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  • H.M. Jackson

My Downhill Spiral - A Story of Battling Suicide

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

Mental Health. Trauma. Suicide. Antidepressants. Emotional, physical & sexual abuse. All crucial topics not discussed enough - maybe because the world of mental health still carries a stigma, or maybe some of us who are struggling are afraid to open up and not sure how to. Personally, for me I didn’t want to be a burden, I was scared. I felt embarrassed. Sure, the stigma behind mental health and taking medication has improved, but it is still not as “normalized” as physical health.

July Fourth. America’s Birthday. Usually, celebrated among family and friends with laughter and fireworks filling the air. This year, July Fourth has a different significance for me, personally. One year ago, today, I was going to take my own life. An unexplainable event by the grace of whichever greater power you believe in, is why I am still here. Feeling so empty, dark, and worthless, I never expected to make it out of 2022 alive. Not only am I still here, I am thankful for all the memories I’ve had in the last 12 months. If I would have been successful, the last year wouldn’t exist. I wouldn’t trade the friends or experiences made for anything (yes - even with rocky days still).

This is not meant to be a sad story. It’s meant to be a story of hope. A story of surviving. To be honest, I didn’t even think of myself as a survivor until recently, thanks to something my best friend said. Last month, I shared the story with my best friend, Diane. Wiping the tears away, as the story ended, I said to her “Please don’t think anything different of me, and please don’t tell anyone else about this.” Diane, now crying too, said “H - you are a survivor.” I hope sharing my story will give even just one person the strength to keep going. I promise you are not alone.

My war with mental health had been a fight for years. Depression, anxiety, PTSD and suicidal thoughts were common. I experienced a fairly traumatic childhood, from abuse, addict/alcoholic parents, multiple suicide attempts from my biological mother, along with her multiple trips to jail/prison/rehab, not feeling safe or secure - all things that severely impacted me. I was officially diagnosed at 18 with Major Depressive Disorder - Recurrent, Severe and Severe Anxiety, but can recall dealing with depression through high school, and anxiety stemming back to elementary school. I even remember the first time I seriously contemplated suicide - I was 16 years old, sitting late at night in a Walmart parking lot, my biological mother just recently arrested on a warrant, I felt like everything was falling apart.

My depression and anxiety continued to be a roller coaster of ups and downs through the years. I’d have bouts of depression, it could be fairly severe at times or a mild rut. The majority of the time, no one around would know how dark I felt or the raging anxiety inside. I was usually the happy-go-lucky life of the party. I’d intentionally be on the go, committing to every social invitation handed to me. Typically, by doing this I could distract myself temporarily and only deal with my demons alone at night. Normally, I’d always pull myself out - that was until a couple years ago. This time I couldn’t find my way out. Not only was this the severest depression, it was the longest amount of time I felt this debilitating amount of hollowness.

The downhill spiral started in 2021. At the time, I was working on a grueling professional certification. I chose to do an accelerated program where the typical 18 month education was condensed into 8 months. The program was non-stop studying, while working full time. I noticed my mind slipping into depressive thoughts as I was going through the designation. It wasn’t because of the stress with this certification, or the fact that every second of my day was consumed with reading a textbook or answering emails in the office. The negative thoughts always related to my childhood. I struggled with the fact my childhood was robbed, struggled with flashbacks, and even as an adult, all I wanted was love and advice from my parents. Depressive thoughts weren’t new. I was used to the feeling of emptiness and unhappiness. When the thoughts entered, I’d force them back down, deeply hidden, just like always. If I continued ignoring the thoughts, eventually they’d disappear. Plus, it was only a matter of time before I was finally happy - all I needed was to finish this designation.

Yes - I had created a list with all the items I needed to complete to be happy. I just knew when I reached all of my goals, I would finally be happy, I would finally make others proud, and be proud of myself. This prestigious designation was the last item to cross off. I already accomplished the others: graduated college early, excelling in my professional career, became a partner, obtained multiple other licenses/designations, bought my own house, and was supporting myself 100%. At least, that was very the wrong misconception I believed.

