There’s something romantic about suicide. Maybe it’s the idea of killing yourself over a lover, that death may unite you. Maybe it’s the tragic helplessness of it all, seeing a life fall out of control, but taking control in the end by taking your life. That, you see, is the ultimate power. No one can take that away from you. It’s not God that has power over life and death, it’s you, and you alone. When all else is going wrong, when life spins out of control, when you can’t stand to face another day, when all hope is gone, you can seize control, take the power away from others and back in your own hands, and take you life, on your own terms, on your own schedule, in your own way. Depression leaves you feeling powerless and helpless. I had found the answer to that despair.
I can’t actually remember how it happened. I can’t remember how most of them happened. I remember taking the pills, I remember losing consciousness, sometimes I remember calling for help, sometimes help found me, at the last minute. I remember waking up in cold, sterile hospital beds, tubes shoved down my throat, IV lines draped every which way, pumping me with life-sustaining nutrients, masks place over my mouth, connected to machines that do the breathing for you, a plastic bag connected to me so I could urinate freely, all manner of equipment, all beeping and showing graphs and charts and flashing numbers and all of them looked so foreign, yet, after a while, they began to look comfortably similar. The machinery of life. This must be what we look like, on the inside, machines whirring about, constantly, going through the motions with no regard to anything but their own duties, all meshing together into one sustaining whole, breathing, pumping blood, taking in nutrients, all the things that humans do, except here the machines did it for me. And so many nurses and doctors, all asking me how I was doing, how good to see you finally waking up, do you remember how it happened, oh my poor dear, endless streams of questions by people I’d never seen, randomly rushing in to adjust some machine or other, refilling IV lines, checking vitals, cluck cluck clucking over some numbers a machine was spitting out, doctors running through, shoving yet more tubes into me, I don’t know even know where, it was all so foggy, I was drifting in and out of consciousness, not feeling pain, not feeling at all. This was my life. It became rote and routine after a while. Different hospitals, different doctors, different machines, but always the same damn color-coded tubes, the same IV lines, the same catheter, the same puke all over myself, can’t the clean that up?, it all just became familiar, comforting, like returning home after a long day.
There were a few memorable ones. I’m talking, of course, about suicide attempts. Oh, sure, some were more serious than others, sometimes I just wanted to numb the pain, other times I wanted it all to end. I always did it the same way: overdosing on my medication. I had a doctor at UCSF now, a resident, completing his doctorate in psychiatry, a brilliant man, a researcher at heart, but up to date on all the new medicines and treatment modalities, proficient in both medication and talk therapy, a one-stop-shop for all that ails your head. I saw him twice a week. He never showed desperation, he always appeared calm and confident, but I knew he didn’t want me to be his first death, his first lost patient. Not that any physician does want their patient to die, but I’m sure it would have looked particularly horrible when he was up for the medical boards. Anyways, he kept me heavily medicated, as much at my request as his. It was ironic, of course, since it was those same life-saving meds that I used at lethal doses. It was too risky to pull me off medication, but too risky to give me any tool I could use to end my life. So he monitored me closely, changing meds every time I overdosed on one, a slap on the wrist, as it were, for taking advantage of his prescriptions. I don’t know how I first got hooked up with him. I had him before the attempts started in serious, but not for long. No matter. He was my sole physician, and he was good. Looking back, I realize I had the best treatment, world class treatment, from a future clinical researcher, a doctor at the best psychiatric hospital in the nation, access to every treatment that could be thought up, no expense was too great, no idea too outrageous, it was all tried and done where any other doctor would have thrown up his hands long ago. He stuck by my side, and I stuck by his. As much as I wanted to die, I also didn’t want to lose him, so there was always some safety measure built into my attempts. I wanted him to know how much I hurt, the lengths I was willing to go to to numb the pain, but I didn’t want to lose him, the one person who stuck up for me, the one person to comfort me, the one person that cared. He’ll never know the difference he made in my life. I was the most unappreciative patient at the time. Resentful of every intervention, angry at being brought back to life, determined that the next time would be the art, that would show him, but of course, the next time wasn’t the last, nor the one after that.
