I'm Jackie and I'm from Clarence, Buffalo. I grew up here [Buffalo] and then I went away to school in Providence, RI. I first got diagnosed with depression my junior year of college and my first experience where I was like, "maybe I'm not okay", was the summer before my junior year of college. It was my birthday and I had just moved into an apartment where I was alone; my best friend bailed on me. I felt like I wanted to not be alive anymore and that was scary. That was one of the first times that I felt out of control. My friends encouraged me to go to a CAPS (counseling and psychological services) on campus and I kept putting it off because it felt like just a one-time thing. I felt like I was a happy person and everyone always thinks of me as a happy person. I put it off, but eventually I ended up going and they referred me to an off-campus therapist; and she was amazing. She basically changed everything about me. I saw her for two years and she taught me how to love myself and put myself first. I definitely still struggled with my mental health though and I had a suicide scare during my senior year of college where it was during finals week [fall semester] and I tried to kill myself by taking a bunch of Advil and anti-depressants and mixing them with vodka. My best friend sort of knew that I wasn't okay and he called EMS and they came and took me to the hospital. That was my first real suicide scare. Being in the hospital in the psych ward was kind of scary and eye-opening in the sense that there was a lot of people with more severe problems than me and being there was not a fun experience. People think that I would have left there thinking, 'I'm never going to do that again because I don’t want to end up there', but my mentality leaving was if I feel suicidal again, I better make sure that I 'get the job done' because I don't want to end up in this weird halfway place.
So I was okay for a little while until February of my senior year when there was this one week where, I don't know why, because there wasn't a lot going on, but every couple of hours I felt suicidal so my therapist encouraged me to go to this partial hospitalization program where I didn't go to classes (because it was 8-5pm every day) and it was basically intensive group therapy stuff. That was a good experience and I learned a lot from that. I learned to accept that I'm always going to have my depression and it's always going to be a part of me; it's not something I'm going to beat, but the thing that I can control is how I react and how I act when I feel sad and when I feel those things because there are healthy and unhealthy ways to cope. I think it also taught me that one of the ways that I started to cope with feeling sad was with alcohol. For a while after that I didn’t drink because it tends to exacerbate any negative things that are happening. I did that program for a week and I felt pretty good. They discharged me and I felt like I had a better handle on what to do when I felt sad. I was pretty okay for the rest of my senior year. I would have depressive episodes about once every month or so and suicidal thoughts, but no planning which was a step in the right direction. Then I took a gap year because I wasn't ready to jump into dental school; I needed a break and I wanted to have a chance to focus on myself outside of the stressful academic settings.
During my gap year I really focused on doing whatever I wanted to do, whenever. It was really great; I think my gap year was the happiest I've been in a long time. I still had depressive episodes, but they weren't as severe. And then I got here to dental school and it was like thrown back into the stressful setting of living at home again with my parents where the last time I lived at home with my parents was high school when I was just a huge over-achiever. I was very stressed out all the time and needing to be perfect at everything and being back in that setting brought me back to that mindset which made the transition harder especially because in dental school you can't be perfect; it's obviously so much harder than high school. On top of that, I was adjusting to all the new people here at UB and I think it was labor day weekend when I tried again to kill myself. It was brought on by a combination of academic stress because we had our first biochemistry exam the next day and also a lot of personal things--interpersonal things. I also drank a lot of coffee that day and that's a common factor between the two instances where I tried to kill myself. The first time I was on Modafinil and that made me really hyper and motivated to do something about my problems and then the second time I had so much caffeine that day and it made me feel restless and again like I needed to do something about my problems.
