Liz Mitchellis a suicide attempt survivor.
"I survived a suicide attempt."
I interviewed Liz Mitchell in Chicago, IL, on September 26, 2015. She was 37, and working as a teacher’s aide for special needs students. Liz is from Joliet, IL.
I’ve come to realize over the past year that I’ve pretty much struggled with depression for as long as I can remember.
My first hospitalization, I was eleven. I had gotten my tonsils out and just wasn’t getting better. Finally, my mom took me to the hospital, and they’re like, “There’s no reason for any of this. We’re having her hospitalized.”
[It was] one of the worst experiences of my life. At the time, they decided that I wasn’t old enough to be put with the adolescents, so I was put with the adults. My first roommate was a woman who was on suicide watch, so there was somebody constantly in our room watching us sleep and everything else. My second roommate was an elderly woman who screamed for the nurse all night, so the fact that I never slept was held against me, but what are you gonna do?
I ended up seeing a psychiatrist for a really long time who gave me antidepressants that, as far as I can remember, did absolutely nothing for me. Every time we met together, my mom was sitting in the room with me, so… what kid’s going to be honest when Mom’s sitting right there? Let’s be honest—especially when Mom’s a big part of the problem.
Life, for a very long time, was a big struggle. I have an older brother who is very bipolar and very abusive, mostly towards me, for whatever reason. [It] started when we were itty bitty kids and continues on until this day, which is why I really have no contact with him at all, whatsoever. Anything I hear about my brother, I hear through my mom. Mom just enables him to do whatever. Anytime something comes up between us, if it’s between me and him, she’ll always take his side. But like I said, I don’t have any contact with him anymore, and she’s up in Michigan, so even my contact with her is limited now—phone calls, text messages, that kind of thing.
It’s kind of evened itself out. But last year, last summer, it got really bad. My mom was planning on moving to Michigan because that’s where my brother is, and that’s where his daughter is. She was getting ready to retire, and my brother calls me out of the blue one day and says, “I’m coming down to Joliet. I’m taking the train. We’re going to pack Mom’s car up with some of her stuff. You and I are going to drive it up here, and then you’re going to drive home.”
I was like, “No, I’m not.”
He’s like, “What do you mean, “No, you’re not?””
“I’m not even going to be in the state,” I said, because I was chaperoning a trip with some high schoolers for my church. He was mad over that, which… oh, well. Whatever.
He comes home after I get back, and I had picked him up from the train station at about 11:30 at night. We stopped through a drive-thru, got him some food. We got home. I told him that the back bedroom was made up for him and I was going to bed because, at this point, it was about midnight. He just starts screaming and hollering and yelling. So I got up and went to see what was going on. I thought he was screaming and hollering at Mom’s dogs. No, apparently, he was screaming and hollering and yelling at me.
I had no idea what was going on, so I didn’t even say a word to him. I went back to my room. I got dressed and I went to leave. He chased me out of the house trying to beat the snot out of me, to put it nicely. When I finally got into my car and I left, I went to the nursing home my mom was working at because I knew she was still there. I told her what happened. She’s like, “Well, why can’t you get along with your brother?” Me? Really?
Long story short, I ended up moving in with a friend out of desperation. I was already struggling at that point because I had gone through job loss and several other things. By that point, I had attempted a few times or at least gotten close to attempting a few times. I had one friend that I shared with who was one of the pastors at my church, and they actually got me into counseling at that point. Knowing I had no money and no insurance, they actually agreed to pay for my counseling. My church is amazing. They were then; they still are.
This was all right around July of last year. Then, right around last September, there was a big family gathering because there’s family from out of state that I really wanted to see. So I went. I was actually only invited as an afterthought. I don’t get invited to the family gatherings, usually. I was actually really surprised last November when I got an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner. I was like, “Really? This is like the first time in, what, five years?”
I already had plans at that point because I wasn’t expecting it, but I had the family that was coming in. I went to the big family dinner at the restaurant, and I was the white elephant in the room. Was pretty much made to feel lower than low by the time I left.
I’d had an appointment with my counselor scheduled for a week and a half after that. I was like, “Okay, if I can make it to my appointment, I’ll be okay.” Thursday rolls around, the day of my appointment, and I got a call canceling from him.
I did not do well. I parked my car on the train tracks on my way home from work that day. I sat there for probably about five seconds just watching it come in, until I came to my senses. Barely made it off the tracks. Went home, pulled the covers over my head, and hid in my room for two days.
Des: Better alternative, right?
Liz: Yeah. Didn’t feel like it at the time, but yeah. Again, I told some friends of mine from church what I did, and they took me to the ER.
