she was surprisingly calm, very calm. She called poison control, and they were like, “You need to call 911. You need to get her to the doctor.”
She’s just like, “I didn’t see the bottle,” because she wasn’t expecting it. When she came to my apartment that night, her goal was to be there for me, and the next day, the plan was to get into some counseling.
I don’t know if I ever asked her how she felt. I know that she kind of blamed herself a little bit for not recognizing how bad things really were for me, because, again, I was really good at holding it in and not talking about it. She also said, “I thought it was just a cry for help.”
I was like, “Well, yeah, it was a cry for help. I was hurting, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I thought that you guys would all be better off without me.”
That’s what I was literally thinking in my mind, thinking [that] nobody cares, because nobody was coming to me and saying, “Hey, how are you feeling? You’re looking down.” It was, “Hey, you’re losing weight, you look great!” and, “Oh, you’re not eating very well. Here, you need to eat better.”
Finally it was like, “Something is really wrong, and we need to get you some help.”
I think, for a long time, she kind of blamed herself that she didn’t see any of the signs. There have been times in the last couple of years when I was really down about stuff, and I probably lied a little bit, not really letting her know what was going on, because I didn’t want her first thought to be, “Oh no, are you going to try to hurt yourself again?”
There have been times when she’s asked that, and I’ve been very adamant that, “No, I would never do that to you guys again.”
That’s the thing. There have been times in the past ten years where I’ve had those thoughts. Things just get overwhelming, and I don’t want to do this anymore, or thoughts like, “Gee, I wonder if I got into a car accident, would people care?” But then I can tell myself, “Wait a second, why are you thinking this? That’s crazy! First, you don’t want to be in a car accident. Second, yes, people are going to care about that, because they care about you.” I’m able to talk myself out of the thoughts, because I don’t wantto die. I have absolutely no desire to do that, to the point where I’m scared of dying before my time.
That’s another anxiety I have. I’ve been given the chance to live again. I’ve tried to do this, it wasn’t my time, and now I’m scared that something could happen. I could get cancer, I could get into a car accident, be shot—who knows? There’s all these different scenarios. I’m really terrified, and I don’t want to die. I feel like I still have something to do with my life. Maybe, at the moment it’s not showing, but I would really like to spend the next fifty to sixty years figuring out if there is something I can do with my life—be a part of a movement of some sort.
For me, I think it’s a good thing to be able to think, “Yeah, I don’t want to die. I want to be on this earth. I want to be able to deal with things.” At the same time, I still have some thoughts of, “Gosh, I just really wish I didn’t have to deal with this, but I know it will get better.”
It feels good to say that: “I don’t want to die.” I don’t think I’ve actually ever said it out loud, so it feels good to say that.
Des: Yeah. I’m very familiar with all of those feelings of like, “I don’t want myself to die, I don’t want those [I care about] to die.” Now that, like you mentioned earlier, I’m in a healthy relationship for the first time in my life, I’m like, “Fuck, now I’m going to get hit by a bus.”
Lex: I know. Exactly. Or he’s going to get hit by a bus or something. I try to always kiss him goodnight, and I try to remember to kiss him good morning and tell him that I love him a lot, because who knows?
Des: Yeah. She works on a college campus, and there was a generalized threat for Philadelphia universities at some point a couple months ago, and I was like, “I don’t want you to go on that campus today, I’m not feeling good about this.”
Lex: Right. And him being in the military, there’s that whole deal. He tries to tell me, “Babe, every day something could happen. It’s just one of those things. You can’t control it.”
It’s like, “I know, but—be careful when you’re driving!” He’s from California, he’s one of the best drivers I’ve ever met. I still say, “Be careful when you’re driving!” When he gets sick, I freak out like, “Oh no, you’re sick. Please don’t die in your sleep!” It’s totally probably stupid stuff, but I have known people… I have a very dear friend of mine whose son, in his 30s, passed away in his sleep. I think it was from sleep apnea. One day, he just died in bed. Holy cow, I freak out about that kind of stuff.
Des: Yeah, irrational fears, but not really… not really at all.
