Peter Cuttyis a suicide attempt survivor.
"I survived a suicide attempt."
I interviewed Peter Cutty in Philadelphia, PA, on May 26, 2016. He was 31 years old and a laborer with the water department at the time of interview.
My story starts in New Jersey. My early days in school… I always felt like an outsider coming from a different town into another, moving when I was about 12. Not knowing anybody. All these people that I went to school with had gone to school [together from] kindergarten to high school—I couldn’t really find anything in common with them. It took me a long time to find my place in that community; that, combined with family issues. My family moved together with my grandfather and my grandmother into one house and uprooted my life. Not being self-aware, and being shy, I didn’t take well to the move.
Ever since I was 10 or 12, I felt different—sadness about different things. Being too empathetic, I guess you could say. As a kid, my mom said I was sensitive. She still says that. You grow out of that as you get older. I think that had an effect, hearing that, and also other kids my age, their perceptions of me. I guess kids preyed on that, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. From my mom’s point of view, it was good. But from my point of view and others’, it was a bad thing. A sensitive kid—everyone always picked on him or whatever.
Going into high school, I got a sense of humor. I never had humor as a defense mechanism, and tried to learn that as I grew up. I got a little better through high school and into college. But that was the only coping mechanism I learned. Depression overcame that coping mechanism.
It just snowballed with relationships and not knowing how to cope. It came to a head a little bit after college. I graduated in 2009. I think directly after that, going through two or three jobs and not having a direct sort of vision or path or career that I saw myself in—all those things led to me not liking who I was and not being able to cope with the depression. If the depression outweighs the coping mechanisms, then eventually it’s like a sea wall. The sea wall can’t hold the depression anymore, and it… overcame.
Des: What did not knowing how to cope look like?
Peter: A lot of lashing [out], just being shitty to people. Being in solitude. Occasionally, when I go out, I don’t feel comfortable—not feeling comfortable in any kind of space, no matter what. But being alone felt comfortable. That was the only thing. Going out and going to work was a necessity, or going to the store was a necessity. Other than that, sometimes even going to the bar was just too much. Finding reasons not to engage with people.
Five years ago, almost two years out of college, I’d already been through two to three jobs, and not knowing what to do and having a relationship fall apart—it pushed me over the edge and I was just like, “I’m done.”
I took this job and I was sitting in an office, processing claims eight hours a day—Medicaid claims. It was weird. Not so much weird as it was monotonous. Same thing, every day. I didn’t take to it. I don’t like having scheduled everyday things, like doing the same thing every day. I like my job now only because I don’t do the same thing every day.
That, combined with relationships not working out— spiraled into me not being happy with myself and other [things]. I tried to get back together with my ex-girlfriend. That didn’t go well.
Immediately after, I decided I just didn’t want to wake up. I took some pills, I took some Jack Daniels, and I tried to not wake up. It didn’t work. I just threw it up five hours later. I went back to bed.
The next morning I went to work, and I was so out of it. I barely accomplished anything. I went to work and it was just nothing there. I decided, “I can’t do this. I gotta go. I’ve just gotta take a couple days and go to the hospital.”
Des: Why did you decide to go to work?
Peter: Good question. I guess I didn’t really accept that it was happening—that my life was falling apart. A nervous breakdown. It was like, “Ah, a nervous breakdown. It’s ok. Let’s keep going.” That’s always my go-to strategy—just soldier on.
I got to the hospital and they took me in. It was okay when I first got to the hospital. Once they sent me out to the psychiatric ward—it was more like a rehab. I guess I told them about the alcohol, and they just decided that, “Oh, he needs to go to a rehab,” not a psychiatric ward type of thing.
It was a mix. It wasn’t like all people were in there for drugs and alcohol. That was one of the strangest experiences of my life… As soon as I got there, I thought, “I don’t want to be here. This is not what I wanted to happen.” They wouldn’t let me leave for two or three days. Before I left, I had to get an appointment with the doctor. I had to plan it. It was just a nightmare. I stayed there for 48 hours and just went through the motions, getting through the couple days that I was there. That made me make an appointment with a psychologist to make sure I had the support set up for after.
It was good, but it was scary in a lot more ways than one… You’re in a weird state. I guess anybody is in a weird state when they get there. You just wanna be and not have to deal with that—you kind of ignore it.
Then I got home, and I was living with a guy. I had a living situation through Craigslist, and that was weird, but it was a good setup.
Des: Did he know?
Peter: No, no. Nobody knew. I didn’t tell anybody. I told my one friend—I told two of my best friends. My one best friend, he had the same troubles around the same time. Within a month of each other, we were going through the same depressive suicidal thoughts and he had the same thing happen. He [did] something that he didn’t think he was going to wake up from and went to the hospital. Same kind of thing.