I was in the hospital for about a week. Got started on some antidepressants, which worked for almost a year. Now we’re doing the Russian roulette thing—trying, and failing, and seeing what works. I’m at a point where I’m kind of struggling again, but definitely not letting myself get to that point, ever, ever again. I refuse to go back. I fought too long and too hard for it.
Even with feeling crummy right now, I’m still in a better place. Back to seeing the counselor again because I was actually discharged at the beginning of the summer. He made me promise I wouldn’t wait so long if I needed him again. So, I’m seeing him again and keeping up with my psychiatrist again, since we’re adjusting and playing with meds and doing all that fun stuff. That’s it, in a nutshell.
Des: Tell me more about being the white elephant. What does that mean?
Liz: I’ve always kind of been the black sheep of the family because I’m the one that doesn’t fit the mold. For a long time, I was the one who would take all the criticism, sarcasm, and the, “Well, what’d you do wrong?” without fighting back at it. Once I did start standing up for myself and not letting them get to me as much, then it all just got worse. I actually don’t really talk to most of my family anymore. My mom is pretty much it.
Des: Tell me about your tattoo.
Liz: After I got out of the hospital, I was looking for some support for attempt survivors, which…
Des: What’s that?
Liz: Exactly. But I did find Project Semicolon, and the more I looked into it, the more I fell in love with the idea. I knew I wanted one, and I knew I wanted to incorporate scripture with it, but I also I knew didn’t want one of the typical coffee cup verses that everybody uses for everything. The verse that I ended up going with is Joel 2:25, which says, “I will restore to you the years that the locusts have eaten.”
Des: That’s pretty cool.
Liz: It’s not one that you hear ever, like on coffee cups or plaques or cross-stitch sampler things. You never see that one. But it’s a really cool promise, and I’m taking it to heart.
Des: Talk more about your faith.
Liz: I became a Christian when I was in high school. Did not grow up in the church at all. I was introduced to Christianity through some friends, and that actually was a lot of when my family started going, “Wait, you’re what?” I wasn’t interested in the things they were interested in anymore. I wasn’t doing the things that they thought everybody should be doing anymore. I come from a family of drug addicts and alcoholics, and I wasn’t going down that path anymore. I think they just couldn’t figure out what to do with me.
Ever since I became a Christian, the church just really kind of rallied around me. Really supportive, really encouraging. It’s really been amazing. It’s been definitely a game changer for me. Like I said, they paid for my therapy for two months until I got a job, got on my feet, and could pay for it on my own.
My faith in God is a huge part of everything I do. I don’t think I would have gotten off the tracks if it wasn’t for that, that day.
Des: What were you thinking in that moment? In those two seconds that you had.
Liz: Just that I couldn’t do it anymore. I was tired. I was numb. I was ready to be done.
Des: And then?
Liz: After that, I went home, pulled the covers over my head, and didn’t get out of bed for about two days. Still felt like I just wanted it to be over and done. Once I got into the hospital and started medication, it actually really made a huge difference.
I was actually able to share my faith with a couple of the girls that I was in the hospital with, which was really kind of interesting and cool because I wasn’t even the one who brought it up.
Looking back on everything, I can see how God had his hand in all of it, keeping me from the worst of things. Even now, with starting the whole medication process again, I can definitely see where He’s with me, guiding me, holding me up, and keeping me from getting that far down again.
Des: How much sense have you made of [all of this]?
Liz: The attempt itself, there really was no sense in it. I was not thinking properly. My brain was not functioning the way it should. I’ve ended up telling people that a lot. They’re like, “Well, why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you call me? Why didn’t you talk to me?” Well, because my brain wasn’t functioning in that capacity.
How much sense in everything leading up to it? Again, my brain wasn’t in a good state. My mind was not functioning properly. I’m not sure there’s a whole lot of sense to be made of it, to be honest.
Des: Do you feel like your sense of identity has changed?
Liz: No. Do I feel like I’ve come out the other side different? Yes, but my identity in and of itself? No. I’m still who I am. I’m very willing, obviously, to talk about what I went through and share my experiences in the hopes that somebody else may find some courage from it, and to dispel the stigma as much as I can, because again, you look for something to support attempt survivors, and there’s nothing because we’re not supposed to talk about it. It’s not supposed to be there, and that’s not a good thing.
Des: Did anything positive come from your attempt?
Liz: I’ve definitely strengthened some friendships through the recovery process. I strengthened me through the recovery process. That’s definitely been a good thing. I know I’ve been able to encourage others because of it. I have a couple people in mind who are struggling through similar things right now, and they’re willing to talk to me because they know I get it. I didn’t necessarily have somebody in that position when I was struggling.
