Many of us on campus are suffering from various forms and degrees of depression and other kinds of emotional illnesses. But nobody knows about it.
By Aurea Gonzalez; cover page photo by Steven Anderson
Ever wanted to just stop what you were doing and scream your lungs out?
That’s how many of us feel but we never tell a soul. On a busy campus like ours, the person next to you could seem fine, but you never really know what he or she is facing deep down inside.
People of all ages have been battling depression and other mental illnesses and issues for years, but as technology has worked to disconnect us, many people feel alone and in pain. We have become accustomed to reports of suicide at colleges like NYU, Penn and other so-called elite schools. But at our commuter school filled with a culturally diverse community of working-class strivers, suicide remains rare and even talk of suicide seems frivolous and self indulgent; most of us don’t have time for that as we juggle work and school.
Or so we thought. A survey of 100 City College students posted on the next page shows that we suffer from some kinds of emotional health issues more often than the national average. More urgently, the CCNY Secrets Facebook page has been flooded with posts from students who are silently screaming and suffering and don’t know what to do about it.
· Secret #4702: “I’m contemplating suicide. I’ve never had such a strong urge to just jump out my bedroom fire escape. My parents have spent most of my life calling me ‘the worst human being alive.’ None of my so-called friends are ever around. I don’t have a boyfriend or anything like that. Not a single shoulder to lean on. What is the point of keeping on? I just don’t think I can live like this anymore.”
· Secret #5045: “Tonight will be my last night alive. Goodbye everyone. I hope I change my mind by midnight.”
· Secret #5276 said, “Day by day. I try to remind myself that this is a rough patch. But then I can’t escape the dark thoughts where I just imagine my death. I keep telling myself that you have people who depend on you but it’s becoming harder each day to keep reminding myself that. The reasons are fading away.”
· Secret #5298 said, “It’s good to be non-social, no one will ever remember me. If I ever disappear, no one will feel worried, no one will notice. No one will have to cry for my death. The world can continue in content and happiness instead of sadness. No one will ever find me. I have it all planned out.”
Many students make statements anonymously and will never act on their feelings. But many will. New national statistics show the suicide rate at 12.6 percent—the highest in 25 years. It is the second leading cause of death among young people 15 to 24 years of age. The group Suicide Awareness Voice and Education notes that in this country, someone dies from suicide every 13.3 minutes.
But most people don’t die and some do get help. CCNY peer educator Denise Francis, 21, says, about one-fourth of the students she has counseled are suffering from depression.
“You want to be connected with someone,” says Francis who works for the Marshak Counseling Center on campus.
She worries that threatening, attempting or even committing suicide is a growing form of unity for some students who feel disconnected from others. “You would join that group and you would do what you’ve always wanted to do, end your life,” she explains. “You find unity while having friends yet being alone at the same time.”
City College upper senior Tamar Lopez speaks openly about her suicide attempt. Now 21, she was diagnosed with clinical depression six year ago and type 2 bipolar disorder this past January. She struggled to find her identity and felt no motivation to do anything as she cried often and barely ate. At age 15, Lopez attempted suicide by taking 13 Midol pills, hoping to fall asleep and never wake up. She would sometimes leave goodbye letters behind. “If I wasn’t successful in committing suicide, then it was for a reason,” says Lopez.
It’s not just students who feel depressed and lonely; faculty members sometimes have similar emotions. One Humanities professor who has endured a number of serious life challenges says she has similar feelings as her students. “I have to remind myself to plug in ‘Take a walk’ in my calendar, just so I can have some time for myself, away from the work that will drive me crazy if I don’t have those 15 minutes,” says the professor who asked that her name be withheld.
Seeking help is not easy, but it’s critical.
The Marshak Counseling Center on campus offers up to eight sessions with a professional social worker/mental counselor for those who seek the help. They can also refer cases to either the Psychological Center in the North Academic Building on the eighth floor or to a therapist outside of the campus. Keep in mind treatment may take anywhere from a week to a few years. It took Lopez six years to recover. It is up to you to learn to be patient with yourself and get help if you need it.
