Lindsey Petersonis a suicide attempt survivor.
"I survived a suicide attempt."
I feel like I’ve had depression issues since puberty, like twelve or thirteen [years old].
Being in my thirties now, looking back, I can see this suicidal progression over the last twenty years. Thoughts and feelings progressed into thoughts and plans, which eventually played out into action. There were red flags and warning signs along the way that either were ignored or nobody knew what to do with them. I didn’t know what to do with them, either.
I got to a point after my last attempt where I couldn’t even say, “This is my last attempt,” because at that time, I thought, “I don’t know if I can honestly say that, but I know that, if I don’t figure this out, this will kill me.” That’s scary. I finally stopped putting Band-Aids on it, and worked with a therapist who really got to the root of the issue, and it’s like, “Well, that makes perfect sense now.”
I finally stopped putting Band-Aids on it, and worked with a therapist who really got to the root of the issue, and it’s like, “Well, that makes perfect sense now.”
I come from a family where I’m the middle child. I’m the Jan Brady. I always felt like this black sheep that didn’t fit in with my family. They’re great, but it’s very upper middle class: “We don’t have problems! You’re fine! Look at all these things that you have. Why would you be sad? Just give it up to God.” Not that we were religious, but this very, “C’est la vie. It is what it is. Everything happens for a reason. It will work out. Just sweep it under the rug,” [sort of view]. I always knew that, when I’m a mom, when I have a family, I’m going to do things differently. I did for a while.
My dad was in the military—lifelong military man. I always kind of blamed a lot of my problems on my dad being gone all the time, like, “I have these daddy issues because my dad’s not there.” That’s really not the case. It probably factored into it a little bit, but not as much as I thought.
I remember, in middle school, I started this self-sabotaging habit where, even though I had endless potential and [people told me], “You’re such a bright kid, and you have all these opportunities,” I would just fuck them up. Whether it was intentionally or subconsciously, I wouldn’t study and do fine on tests academically, but when it came to actually doing homework or projects, I just wouldn’t do it. I would catch myself thinking, “I know I need to be doing this, but I’m not. I’m not going to, and I don’t know why.” You dig yourself this huge hole, and it just exacerbates this self-loathing and this depression. It’s like, “Here I am at the bottom of this hole. I can’t get out, and I can’t do anything about it.”
Then I started thinking of suicide as this ultimate plan B, this back up plan of, “Well, you could always just kill yourself.” That’s kind of how it started, even as young as twelve and thirteen years old. We would have come-to-Jesus talks with my teachers and my mom, and it would get better for a little bit. Then this cycle perpetuated all through middle school and high school. I didn’t understand why I was doing that. I hated myself and contemplated suicide a lot.
I fixated on that to the point where, probably in eighth grade, I penned a suicide note. [I wasn’t] planning on doing anything, but I wanted to get it out on paper and see what it looked like, as an exercise or whatever, just trying to get it out. Whether it was intentionally left out, I don’t remember, but my mom found it and confronted me about it. We had the discussion of, “What is this? Why are you saying this?”
I said, “I don’t know. It’s stupid. It’s nothing,” and nothing was done about it. Now, as a mom looking back on that, that horrifies me. I don’t even know if my mom remembers that. I would hope that she does. We’ve never spoken about it in the last twenty years. I don’t know if she told my dad about it. I don’t know if she told her friends about it. That’s something to discuss and figure out later down the line. That was an opportunity that I feel was missed for some type of professional intervention. I don’t know if she was in denial.
Throughout high school, I helped dull my feelings. I never really did drugs, but I drank a lot and slept around. I had a wonderful high school sweetheart, but I cheated on him intentionally—again, sabotage. Just messing things up intentionally.
After high school, I got an academic and volleyball scholarship to a very small, very Baptist, very conservative school in South Dakota. Why I thought that would be a great idea, I’m not sure. But it was about six hours away from home. I did the typical freshman party stuff. I knew, going into it, “Everybody does that. It will be fine.” I think I got a 1.2 GPA my first semester. I flunked freshman English and all that good stuff. My volleyball coach intervened and made me come to her office and do my homework. She tried to keep me on track, and things got a little bit better that second semester, but still I drank and cheated on boyfriends and just kept on making poor decisions.