2021 was nearing an end. I did it! I successfully completed the designation. I passed the exam on the first try, a 6-hour exam I passed in 3 hours, while being one of the youngest candidates to do so. Apparently, accomplishing everything I thought I ever wanted, was not the magic cure all. Having my own house and an established successful career at 23? Also not a cure. I fulfilled every aspiration, but somehow continued sinking into an even deeper abyss. I no longer had the constant studying, practice quizzes, and flashcards to distract myself. Now, when I came home, my mind would get lost in the negative thoughts. I didn’t realize how much the designation had become a distraction for me, but it did. It allowed me to not focus on all the negative, and allowed me to continue to ignore my past.

As the days went on, and I continued to feel worse and worse, I knew this wasn’t going to be something I would pull myself out of on my own. I decided I should probably go back on my anti-depressant medication. Taking medication was something I did off and on over the years. I had stopped taking it most recently in 2020. I scheduled the dreaded appointment with my primary care doctor to discuss my anxiety and depression. This also meant I would need to tell her I quit taking my medication she prescribed so long ago. My primary care doctor, Raven, spent so long talking with me during the appointment. It was like she truly cared and wanted to see me get better. She expressed her thoughts on me going to counseling in addition to taking the medication. I hated counseling. I went a few times in the past, but never very long. I didn’t connect with any of the therapists I had seen, and I never felt like I took anything away from therapy. In so many words, I told Raven her idea was dumb. She prescribed me an antidepressant and required me to follow up in 30 days for a med check and to check in on the therapy progress. Looking back, as mad as I was at the time, I am so thankful Raven cared enough to push counseling.

The year was ending, I started my medication, I would eventually secure a therapist. “Alright, things aren’t horrible. I’m gonna see this out.” I was starting to feel more like myself. The bad days were manageable. Things were turning around. I decided to start dating. I always had a rule I wouldn’t date until I had finished the certification, so with that completed, life starting to feel better, dating made sense. Well…. There was one thing.

The thing is I was gay. One day I will back track to share my journey on coming out, but for the purpose of the story I will keep it short. At this point in time, I was not out. I just recently accepted for myself - I was gay. I did start dating, and eventually came out. There were some people who accepted it, and some who did not. Some who tried, but often made comments about “it’s because of your upbringing,” “it’s just a phase,” “I support you being gay, I just don’t approve of how advertised it is,” “I don’t care who you date, I just hope my kids are not gay” or “are you sure? Maybe you haven’t met the right guy.” Coming out brought on an entire set of new anxieties that became so difficult to manage and contributed to the spiral.

There is a wild story on how I ended up with the therapist I did. Her name is Mandy and I still see her. Mandy, quite honestly, saved my life. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her. As much as I cursed her name at one point, I’m so thankful. However, I didn’t start with Mandy in the beginning.

When I first started therapy, my therapist was Leigh. I had just started to come up from the last year of drowning. I wasn’t completely dark anymore, I was in a relationship, everything was status quo. We started once every two weeks. We spent the first few sessions getting to know each other, and discussing the different therapy approaches. Leigh brought up a PTSD therapy focus, EMDR. This wasn’t the first time a mental health professional suggested this type. I even tried this type in 2020, but it only went for a few sessions before the global pandemic wreaked havoc.

I didn’t like therapy. First - I never liked, not once, any of the therapists I saw in the past. I would never jive with them, and I have a difficulty opening up. If I didn’t jive, I would quit after a couple sessions. Leigh though, I really liked her. She was easy-going, and made it easy to talk. With EMDR, you can’t dive head first into processing. There are a variety of skills you build up to help with the processing. Leigh and I had not even started processing, we had just finished building a few tools for me and in between that it was relationship advice. I walked in her office one night and she told me she was moving out of the state. She explained she was still going to be doing telehealth appointments, but she knew how I felt about them, and for EMDR based therapy, it would be much better done in person. I was so sad. I never liked one counselor ever, and I finally did, and she’s leaving after a couple sessions? Way to play into my pre-existing abandonment issues. There was not a chance I would find another therapist I actually liked. It was groundbreaking, I even liked Leigh.