Lex: I’m terrified of losing my cats. I have three of them, and those three cats are the one thing that have kept me going. I got my first cat, Boo Radley, two weeks after my attempt, and it felt great knowing that I was going to have this little thing that needed me. He’s ten now, and even though he’s a pain in the butt, I love him dearly. I almost feel like he saved me, I guess. He’s still my favorite cat. He’s this huge, gargantuan thing, and he’s temperamental, but he can also be the sweetest thing. He kept me going. He’s the reason that I knew I had to get out of bed, because he had to be fed. And then when I got Atticus and Scout— my favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird, yes.
Des: Not clear!
Lex: They’re mine. I’m just terrified of losing these cats, ’cause they’re mine. Growing up with cats, I wasn’t fond of cats. They were my mom’s thing. They were outdoors, and sometimes they wouldn’t come home. My mom would freak out, and I’d be like, “Eh, whatever.” But now, I’m scared. My cats are indoor, and I’m afraid that, if they get out, I’ll never see them again. That also freaks me out. What would happen if I lost these three animals who have kept me going for the last ten years? Again, irrational fears. I know people lose pets all the time and eventually get over it, but that’s another thing I worry about. If I lost them, would I be able to get over it?
Des: I just signed myself up for a dog with the shortest life span of almost all of them.
Lex: Oh, which?
Des: I got a Bernese Mountain Dog. Like, six to eight years.
Lex: Oh my gosh, because they’re big, right?
Des: Big, but even other bigger dogs have longer projected life spans. Bernese Mountain Dogs, for whatever reason, seem prone to cancer. In addition to the other big dog issues like joint dyplasia, so I just signed myself up for a lot of suffering. Great.
Lex: Oh, geez. In my family, we’ve had Dachshunds our whole lives, and those things live until like sixteen or seventeen.
Lex: Forever, yes. In fact, my family dog, Thor, is fifteen and a half. He actually has canine oral cancer, and he was supposed to be gone six months ago. He’s still plugging along!
Des: He’s Thor, man.
Lex: Every dog we’ve ever had—and maybe it’s just a testament to how well we take care of them—they have just lived forever, to the point where it’s like, “Oh my gosh, we have to put this animal down, because they’re just skin and bones, but still moving.”
Des: Well, you already answered my last question: is suicide still an option? Is there anything you might want to add?
Lex: It’s not an option now. That’s not to say that life couldn’t change, and something could happen in the future. I know that I will do everything possible to not let that happen again. I know now that I don’t want to leave behind people who I love. I also know that, if I am having trouble, I can go to these people. They know now the signs. They’re like, “You have to talk to us.”
It’s kind of hard to say, because who knows what could happen that would send me into some sort of spiral? My husband talks about losing his son, who is ten. He says, “I literally don’t know if I could go on living if I were to lose him.” That’s kind of how I look at it, too. If I were to lose something so dear and near to me, especially violently, or in a way that wasn’t meant to [happen], would I be able to handle that? Would I just decide, “No, I can’t do this?” I hope that doesn’t happen. I hope that my support system would rally around me and do everything to keep me from going that route.
But at the moment, no. At the moment, I’m fine. I deal with situational stuff, but a lot of times I also have to remember that there are people out there who are dealing with a lot worse crap than I am, and yet they’re still going. I have to tell myself a lot that I am a very lucky and blessed person. I’m healthy, I have a good job, I have a roof over my head, I have people who love me. Life is really good. At the same time, any issues I deal with, they’re myissues, and to me, they’re important. Some people may not understand them, but to me they’re important.
To basically answer the question—not at the moment, no. I hope it never comes to that again, because that was a rough time in my life. I would say my twenties were not good. I’d say my thirties have been much, much better. I’ve matured. I know a lot of people, their twenties were awesome, like, “The twenties are the best time of your life!” But, my thirties have been the best, because I’ve finally grown up about a lot of stuff.
Lex’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 to Whitcomb Terpening for providing the transcription to Lex’s interview, and to Sara Wilcox for editing.