That summer, I was supposed to retake freshman English. I was going to go home and retake it, so I could be eligible to play volleyball in the fall, and I never signed up. I didn’t do anything. I just drank and, of course, lied to everyone. I dug this huge hole again of, “What am I doing? Why am I doing this?” Again, I’m past the point of no return. I can’t help it. I can’t fix it. Instead of ever copping to it, fessing up, and saying, “I’m not coming back to school,” I packed up my car and drove back up to South Dakota like, “I’m here. It’s fine. Everything is fine.”
Again these suicidal thoughts popped up again: “What if it looked like an accident? If I don’t make it up there, then nobody will know, or I won’t be around when they find out.” It made sense at the time. What normally took six hours to drive back up took me about nine hours because I kept having to stop. I would think about it and I would get overcome with emotion of, “What am I doing?” coupled with anger of, “Gosh, you can’t. You’re weak. You can’t even do this.” There was this awful battle back and forth, but I made it up there. I was up there maybe a week before it was discovered.
One morning before practice, the captain brought me to the coach’s office, and I had to sit there and explain to them what I did. I didn’t really say much. I remember just kind of sitting there staring at my feet. I don’t know if I apologized or anything. It was nuts.
Then I was sent back to my room to pack up my things to leave. Before I could leave, I had to stop and—I don’t know if he was the vice president of the school, or the director of the residential halls, but I had to stop by his office and give my keys and student ID and everything. There was a very stern talking-to, [that I should] feel very ashamed of my actions, like I wasn’t feeling shitty enough. He asked, “Why would you come back up here if you knew?”
“I wasn’t planning on making it up here,” I said. I told him I was planning on killing myself. He told me that I needed to call my mom and tell her that. I said, “No, she’s at work right now. I’m not going to call her.” He made me email her and tell her, and then he shamed me for it because it was a Christian [school]. He was like, “You know you would go to hell if you did that. That’s so selfish,” then sent me on my way, knowing that I was suicidal. “Get out and go home,” he said. Six hours back to Kansas.
When I told my therapist about that within the last year, she was horrified. She’s like, “How could anyone… an educational professional…” You know, this is fifteen years ago, but still.
Again, I tell my mother and nothing really comes out of it. There’s no talk. We never talked about it. I came home and exhibited more classic depression symptoms of not getting out of bed, not showering, being completely lethargic, not doing anything—just existing. I think, maybe, after about a month of being home, I found a community mental health center where I could go do it on the cheap because I don’t think I had insurance at that time. So, I was paying a sliding fee scale, which was wonderful. I was so glad we had that resource. It’s still there in Topeka, and that’s where I went back to.
I started working with a therapist on an outpatient basis. She was fantastic. She had kids my age, so she seemed very maternal. But again, I don’t think I told her that I was suicidal. I didn’t talk to her about that, so we just kind of glossed on the academic side of things of, “How can we get you back on track working in the right direction?” [We did] a lot of very surface level things, which was good, but later down the line, it didn’t really help—hindsight being what it is and whatnot.
I worked with her maybe six, seven months, and she kind of professed me cured. She even said, “I think you’re cured,” like it’s something that you can cure. It’s a little tongue-in-cheek, but she was like, “You’ve made really great progress. You’re working full-time. You have plans for getting back into community college and finishing up. I think you’re doing just fine.”
I did too for a few months, until I was working and overextended myself on a project. I promised something I couldn’t deliver, realized it very quickly, and never asked for help. Again, this cycle that I fell back into of, “It’s fine. It’s fine. It’s fine.”
The day that I am supposed to deliver this un-deliverable thing to this client, I just didn’t go to work. I got up, dressed, went like I was going to work. I’m nineteen years old, living at home. I waited until I knew my brother was at school and my parents were at work, doubled back home, and [tried to kill myself] in the bathroom because I’m like, “I can’t fix this. This is the only way out.”