At first, the attempts were because of Jason. I couldn’t get over the breakup. It was, literally, destroying me, eating me up. I felt invalidated, unloved, unlovable, a waste of humanity, a joke, sub-human, I felt all these things and I just wanted to end the feelings, numb the pain, switch off the racing thoughts, just get some peace for once. The nurses at UCSF Langley Porter, the psych hospital where I was most often hospitalized, grew sick of hearing about Jason. One nurse finally gave up and started yelling at me, saying I was stupid to let this one event control my life, that people break up all the time but, you know, they move on, they find someone else, they don’t kill themselves over every rejection. No one intervened while she lectured me. I doubt the doctors ever found out. I needed it, anyways, someone to finally hold me accountable for my actions. See, the hospital environment was so comfortable and cozy, nurses attending to your every need, three delicious hot meals a day, snacks all day long, hot coffee, as much TV as you wanted and, yes, therapy dogs. Oh I loved when the therapy dogs would come. I’d put down my crayons, I was trying to color some color-by-number, or make something out of origami, or anything else that involved a minimum amount of creativity, I would drop all this and run to be the first one to meet the dogs, be the first object of their affection, be able to squeeze every last second out of their visit. Other than dogs and arts and crafts there were groups, oh so many groups, we had calendars on every wall so you know which room to go to, and when, and which group you were with, and so many other things that I just gave up and waited for someone to come find me and tell me where I was supposed to be going. It was a small hospital at Langley Porter. No more than 20 beds. And never full. This was a teaching hospital, first and foremost, and they only took the most challenging patients, patients that other hospitals didn’t have the skills to treat, patients that presented an interesting or novel challenge for the residents. I was one of those patients, not just once, but almost every time I was hospitalized. I didn’t realize how lucky I was. UCSF took pains to make the environment as comfortable as possible, after all we were research subjects as much as patients, and researchers always want the numbers to come out in their favor, so no expense was spared to keep us happy and occupied so they looked good on their reports. I was happy to comply. Except for one group: AA. Technically we weren’t required to attend, but nearly everyone did. Drug addiction and overdose was one of the primary paths to the hospital. But not for me. I confounded all the doctors. They ran test after test for any possible trace of drugs, no matter how uncommon or unlikely. But I had never even touched a cigarette, let alone a pipe or needle. I didn’t even know, literally, what those were, or looked like, or how they worked. I couldn’t come up with the name of a single drug, when pressed, it just wasn’t the route I was taking. So I was an interesting case, someone who never tried drugs as a coping mechanism, or an escape from reality, or just on a lark, but who would eagerly accept every pharmaceutical medication that existed, clamoring for more, then overdosing on them. What was I truing to prove?
There was a reason behind the madness, and a method, as we’ve see, just not one that was strictly rational. I was a club kid at the time, for what passes as a club in San Francisco, and, like I said, I at one point lived in the Castro, so it was only fair that I spent my time in Castro. I’ve noticed, by the way, that every neighborhood does the same; no one leaves their zone to venture out. On the one hand, self-sustainability is good, on the other, being insular is not. But that’s what San Franciscans are known for, living in a bubble. Castro was fun and quickly became my new “normal.” This marks the beginning of when I started to lose my friends; Castro boys are, by definition, only acceptable in the Castro. Sure, I didn’t parade around in my underwear down the street (not always, anyways), I didn’t go over the top with my makeup (although I wore plenty), but, ultimately, my heart was no longer in law school. I endured Kirk Bar Nights, often skipping out early on my own party. Over time, I threw fewer and fewer parties, and people started not showing up, so it worked itself out. My most crushing moment was when I invited everyone to a laid-back bar in Castro, a video bar, hoping to show my friends some of my new friends and have them see how I spent my days. I think that’s what scared them off, seeing more people like me, or maybe the whole idea was just too gay, like I was trying to force my lifestyle on them. Anyway, a small handful of people showed up, and most found an excuse to leave early, so it was that Justin and Abby and I headed across the street to go dancing. I don’t know how we talked Justin into it, everyone was trying to hit on him, but I swore I’d protect him, so off we went. It was just as well that it was only the three of us. We had fun, a lot of fun actually, and I acquired us all several free shots from my bartender, but, wouldn’t you know it, the “usual” happened.
