Content note: Discussion of suicide
September 2001 stands out in most people’s minds because of what happened to the World Trade Center in New York.
The only thing I remember from that month is trying to kill myself. I had it all planned out. I wrote letters to my family, divided up all my belongings and valuables, and decided how I would take my life. At that time, I was being treated for depression by a psychotherapist at my college. I felt isolated and I felt trapped. I didn’t have any other language except the phrase, “I don’t fit”. Never once had I experienced feelings of safety or belonging. My entire life, at that point, had been spent in defense.
I had to defend myself against kids in school who bullied me and made fun of me for being poor and wearing clothing that was either too small, too big, or dirty. I had to defend myself against my mother who was physically and mentally abusive. I had to defend myself against some of the men my mother brought into my life. I had to defend myself against my very fundamentalist church that cursed and ridiculed anyone who was different. I had to defend myself against some family members who rejected me and treated me like the black sheep, because at that time, they thought I was a lesbian because I liked girls. I even had to defend myself against myself because of destructive choices I made. While enduring the painful circumstances of my childhood and teen years, I knew I was different; I just didn’t know what word or words to say to describe my difference. I just knew I was different and that I didn’t fit in the world or in my body.
I used to sleep with a rolled up pair of socks in my underwear as a kid because I knew that my penis was missing and I thought nothing weird about this… I actually thought it was normal and that everyone my age who was missing their penis would do the same thing. I preferred wearing boys clothes and doing boys things but because I started puberty at 9, my ability to be a ‘tomboy’ abruptly ended. I kept hearing more and more the phrase, “you’re a woman now”. I decided to do everything in my power to live into what that meant. I was living with my grandmother by the time puberty came and became really active in church, so I started dressing ultra feminine, getting my hair and nails done, wearing make-up, and taking modeling and etiquette classes to learn poise, posture, and the social rules of what women did. I excelled in most of these activities but it never felt like enough. I became an over-achiever in school believing that if I worked hard enough, one day it would all make sense and one day I would fit. That day did not come and I ran out of steam.
By the end of my freshman year of college, I knew that I was headed overboard. That summer, in 2001, I spent it spiraling downward into an abyss of risky behavior, drugs, and eventually, the decision to end my life. That September, as school started, I told my therapist of my desire to die. Within a week I had a prescription for anti-depressants, and shortly after that, I overdosed. I took a combination of over 60 pills: the remainder of my anti-depressants, sleeping pills, and painkillers. I divided the pills in half and took one half that morning after reading my Bible and praying. I lived less than 2 miles from campus. After taking the pills, I put the remaining pills in a sandwich bag, stacked my belongings into nice, neat little piles around my living room, placed handwritten thank you cards along my coffee table that I’d written the night before to family and friends, placed a handwritten thank you card in my backpack for my therapist and headed to campus.
I had an appointment with my therapist that morning. Upon signing in I debated about when I should take the other set of pills that were now in my pocket. My therapist came to seat me much more quickly than I had anticipated so when she stepped out of the room to retrieve something, I took the remaining pills before she re-entered the room. I panicked. By the end of the session, I started to become visibly different and my therapist asked me a series of questions to determine whether I had taken anything. Much of the rest of the visit is a bit unclear to me at this point. But I remember being well enough to be driven to the hospital. I remember being taken to the emergency room. I remember expecting to die. I remember having no fear and being slightly relieved for the promise of death.
They kept me in the cardiac unit–because the pills I’d taken put too much stress on my heart. After being released from the hospital, I was placed in the psychiatric ward of the hospital. I was not comfortable in the psych ward but I liked it there. The plain, intentionally uninteresting rooms, the mellow environment, 3 meals a day, my single, white room, and a treatment plan that gave me 8-10 hours a day to process my emotions. It seemed like heaven and I was willing to make the compromises I had to make and risk being uncomfortable to stay there. It is this last fact that concerned my doctors and somehow led them to the conclusion that I was well enough. My doctor implied that if my will was strong enough to determine this for myself, that my will was strong enough to determine something else for myself.
The truth hurts. I was released from the mental hospital in less than a week. Before sending me on my way, some very smart, compassionate, and talented people visited me and had conversations with me. Each conversation I had-with other patients, visitors, and staff-all underscored one important fact that I had somehow forgotten along the way: I had a will. I had power; and I had the freedom to exercise that power in my own life. Before then, it hadn’t occurred to me that I could direct my life away from or apart from my pain. I had only known how to feel pain or disconnect from it; I didn’t know that I could process the pain and release it. I did not know that I was not the things that happened to me. The most freeing revelation came when I learned that I was not my body. I was able to process the pain of my childhood and I was able to look at my body as something that I could control…not as something I was controlled by or confined by.
I began dressing more masculine again. My very sheltered life began slowly opening up as I explored the dynamics of gender at an all-girls, liberal arts, Catholic college. And although it would be another almost 8 years before I formally came out as transgender, for the first time ever, I felt like I was on the road to becoming me.
If you ever think of suicide–please know: it is NOT the answer. There are people in this world who care and who can help. If you feel like hurting yourself, or ending your life, please reach out and get support.
In the U.S
If you’re thinking about killing/hurting yourself: You deserve immediate support. Please call the Trevor Lifeline (866-488-7386) – it’s free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
If you need a safe, non-judgmental place to talk:
Trevor Lifeline – (866-488-7386) – You can call the Trevor Lifeline to connect with a trained volunteer counselor who is ready to listen.
Trevor Text – You can text message with a trained counselor on Fridays between 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Pacific) / 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. (Eastern). Text the word “Trevor” to 1-202-304-1200. Standard text messaging rates apply.
In the U.K
LGBT mental health project run by and for LGBT people. Provide: advocacy, advice and information, casework support, peer support groups, suicide prevention, including peer support, mental health promotion and anti-stigma events. Tel 01273 234 839
Bright and Hove LGBT Switchboard
Supportive, non-judgemental helpline and confidential space for LGBT people as well as for their family, friends and supporters. You can call us about anything that’s on your mind, to receive information or get emotional support.
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This article was originally published at thesaltcollective.org. We reproduce it here with the author’s permission.
Rev. Lawrence T. Richardson is the Founding Pastor of Shift UCC (an interactive, online-based ministry), Social Media Strategist for the Center for Progressive Renewal, and writer who enjoys nature, traveling, food, Jesus, and dreaming. Web: LTRichardson.com and Twitter: @Larry2_0. Read more of his writing here