Immediately, I freaked out and somehow bandaged myself up with one hand, cleaned everything up, and then just took off. I just kind of ran away. I didn’t tell anybody. Obviously, my work was calling my home saying, “Lindsey never showed up today. Is she sick? What’s going on?” My family is, of course, worried sick. I deleted all messages and just drove. I went and stayed at an old boyfriend’s house for a couple days. I checked myself into a hotel for a couple of days. I just drove. I slept in my car. I think I texted my sister and said, “I’m okay. I don’t know when I’m coming home.” Again, I didn’t tell anybody what I had done. I ended up driving back up to South Dakota and staying with one of my former volleyball teammates. I went home with her over Easter. I just felt like, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” but I didn’t tell anybody about that.
I felt so invisible. I felt like, “You guys don’t even know. I can’t tell you. I wish you would ask me”
I ended up coming back home, and nobody asked me, “Where did you go? Why did you…?” I just felt completely isolated and alone. It was like, “Clearly, nobody cares about me,” even though that’s not true. I felt so invisible. I felt like, “You guys don’t even know. I can’t tell you. I wish you would ask me,” but I didn’t feel comfortable sharing it because anytime I had ever tried to talk about it, it was very poo-pooed. They were like, “Oh, it’s fine! You’re fine.” They had a pull yourself up from your bootstraps kind of mentality.
For a couple of years, I bounced between Kansas and South Dakota because my friends were in South Dakota finishing up college. I moved back there, worked, and dated this awesome guy. I kind of freaked out because I was like, “I can see myself marrying you, so I have to run away and move back to Kansas.”
I ended up working at a bar, bartending and waitressing. I met my now ex-husband there. He was a country radio DJ who would come in and DJ. We got to know each other, and started seeing each other, and moved into together after two or three months. At that end of that summer, he said, “Hey, I have this job opportunity in North Carolina. I’m ready to get out of Kansas. I can’t live without you. I want you to come with me.” I was like, “Well, I’m not doing anything. I’m working and drinking. Why not? Next great adventure. Let’s go.”
We moved to North Carolina. Maybe two months later, I found out I was pregnant. I struggled for a few days with, “Do I want to do this, or do I not want to do this?” I thought, “Okay, we can do this. I’m twenty-two. I love this man. Let’s have us a baby.” She was born in 2006. All of a sudden, I’m like, “Wow. I finally have this purpose. I know who I am now. I’m his wife. I’m her mom.” He had three kids from his previous marriage. I thought, “I’m their stepmom. I have this family.” We had a house. Life was good.
I can still say that period of time when we lived in North Carolina and I was married—that was the happiest time of my life. I had this sense of belonging in that family that I never felt like I had before. I thought, “This is my own, and I’m so far away from my roots, and look how great everything is! Finally.”
[There were] normal married challenges of things, but in 2010, my daughter’s four, and I decided, “Okay, I’m going to go back to school.” I started taking night classes here and there, just getting my feet wet, like, “Holy shit. I haven’t done this. Last time I did it, I kept fucking stuff up, so let’s ease into it one class at a time.” I thought, “Okay, well, when she goes to kindergarten, I can finish full-time. I’ll get my associate in nursing and then can later bridge to my bachelor’s, and I can plot it out. This is where we are heading.”
I could finally see down the road a little way. In my youth, I really couldn’t. It was very tunnel vision, like, “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. Let’s get through today. This is what I’m doing today.” Finally, I could see, “This is where we’re going.”
While I was busy raising a baby, going to school, and working, my husband was [having an affair].
I took [my daughter], and we moved back to Kansas in September 2010. Even through all of that, I didn’t [think about] suicide. It was kind of the first time that I was having this major life upheaval and I didn’t consider it. Maybe because it was something not of my own doing, and I was just doing everything to try and keep my head above water.
I was pretty stagnant. Right within four or five months of moving back to Kansas, I got into an abusive relationship because I was ripe for the picking. It was physical one time, but mostly emotionally and psychologically abusive. Very controlling, very manipulative. Not a good situation. I just felt so low and broken down, like I deserved it. I stuck with him also because his mom had stage four lung cancer. I was like, “I can’t leave him. His mom is dying.” Then his mom died, and it just got worse. Finally, I did leave him. Thank goodness. Of all the relationships, he ranks lower than my ex-husband who cheated on me.
