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‘My life had to be perfect’

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Before moving on to this week’s guest post, here’s some good news: The Huffington Post has published our blog post from last week on its site as part of a special feature on suicide attempt survivors.

Separately, also worth a look are these video interviews with three pioneering attempt survivors who talked openly about their experience back in the day, not long ago, when no one dared to mention it. Especially recommended is this interview with psychologist and author DeQuincy Lezine, who speaks of discrimination against attempt survivors by insurance companies, the stigma within the mental health field and the rather absurd but lingering fear that attempt survivors who talk to each other will be inspired to kill themselves.

Actually, “a lot of what we talk about is that we made it,” Lezine says. “And how great it is to have made it, and look at the things we might have missed if we hadn’t made it. I can’t remember any single time that we thought more about doing it because we were together. Always less.”

Attempt survivors Eduardo Vega, the executive director of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco, and Heidi Bryan also share their thoughts, as well as the director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, psychologist John Draper. He calls for including attempt survivors in more decision-making roles. “For all these years, we’ve been treating them like bad children,” he says. “And who should be seen and not heard, and maybe not even seen.” The Lifeline now offers a support page for attempt survivors.

This week’s guest post is by Noch Noch Li, who was brought up in Hong Kong and Australia and became a young executive for an international corporation before suffering a serious stress-related depression. She addresses others in similar situations in her blog.

I was sprawled semi-conscious across the kitchen floor when Timmie came home. I could hear him screaming down the phone. My head hurt. Had I fallen? I was trying to get some water to wash down the pills.

Timmie dragged my unwilling body over the cold tile floor to the driveway. He yelled for the receptionists to hail a cab. I plopped on the sofa in the lobby in my pajamas. He carried me to the taxi. The driver sped along the dark, empty Beijing streets. It felt like eternity before reaching the emergency room. I could hear a nurse scrambling to find a wheelchair. Others scurried across the room.

Gently, they helped me onto the bed. In my daze, I surveyed my sanctuary. White lights and curtains and white bed sheets strapped between beeping machines. Everything was pristine, immaculate. There was an eerie peace. I must be in heaven and about to meet God to defend myself as to why I had chosen to die.

While gliding up the corporate ladder, I sighed with relief that for once, I exceeded everyone’s expectations and they could be proud of me. My perfectionist attitude, and the fear of disappointing others, dragged me into an achievement-focused life. I defined success by exaggerating the importance of titles, money and material goods. I was good at what I did. Yet every day passed in frustration, for I did not derive pleasure from a paycheck. I was merely trying to portray an image I thought acceptable by society. Deep inside I was unhappy, for I did not like what I was doing. Yet I hushed the small voice and convinced myself that I should be happy.

I was not being myself. But I was afraid to admit it, or to make changes to the cushy life. And yet, I saw no purpose or meaning to the life I was leading. I saw death as the only way out, for I had no more hope.

They put a few blankets over me, but I could not stop shivering. Perhaps I was trembling from fear. What had become of me? Why had I sunk into this wretched depression? Was God punishing me for something I had done, or not done? Hopelessness consumed me; I was trapped 50 feet below packed snow. I could not breathe. I could not see a way out.

A tall, lanky shadow emerged. I heard Timmie mumble something about coming home and finding me on the floor and not sure what had happened, but that there was glass everywhere in the kitchen.

The doctor peered into my eyes, “What is your name?” he asked.

“No… Noc.. Noch-ie.”

“Do you know what day it is?”

“Umm … Saturday … or Friday?”

A sudden wave of nausea. Water. Spit. Some sort of translucent fluid. I tried to vomit my guts out because they were bothering me. But I could not, and it felt worse.

Muddled with medicine, injections and pills, the bitter irony was I saw very clearly how I brought this on myself. My body had sprinted for too long without taking a break, heeding every unreasonable command my mind gave it: Finish this spreadsheet even though it was midnight, fit another client meeting in, take the CFA and the GMAT and the LLM exams all in one year, make more friends. My life had to be perfect.

So my body revolted. It had had enough. It was time to reconsider what was important: The promotion I vied for, or time with my family and friends? Was Harvard Business School my ultimate life purpose, or should my health take precedence? Would it be too late to change now, I wondered as I faded into semiconsciousness.

I could hear muffled voices behind the curtains. I was too tired to eavesdrop; my fate was at their mercy.

The attempts to take my life were drastic wake-up calls, for I had long ignored the subtler ones of headaches, migraines, stomachaches and constant fatigue. It was my heart’s way of vying for attention, because I had ignored it for too long.

When I opened my eyes again, the whole clinic was buzzing. Timmie was half asleep on the chair. After one last look, the doctor decided I could be discharged. I got up feebly to put on my shoes and remembered I was not wearing any. The nurse gave me a pair of paper slippers.

How many times did I nearly die? The thought of death as escape had spread through my body like bacteria multiplying at exponential speed. The doctors were surprised I was still standing after seeing me at the ER so frequently. So was I. Seeing Timmie worn out and drained from trying to keep me alive gave me some impetus to start thinking about the purpose of every breath I took thereafter. What did not kill me makes me stronger.

I started to publish my thoughts and experience on a blog. I loved writing, and words energized me. However, the drain after work had been an excuse to push writing aside.

One project led to another. I created Bearapy with my collection of Snuffles bears. I am now exploring the concept with play therapy and group therapy with the aim of supporting others through stress, burnout and depression. Most of all, I became more self-aware, aware of the thoughts and emotions behind each behavior, and of my priorities.

Timmie and I came home in a taxi. Home, where I hid under the blankets for the next few days. I was slightly angry I had not succeeded. But I was too exhausted to devise the next attempt.

Some macaroni in soup was all I wanted.

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3 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Two thoughts….1. Would a regularly scheduled weekly 25 hour Shabbat, same day every week, away from work, phone, computers, etc., spending time with family, recreating, eating good food, taking naps, being a human being instead of a human doing, introspecting, be a solution? 2. I believe Michel Odent, MD, in The Cesarean (?), said that China has the highest non-labor C-section rate, as well as the highest suicide attempt/completion rate. Not that the two are necessarily connected (but could be), but a culture which has to have so much control over so many life processes…..well, it’s just too mechanical, too removed from who we really are emotionally, divorced from nature, our nature.

    Reply

  2. Another wonderful blog post! I watched every linked video and am so glad to see so much focus and attention now being directed to Attempt Survivors. As I listened to the videos, it does amaze me in fact that suicide prevention has more or less excluded attempt survivors from a feedback perspective. Who better to learn from than those who have actual lived experience? Glad also to see Lifeline now also offers support for attempt survivors and have shared that resource too.

    I am glad Noch Noch survived her attempts and is now sharing openly what she was experiencing both prior to, and after, her attempts. I think many get stuck in the cycle of perfection, constantly striving for it, not being able to stop and celebrate the many accomplishments we all make because we’re so focused on what the future may bring.

    Our bodies have a way of letting us know when it’s more than we can cope with, and this post definitely addresses that very well. Our personal stories have such impact and am very grateful so many are coming forward to share theirs to help others as well as themselves. Am about to share this blog post on my FB page Suicide Shatters. Keep these outstanding and enlightening posts coming :).

    Reply

  3. Beautifully written to describe such a gut wrenching experience. I unfortunately relate as I am an attempt survivor as well.

    Reply

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