As Francis says, “You are not alone.” Read the essays that follow about how students at CCNY--who have never shared their stories before--struggled with depression, anxiety, suicide and other kinds of emotional issues...and recovered.
Domestic Violence: One Young Woman's Story
Facing down schizophrenia and ending up whole
By Anne Jean-Paul
In December 2012 I was rushed to Lourdes Hospital in Binghamton, New York. I was a first semester junior at SUNY, getting ready to go to a party on a Friday night, when I started to feel out of it. That’s the only way I know how to describe it. I curled up in a chair, closed my eyes and rocked back and forth.
After almost three hours, my friends got really scared and didn’t know what to do, so they called my aunt in Long Island to come and take care of me. She sped upstate and drove me to the hospital. That was the beginning of my nightmare.
Once there, I became worse. I had what I think of now as an “episode” and started hitting the doctors who were trying to figure out what was wrong with me. At that point my mind was in a different realm. I thought the doctors and nurses around me were vampires trying to suck my blood. I was hallucinating; my mind was telling me that they had fangs, and were going to bite me.
I was diagnosed with depression with psychosis. I was only 21, and this was the first time anything like this had ever happened to me and my first time ever in the hospital. I felt scared and confused and didn’t understand what was happening. No one could explain to me why I was suddenly psychotic. A family or personal history of depression or psychotic illness makes you more likely to develop this condition, and I know that my father experienced depression. But nothing this serious. Since I was fighting doctors, because I thought they were trying to kill me, I had to be sedated.
I was ended up being in that hospital for three whole months and had to drop out of college. To be closer to my aunt, I was transferred to Stony Brook Hospital’s outpatient program. I was still experiencing the effects of psychosis and depression and felt alternately out of it and violent. My family was completely shocked and couldn’t understand what was going on with me, but they still came to visit me almost every day.
After three months I was discharged from the hospital but remained on medication to help me stay calm. I was better, but didn’t return to school right away so I could recuperate and become familiar with the medicines I needed to take. Though the drugs worked, they came with a terrible side effect: I gained a lot of weight, ballooning up to 200 pounds. I hated how I looked and felt.
I was relieved when my nurse practitioner told me she thought I was ready to stop taking my medications. I enrolled in City College and thought everything would be okay. But I was wrong. I became sick again and started feeling paranoid; I thought everyone was out to get me. I lost my keys and started screaming at my two housemates, accusing them of stealing my stuff. When my aunt brought me to the hospital, I thought I had HIV and blamed the doctors for giving it to me. This felt similar to my previous episodes, but even worse; I was more paranoid. I started believing people around me were vampires again, but this time I thought we were under water. Some days I wouldn’t eat at all, and I needed medication to get any sleep.
I had to drop out of school again and this time I ended up in an outpatient program in Staten Island for five months. My family and friends visited, which made me feel more secure. I still felt alone when no one was there, and the paranoia was always present. I still thought the doctors were vampires, and also believed everyone had phones that they were using to make sure I was on track.
Toward the end of my stay I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. This severe and chronic brain disorder is very rare, affecting only 1.1 percent of the U.S. population. But at least now I knew what I was actually dealing with.
The diagnosis marked a new beginning for me. For a while, I did not tell my friends what was wrong, because I didn’t want them to think I was “crazy.” But eventually I came to grips with the fact that a mental illness is still just an illness, and refused to let it get the best of me. It only makes me stronger as a person. Living with this mental illness is just like being diabetic or having high blood pressure. When you take your medicine and listen to your doctor you’re fine.
I take haldol, clozapine and cogentin to prevent future episodes. For a while I was sleepy all the time because of the medications, until I found the right meds that would work for me.
I am back in school, and hope to graduate next year.