Leigh assured me I would be in good hands. She explained she was transferring me to her work best friend, and that I would think she’s great. “Ya right.” I remember the first appointment I met with Mandy. By that time, it was a couple weeks after Leigh had shared her news, and the couple months of good I managed to fake were gone. I ended my relationship, which I think was just another distraction I used for a few months. But now I was 100% drowning.

Mandy wanted to discuss the reasons I was starting therapy, any mental health related items, my goals, and create the treatment plan. One thing is, the therapy office has a 5 question questionnaire you complete before each session. You have to give it to your therapist at the beginning of the appointment. It is used to assess suicide risk. Suicide was a topic I battled over the years, only I would never tell anyone. I used to lock it up, push it down and eventually make it disappear. While I wasn’t presently suicidal, I had been praying every night to not wake up, or wishing each day on my drive I would be hit and killed in an accident. I just wanted to die. This was the first question on the assessment, “have you wished to be dead?”

First, I was terrified to answer any of the questions. This is our first appointment - I’m just going to waltz in and say “Hey nice to meet you, Leigh said you’re awesome, by the way I want to be hit by a car.” Leigh was able to have a few appointments where I was still hanging on to sanity by a thread, where everything seemed relatively normal. She probably told Mandy “I’m transferring H to you. Super easy, just needs to work through some trauma, we’ve been building skills.” Mandy is going to be like - WTF Leigh, your client wants to die the first time I meet her.

Mandy picked up on a lot more than I wanted her to the first time we met. She also made me give her my questionnaire that I tried so hard not to. I remember one of the goals she listed was related to working on wanting to live and suicidal ideation. Okay you magic wizard, I definitely didn’t say the words suicide, but she gathered it from how I danced around I’m sure. By the end of our first appointment, she said “By the way, I know you are once every two weeks, but I am thinking once a week.” I remember thinking “I want Leigh back, this new chick wants to ruin my life.” But there I was, now going to therapy once a week.

The flashbacks increased. My sleep dissipated, it was a good night if I was able to squeeze in three hours. The nightmares were continuous. The images of things I witnessed raced in my head. I felt so helpless. I felt so unworthy, and messed up. What was so wrong with me, that my own parents didn’t even care? That thought destroyed me each day. That thought, of never being good enough, being unlovable, was the heaviest. The idea of me wishing I would be hit by a car had escalated. I was no longer only wishing for that to happen, I started thinking I could just end it. If I did that, then I wouldn’t be in pain. I wouldn’t spend each night crying myself to sleep, alone.

Mandy became a pain in the ass therapist. Not a pain in the ass because I didn’t like her, to my surprise, I did jive with her. She was a pain in the ass in the way that she held me accountable, and then increased my appointments AGAIN, to twice a week (pretty sure her only mission was to ruin my life).

I hated walking into my therapy appointment. I dreaded having to complete the suicide assessment. One thing about me, I cannot lie. I feel so guilty, and it is written all over my face. I had to lie when it came to the suicide assessment, I couldn’t open up about the truth, about how serious it had become. If I did, I would be sent away, lose my job, lose everything I worked so hard for. What was I supposed to do? Walk into work one morning, and tell my boss “Hey super sorry, but I actually fight the urge of suicide every night and I need to go get help.” I could never tell anyone. Mandy was still getting to know me, after all, I just transitioned to her, and she happened to enter at the peak of the darkness. She didn’t have a chance to meet me before she met the completely depressed me. She had nothing to compare my current attitude to. She definitely knew me better than I would have guessed (or she is a wizard, I still think that).

The questionnaire answers had shifted from I wished to be to dead, to I have thought about ways to die, but had zero intent. I knew how to tip toe the line and where I had to draw the line on what questions I answered yes to or it would be a one way ticket to Grippy-Sock Jail. In therapy, we worked on building more distress tolerance skills, and coping mechanisms. Sometimes, I’d talk about the past, or how horrible I was feeling. Other times I’d talk about coming out and the problems that created. Like the stress of living a double life, completely out in my personal life, so in the closet in my professional life because I work in a conservative industry. All the future fears, like what would happen when I was married one day? Would I ever even wear a ring? How would other people in the industry or clients look at me? I felt like I was never going to be able to be me. Then there were the times where I’m sure I didn’t even say 5 words in the appointment, and I couldn't wait for it to be over.