Des: That’s huge. You’ve said that your church is supportive. Are there other people who have mental health issues?
Des: Talk more about how that works, because there’s a lot of criticism about how the church, overall, deals with it.
Liz: There is, and I am incredibly blessed to have mine. Our pastor struggles with depression, and he’s very open about it. When I shared with one of our [other] pastors what I was struggling with, what I was thinking about and going through, he’s the one who said, “We need to get you into counseling,” went to the deacon board and said, “Hey, we need to help her out.” There are quite a few people in my church who struggle with depression, bipolar, and anxiety. There’s actually a long-term residency psych facility not far from the church, and we have several of their residents who come to our services and are members of the church because it is so supportive and so encouraging.
The woman who went to the ER with me was a woman from my church, and she sat with me until about two o’clock in the morning in the emergency room while we were waiting to find out if I was going to be admitted. I’ve been very blessed as far as that goes.
Des: How were you treated in the hospital?
Liz: I actually filed a complaint with my insurance on that one. Monday afternoon, my friend took me. One of the first things I asked was if I could use the bathroom because I really had to go. They’re like, “No, no, no. We need you to wait.” They wouldn’t even let me sit in the waiting room. They had me sitting in front of their desk—like, the registration desk—with my friend for about an hour and a half. After about an hour into it, I’m like, “I really, really need to use the bathroom.” The only reason they let me go was because there was a security guard standing outside the door, and they gave me a cup to pee in, which I kind of expected.
When they finally did take me back, they had me put on the hospital gown and the little socks with the rubber thingies on the bottom, and all of my stuff got locked up. My phone—everything—got locked up. I was put into a room with nothing but a bed and a chair. No TV, no door. Just a bed, four walls, and a chair. It wasn’t even a full-size bed; it was one of those little gurney beds.
As long as my friend was there with me, they were coming in and out and checking on me: asking me questions, like, “How are you doing?” Soon as she left, I never saw a soul. She was with me for about six hours. The next twelve hours, the only time I saw anybody was if I got up and asked for something to drink. The minute she walked out the door, everything changed.
I was in the ER for about eighteen hours, in the little room with the bed, four walls, and a chair. Finally, they brought in a car to take me to a different hospital because apparently the one I was in had no beds. After that, it was drastically different. The hospital that they took me to was really supportive. They were really gentle with me, which is a weird way to put it, but they really were. They were like, “We know you’re in a rough place right now. We know this is hard. We want to support you and help you get better,” which was really cool but, like I said, it was a huge contrast between A and B.
At the hospital, they really kind of let you do your own recovery. They encouraged you to attend the groups and meals and do all that but, if all you wanted to do was sit in your room and sleep, they’d let you do that, too. I spent a couple days just doing not much of anything. After I decompressed, I actually started going to groups and talking, and getting what I could out of it while I was there. I got there on a Tuesday and I was discharged on a Saturday, so I was there for almost a week, especially if you include the Monday that I spent in the ER.
Yeah, that was brutal. That was not helpful.
Des: Why do you think they treated you like that?
Liz: There were probably several reasons. I wasn’t expecting the best because that was the same hospital I was hospitalized in when I was eleven. I went in with, “Yeah, this is not going to end well,” so it kind of lived up to my expectations, anyway.
Des: I’m just jumping around here. Tell me how you reconcile suicide and depression within your faith.
Liz: I mean, it’s a terrible thing and it happens. Like I said, my church is a little bit different than a lot of them.
Des: I’m wondering, because plenty of people say, “Well, the Bible says this…”
Liz: Ah, so we’re getting into the, “Is it a sin?” kind of mentality.
Des: Kind of. I want to know, because there are plenty of people who would still say that.
Liz: Yeah. I don’t agree with them, at all.
Liz: I think the church, as a whole, is getting more to a point where they don’t agree with that. Do I feel it is a sin? Yes. Do I feel like it can’t be forgiven like any other sin? No.
My faith, in a nutshell, says it’s not anything that we do that makes us worthy. It’s Christ and what he did for us. There is nothing in this world that I can do to make God love me more, and nothing I can do to make him love me less. If I would have went through with it on the train tracks that day, would it have broken His heart? Yes. Would I have lost salvation over it? Absolutely not.
Des: I love hearing faith-based stories. Is suicide still an option for you?
Liz: Absolutely not. Off the table. Completely and totally.
Des: When did you make that decision?
Liz: At some point over the past year. Probably shortly after getting out of the hospital, starting to feel normal, getting a life back, and getting into a good place. Realizing that, “Hey, wait, no. There’s better things out there.” So, yeah. Off the table completely.
Des: Now that you’re struggling with finding the medications again, how is that decision working within that?