I got back into school. I’m like, “Okay, I can do this.” Then, I got closer to the end of school and these old self-sabotage habits crept in. I should have gotten myself into therapy to deal with the divorce stuff, but I didn’t because I’m like, “I don’t have time. I don’t have the money.” I just felt like I didn’t have the resources to do so. I kept treading water. In hindsight, I wish I would have.
So, I’m in nursing school. I’m working part-time. We live with my dad, my daughter and I. She’s in school. I’m in school full-time, and there comes a point where I’m like, “Oh, I have to take this stupid online class… and I’m not doing it.” At the time, I’m like, “What am I doing? Why am I doing this? I just need to log on, do the reading, and just post something. Just fucking do it.” I could not make myself do it. It’s so stupid to talk about it out loud. You know what I mean? When you say it out loud, you’re like, “God, this sounds so ridiculous!”
I failed this class, obviously, because I didn’t do any of the work, and now I’m like, “Now I’ve gone and fucked up nursing school, like legit, hard.” I was doing so well in everything else. This dumb class that I just needed to graduate, I couldn’t make myself do it. I’m like “What am I doing?”
Christmas break comes, and I’m like, “They’re going to know that I flunked this. I’m probably not allowed back in. They’ll probably kick me out of the program.” Did I know that for sure? No, because I didn’t ask anybody. I didn’t tell anybody. I just swept it under the rug. I thought, “Okay, well. Here I am again, thirty years old, fucking shit up, and I can’t fix it. I cannot fix it.” Even though you can. You really can fix just about anything.
Then Christmas break is over. It’s time to go back to school, and again, I’m like “What am I going to do?” I didn’t. I pulled another nineteen year old Lindsey and said, “Okay, I’m getting up and going,” and kind of ran away. But this time, I have a kid.
I finally enacted the plan I had when I was nineteen years old. I decided, “I’m going to make it look like an accident to save face for myself, save my family the grief of knowing that their child or family member intentionally killed themselves. I will make it look like an accident.” It did look like an accident. People there didn’t know what it was because it was a windy day. I could have blown into the oncoming traffic, which was the story I stuck to.
I was still alive. I was so angry. I thought, “I can’t even do this right. I’m such a fuck up.” I go to the hospital. I’m not honest. I’m in shock. I just go with it. My siblings actually confronted me. One was good cop, one was bad cop. One was, “What’s going on with you? Are you into drugs? What is going on?” My younger brother was like “What the fuck are you doing? You have a kid. You have responsibilities. Did you hit that truck on purpose?”
I was like a petulant child. I didn’t respond. I didn’t say anything. I just said, “Go away. Leave me alone.” I was still [thinking], “What’s the next plan? I can’t be here. I can’t deal with this. I don’t want to deal with these problems that I’ve created.” [I was] still looking for this exit strategy, and that went on for a couple of days.
It was [my boyfriend’s] urging that said, “You need to talk to somebody.” He had been through a bout of depression and suicidal thoughts, and he came out of it, so I kind of looked to him, like, “Okay, he did it. It’s doable. I don’t know how it’s doable.”
Okay, I’m not so different. I’m not all alone. I can live through this.
That’s how I found you. I Googled, “Okay, how do people do this?” I started reading all these stories of these people who feel like I felt. In this weird community kind of way, I thought, “Okay, I’m not so different. I’m not all alone. I can live through this.”
My attempt was on a Saturday. On Tuesday, I called, and they couldn’t get me in that day, but they [could get me] in on Wednesday. I still hadn’t told anybody. I hadn’t said it out loud. I think [my boyfriend] knew, but I didn’t tell him. He’s like, “Please be as honest as you can when you go.”
I told that first counselor, the intake counselor, “I tried to kill myself.” She put her hand on my knee, and she told me, “I’m so glad you’re still here.” And that just… finally… finally! I said, “Really? Are you? That’s the best thing that I’ve ever heard in my entire life.” Now, that’s my favorite phrase in the whole world. That combination of words is beautiful.
She’s like, “Okay, I think these people would be a good fit, but because of the nature of your visit, I have to offer you, by law, the first available appointment. That’s with Shonda. Do you have any problems having an African-American therapist?”
I’m like, “You have to ask me that?”
She’s like, “It is Kansas.”
Des: That’s fucked up.