I thought I was really playing it off that I was doing well, or at least better. Then one session Mandy started the conversation with me about seeking additional help and going in-patient. No way I argued. You’ve got to be absolutely crazy if you think I’m going to do that. She went on to explain that I was still really struggling, and the trauma processing couldn’t start until I was at a better place, mentally. She also mentioned this would allow a psychiatrist to review my medication. I pushed her idea away, insisted I was fine, and in no way was I going to do anything. I had my safety plan with action steps of what I would do or who I would contact if I was going into crisis mode. Mandy gave me her phone number one session, and made me promise I would call her if I started to have even the slightest thought. I assured her I would, saved her number, but deep down knew I would never do that. I previously battled these thoughts so many times before and always came out on top, I knew I could do it again. At least, I really thought that I could.

Gradually, sinking deeper by the day, I started having no desire to work. Work had always been an area I took great pride in, always going above and beyond and that no longer mattered . I was still going to the office to do the work, but it wasn’t the typical level of “H” performance. Eventually, I had no motivation to leave my house unless it was for work and even that took every ounce of strength. My mind constantly raced with anxiety ranging from “what if’s, shoulda, coulda, and woulda” or the different ways I could commit suicide. The pain was only growing deeper. I became a complete recluse. If I didn’t have to go to work, the chances of me getting out of bed were slim, not even to shower. There could be days I wouldn’t leave.

Then it happened, Sunday July 3rd, 2022 - I snapped. I was suffocating on the inside. I tried for so long to hang on and all I did was become submerged in the dark abyss of depression. Yes - I was in therapy, but not being honest and fighting those thoughts on my own clearly made the spiral worse. So, finally I thought "that's it, I give up. I do not want to feel this anymore. I cannot feel this anymore, it is killing me. I need the pain to stop and it’s never going to." It was the only way I would be free, I thought.

I knew I had things I needed to get in order first. I had to make sure everything was cleaned up at work. I needed to make sure all my accounts were in the name of the trust so my siblings would be taken care of. I went to the office that Sunday to clean up all the work items. I spent all day organizing the files, typing all the notes and completing a guide for what job duties I did and what the office needed to do with me gone. We are a small office, and I was the right hand man who was responsible for a large portion of our business operations. I didn’t want to leave my boss or co-worker hanging. I couldn't do that to them, it wasn't there fault.

The next day, a holiday, Monday, July 4th, 2022 was the day I was going to end it. All I needed to finish was making sure my personal affairs were in order. I made sure my entire trust and estate plans were in order. I double checked to make sure all my accounts had been titled correctly. I reviewed all my beneficiaries and made updates to the accounts I needed to online. I spent time filling out all the login information for the bills, the due dates and bank accounts. I knew I was going to be gone, but I wanted it to be easy for everyone else. Then I cleaned the entire house. I wanted the house to be clean when they found me. In between cleaning, I’d cry and hurt as I thought of every haunting memory.

When everything was finished, I put my trust and estate plans on the kitchen counter. Then I sat down on the couch and started writing letters to certain individuals. I wrote to the office, wrote to my siblings, wrote to two of my teachers from High School who were very important to me, and I wrote to my biological parents explaining the pain they inflicted, sharing everything they had put me through. I sent a text out to my good friends from college in our group chat that said "Hey, love you guys!"

Now night time, but everything is 100% in order, so I went upstairs and grabbed my gun. I owned a Glock 43. I brought it downstairs. I put all the letters folded up, addressed on the kitchen counter. I realized the only people with an extra key to my house were the office. Cate, my boss, had one and Kay, the administrative assistant had the second. I knew Kay would be the likely one to find me. Cate was off the next day, and wouldn’t be back till Wednesday. If I didn’t show up to work on Tuesday, didn’t respond to calls or texts, I knew Kay would come over. I didn’t want her to be the one to find me and see the aftermath. I couldn’t let her have that burned into her head. I went into my garage, and on the door leading into the house I taped a note. It read “please don’t come in, just call 911 and send them.”