Let me break it down. Every time was the same, with maybe a minor variation, but it started and ended the same way. See, I didn’t have a lot of self esteem back then (not much has changed on that front), so I relied heavily on others to like me so I could like me. I needed that validation to know I was wanted. That explains a lot of my outgoing behaviors at school; there, I wasn’t trying to meet dating partners, so the self esteem issue translated simply into outgoing, sometimes obnoxious, behavior, that attracted attention. I thrived on that attention. But, in Castro, it didn’t work out the same. There, I was trying to meet dating partners. Well, sex partners at least, but one of my issues was difficulty distinguishing between sex and love, or sex and attraction, as it were. When you put yourself at the mercy of wolves, you’re going to get chewed up, every time. I thought I was young enough and cute enough (I actually was) to be at the center of the dance floor. At least desirable enough to be a regular the bars, like at school, someone everyone knew and liked. But I was hyper sensitive to even the least amount of rejection. I felt like a fraud, at times, putting on these tight jeans, showing off my abs, painting my face; I worried that they, too, might see right through me, see me for the fraud I was. It never crossed mind that maybe they would see me as the person I was, instead of the fraud I was, and that they might actually like what was underneath. But what I spent so much time and effort to cover up was covered so deeply that no one, even myself, could make it resurface. The most flattering compliment from the hottest guy at the bar wasn’t enough. In fact, that’s where the problem comes to the forefront. I didn’t believe I was good enough to be there, let alone attractive enough to find a hot guy, so, one of two things would regularly occur. Either a hot guy did talk to me, and I felt like he was just taking pity on me, or talking down to me, or making fun of me, or just killing time while he waited for someone actually worth talking with; or, a hot guy didn’t talk to me, and I felt outcast, worthless, less-than, ugly, hideous. You couldn’t win for trying. No matter what, I would end up feeling rejected, and that’s when the problems occurred. Rejection took many forms: outright, real rejection; walking by without saying anything or looking at me; going on the dance floor with me but flirting with another guy. Then it got desperate. Rejection was as simple as not looking at me, or looking but not talking, or talking but not meaning it, or meaning it but… what? It didn’t matter what you said, my self esteem was so low that, instead of soaking up the attention, I negated the attention, I convinced myself that they were taking pity on me or making fun of me, after all, who would want to talk to me? And if you did, you probably weren’t anyone I was interested in, because only people in my lower league would cost me up, certainly not someone out of my league, and I was striving for Ivy League or bust.
So I would leave the bar or club, feeling depressed. I’d walk down the street, seeing all the guys with their hook-ups, their dates for the night, walking on by, looking, maybe laughing, probably at an inside joke but it sure felt like they were laughing at me. How come they always hooked up, found dates, had fun? Why not me? And the more thought about it, the more the the thoughts raced through my head, the more depressed I became, the more worthless I felt, the more of a fraud I felt, the more of a waste of space I felt, the more embarrassed and mortified I felt. The more I had to kill myself. If no one liked me, who was I living for? Not for me, I hated myself. I needed someone to love me, love me enough that I wouldn’t have to love me, there would just be enough love. I needed someone to love me enough for the both of us. Without love, there was no life. Love, it turned out, could take many forms. But the most damaging form it took was that of sex. I couldn’t separate the two. Maybe it was my Christian upbringing. Maybe it was old-fashioned morality. Maybe it was desperation. Whatever it was, it devastated me. There were nights where I would find a guy, someone I liked, someone I thought was hot and witty and nice and sexy, someone I thought I was lucky to be with. I’d go home with him, or take him to my place, we’d fuck, usually, and then, every time, he’d say goodbye and leave, or make me leave. Was I not good enough to spend the night?
This next part gets graphic. I’m sorry. See, not only I could not separate sex from love, I couldn’t separate sex from politics. In sex, one person is the object, the other, the subject. Objects are passive and acquiescent. Subjects take advantage of the objects, treat them as if they really were objects, and discard them when the subject felt done, whether or not the object was done, or even enjoying himself. I’m taking about tops and bottoms, the inevitable gay question. Sure, when I first started having sex, I enjoyed both, I didn’t let it define me, in fact, I rarely thought about it. But something happened along the way. You and both know, at this point, that what happened was Scott. He made me feel like an object (bottom) , and made me feel that objects were dirty, but simultaneously made me feel that subjects (tops) were, well, rapists. I had no other word. And, going forward, I didn’t want to be a rapist, so, therefore, I must be the one who is raped. If there’s only two sides to a coin, I had to pick one or the other. Now, a person cannot be raped if they are not in a situation allowing for rape, namely, a sexual position. But that’s precisely the position I would put myself in, I would set myself up for, a situation