I was studying on campus and then I decided to go home and I texted my mom to tell her I was coming home for lunch, but instead of turning into my neighborhood I just kept driving. I stopped and got a couple of juice boxes of wine and just started chugging them while driving. I was driving on Main Street towards Rochester and I called my best friend and my ex-boyfriend and I was crying to them on the phone and they were trying to get me to pull over and I just refused. I also blacked out for a lot of this; I don't really remember. At this point my mom was confused because she thought I was coming home for lunch so she was texting me asking where I was. Either my best friend or ex-boyfriend, or both, reached out to my sister and my mom and told them what was going on. My sister was trying to track my location and I had turned it off because I knew that she could find me that way. I remember my dad called and he said I needed to turn my location on so they could find me; he said, "We need to come get you", and I said "no, I'm sorry I can't, I'm really sorry." Then he started screaming at me and that's the most panicked and scared I've ever heard my dad. I just remember being shocked at how angry he was sounding. I turned it on [my location] and I guess I pulled over and started to fall asleep until I saw them coming and I tried to drive again to avoid them, but I ended up pulling over again. The police came, the ambulance came and I should have gotten in way more trouble, but the police officer was really nice and he saw that I was in distress and instead I got taken to Strong Hospital [Rochester, NY]. I was there for about a day and my dad and my sister stayed with me--we slept there. I got discharged, I came back to Buffalo and I went back to school like nothing had ever happened. I made up my exam the next day and I kept putting off finding a therapist because I felt like I was too busy with school and I went back to my normal life like everything was okay until around Thanksgiving time. I started to very seriously consider killing myself every couple of days and that's when my mom pushed me to find a therapist and I finally did. She's helped a lot. I feel like I always think that I'm okay until I'm not and then it all just hits at once.
I haven't had suicidal thoughts in about two months, which is a pretty big deal. I think a large part of that is because when my sister's friend committed suicide last December, I saw what that did to her and I couldn’t do that to her or to my parents. The reality of the consequences of that kind of decision were made clear to me by that experience so now anytime I feel sad or like I want to not be here anymore I just think about my sister and that's what grounds me. And also my new therapist; we're working on changing my thought process. For the last couple of years, suicide has always been my fall back option. If everything goes wrong, at least I can just get out of it all. But we're working on not seeing it as an option because as long as it's an option, I'm not really going to be trying to get better. I think it's been helping a lot and ruling out suicide as an option, I didn't think that it would work. But it has helped to a certain extent. When I feel sad, I don’t think about killing myself anymore, I think about what I can do to solve whatever problem is in front of me.
The first instance when I was in college my family thought it was like a fluke and we didn’t really talk about it much, but then the second instance they realized that this was a real thing. My ex-boyfriend has an older brother who has some pretty severe mental illnesses and he went to a NAMI class for supporting family members and he learned a lot through that. He wanted to be there for my family this second episode and he talked to my parents about how they can be there for me. He also talked to my sister and he encouraged my mom to go to that same NAMI class and she did, which I was proud of her for. Ever since then, my mom has been really good at sensing when I'm not okay. It's still somewhat awkward to talk about, but she checks in with me a lot more and she's always been kind of strict and judgmental, but she's been trying to not do that as much. That way I'll come to her more often with my problems. In the last couple of months I've shared a lot with her--more than I normally would. Just about boy problems and I told her about the times when I was sexually assaulted--I just talk to her a lot more now. It's nice to have her as part of my support system because I have a lot of friends that I can turn to, but having a family member is just better.
My main trigger is when a lot of stressful or bad things happen all at once and I feel overwhelmed. It'll be a combination of academic stress, where I have an exam coming up, and then some interpersonal problem happens and then I can't focus on studying because I'm so preoccupied with this interpersonal problem. Then I get angry at myself for letting my emotions stop me from doing well in school; and then it's just a bad cycle. Basically it comes down to interpersonal problems on top of academic stress. With me, interpersonal problems affect me more than a normal person. If I think someone is angry with me or doesn't like me, that's all I can think about--it bothers me so much. I need to work on that because I shouldn't really care, but I do at the moment.
The first thing I do every time I feel myself slipping is call my best friend Syd. He knows me so well and 80% of the time, talking to him puts things into perspective for me and makes me feel at least somewhat better. The other 20% of the time when that doesn't do the trick, I guess I just reach out to other people. Talking to people is the main thing for me and talking about my problems make them more manageable. It makes me feel less alone in dealing with my problems. I used to only talk to Syd, but now I have a larger support system of people that I can talk to and it's been hard for me to accept that when I'm in a depressive episode I'm not going to get stuff done. I just have to accept that and be okay with it because I need to help myself first. Self-care has been really important and if I'm feeling sad, I'll stop studying and I'll go home and I watch T.V. or do things that make me feel good.
I know that everyone deals with it differently so I wouldn't want to impose what works for me on someone else, but I think generally speaking, talk to people. Because people care more than you think. Getting professional help is really important and I think talking to therapists is great for literally anyone--whether you have a mental illness or not. Talking to the people who genuinely care about you; that's the best. There is no replacement for that.