I looked around then broke down one more time. I needed this pain to end, I could not feel like this anymore. I sat on the couch, picked up my gun and put the loaded clip in. I pulled back the lever to load one into the chamber. Now, raising the gun then suddenly *ding dong* right as the gun was being turned toward my right temple - someone rang the fucking doorbell. What the FUCK. Who the fuck is here. No one ever comes over, especially randomly, and it was 8:37pm on the Fourth of July. I sat the gun down on the ottoman and headed downstairs. I couldn't tell who it was when I looked through the peephole. Just that it was a man. I opened the door. It was my neighbor Harry. He lived in the community, but on the other side of the pool. I had talked to him only one or two times before down at the pool, and the last time was over a year ago.

"Harry?" I could not understand why this man was at my house for one, and for two why the fuck he chose right now to show up. He responded, "Hey! This is your house! I wasn't sure if it was. I couldn't remember the exact unit number. I knew it was this area, I was just going to start knocking on units." I was frustrated. I told him I was in the middle of something and asked what he wanted. He wanted to hang out, talk and grab ice cream up the road. Seriously? Is this a fucking joke? I haven't spoken - let alone even seen this man in over a year, and he just pops by. Why couldn’t he have rang the doorbell 30 seconds later. Just 30 seconds later and I would have already pulled the trigger.

I told him no it was late and again I was in the middle of something. I was being short, hoping he’d get the hint. That failed. He wanted to know what I was in the middle of. I kept cutting the conversation short. He kept asking me to just come outside, talk and grab ice cream. He said he didn't think I still lived in the complex since no one had really seen me, or heard from me in over a year, but then last week he was at the pool when he saw me taking the trash out and thought "oh she does still live here!" He wouldn’t drop his idea of us hanging out. I stood, very annoyed with the door still open. If I just stopped talking he had to get the point. No. He did not. Still pressing the idea, I said “it’s almost 9pm on a work night, no. I’m busy and getting ready for bed.” He quickly fired back, “I have to be up at 5am tomorrow, come on. 30 minutes.” I shook my head in silence. “30 minutes, I promise. That’s all. Ice cream is my treat.” He paused before adding, “I’m not taking no for an answer.” I was irritated beyond belief. In 2.5 years not one person has shown up unannounced. Here comes some neighbor I’ve had maybe 2 conversations with, at almost 9pm on the damn Fourth Of July. Considering I’d been turning down his request for almost 10 minutes and it was clear he wasn’t leaving until I said yes, I agreed. “30 minutes only.” I realized the sooner I got this over with, the quicker I could go back upstairs and finish what I was doing. I know that’s a grave thought, but it was honest. That’s the only thing I had on my mind. I shut the door, ran upstairs to change clothes before heading back down.

I met him on my front porch. We started walking toward downtown to grab ice cream. He started making small talk. Clearly, he didn’t feel the frustration radiating from me. I realized he will just keep talking even if you don’t respond. Eventually I obliged with a conversation. We got our ice cream cones to go so we could eat them on the walk back. It’s a relatively short walk so we hadn’t finished our cones by the time we made it back. We sat on the curb in front of my house, finished our ice cream and talked. Even with me being more of a participant he still carried the majority of the conversation with random stories. Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you everything we ended up discussing. It was well over the original 30 minute time frame I agreed to. I told him I had to get ready for bed so I could head in. He ended the conversation telling me not to be such a recluse in the neighborhood and added I needed to drop by the pool more often. I told him I would, thanked for the random night and turned around.

When I walked into the living room I saw the loaded gun on my ottoman. To the left sitting on the kitchen counter sat the trust with all the Suicide letters I had written. I lost it. I broke down crying. Harry showing up randomly ended up being enough time to distract my dark thoughts for a second. At that moment I realized I needed more help than I was admitting to myself. More help then I had been admitting to my therapist. If I was going to survive I couldn’t do it on my own.

