Reprinted from "Suicide" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2(7), p. 18
I knew my illness was developing. I worked in the health system, so knew that isolating myself, having thoughts of despair, frequently complaining of physical symptoms-and hearing voices-were signs of something brewing. But I was ashamed to acknowledge that I might have a mental illness. I lived in a small town in northern BC, where everyone knew everyone else. The stigma surrounding mental illness kept me from seeing doctors until it was almost too late.
My doctor knew something was wrong, even though all the tests for somatic illnesses came back negative. When she asked me what was going on in my head, I asked her if she believed in good and evil-then I told her I was demon possessed. She admitted me to the local hospital.
In the hospital, I saw my GP every day for individual therapy - I didn't want to see a psychiatrist; the priest at the local church I attended had told me the voices I heard were demons, and I believed the priest. After seeing my doctor I would I try to understand the words mental illness. The doctor said I had a mental illness and the priest said I was demon possessed. I was so confused and didn't know who to believe. Everything got muddled in my head and a dark despair overtook my thoughts.
I had flashbacks of demonic removal rituals that had been performed on me by the priest. For about three years I had been hearing voices, and these frightening rituals were done to me in the church, three or four times a month. The so-called Christian counsellor and the priest blamed me for anything bad that happened in the town, and I came to believe that I was a bride of Satan.
It's no wonder my thoughts told me I was no good and that nobody, especially the priest, cared for me anymore. When neighbours, friends, peers and co-workers came to visit me in the hospital, I couldn't face them. And I couldn't tell anyone except my doctor about what was going on-the nurses knew the priest and attended his church. Abandonment, loneliness, emptiness and betrayal consumed my mind. I was going down a tunnel with no light.
Agonizing thoughts ruminated in my mind over and over again. Where, I wondered, had that perfect Christian girl gone who once did everything for God? I cried to God: "Why do I have this confusion? Where are you in my time of need? Do you hate me as I hate myself?" On my knees I cried out: "Why, oh why, have you forsaken me?"
I was caught in between 'good' and 'evil.' Voices were telling me to kill myself. And I had an opportunity, about a month and a half after being admitted to hospital: I went home on a day pass. I swallowed a couple of bottles of Tylenol and whatever else I could find in the house and chased it down with alcohol. Fortunately for me-though I didn't consider it fortunate back then-a friend came by unexpectedly, and rushed me to the hospital.
After I tried to kill myself, my doctor was upset with me. She ordered me sent to a larger community that had a psychiatric ward in its hospital. Two ambulance drivers accompanied me. I couldn't comprehend what was going on, and I felt like I was being 'thrown out' of the local hospital; I felt abandoned.
On the way we stopped at a rest area so I could go to the bathroom. When I looked in the rest stop bathroom mirror I could see black charcoal around my mouth and my teeth were black from the stuff the hospital gave me to neutralize the pills I had taken. I felt so humiliated when I came out of the bathroom into public view: I was still in hospital clothes; my dignity was gone. I thought this was an ongoing nightmare, and cried to myself, "Wake up, wake up, you are dreaming!" But I wasn't dreaming. My nightmare continued.
When I arrived at the hospital, I was put in a room where the bed was a cement slab with an orange comforter. A TV monitor hung in the corner of the ceiling, and the door to the room was locked. A nurse told me to wave at the TV monitor if I had to go to the washroom or needed help. I cried myself to sleep. I couldn't believe what was happening to me.
Now there's a light in the tunnel
That was my first suicide attempt, and it wasn't my last.
At the beginning of my sickness, I was very manipulative, self-harmed and had a lot of anger. I kept the door revolving at the Vancouver General Hospital psychiatric assessment unit, and professionals didn't know what to do with me. Finally, one of the psychiatrists referred me to a mental health team.
I praise the psychiatrist and the mental health team I now have. I'm being better educated about my mental illness and I can educate them about me. I'm finding that this process of rehab and recovery is no longer about us and them (i.e., mental health consumer vs. service provider), but it is getting to be more like we!
It has taken eight years, with many trials and tribulations, to get the medications right. With these meds and after extensive psychotherapy, I am now a person who doesn't manipulate and I have a lot less anger. I am taking the SAFE (Self Abuse Finally Ends) course, which teaches me coping skills to stop myself from self-harming. And I've now found a church that is warm, welcoming and compassionate. I'm very much at peace with God, who I know is big enough to take my confusion, anger and fears and loves me for who I am and where I'm at.
Through extensive group work in the Integrated Personality Program at Vancouver General Hospital psychiatric outpatient department over the last six years, my feelings of abandonment, loneliness, emptiness and despair are diminishing. Today, I feel that I am a capable person. I am active as a mental health consumer, advocating for other consumers, either at my mental health team or at work.
Suicide attempts are getting farther and farther apart, and I now know where to reach out to for help. I still struggle, but I?m getting better each day. And there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
About the author
Faith has been a consumer of the mental health system, with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, for the past eight years. She attends a mental health team in the Lower Mainland. Through courage, and encouragement from the Vancouver Suicide Survivors Coalition, Faith has been inspired to write about what it is like to attempt suicide-and to survive. She has come to a place in her recovery process with borderline personality disorder where she can talk about her process, which began more than eight years ago