This week’s post is by Cory Cobern, who just received his degree in social work and for the past four years has worked for a suicide prevention crisis line. He also runs one of the dozen or so support groups for suicide attempt survivors in the U.S. _ a role that came about because of his own experience and the trust that earned him from others in the field. He is married, with two sons.
I was 31 when I first started having serious suicidal ideation. My mother had died the previous October, and only a few days past the one-year anniversary of her death, my father passed away. I was in a state of denial. I quickly sank into a deep depression that I could not find my way out of.
That’s when I really started listening to the voices in my head. I always thought that everyone had voices and that there was nothing unusual in this. As the next two years came and went, I sank deeper into my depression and listened to those voices more and more.
You may wonder about these “voices” and what that entails. For me, it is a couple of different things, and I will try to explain. Have you ever been to a professional sporting event with all the background noise, the hum of conversation? That is what it is like in my head 24 hours a day. These “voices” cannot be reasoned with. They are not your friends and do not want to be. For me, they are sinister and evil. They tell me things like, “You are unworthy to live,” “Nobody would miss you if you were gone; nobody likes you anyway.” Think about every negative thing you have thought about yourself, magnified 100 times. On top of that, I have this once voice that seems to dominate all the others. This is that deep dark sinister voice you hear in movies. When this voice talks to me, I have a very difficult time not listening.
Finally in 2004, around the anniversary of my parent’s death, I decided to listen to those voices and take my own life. This led to my first psychiatric hospitalization and numerous visits to psychiatrists. Unfortunately, they all said the same thing: “You have schizoaffective disorder.” I had no idea what that meant, but I did know that it wasn’t possible.
Things progressively got worse as I denied that there was anything wrong with me. The voices got louder and louder. I really started listening to them. I became paranoid and saw shadows. I was afraid to leave the house. I would lie on the couch for hours and be locked in my fears, listening to the voices so deeply that I would tell myself, “You need to get up and do something,” but I was paralyzed with fear. The voices were going to do something, or the shadows were. I started sleeping with the light on and a flashlight in hand. No matter what I did, it just kept getting worse.
So I decided I was going to listen to those voices and take my life once again. It didn’t work again, but at this point I was terrified of everything. I could not function. I still had a job and would manage to drive to work, where I would lock myself in my office and not speak to anyone until I could return to the security of my home.
Something inside of me _ or was it me listening to my family and friends? _ told me enough was enough. I somehow managed to reach out for help and went to see a psychiatrist. Of course, the voices in my head did not like that at all. I continued to struggle as I tried to listen to the voices outside of my head, but slowly the voices inside my head won out yet again, and I attempted with prescription medications. This time didn’t work either, but I did get to experience the joys of drinking charcoal for the first time.
I left yet another psychiatric facility, telling the staff what they wanted to hear in order to be able to return home. I returned home yet again to my loving wife and children but still couldn’t really see or hear them. I was still in my own world, in a bubble if you will. Inside that bubble, the only thing that existed was myself and the many voices I hear. I continued to focus on what those voices were telling me to do. As I did so, I ruined my relationships with many family members, friends and co-workers. But then, they didn’t exist inside the bubble with me, so what did I care?
I continued to attempt to make people happy by going to counselors and various psychiatrists, but I would constantly find a reason to switch practioners before any of them could really help me. I was “content” in the depths of my despair, and I could see my options were limited. Once again, I turned to the only way out I could see. I attempted to take my own life again.
After this last attempt, something changed. What is that pivotal moment, you ask? I wish I could tell you, but I knew as I sat alone in this hospital that this time was different. As far as I can remember, it happened one day when my wife came to visit me and she brought me some pictures of our family. As I sat there in the darkness of the hospital night after night alone with the voices and my thoughts, I would stare at those pictures, and something called out to me. I vaguely remembered what it was like to be happy and to spend time with my family. I decided I wanted that again.
I started listening to the doctors and therapists and doing what they suggested. Not that it was easy as I make it sound. It was a struggle every day, and I backslid on any number of occasions. I finally realized, though, that there was an outside world and that those awful voices I have heard for as long as I can remember are not the only voices in the world. I started to listen to the voices of the people who loved and supported me.
That was five years ago, and I do still struggle with suicidal thoughts on occasion and with voices on a daily basis, but I now know that I never have to be alone with those voices and thoughts again. I have built up a strong support system and actively advocate for suicide prevention and awareness. One of the most telling changes is, I now work for a suicide prevention line and run a group for survivors of suicide attempts. One of the best things for me is when people tell me they are going to stop coming to the support group because they are feeling safe and no longer need it but will return if they ever start having a difficult time.
One of the things that still surprises me is the welcome I got at the suicide prevention line when I went for an interview. I was very upfront about my own trials and tribulations and thought they might not hire me because of my risk factors. I was pleasantly surprised to find they openly welcomed me and wanted to know my side of things so they could help other callers more effectively.
It is because of my past experience that I run a support group for suicide attempters. My supervisor had always wanted a group like this to be formed but knew it was be difficult to get group members to open up and talk about these experiences with an outsider.
I think these last two things are some of the biggest reasons I continue to thrive. I can remind myself how bad things can get if I let them.
I will always remember the first person who called me after they attempted to take their own life by overdosing. I had spoken to this caller around 9:00 PM on a Friday night. After talking for a while, the caller said they thought they would be safe until their family arrived home. Approximately an hour later, the same caller contacted me to tell me they had gotten into an argument with their family and had just overdosed, and they needed help. I contacted emergency services as requested by the caller and they were transported to the hospital.
I thought that would be the end of it until I heard from the caller around the same time three weeks later _ to thank me for saving their life.