Lindsey: Right? I know. I said, “No, of course not.” I started working with Shonda, and we hit it hard—once a week, sometimes twice a week, for nine or ten months. That was hard. It’s really hard to finally open up, let the walls down, and let people in. I was always so guarded and everything. I finally told people. Not very many people, but I told [my boyfriend]. I told my best friend. You have to have some people to help you get through it.
My therapist took another job. She moved to another town to be closer to her family, and I was happy for her, but sad for me because I really had that connection [with her]. She put me with this gal who kicked my ass. She was no nonsense, and I think she knew I was ready to be pushed a little bit harder. She’s like, “You’ve done all this prep work. You’ve got your tools and resources for how to re-frame your thoughts, be mindful, and all that good stuff.” She was into trying to figure out the patterns of, “Why are you doing this?” She suggested we do the EMDR therapy—Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.
She’s like, “I think there’s some kind of repressed memory or something that’s causing this.” Then, she also kind of thought, “Maybe you have PTSD from all these suicide attempts. There’s something…” She even said, “It’s not important for every single client to know the “why” behind [what they’re doing], but I think it’s important in your case.” She’s like, “Do some research. See if you want to do this.”
I watched YouTube videos and read about it, and I’m like, “I don’t get this. I don’t get how this is going to work. But at this point, I’m willing to try anything.” We did it. Basically, she’s just moving her fingers side-to-side and you’re watching with your fingers, and she’s asking questions.
She made me start at the most recent suicide attempt and work backwards. She made me focus on the thoughts and feelings that I was having during that time.
I was like, “I’d randomly been home for a day and a half before trying to kill myself.”
She said, “What were you telling yourself?”
I said, “I can’t go home. I messed this up. It’s not fixable. I can’t go home.” I felt shameful for that.
She’s like, “Follow the shame.”
We just worked our way backward. It was the weirdest thing. It followed back to the previous suicide attempt, to the suicide note writing in middle school. It was hard to get past that. I don’t know how this therapy works, but the way it felt to me was that it was short-circuiting the hard-wire of my thought process that I had probably developed to protect myself from these memories. There would be times she could see me trying to fight. She’s like, “Just follow the shame.”
And then, it was so weird. We got back to this memory of watching TV with my family in our old house. I was five or six years old. We were watching some movie that had nudity or some sort of simulated sex scene, probably on HBO, something that’s not appropriate to be watching with your child. I was feeling really shameful watching that. My parents would make fun, and be like, “Ooh! Don’t look at her boobies.” That was the next one back.
Pushing it to keep going past that, even younger, I have this flash of me standing in the hallway. It’s clearly nighttime. There is a nightlight coming out of my bedroom. I’m in my nightgown. This is something that I still am like, “Did this really happen?” Following that next memory was a time when we had a family member staying with us when I was probably about four, and he was in my bedroom. I remember feeling paralyzed, so I couldn’t move, and thinking, “This is wrong.” He’s telling me, “It’s okay. You can’t tell anybody. You can’t tell anybody.” We didn’t push it further than that. It really didn’t matter if it was just that one time, or if it was multiple times, or what the nature of it was. I didn’t really want to delve into what did or didn’t happen. It was that feeling of, “This is what started all of this,” and the feeling of, “I can’t go home. I don’t feel safe in my own home because of this.”
She said, “With knowing this piece of the puzzle that you’ve been missing all of these years, that it is trauma related, we can focus on this. We can heal from this. We can reprocess this memory with, “It’s not your fault. You were just this little kid.””
I’m like, “Oh, it all makes sense now, looking back,” because I never could understand, “Why am I doing this?” I felt like this bad kid—this bad, shameful kid. I’d think, “I don’t deserve to be happy. I don’t deserve to have good things. I don’t deserve any of this.” I would sabotage myself to keep me from getting there. Looking back on all of my relationships, the only two people I did not cheat on were my piece of shit ex-husband and the abusive guy, because I deserved that. Every other one I cheated on and sabotaged in some way when they were great, decent, wonderful people.
We worked on that, and then we got to a point where she was like, “There are other things that you can work on. We can meet about family.” I just kind of said, “Okay, I could be in therapy for the rest of my life. I feel like I could be a lifer, but this satisfies this suicidal ideation that I’ve been fixated on for the last twenty years. That piece of it is okay. I’m okay to live for a while and come back to it.”
