I woke up in a blurry haze of confusion.
Bright fluorescent lights. A man speaking authoritatively. Someone tugging at my nose.
WTF. Why is someone touching my nose? That intrusion on personal space was odd.
I fought to make sense of the plastic tubing slowly coming into focus. Filled with greenish-yellow liquid, it was just hanging right in front of my face.
As the pieces of information began falling into place, there was a sharp, scraping pain that seemed to go on forever.
My mind screamed in protest at that moment of sharp clarity… as a nasogastric tube was unceremoniously yanked out of my stomach – by the way of my nostril.
Yep. I was in the hospital. And from the looks of it, I’d just gotten my stomach pumped.
You think I’d be alarmed, waking up in that situation.
I wasn’t. I was cynical, jaded, and felt downtrodden AF.
Ah. Fuck. That was an epic fail then, I thought to myself, a little sarcastically.
The police came and went. I didn’t have to make any statements. I think my parents had to handle that bit of unpleasantness in my stead.
I was too out of it anyway, drifting in and out of consciousness.
I woke up many times to my parents’ voices. They sounded worried. I wanted to not care.
I’d figured out why I was here by now: attempted suicide – and I’d survived, somehow.
“I care but I’m restless / I’m here but I’m really gone.”
Alanis Morissette’s ‘Hand In My Pocket’ had been playing on loop when I tried to take my life.
I felt like it was aptly ironic.
That year, I was 20 and severely depressed. I’d been clinging on to her lyrics to get me through my bad days. But suddenly even her angry, hopeful, reproachful, raw, beautifully lyrical music no longer called forth any emotion in me.
Simply put, I was numb.
I had been struggling to accept my diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I hated that every new doctor I saw all said the same thing – it was a life-long condition, and I would need to be medicated.
Between that and a string of poor life choices, I couldn’t see much reason to live anymore. My self-respect and self-esteem were in tatters.
My then-boyfriend, rather than offering support, was physically, verbally and emotionally abusive. Anytime I tried to protest at the cruel things he did to me, or point out that he was acting unreasonably, he would say: “I hope you don’t tell people shit about me when it’s clearly you that’s the crazy one.”
Worse still, a year into our relationship, he was still living with his ex. Whom he cheated on – with me. The only thing was, I didn’t know any of that.
I only found out when I realised he was cheating on me with her.
I always thought I was an intelligent person, but all this made me feel… stupid and ashamed.
You mean, a total loser, that’s what you are.
The boyfriend flew back to see me after news got out of what I’d done. When my parents were safely out of ear-shot, he muttered: “She says you’re a drama queen. That you did this for the attention. I hope you’re happy now.”
A stupid, naive moron.
I knew they were still living together despite him showing his true colours. He made little effort to hide the fact, once both she and I discovered his duplicity.
Her blog was a testament to her anger and bitterness, directed at both me and him, but he had managed to manipulate her into not being able to leave either.
I was glad for the drugged, dreamless slumber in those hours immediately after the attempted overdose.
“I’m sad but I’m laughing / I’m brave but I’m chicken shit.”
When I woke up again, my father was standing next to my bed, with my sisters. They all looked sombre.
I almost wanted to joke, “Hey I’m not dead yet, you don’t have to look like that,” but I kept my mouth shut.
“Girl, if you died, what about us? You’d leave behind your problems, but we’ll be left with dealing with that.”
I didn’t know how to answer that.
In my defence, right before making the decision to swallow all those pills, it truly felt like I’d hit rock bottom.
I know now that back then, I had a very skewed perspective on life. But at that point, I couldn’t see any other way out.
I truly felt that the people I loved and the world, in general, would be much better off without my prolonged existence.
“And what it all boils down to / Is that no one’s really got it figured out just yet.”
In the days that followed, my moments of wakefulness got longer.
I was up at all sorts of odd hours. Being unconscious for so many hours had messed up my body clock.
I learned that I was detained in the Intensive Care Unit – for observation, according to the psychiatrist treating me.
I wasn’t given a choice on how long I had to remain there. I begged them to release me early, but I was firmly told that I would have to stay for a minimum of three days.
Once my doctors could establish that I was no longer a danger to myself and that there wasn’t any long-term damage to my internal organs, they would let me go.
Bored in the ward, I began chatting with the nurses. They were cheerful and kind-hearted, and often made me laugh with funny pranks and stories.
There was a doctor from another ward that I bore a passing resemblance to. The nurses got her to pop by just so they could compare our features, side by side. We all had a good laugh at that.
I was probably the most annoying patient in the ward – out of boredom I would clench my fist to get my blood to back up the IV. I also found many ways to set off the alarms for the heart-rate and breathing monitors.
After just half a day in there, I realised that it really wasn’t hard to be the liveliest person in the ICU – most of the other patients were in the terminal stages of their illnesses.
A small child, no older than 10, lay in the bed to my right. Every breath was a struggle for her, and she was hooked up to multiple machines that laboured to keep her alive.
The man opposite me was covered in severe burns all over his body. I didn’t think he would make it through the night. It was a grim sight.
I didn’t care much about my own life and was even regretful at failing to terminate it. But the days in ICU planted the tiniest seed of gratitude in me, even if I didn’t realise or care for it at the time.
Seeing so many people fight so hard to live somehow made me wonder why I fought so hard to do just the opposite.
“I’m lost but I’m hopeful, baby.”
I want to say that was the turning point for me, that I decided to seek help for my mental health, but it wasn’t.
There were many other drug overdoses and still plenty of self-harm after that. I must confess: I didn’t leave that toxic relationship with my ex for quite a few more years, because I didn’t have the self-confidence to do so. Besides, I was terrified of his threats.
But the little seed was planted, and something inside of me gradually began to change – after that incident, I no longer had as much conviction in dying.
I would never fully shake off the niggling idea that my problems were trivial – compared to what I saw in the ICU.
I began wondering if all I needed was an adjustment in perspective. Perhaps my problems were not worth dying for. I started hoping that there might be another way out, eventually.
A lot of people ask me: “How did you get from that low point to your generally upbeat outlook on life today?”
I don’t really know how to answer that. Because it wasn’t just one thing; it was many small changes along the way. It wasn’t even just the fact that I came so close to dying.
But one thing I’m sure of is this: lying in a room full of people in the end-stages stages of their illnesses might just have flipped that little switch inside of me from ‘off’ to ‘on’.
As morbid as it sounds, it took spending a few days among the dying to make me find my way back to living again.
For more stories on mental health and hospital experiences, read Your Mental Health: When You Know It’s Time to Get Professional Help and She Went Through 3 Miscarriages, Fell into a Coma, and Watched Her Daughter Die in NICU. Here’s Her Story.
[Editor’s note: If you feel helpless, there’s no shame in talking to a professional. Please don’t harm yourself. Contact the suicide hotline and befrienders, who are willing to talk to you anytime. http://www.suicide.org/hotlines/international/malaysia-suicide-hotlines.html https://www.befrienders.org.my/ ]
This article should not be taken as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a mental or medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.