Sometimes I fear that I will have another episode but then I remember that if I follow my nurse’s instructions, I will be alright. I pay close attention to any triggers, like stress, and I know that I must reach out for help if I need to. I use my mental illness to educate others about it, and spread awareness. In my psychology course, I proudly raise my hand when we speak about mental illnesses, so that students in my class see for themselves what a person living with schizophrenia is like. I understand that this is something I will have to spend my whole life fighting, but to see how far I have come makes me feel extremely humbled.
Anne Jean-Paul, is studying Psychology and Journalism, in hopes of becoming a Media Psychologist.
Both my birth and adopted mothers suffer from depression and have tried killing themselves. I thought I was immune to this family curse, until I wasn’t.
By Aurea Gonzalez
Four years ago, in my dorm room, on a cold winter night, I took a pair of scissors and used one side to inscribe the word "FUCK" on the inside of my left forearm. I listened to Breaking Benjamin and cried so hard as if I had lost someone, because that's what it felt like, like I had lost someone.
* * *
I was 18 years old when I discovered what it was like to physically harm myself. I was going through a lot more than your typical 18 year old. I went from living in New York City to a dorm at a private university in New Jersey, taking six classes per semester, holding a part time job, filming student projects, working every play, dancing on the university's dance team, launching my own beauty business, falling in love, getting heartbroken, and being homesick. Worse, I found out my birth mom was diagnosed with skin, lung, and kidney cancer. You spend a moment to take all of that in.
The break up with my girlfriend pushed me into drinking too much. She would walk by me and not acknowledge my presence. It felt like I didn't exist. I would close my eyes and smell her scent as she passed and my heart would break into small pieces. It reached a point where I was drinking so much and so often I didn't realize I was drunk. I went for another method that my ex introduced me to: cutting. I somehow thought that I could transfer this emotional pain into a physical one and feel better. But that was stupid.
* * *
My roommate Raven caught me on the floor with the scissors in my hand, crying, music playing loudly. She immediately grabbed them from me, and called for our friend Kristin to come by. Kristin got to our room in less than a minute, picked me up off the ground, and put me into bed. She nursed my wounds and spoke to me. She showed me videos that would make me laugh, and distract me from everything that had taken over my head and my life.
She stayed with me for an hour until I got better enough to talk. She asked me why I had done it. I think it was hard to envision me cutting myself, because when you think cutter, you picture a white girl. But me? I cut because I hurt. I cut because I was in love and I was heartbroken. I cut because I was overwhelmed and stressed out. I cut because my mother had cancer. I cut because my GPA was dropping. I cut because the people I thought were my friends weren't. I cut because I was so sick and tired of everything happening to me all at once; I wanted to know what it felt like to be close to death, where all of it would suddenly disappear.
But when I first slashed the letter F into my arm, I felt something, a relief. It distracted me from everything going on in my head and in my heart, so I did it again and again until the word was inscribed on my arm. It felt good. And although that sounds crazy, because it is, the blade against my skin was better than anything else in that given moment. But something kept me from killing myself, though I thought about it: my birth mother.
* * *
My birth mother, a woman who was abused her entire life—had been molested by her father, beaten by her mother, and kicked out into the street at 15. A heavy cocaine and alcohol abuser, she surrounded herself with the wrong men. She was raped twice, once in Central Park at knifepoint. Her boyfriends abused her physically, mentally, and emotionally. Her siblings used her for the drug money she had hustled for. She had no reason to live until she got pregnant. All three of her kids, including me, were removed from her care. I went through two foster homes with my sister, one in which she was molested. The family that raised me since I was 4 adopted me at 11, but my sister had been taken into custody by her birth father who then disappeared with her. To this day, she is missing. My parents agreed to an open adoption to allow my birth mother to be involved in my life. Another foster parent also adopted my baby brother who was born four years after me. We both kept in touch with our mother, which is why I knew that she attempted suicide several times. The last time, she called me and told me over the phone. I was about 12 years old when the phone rang.
* * *
"What's wrong," I asked.
"I have to tell you something," she said, her voice shaking. I was silent because I never knew what to expect when she spoke.