I think, after all of those years of not feeling feelings, stuffing them down, and sweeping everything under the rug, I now have to let myself feel those feelings. That’s part of my tool set. When I’m sad, I’ll just be sad. I’ll just cry. It frustrates [my boyfriend] to no end because I’m like, “This is the worst day of my life,” and I just cry, cry, cry. He wants to fix things. He wants to fix it for me, and I’m like, “You can’t fix this.”
Then, I’m okay. I have to feel it.
So, that’s my story. Fucking shit up.
Des: Fucking shit up!
Lindsey: Last night, I caught up on the last few stories that you’ve published that I hadn’t read, but I’m like, “Oh, my god.” In the last couple weeks, I’m like, “I know this is coming.” You tell it to your therapist in pieces. I’ve not sat my family down, and I wanted to do this first. I will have a come-to-Jesus meeting. I have to. I respect them enough to say, “This is going to be on the internet. I’m going to share this. It’s important to me.”
We, as a family, have not talked about it. Kansas—Midwestern—folks don’t really talk about it that much, and it needs to be more of a conversation. Not that I’m proud of it, but I’ve lived it, and I felt awful for so many years.
People will say to me, especially at work, “You’re always so happy.”
I’m like, “I’m not. I’m not.”
My parents divorced after my brother graduated from high school. They stayed together for the kids. Now they live in separate houses and have the same kind of relationship they did when we grew up. We get together for holidays, if that’s any indication for what kind of marriage was modeled for me growing up—that my parents could live in separate houses and still have this functional, normal [relationship].
My mom said, “We’re the happy, dysfunctional Petersens,” because my brother made the comment of, “It’s weird that we all get together.”
I’m like, “Yeah, when you stop and think about it, it is weird. It’s fine.” I said to my mom, “[Let me] speak for myself about being happy.”
She said, “Oh, you’re not happy?”
I said, “That’s not a word I would use to describe my life even now. There are parts that are good. There are some not so [good]. No, I wouldn’t say that I’m happy on a day-to-day basis.”
She’s like, “Well, you’ve got a good job now.”
I said, “Yes, I have these pieces that are good. I’ve sold my soul to Corporate America for the benefits, which is good for right now. Do I want it for the rest of my life? No. But, no, Mom. I’m not happy.” That’s probably the first time I’ve ever said that to my mom: “I’m not happy.”
There’s family stuff going on right now, and I’m just to the point where I’m like, “I need to move away to a different time zone.” I told her, “Mom, the happiest time in my life is when I lived clear across the country from you guys.” It’s not hard for me to look at my life and realize all of the times that I’ve been horribly depressed and suicidal have been when I’ve been around this family. I’m sure there’s something there, but I feel a lot of it is environmental stress and this dysfunction that we operate in, and we don’t talk about it.
[My younger brother] is the only person in my family [who knows]. I told him that wasn’t a car accident. I tried to kill myself.
Des: The bad cop.
Lindsey: Yeah, the bad cop. I told the bad cop. But this was many, many months later, and only because he had asked, because we had a pretty rough relationship in that time. This was right before [my therapist] was talking to me about the EMDR therapy. I was like, “She wants to try this thing.” He’s like, “Let me know how it goes. It sounds like voodoo.” It was the most bizarre experience ever, but it was cool. He doesn’t know the piece that I was sexually molested or abused. I also feel almost like a fraud saying that because I don’t remember, and we came about it in such a weird way, but it fits. It makes sense, but it could have been that one time, it could have been more than that. I don’t know, and I don’t really care to know. I’ve not seen [that person] in many years.
Des: If you’ve been through something like that, people expect you to feel victimized, or feel like a victim, and that’s not always the case.
I stuffed it down and never wanted to think about it ever again.
Lindsey: Yeah, and not trying to justify it, but he was probably eleven or twelve, going through puberty, and it could have been a show-and-tell, playing doctor kind of thing. I don’t know, and I don’t need to know. It was more about how I felt—that paralyzed, helpless [feeling], which then led out and rippled and affected me in ways I had no idea about. I stuffed it down and never wanted to think about it ever again. But I knew, if I didn’t find that missing piece, that I would not be here.