where sex was expected and necessary. Because sex was love. And love was enough to keep me going, one more day. But, almost universally, when I had sex, I played the part of the object. I didn’t see myself as strong enough, outgoing enough, man enough, to be a subject. So I must be an object. I took on this identity, made it a part of my self, made it how I defined myself. I wasn’t Kirk the law student, I was Kirk the bottom. I thought everyone knew that and saw that in me. And the more I thought they saw it, the more I hated myself. The more I hated myself, the more I needed validation. The more I needed validation, the more I sought out sex. The more sex I had, the more powerless I felt, the more inadequate, the more objectified. The more objectified I felt, the more I hated myself. The more I hated myself, the more I needed validation….. You see the problem. It was a self sustaining cycle, feeding on negative energy, placing me, always, at the end of the one who gets raped, not the one who gets to rape. Sure, you can tell by now that most, not all, of the situations were largely consensual. I needed the sex, so I would instigate the sexual exchange in the first place. But, inevitably, at some point in the exchange, when I began to feel like an object, my consent was withdrawn. But you can’t very well withdraw consent halfway through the encounter. Legally, I suppose you could, but it would leave me with such a reputation that I may never get laid again. Word spreads quickly in the gay community. I couldn’t risk that, so I tightened up, resisted but endured the pain, crying silently to myself, let the subject do whatever he wanted to my body, let him prove his manliness vis a vis my limp body, held up by his strength and virility. Oh, how much I hated him, any one of them, those subjects. And how much I wanted to be one. And hated most for that. And, occasionally, tried my hand at it, which was not common, and, wouldn’t you know but I felt like a fraud. I had so deeply convinced myself that, by being a bottom in a given sexual encounter, I must be the object in all sexual encounters, I must be seen as worthless by society (much like the subject found me worthless), I must actually be worthless. I was, after all, a reflection of what people say in me. So when I got the chance to be subject, I would choke, imagining myself to be a rapist, never, not even once, acknowledging that sex was a free choice between consenting men, that was pleasurable and fun. No, sex wasn’t something you did for fun. It was something you did for survival. Without that validation, I couldn’t survive. With that validation, I hated myself and wanted to die. There was no way out.
I sometimes had the presence of mind, as I stumbled out of the clubs, to call someone, usually psychiatrist, leaving long, drunken, rambling messages that I’m sure made no sense, but sometimes calling a friend or calling my mom. My poor mother. She couldn’t sleep at night, knowing, waiting, for that fateful phone call where all that came between me and a bottle of pills was her voice, on a scratchy telephone line. How weak she must have felt, how powerless! I was so convinced I was an object, powerless and revolting, that I gave the ultimate power, the power of life and death, to someone else! I couldn’t even claim that for myself. So, except for a rare occasion, I would proceed, like clockwork, to get home, rush to the pill cabinet, swallow every sleeping and anxiety medication, have a few more glasses of alcohol, then wait… Sometimes I was in such a rush to get home and take the pills that I would take a cab instead of the 10 minute bus ride. The need to overdose was intense, visceral, all-consuming. I couldn’t be satisfied until I had swallowed the last pill. Then, finally, a reprieve. I could relax then, knowing that soon I would slip into a warm, cozy coma, that would slowly, but surely, slow down my breathing, stop my heart, and allow me to die in peace, feeling nothing at all. That’s how I seized back my power, by taking control of my life. My death, actually.
There were 13 suicide attempts. About one each month, for a year. I generally called for help before I slipped away entirely, sometimes placing responsibility on my roommate to find me in time, sometimes calling the crisis line and somehow babbling enough that they could pick up my name and address, sometimes calling a friend, forcing them to take care of the messy details themselves, sometimes actually calling the cops on myself. The ambulance drivers got to know me, after a period of time. This made everything so much easier. I could overdose in peace, knowing who was coming to get me, how they would treat me, where they would take, and what they would do to me. They never pumped my stomach. It was always too late once I called. I was forced to gag on a large quantity of charcoal on more than one occasion, in an attempt to inactivate whatever poison had not yet been processed, but most times it was just a breathing mask and a shock to the heart. Actually, most times I don’t remember, just a fuzzy blue of flashing lights, panicked voices, questions being shouted, being strapped down and rushed into a waiting ambulance, and oh the noise, the noise, pounding inside my head, seeping through to my consciousness, sometimes enough for me to yell out the name of the hospital I wanted to go to, or the name of my doctor, other times I just let the ambulance driver take me to wherever he deemed most appropriate. Like I said, UCSF had throat advanced critical care, aside from General, and I had good insurance, so they usually took me there, or, in at least one case, stabilized me at different ER then transported me to UCSF for psychiatric hospitalization.