"I had the option of drinking all the medication my doctor gave me or jumping out of the window, and I chose the window."
I knew where this was going, and I felt the knot in my throat that warned me about the tears that were about to come.
"Aurea, I can't do this anymore. You know I tried; I'm trying. But I'm sick, and he hit me again, and the baby died, and Aurea, I just can't," she said.
"Mom. Please don't. You have survived worse. Why now? Please don't," I responded. I could no longer hold the tears back as she cried too.
"I'm not going to. I almost did. But the only thing that stopped me was you. I thought about you. Aurea, you're the only one I have to live for."
She was right; I was the only person she had. Everyone else had used and abused her. My brother never reached out and my sister was missing.
* * *
I called her on the phone a day after I cut myself. I decided that if she could survive suicide and share her stories with me, then she deserved to know what I did.
"I have to tell you something," I said.
"Uh oh. What happened?" She already knew something was wrong. I said nothing because all the words and the visions of that night kept replaying in my head.
"Aurea, you're scaring me. What happened?" she pleaded.
"I cut myself."
I couldn't finish my story before she immediately balled her eyes out over the phone. She kept wailing words that were drowned out by her sobs.
After about fifteen minutes of calming her down and convincing her that I was not trying to commit suicide, I told her exactly what happened and why I did it. She cried, and I assured her it wouldn't happen again. I wasn't entirely telling the truth.
* * *
I went home a lot that semester on weekends to avoid seeing my ex on campus. I didn't want to eat. I didn't really speak. My sister compared me to Bella Swan from Twilight: New Moon after Edward Cullen leaves her, pale and listless. But home turned out not to be the sanctuary I was looking for.
One weekend I overheard my parents arguing. I couldn’t take listening to the same verbal abuse that made my adoptive mother so unhappy in life. She, too, attempted suicide various times. I wanted to be alone in my thoughts and their arguing prevented that.
I went to the kitchen, picked up a knife and walked back to my bedroom, my fingers grazing the blade lightly. I shut the door, but did not lock it, in hopes that in the middle of my parents bickering, they'd come check up on me, even though they never did. There was a hesitation as I put the knife against my wrist.
"Just do it," said my heart.
"Is that really a good idea?" asked my conscience.
"Does it really matter?"
I pressed the knife harder into the delicate skin and sliced slowly. It was sharper than the scissors. I didn't bleed, but I was cut. And I cried. I didn't understand why I was doing this to myself again. I promised my birth mom I wouldn't. Everything was all so gray and cloudy. I was miserable. I hated my life. I hated that I sought to feel better through pain. I don't ever remember crying so much, and I hated how weak I felt.
I cut. But I stopped. I somehow found it in me to be strong. Thinking of my birth mother helped. Thinking about how strong I used to be did, too. I took a moment to breathe. I returned the knife to the kitchen, went back to bed and cried myself to sleep.
* * *
All of this happened over only a four-month span. I no longer had any friends because I was too depressed and no one wanted to be around that. All I could do was talk about my ex, because that was all I could think about. It reached a point where I began smoking cigarettes to avoid cutting. Surely, it wasn't any healthier for my body but for me it was a way to stop the physical harm. I also took the initiative to seek professional help, which people have been suggesting. That wasn't easy.
My first therapy session consisted of non-stop tears as I broke down in front of a complete stranger. After a few sessions at school with my mental health counselor, I felt better and knew that this was healthier than clouding other people's minds with my depression and my issues, and definitely better than cutting. The therapist helped me get through the rest of the semester without harming myself and make it through school without failing any classes. She helped me speak again. I don't think I could be more grateful for the help I received from her.
Move Out Day came and my adoptive sister Jackie helped me pack. We got all my things into the van and we were about to pull off until I told her I wanted to say goodbye to my ex-girlfriend. She accompanied me up to the flight of stairs and into her suite where she met my ex very briefly.
"I just wanted to say goodbye," I told her.
