One year ago, the culmination of years of struggle against mental illness appeared to finally come to a head. In April 2022, I attempted to take my own life, after years of degradation to my emotional state and ability to handle myself.
It’s been very hard for me to say what I’ve wanted to say with this, so this is my best attempt to pour out my feelings. It’s kind of a long read, and goes a lot of different places. I’ve had to rewrite it three times.
For the longest time, there’s been a poison living inside of me. It manifests as a voice, composed of anxious, knee-jeek reaction, guttural rage, and screaming that shakes my bones.
Within this poison lies a deep hatred for everything that I am, and calls for nothing less than my annihilation. When I make errors, it calls me an error. When I fail, it calls me a failure. But never in those words.
No, it opts for the vocabulary of a true sadist, and the worst part is that it’s my voice, telling myself that my mother should’ve gotten an abortion, that my father should’ve strangled me in the crib. That my entire soul has been rejected by God, that I was designed simply to be damned forever. It tells me that my genes are weak, my mind diseased, and my heart unlovable. That I will wallow in mediocrity and failure all my life, and everybody will cheer when I finally die.
Gosh, you say, this guy must be a riot at parties!
These thoughts and words come and go. For some periods, I’ve been able to find an element, and thrive in it. I’ve experienced love, joy, passion, and belonging. I’ve explored the world, and parts of my own consciousness, and have taken chances and accomplished things that maybe not a lot of people have.
But, none of those things can stave off my fixation on the past, the kind of person I used to be, and the long shadow of my failures. My imagination constantly pulls me into a long chain of thinking of all the paths I failed to take. Even now, I have to admit that I still have a lot of baggage to contend with.
I think one thing that I fixate on a lot is the collapse of my previous career. I moved across the country to a place that I only had rosy assumptions about, got my foot in the door working in exciting places, and gradually realized with horror that the ladder I seemed to be climbing was only a treadmill, painting me into a corner with no escape.
My entire dream of success and prosperity seemed to be false, and ran me into the ground so badly that when I finally got fired, all I could do was drink and party and get high for nine months straight. Oh, I looked for work. But the long cycles of interviews and rejections only made me lean harder into my vices.
When the money finally dried up and I was facing homelessness, I surrendered. I picked up the phone, called my father, and moved across the country to follow his proposed path of joining the military.
I moved to the middle of nowhere, got a job in a factory, and starved myself until I lost a third of my body weight. At the height of COVID, I waited for the ride to basic training. My job changed three times. I fell in and out of love with someone during that time. She kept our relationship a secret from her kids, despite the fact that at one point we were all living together.
I maybe had two braincells left, when I got to basic training. My higher brain functions basically told my lower functions:
Sayonara! I’m taking a vacation! It’s up to you to get me through this!
I was bad at everything, for a while, and it didn’t stop at basic. Well into my career on the operational side of the military, and I’m a nervous wreck with everything described in the above paragraphs tacked on. But now, I’m working on multimillion dollar military aircraft!
After a while, everything became too much. Every mistake was a full-blown panic attack. Every person seemed to hate me, even though they really didn’t. I became obsessed with failure, and started to develop an unhinged view that I was simply the worst piece of shit airman.
My panicked thoughts began reflexively focusing on ways to kill myself: jumping into oncoming traffic. Piping exhaust into my truck’s cabin. Hanging myself.
The weird thing about wanting to end my life was that I was terrified of dying. I was afraid of the experience, afraid of making a final commitment, afraid of what may or may not happen after. I wanted to destroy myself, but only so that I didn’t have to feel like I was in Hell anymore. I can’t fully explain it, beyond the fact that I felt incredibly awful every single day.
I found a piece of rope, and began tightening it to see how it would feel as I choked. I loved it. I leaned into it. I pulled it over the hangar bar in my closet, and experimented with pulling on it in different ways.
Some part of my brain eventually realized what was going on, and snapped out of it. I had finally passed a major threshold, after all these years. I felt disgusting.
I could go into all the details of this part, but I’d rather keep it short. I made a cry for help, and some people in my leadership that liked me immediately noticed. My flight chiefs and a Sergeant close to me saved my life that day. I am forever grateful.
A lot of things happened very quickly. I sat down and talked to my flight chief, who took me to Behavioral Health for a screening. They asked a lot of questions, and I nervously talked about everything that I had been going through. After about an hour of conversation, a verdict: I was going to be hospitalized and placed on observation for a time.
They took most of my belongings, took my shoelaces, and I was asked the same questions over and over again by all sorts of different groups of people. Inprocessing dragged on forever and ever, as I found myself endlessly repeating words to new people.
I got help, and was hospitalized for a while. I went to a lot of therapy sessions. Jesus Christ, the therapy sessions. There were so many. Some were profound and emotional, some were shallow and extremely hokey. I don’t recommend Dialectical Behavioral Therapy at all.
I’m on antidepressants now, and still in the military. No, it’s not a cure-all. I leaned that the hard way that Zoloft doesn’t just magically take all your bad feelings away. I also leaned that higher dosages just put me in a fog and make me feel stupid.
A lot of amazing things happened since then. I married someone wonderful that’s extremely supportive, and we’ve moved in together with two beautiful dogs. I still struggle with bad thought patterns sometimes, and I kind of just have to accept that I’ll have good days and bad days. But, there’s much more bliss.
I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do with my life, and sometimes wonder whether anything I accomplished really meant anything. But, as long as I’m still around, and have the willpower to keep trying new things, there’s hope.