My journey through anxiety, depression and attempted suicide.
*Warning: Article includes description of suicide attempt.
On Jan. 17, 2010, I stood atop the Oak Street Bridge and waited for a break in the headlights of passing cars. I had been diagnosed with depression four months earlier and was unable to experience joy, happiness or even halfway-decentness with any regularity.
For several months, thoughts of suicide followed me as I waited for SkyTrains and walked along busy streets. I had gone to Emergency at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) a couple weeks earlier to see if I should be admitted, but after being assessed, I was sent home.
Eventually, I decided on a way to end my life. When a break in the headlights came, I turned and leapt over the railing.
For years, I lay in bed at night regretting missed opportunities. I wished the courses I was taking would lead somewhere. I wished I had more friends. I wished I had asked all the girls I ever liked out. Four months before the attempt, I became more severely depressed and began to wish I was dead. I felt heavy, weak and tired. I lay on my couch, tried to eat small servings of food (yogurt, cereal, anything), and trailed around the block with my parents for exercise.
Anyone who has lost a close relative or friend, or seen the end to a once-loving relationship, knows the pain grief and despair can cause. I didn’t need these reasons to feel terrible. I couldn’t figure out a way to get better, and as the weeks and months piled on, I was no longer able to bear it.
Before I jumped, I had texted my brother, whose phone was seldom within reach those days; fortunately he saw the message right away. While he read it, I tumbled through the air until I hit the water. It was the most painful experience I’ve ever been through.
I woke up floating below the bridge, shocked to be alive. I felt doomed and pathetic. I did not want to be awake to feel myself drown. As adrenaline flooded my system, I looked for a place to swim and saw a platform just west of the bridge. Once I had taken a few strokes, I was determined to survive and managed to drag myself out of the water. As I collapsed on the platform, I shouted and cried out for help. It wasn’t long before I heard sirens answering my calls as my brother had raced to action. An emergency crew came on boat and picked me up. I remember being asked if I could wiggle my toes as I was transferred to an ambulance and the flood of relief I felt when I realized I still could.
I spent the night in intensive care at VGH, waking up to find a tube draining fluid from my chest. I had broken six ribs, hairline fractured five vertebrae, punctured a lung and sustained several mild brain contusions. I had no spinal cord injuries.
In the hospital, I felt sadness, anger and hate but also love, happiness and amazement to simply be alive. Distorted and fleeting as these positive emotions were, the ability to still be able to feel them was enough to convince me that recovery was indeed possible.
Today, I continually work on ways to manage my mental illness. I’ve talked about my mental health with my family, visited my doctor, re-evaluated and adjusted my antidepressants and sleep medication and improved my diet.
I was assessed by the VGH Outpatient Clinic, read depression workbooks, attended counselling sessions, shared my illness with my friends, started physiotherapy for back injuries, developed stretching and exercise routines, began to see a psychiatrist on a long-term basis and read about many others with mental health issues.
I also helped to establish a peer-led support group at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and co-founded the UBC Mental Health Network. I’ve given over a dozen public speeches about my experiences, advocating to students, staff and faculty at colleges and universities in the Greater Vancouver area. I have provided feedback as a patient voice for outpatient services and other mental health initiatives. I have also completed my bachelor’s degree, with a major in Computer Science, started working part-time and hiked up the Grouse Grind (about an hour of rugged stair climbing).
Several times since my attempt I have felt hopeless and beaten, but part of managing and recovering from a mental illness is learning to be strong when feeling the weakest. It’s allowing myself to sometimes feel like shit while remembering that these emotions, though exceedingly painful, will pass. In the days and weeks before I tried to kill myself, I believed I was past recovery.
I am lucky to know I was wrong.
By: Joshua R Beharry