We had grown up together. He had the same [situation], and we bonded on that. He has a much different reason for his depression, but we bonded on that level. We became a little closer. My other friend, he supported me, and has always supported me to this day more than anybody else. It’s what got me over the wall… They both supported me in their own ways. One more traditionally—always offering his support to be there and listen. I’ve always appreciated that. I’d do the same for him.
Des: They wanted to set up support with the psychologist. Talk to me about the actual support system that you ended up setting up.
Peter: I went to the psychologist and I had an appointment every week. I’d go from work to the appointment. It was a good setup. But being on the—what was I on—Celexa? Celexa. It was fine. Maybe I expected too much from it, or I didn’t know what to expect from past experiences with psychologists and psychiatrists. It was always—you get somewhere, and then you’d have to leave. You feel like you’re getting somewhere, and then you’re like, “Oh, session’s over.”
It was sort of frustrating.
I don’t really take any meds. I don’t go to any mental health professional. I feel like I’m doing about the same as I was before I was seeing a professional.
Des: What made you stop? It was just too frustrating?
Peter: Yeah, that and just losing my job and not having health insurance.
Des: Accessibility. What are your coping mechanisms now?
Peter: I do meditation every day, and then listening to stories and trying to apply them to my life and build a pathway in my head with things that make sense that worked in other people’s lives—I try them in my life. Trying to talk to other people and understand more. I don’t really know what my coping mechanisms are. I think meditation is probably the main one.
The storytelling thing. You’re not just looking for other people who have done the same thing.
Des: Why did you decide to tell your story?
Peter: I’ve always struggled—we weren’t financially disadvantaged, but we were sort of poor. My family never acknowledged it, but I sort of felt it. Growing up and being told that the only way out is college. Having that huge debt burden. I never got help from my parents. Very minimally, if there was help. Having that debt burden—that was another reason to be depressed, because if I want to do things in life, that holds me back. That’s depressing in itself. There’s a lot of people like that out there.
Des: All in our age group.
Peter: All in our age group, and people who didn’t go to college and are still financially, economically disadvantaged. Hundreds of thousands of them [died from] suicide every year. Nobody talks about that. If they do talk about that, it’s always like, “Oh, this person killed 17 people and then they killed themselves.”
Des: Your mom said you were sensitive, but did it feel like the rest of your family was on the same page? Did anyone else have depression?
Peter: I suspected my dad did, but I don’t know. I have no idea. Maybe my mom does or did. I don’t know. I don’t know if anybody else in my family has, as far as I know. I don’t share much with my family. They don’t share much with me as far as mental health goes. Feelings weren’t a hot topic in my family.
Des: Was there ever any point where you did share with them?
Peter: Maybe. But I never made it a huge deal, either way. I never made it a huge deal, and they never made it a huge deal.
Des: In terms of changing attitudes about mental health, specifically, it’s stories like this that research says are more affecting.
Peter: Yeah. I would hope so.
Des: What kinds of stories would you like to see? What links would you click on?
Peter: People overcoming their problems. Just general stories about people and their everyday lives, overcoming their problems. It happens every day, but those are the stories that the news doesn’t want to report about. They want to report about the shooting or the robbery that happened. They’re all important, but it’s tough to get covered. It’s one problem at a time. Obviously, people dying is more important, so I think it’s hard to get those stories out there. The media is such a clusterfuck. You’ve got so many disparate interests. There’s never gonna be a cogent message.
Des: What happens when the depression gets bad?
Peter: I don’t do anything. I just try to maintain as low a standard of living as I can without actually raising any flags, ‘cause I don’t wanna disrupt anybody’s life. I don’t wanna be like, “Uh, I’m doing terrible. Pay attention.” That attention-seeking thing. I don’t like to be like that.
Des: Why do you think it would be disruptive?
Peter: To let people know that I’m struggling? I don’t know. Maybe it’s that and also I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. It’s just like a weird dynamic between not feeling like I’m attention-seeking and not wanting to be pitied.
Des: You’re using the phrase “attention-seeking.” Is it about actual attention-seeking, or is it about, “Please don’t look at me?”
Peter: It’s more about I’m trying to hide. Hiding behind whatever I can find physically or vocally. Distracting.
Des: When was the last time you felt suicidal?
Peter: Like, really felt suicidal?
I had actually lost my job and my father at the same time three years ago. Luckily, I moved into a new place and I was doing good. I had high hopes. I didn’t get a job after six months and the unemployment wore off. I was just floating in the wind. I didn’t have any money. I didn’t have any way to pay rent or anything. I was pretty close to it then. Pretty distraught. Very despondent. Not talking to people. Didn’t know what to do. Other than my roommates, I didn’t do much outside of the house. There was a lot of waking up, maybe searching for jobs, maybe not, then going to sleep.