If you’re adding up the times and costs of treatment, good for you. I never did. Actually, I take that back. I had elaborate charts and graphs and spreadsheets detailing my expenses, computing how much my insurance would cover, how much I had to pay, in deductibles, co-pay and co-insurance, for each step of the process (ER, ICU, standard hospital bed, psychiatric stay), how much my medication would cost for the month, and how much I projected I might need to spend on other medical expenses. I took these charts and graphs to financial aid, and was able to get all my expenses covered, since cost of living can be adjusted for medical expenses. By the end, I had racked up $250k in student loans, in one year, and I still owed the hospital almost $750k more. I was responsible for 30% of costs, and 100% of medication costs, and between the two, plus ambulances, ER doctor fees, followup care, etc., I had a total bill of several million dollars. I was lucky to only owe about a million. Just shy of a million, actually. Thankfully, and thank god for this, the financial aid advisor met with the dean, and they decided, a little late in the game but before it was too late, that I needed to drop out of school and try to get on state or federal aid to cover my medical treatment. Oh, and, by the way, as I noted earlier, there was also the time involved. Each hospitalization took 1-3 days in the ICU, sometimes up to a week, then 3-7 days of involuntary hospitalization in the psych ward. That was a total of up to or more than two weeks. Every month. While I was in school. I was barely in school, really. Molly and Christie, bless them, took notes for me, and I caught up on the readings myself, and every once in a while I was actually prepared for class. No one knew this about me, even Molly and Christie, though I dropped enough clues that they may have guessed. On more than one occasion, I was released in the morning from the hospital, wearing whatever I was wearing when admitted, having not shaved for days, my hair greasy and messy, my hospital ID bracelet still in my wrist, and I would go straight to class. With hospital ID still attached! I was determined to get through school, but ultimately that decision was made for me.
Second semester, 2L year, my doctor agreed to write another note allowing to go back to school. I had officially, thought not willingly, dropped out of first semester, and the school waived all charges, under the circumstances. Unfortunately, second semester proved no better in terms of my health and attendance, and I was forced to drop out, take a leave of absence, but this time they didn’t drop the tuition expenses since I had, against advice, knowing and willingly taken in the risk of attendance. So it was that my tuition expenses, the money that the federal government gave me through loan programs, totaled almost $350k by the end of my 2L year. I didn’t even have a degree yet.
The last chapter in my hospitalization came shortly after, when UCSF refused to release from the psych ward unless I went back home to my parents, in Washington. I suppose I could have appealed that decision, there was a judge that are a weekly visit to the hospital, but I think I knew, deep down, that it was the right choice. Besides, I was behind on rent and about to be evicted, so the timing was perfect. My parents drove down, I picked up a sunlit case of clothes, left a note for Joe to take care of my cat, and walked out of that life, leaving behind all my furniture and worldly possessions. I never would reclaim them.
all the lights are off
its cold inside
the power has been cut off
roommate is gone, off to work
i’m left here
had i just had a bad day? week?
or was it just that i could do it now?
the pills were all too accessible
lithium, thorazine, trazodone, ambien, risperidone, clonazepam
(to name just a few)
i knew it was a toxic combination
i knew i wouldn’t feel a thing
so i did it
for whatever reason
or none at all
i just wanted to
what’s left to lose?
counted and sorted the pills, 20 of each, very precise
laid down, my mattress on the floor
moving out of the house soon
everything else packed up, broken down
just like me
i shivered and trembled in the cold darkness
and i dreamt my thorazine dreams
fuzzy and sticky and sweet
calm and peaceful and encouraging
whispering to me:
everything will work out now
just rest, don’t fight it
i felt myself slipping away
waited for the glorious light
posted online, “goodbye world”
shortly after, the cops come running
my roommate had seen my posting at work, he knew what i was doing
he himself had taken his life once, only to be brought back
so he valued life
while i just wanted it all to end
here, in this sordid room
the rest is all the same
pumped full of charcoal, IV fluids running, quick trip through the ER to the ICU
you know this story
at least, i know this story
some things never change
and i’m left to wonder
why did i do it?
was it just a bad day?
i miss my thorazine dreams
-Thorazine Dreams, personal writings, 2012
I think I’ve sufficiently explained my suicide spree. I hope, if you were there during my 2L year, that this helps to explain what happened to me, even if it’s lot entirely explainable. This chapter saw me go from student to patient to psychiatric patient, as a result of multiple suicide attempts, over multiple months, eventually culminating in taking an extended leave of absence and moving back home with my parents. Next chapter, we’ll see how I found a new solution to my problems, and just where that solution would eventually take me. Let’s just say, there’s no free lunch.