Liz: I’m not suicidal at all at this point. Yeah, I’m struggling. Yeah, there are days that it’s a fight just to get out of bed. Yeah, there are days that I feel like an epic failure. But that is not even an option. Not even close. If I get to start feeling like that might be an option again, I will take myself back to the ER, because I’m not doing it. I will not do that again.
Des: How do you take care of yourself on the harder days?
Liz: I have friends who check up on me. They know that right now we’re doing the med change and that it’s really hard, so they’re checking up on me, keeping me accountable. If I need to get out of the house and do something, I have several friends who I can call and say, “Hey, let’s just do something. Let’s get coffee. Let’s hang out at your place. Let’s hang out at my place. Let’s watch a movie. Let’s do something.”
I’m definitely reaching out and using those resources this time, which I wasn’t smart enough to do last time. I definitely have friends who are like, “Hey, how are you doing? Do you need to get out of the house?” I’ll say, “Yes,” and they’ll say, “Okay, let’s go.”
Des: “I don’t want to, but yes.”
Liz: Yeah, exactly. Come force me off of my couch and away from my Netflix.
Des: Have you had a family member who has died by suicide?
Des: How do you feel about those losses?
Liz: It’s still really hard because I know it was a choice that they made, but I can also understand it, having been at that point, myself. It breaks my heart that they had to get to that point and that nobody really knew enough to really notice. It’s been a very long time, but…I guess I don’t really ask the “why” questions about it so much anymore. I know there probably isn’t a good answer. It breaks my heart that they were that far gone and none of us saw it because none of us knew what to look for.
Des: Do you think you would know what to look for now?
Liz: I would have a better idea, but specifically? Probably not.
Des: What advice you would give to someone else who’s thinking about suicide?
Liz: As counterintuitive as it seems, talk about it. If it seems like people aren’t listening, keep talking about it, because somebody will. You just have no idea who that person is right now.
Des: What would you say to somebody who was on the other end of that? Someone trying to take care of or love someone who’s thinking about it? What advice would you give them?
Liz: Just letting somebody know that you care and that you’re there for them [is important]. They may never take you up on it, but keep reminding them, “Hey, if you need me, call me.” Because they probably won’t take you up on it, if they’re anything like I was. Just the fact that somebody cares enough to even take time out and acknowledge that, “Hey, you know what? I care about you. I’m here for you,” can make a big deal. Even if it’s just a text saying, “Hey, are you doing okay today? “
Des: Those are really helpful.
Liz: Those are helpful. I still get those and they’re wonderful.
Des: Do you guys do any related programming in your church?
Liz: Not specifically mental health-based. We do have a program called Celebrate Recovery. Are you familiar with it? It’s a Christian-based twelve-step group, but it’s for any habit and hang-up. Probably about half of us there struggle with depression in some form, so it’s not your typical addictions or alcohol. It’s anything. We have people who are there for depression. We have people who are there for financial issues. Just anything. Abuse survivors. Anything that can cause you some kind of struggle in life, you’ve got people that are there for it, and it’s a really cool program.
Des: Do you think that it benefits from being a mix?
Liz: It’s definitely a benefit. One of the things that we kind of emphasize is to look for the similarities and not the differences. My struggle may not be the same as yours, but there may be some aspects of it that are the same. My issue may not be alcohol, but I can learn from the alcoholics in the program.
Des: How do you feel about the twelve-step part of it?
Liz: It’s actually been really helpful. They basically took the original Alcoholics Anonymous twelve steps and kind of modified them to make them scripture-based. The wording on them is different, but it’s essentially the same steps—just more pulled out of scripture with more of a spiritual base to them. [It is] incredibly helpful in working through a lot of the junk and coping with it better. They work.
Des: Tell me more about where in the scripture [you find inspiration]?
Liz: The Joel 2:25 is a big one. I love that verse. There’s so much scripture that talks about it—like in the Psalms, “Before you were born, I knew you.” There’s a verse in Isaiah. I’m terrible with references, but there’s a verse in Isaiah that says, “I cannot forget you. I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” All throughout scripture, [there is evidence of] just how valued we are and how much of a treasure He sees us as. That’s a huge encouragement because you get to the points where you just feel like a failure and you feel like you can’t get anything right that day. Yet, you can go back to those and know that, hey, wait, I’m still treasured and I’m still precious.
Des: What might you want to say to somebody who’s reading your story?
Liz: That it gets better. Keep fighting. Eventually it will happen. It will click. I was struggling for about a year and a half before I ended up in the hospital and finally got the help I needed, so don’t give up. It gets better. I promise.
Liz’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 Alison Rutledge for providing the transcription to Liz’s interview, and to Sara Wilcox for editing.