Des: What brought you out of that?
Peter: An overwhelming pressure. I don’t even know what it was. I had actually gotten on food stamps, and that got me motivated, like, “Okay. I don’t want to be on food stamps.” That’s not like a knock on anybody that’s on food stamps. It helped me, but I realized, “If I let this go on, it’s not going to get any better.” I started working at a grocery store and built from there. Kept getting into the job, bettering my situation as quick as I could in order to stay afloat.
Des: Have you had suicidal thoughts since then?
Peter: Yeah—I mean the thoughts were always there, but through this meditation, I’m able to know even in the moment I’m having the thoughts that they’re just passing thoughts. I’m not sitting there and focusing on them for long periods of time. I’ll get depressed and the suicidal thoughts come and I’m able to recognize and stop myself and let them go every passing wave. It’s just gonna crash and then it’ll go away.
Des: Is suicide still an option?
Peter: I can’t predict the future. I know right now, I don’t want to. It’s not an option for me right now. It’s terrible to say, “Oh, that’s not an option right now, but I can do it later.” I just don’t know. I can’t definitively say 100% I will never attempt suicide again. I just have to try my best to keep my mind open and keep the coping mechanisms on and fully keep them in my life and be aware of myself.
Des: I’m wondering now, if you hadn’t had the experience of going down that path and trying to kill yourself, do you think you would’ve answered that question—of whether suicide is an option—differently?
Peter: Had I not tried and still having depression? Yeah, I probably would have answered it differently. Waking up from a failed suicide attempt is a very jarring and fucked up experience. It’s like two planes colliding. It’s very visceral. You don’t know what to fuckin’ think. You come out the other side and think, “Alright, you need to really do some serious self-analysis.”
I’m not trying to leave it open-ended. I just can’t really define myself that way. I can’t say it’ll never be an option again. There’s tons of reasons that I think are acceptable. Not tons, but there’s a few reasons that are acceptable to [die from] suicide. Euthanasia is suicide, in a way.
Des: Is suicide weak or selfish?
Peter: Not weak. I think it’s selfish, in a way. Not taking into account—for years, suicidal thoughts have plagued me. Going through a psychology program in college, you hear a few things about the aftermath and what happens. Why it has the negative impact it has. I took that all into consideration, but still, it didn’t matter.
Depression is a very powerful thing. Knowing all those things, all those negative consequences, those negative things happening afterwards. Separating yourself from it is very hard to do. It’s not easy. It’s selfish in a way, but it’s also selfless, too—not wanting to be a burden to everybody else. Like a lot of things in life, there’s always a dichotomy. There’s always the one side and the other.
Des: Were you really, truly able to consider the people in your life and what your loss would mean at that point?
Peter: Maybe not. I don’t have that close relationship with my family, other than my sister. Of course, I have two sisters, but there’s a different relationship with both. The one I see the most, I have a good relationship with her. She lives up in New York. I’m able to see her as much as time allows. We’re able to connect on a certain level, but it’s never like we’re overly sharing our feelings. It’s never been like that with anybody in my family. Either they don’t see that in me, or I don’t see that in them, and it just never comes through.
Des: What are the positive benefits that have come from your attempt?
Peter: I guess realizing how badly going into rehab and seeing all those people—how much worse it can be—how difficult it is for them, and they can do it. If they can do it, I can do it. That learning experience from other people of having that comparison. Not that anybody’s experience is better or worse, but from your own eyes you can tell how badly you have it compared to others. Perspective. Gaining a new perspective was pretty powerful. Being able to overcome. Just to know I have the ability to overcome my depression feels good.
Des: Do you feel like the suicide attempt itself or having suicidal thoughts—do you feel like it’s changed your sense of identity at all?
Peter: I mean, just having depression made me feel different from everybody else. But the suicidal thoughts didn’t really make me feel different from everybody else. Just learning that a lot of people have depression, and it’s not just 1/10th of the population. It’s a lot more than that. Probably 90% of the people I run into every day have depression. You don’t even know it.
Des: Tell me what you would want to say to somebody reading your story.
Peter: I think there’s always an inclination to say, “That’s not me.” Sometimes, it’s easy to pick out the differences. There’s always a relatable core there, some core that you can relate to. Not just in this story, but in everybody. There’s always something relatable in everybody. Trying to find that and be out in the world and sort of resist that feeling to close off and not be part of the community and not be part of the world is hard. But that’s the answer. The answer is to go out into the world and be vulnerable a little bit, little by little, and not close off.
Thanks Taryn Balchunas for providing the transcription to Peter’s interview, and to Liza Walter for editing.