She gave me a long warm hug and told me to take care of myself. It didn't last longer than five minutes to finally let go and say goodbye to someone I had felt like I was going to love forever.
I left with my sister and we drove off. She lit a cigarette and offered me one.
"No thank you," I declined.
"Why?" she asked.
"I quit," I said.
That marked the day I would leave my depression behind as well as my bad habits. Smoking cigarettes, drinking excessively, and cutting are no longer a part of who I am, rather an experience I had my freshman year of college. The day also marked a new beginning of a healthier lifestyle and I promised myself, if I ever felt the need for help, I'd reach out to someone. I also vowed to love both of my mothers, but not to be defined by their pain.
I drove back to New York City and felt the spring wind hit my face as I stared out the window. With every mile, I left my Jersey madness behind. I started to breath new air, a fresh air with a whole new beginning, a whole new me.
Aurea Gonzalez, is an Advertising and Public Relations major with a double minor in Theatre and Journalism. When she is not working or studying, she is pursuing her creative art by performing on stage, taking pictures, and writing short stories.
By Janis Jimenez Jaimes
Depression used to knock on my door, stay for a while, and then leave willingly. But, its visits last longer now. Palpitating, it stays unmolested digging a hole through my lungs, until the creature slithers away lest it suffocate me. I breathe again. Yet, once more I wait for the insistent loud thump, thump, thump, at the door, and the low hisses in my ear.
I have avoided using the term depression in front of others. Though in solitude, I often wonder how rage turned into sadness, that moment when life sawed my spirit in two without any splinters. Unquestionably, my soul squirmed like the little slugs in salt showers of my youth, yet it did not bleed...
The memories of an eight-year-old persist. I lie on a queen size bed and can’t tell whether the day has begun already or if it has decided to hide. Paralyzed from the shoulders down, I can only close my eyes and move my head slightly. The hand, wrinkled, dark under the sun, and very thin, appears over a pair of protruding tiny specks, a poor excuse for woman’s breasts. White terror begins to climb from my toes across my body slowly drawing on my skin, in permanent ink, impotence. Swaying, an autumn leaf falling, fatigue settles on me offering respite. I can move somewhat. Looking up, the familiar face smiles. I want to scream, push back the caressing hand, and distort the face. I want to run, but to my right a wall stands overlooking and to my left a brown mountain blocks my way. So I shake and lie quietly and wait for the session to end. Trapped, my feet huddle just behind the intruder’s knees. The hand keeps moving, and I go blank. Time creeps along possibly years pass before the figure decides to leave. Finally alone, I allow rivers to overflow…
Unable to move beyond that first split, I kept appearances, hiding tears and hurt from those around me. Resembling supermarket clean-cut bone, mass produced and readily accessible, the pieces of my “self” have lain comfortably on the ground, beaten, all these years.
Terror gripped me and molded me like play-dough. The precocious child who spoke clearly at eight months old and conversed with anyone, my other self, dissipated within the logical but unresponsive person I am today. Anger surfaced becoming hurt, pain, tears, and even depression somewhere in my teen years. Unsocial, as a survival mechanism, I grew numb, and the numbness opened a void allowing emotions to blend giving birth to indistinguishable holes of empty space. Nothing could go in them; nothing could come out. Happiness or sadness, life or death, meant nothing and no need or want. Another “self” surfaced; I masqueraded in my family’s eyes as a strong resilient person. This person could do anything. She had many friends, went to parties, worked hard, drank liquor, and even managed to laugh hard and loud, albeit with traces of cruelty. This person faked happiness or perhaps truly felt it at some point. Great things were expected from her as well. This person owned the world until nightfall.