The next night in my normal Tuesday night therapy session, I wasn’t the one who started the conversation. Mandy brought up going in-patient again. Except this time, it was sounding less of an idea, and more of a “this is the next step.” I hadn’t even brought up any of the events from last night. I knew the second I did she would have me sent straight from the appointment. I hadn’t been improving, I wasn’t sleeping much, and going in would allow an evaluation and medication adjustment if needed. I agreed with her, it was time for more. She mentioned the idea of going that night, but I was insistent I couldn’t. I needed to go to work tomorrow to square that away first, and then I promised I would go. I was insistent I wasn’t suicidal, I wouldn’t be a risk. I knew there was no way I would be telling her right then about the true events from the night before, that would wait until after I was released. We made a plan, I agreed to a safety plan, and tomorrow I would go into the office and talk with my boss. After that, I was going to call Mandy by 930am to give her an update. Before I left, Mandy said “don’t think you are going to be able to get out of this by just not coming back.” I rolled my eyes as I walked out because I knew she wasn’t joking. But I knew I would be safe one more night, I truly didn’t have any intent in my mind. I just needed to get work in order before I went MIA.

The story of me going in-patient is a story for another day. This is a story of hope, a story of surviving, a story of what I learned trying to battle it all on my own. First, I learned you cannot do it on your own. Trying to manage the thoughts of wishing to die, and suicide alone ended up being a much bigger war then I was armed for. If I would have been honest in the beginning, about the truth of what was happening in my head, it would have been much more manageable. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have even got to the point where I needed to be hospitalized. Second, I learned it’s okay to be scared, but it’s also okay to open up to others. I didn’t even need to say much to Cate at work that next day. She said it was written all over my face that something was wrong. All I said was “I need to go away for a little bit.” She knew exactly what that meant. She gave me a hug, told me not to worry about the office, and to go take care of what I needed. She was the only person I told I was going away before I left, so she also was the one who received the majority of my crying phone calls while I was gone. When I returned home, she and her family let me come stay with them for a week. I had been terrified of what this would do to my career. My fears for losing my job weren't real, because the office allowed me to go do what I needed. Even Kay, who I was very close to, ended up being brought in on the truth and she was just as much there for me. Third, I learned how important it is to be honest. Honest with yourself, your support system, your therapist, etc. Fourth, I learned you cannot ignore the ghosts of your past forever. The items you buy or driving yourself to be so successful is not the magic potion for feeling better. Eventually, everything you were pushing down is going to explode. You have to do the scary thing, and face the pain head on.

One year later, July 4th, 2023 I woke up in a house in California, on vacation with my best friends. I couldn’t imagine if I didn’t have the last 12 months. I met my two very best friends in September. You would think we have known each other for years with how well we click. They have taught me how to be myself, and learn to love myself. They are there for you in the drop of a hat, and we’ve already made some of the most amazing memories. I would have missed out on meeting the two most amazing people in my life if I wasn’t still here. I still go to therapy twice a week. I take my medication religiously. I hold myself accountable, and I open up. I pay attention to my triggers, warning signs, and I use the skills I learn in therapy regularly. Don’t get me wrong, there are hard days, still really hard sessions going through the past, but it’s worth it. I never thought I would say those words, never thought I would say I am grateful to be alive, but here I am saying it.

I’m thankful to my primary care doctor, Raven, for giving me the push to start therapy, and holding me accountable. Doctors usually don’t take the time to listen, and care, which is sad, but she did. She spent so long talking to me about the feelings I was experiencing, the history, and wanted to help me. I’m thankful for Mandy, even after all the times I cursed her name under my breath. She held me accountable, and when it was time - gave me the extra shove I needed to go In-Patient. Even now, when therapy is hard, and I think whatever exercise she is having me do is stupid - I’m thankful she doesn’t give up on me (and handles my occasional stubbornness). I’m thankful for Cate and Kay and their families - For being there when I needed it last year. I didn’t expect them to do what they did, and it is something I will always be grateful for. I’m thankful to Harry, who has no idea what he did. I will never know why he showed up when he did, but I’m grateful for whichever greater power let that happen. Those five people - Raven, Mandy, Harry, Cate and Kay saved my life. Now, I’m thankful to my two best friends, Diane and Ann, for being there for me, supporting me 24/7, and for all the laughs we’ve shared. They taught me the true meaning of friendship. It sounds cliché, I used to hate it when I heard it, but now I know - hang on, it does get better - I promise.

⎻ H.M. Jackson

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