What has helped me too is that I have a notebook titled, “Things I Would Have Missed If I Killed Myself.” I just keep this running tally of the big moments and the little moments, I add to it, and if I’m feeling particularly low, I’ll go back and read. I’ll think, “You’ve filled this many pages in the last year and a half, what more are you going to miss out on from this point forward?” That’s another little thing that I do.
Des: So, [your boyfriend] knows, and you said your brother knows.
Lindsey: [My boyfriend] knows. My best friend knows. And my little brother knows. Beyond that, I think there are some friends that suspect. There was one girl who I told, a very acquaintance type person that I worked with, because she was talking about marriage problems.
[She said], “I feel like I need to go talk to somebody, but I don’t know if that’s going to do any good. I just feel like I would be paying someone to be my friend.”
I’m like, “Therapy is nothing like [that]. It’s so good. Go do it. Try it. Talk to someone. It’s amazing.” I kind of shared, and then it just came out like word vomit.
So, she knows, but not very many do. I’m okay. I want to talk about it. It’s just not always appropriate to bring up.
Des: “Hi, my name is Lindsey. I tried to kill myself.”
Lindsey: Yep, a couple of times. I’d been thinking about it for a really long time. It’s something that I still think about. Like, it will pop into my head, not as a viable option, but it’s this old friend—god, that is so stupid sounding, but the majority of my life, I feel like I’ve operated as this functional depressed person, which is bizarre.
Des: It’s really not.
Lindsey: It’s not?
Des: It’s not bizarre.
Lindsey: People do it.
Des: It happens. We’re all fucking shit up.
Des: I was just thinking about the EMDR. I read one of my teenage journals recently. I found out that I tried to kill myself when I was seventeen, and I didn’t know. I don’t remember it.
Lindsey: “What else am I forgetting?”
Des: That’s weird, right?
Lindsey: Yeah, and I told [my therapist], I’m like, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” We did it the one time, and I’m like, “I don’t want to know what else is buried under there.” I’m okay not knowing that because this piece is satiated.
Maybe a month after my last attempt, my therapist made me write a letter to myself. While I was procrastinating doing that, I found a journal from when I was depressed and nineteen. [I was] reading through it, like, “Oh, my god. I’m feeling the same way ten-plus years later. I’m just fatter, and I have stretchmarks and a kid. And I pee when I sneeze now.” I just broke down. I had this huge, overwhelming wave of, “Oh my god, this cycle is never going to end. Every ten years, is this going to happen?”
I’m just sobbing on my bedroom floor, and I get this text message from [my boyfriend], “Hey, I was just thinking about you. I wanted to say hey, and I love you.”
I’m like, “How did you know that I needed to hear that?”
He’s like, “I don’t know why… I could feel it.” We have this weird mind-meld connection sometimes where I’m like, “That’s creepy, but thank god you’re here.”
He wouldn’t take credit for it, but he was a huge part of it. He was the first person that I opened up to and was met without judgment and with support and, “What do you need of me? I’m here to help you.” Also, knowing that, when he was in college and his fiancee cheated on him, he went through a bad bout of depression. I’m like, “Okay, well, look at him. He’s doing really well now. That’s however many years out. Okay, if he can do it, I can do it.”
In that hope of getting there, look at all these fifty-some people that you’ve interviewed. It seems like there’s a lot of younger folks, teenagers, young people, but I was amazed at the forty, fifty, sixty year-olds. They have spouses and children. There’s no boundary to this. It affects all these different people. These common feelings are interwoven. I think I find something, some sort of connection to all of the stories. I find something like, “I recognize that in myself, so…” It’s weird.
Des: Are you going to tell [your daughter] eventually?
Lindsey: That’s something that I’ve thought about, and I’m undecided at this point. I think eventually. I don’t know any other way than to treat her how I want to be treated, and that’s how I parent her. I’m not trying to be her friend by any means, but I talk to her about stuff on a level. She knows that her dad had an affair. She knows why we got divorced and moved back. Saving for her therapy fund, too.
Des: College. Therapy.
Lindsey: I’m sure eventually. Maybe. But I also don’t know when that will be, and maybe there will be a time that feels right. I don’t know. She’s not going to be a part of the conversation when I have it with my parents and things like that. But this is to be determined, because I don’t want to operate in complete secrecy. I don’t want to lie to her. But that’s a huge weight to put on somebody too, especially a child.
Lindsey: I think I always thought being a mom, this piece that I’ve always wanted, would offer some type of protection from harming myself, and it didn’t. That’s how I knew, like, “This is really serious.” I was willing to give her up.
I still have a safety plan that they have you write. I have one in my car. I have a copy in my purse and I, thankfully, haven’t had to pull it out and read it, but one of the them lists on there, “If you kill yourself, she will have to go live with her dad. He’s not a good person, You can’t do that to her.” That’s a piece.
That was something that the therapist who did the EMDR therapy said: “Your child would never recover from that.” She’s like, “I’ve been doing this long enough to know that, if you kill yourself, that will affect your daughter in ways that you can’t understand, and she’s not going to recover from that. You’re a mom now. Sorry.” She laid it out there.
Des: How did that feel?
Lindsey: I told you, she’s a ball-busting, no nonsense… she was kind of mean, but I loved her. I respected her so much. It was kind of a slap, and I’m like, “You’re right.”
Des: What else do you do other than keep your notebook?
Lindsey: That’s the big one. I’m just really mindful of my thoughts and feelings, and I have to experience them, whether it’s good, it’s bad, or it’s ugly. I have to lay down, feel sad, and feel the weight and the stress and cry. Now, I’m thirty, and if I cry all night, my eyes get super puffy for days. Like damn, is nothing sacred?
Des: You are so old.
Lindsey: I tell myself something that one of the therapists said. “It’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to feel those feelings. It’s okay to sit down, just don’t unpack and live there.” That’s something I remind myself of. I give myself enough time to mourn this change that’s thrust upon me. I have to come to it on my own terms. The notebook’s the big one. I also know my limits, or at least know my resources of, “When it gets to be here, this is when I need to stop and ask for help.” I have people in place who know enough that, if I say, “I need this,” they’re willing to give it to me. Also, they’re clued into my cues. It’s not when I’m sad and crying; you don’t need to be worried about it then. You need to worry about, “It’s fine. Everything’s fine. I’m fine.”
You just got to watch out for Stepford wife, “It’s fine. Everything’s fine.” When I get all rug-sweepy, that’s when you have to worry, because it’s not fine. It’s absolutely the opposite of fine.
Leading up to my suicide attempt, [my boyfriend] knew something was off, but we had only been seeing each other for maybe three or four months, so he didn’t know me. He didn’t feel comfortable enough. He would ask, and I’d be like, “Oh, I’m just on my period.” I would explain it away. You just got to watch out for Stepford wife, “It’s fine. Everything’s fine.” When I get all rug-sweepy, that’s when you have to worry, because it’s not fine. It’s absolutely the opposite of fine.
Des: You already answered the one question that I ask everyone, “Is suicide an option?” Do you want to add to that?
Lindsey: I would say it’s not a viable option. It’s something that pops into my head from time to time. I also found that I will rub the wrist that I tried to cut. I find myself doing that when I get uncomfortable and things like that. It’s just this weird tic I’ve developed. When I start doing that, I’m like, “Oh, what is going on?”
That’s something my therapist warned me about. She’s like, “You’ve thought about this. It’s been a part of you for so long that it’s been this coping mechanism in a way, these thoughts. I don’t think you’re ever going to get away from that, and you need to be prepared.” So, I find myself not looking back longingly towards it, but just being aware that it will pop up from time to time. It’s like, “Yes, that is an option. That is a thing that you could do, but what else is there?”
I wouldn’t say it’s a viable option, but I’m also not naive enough to think, “I’m cured, and I’ll never have to deal with depression again.” It seems to wax and wane in my life. I go through periods of good and depression.
Lindsey’s story is sponsored by a grant from the hope & grace fund, a project of New Venture Fund in partnership with global women’s skincare brand, philosophy, inc. Thanks also to Jana Christian for providing the transcription to Lindsey’s interview, and to Sara Wilcox for editing.