But a rupture turned waterfall poured sensations and filled my empty cup. At my house, at work, or while walking in blank corridors, the stabbing pain’s torrents usually grew threateningly. Few instances while in class unbearable pain rushed to hide me in one of the schools’ bathroom stalls. Wheezing and out of breath, I remember closing the tiny door behind me. As all stood motionless and the audible ringing threatened to drown me, the numbing pressure in my chest muffled cries. I bit into pieces of cloth and flesh and let small quiet noises out. After realizing the obscure yelling did not fulfill the urge to cry, I granted my hands permission to fall hard again and gain on my thighs and sometimes on my head or on my face. Hot liquid rained until calm took over.
At such times no one sees me cry; no one among the multitude needs to see me begging for release. I own the sharp pangs and the tears. I own the sadness and desperation that assails my psyche. No one but myself can save me. Books taught me as much during some of my most tormented teen years. Introduced to the joys of reading, I immersed my attention for long periods to evade depression. From the love for reading, emerged love for writing. I discovered that not only could I read stories, but I could also write them and flood them with pain, anger, my soul, and even hope. Writings from the heart document suffering, making me stronger and the depression visits shorter. Pen and paper easily anchor me to safety. I have felt the pain both emotional and physical, and I have found a new outlet. If I still exist, I can still write.
Janis Jimenez Jaimes, is currently working on her B.A. in English Literature and Journalism minor. She admires life’s poetic process expressed in every-day things.
By Marla Sanchez
When I was 17, on October 1, 2009 I sat in my room with four bottles of pills in front of me. It was 11:00 PM, and I was ready to board my one-way trip into oblivion. There weren’t any doubts in my mind, no hesitations, no concern for the other people that made up my life. I was alone, in a room, with one goal. That night I swallowed 67 pills and sent myself into what was supposed to be my last sleep.
I cannot tell you much about my brief moment of death, except that it was like nothing any religion had warned me about. In fact it was more like a simple absence of life. For 48 seconds Marla did not exist and if my soul did go somewhere, it did not bring the memory back with my breath.
After suicide I became obsessed with death like never before. Waking up from a four-day coma to the faces of my family members and my reflection in the mirror was not comforting. The simple act of surviving was not enough to make me believe that I deserved to live, and much less that I wanted to. With little resources at my disposal in my two-month stay in a psychiatry ward, my only method of consolidating my thoughts about death was, thinking. I wondered, Why me? Why do I have to keep on living? Why doesn’t death want me? Why does life want me so much?
The confines of a depressed mind are tiny and rigid; the thought process is cyclical and destructive. I have battled depression for as long as I can remember, constantly searching for a cure in other people and things, instead of myself. In my case, the easiest defense has been a smile. The façade of happiness is handy and effective in keeping people from the truth; if you do not look sad nobody feels the need to ask if you are okay. Throughout my childhood I smiled the darkness of my mind away from the attention of others, pretending to still own innocence and I carried that practice into adolescence.
That is not to say no one noticed. On various occasions, certain teachers took note of my masking behaviors. In sixth grade my teachers sent me to the school psychiatrist because I was often quiet and detached. They had no idea that my mental state was expressing itself through mutilations on my arm or that I had secrets from my past that not even my family or closest friends knew that had me thinking about dying.
In seventh grade I was in a new school and even though it had only been a few months, they also sent me to the school psychiatrist. By that time, I was fighting my quick escapes in cutting, though failing to resist most of the time, and getting better at hiding it from my family and friends. The worst disservice I did for myself was being so good at it. While some could see there was something wrong with me, I always knew the right things to say to keep them from worrying so I could destroy myself without interruption. By the time I reached high school my social life became my distraction. I was cutting less frequently, but still cutting and thinking about death like some sort of paradise. My teachers did not take enough notice to send me to the psychiatrist, and my fake smile was bigger and brighter than ever.
I was comfortable hiding behind a mask because it was easier than facing the sadness and trauma. However, my sexual orientation was not as complacent. I had come out to my friends as bisexual in middle school, lost some people and gained others; it did not affect me so much. When I was fifteen my brother outed me to my mother and she eventually came around. A year later I stopped lying and finally called myself lesbian. Coming out was relatively easy, but it was not the essential coming out that I needed. My family thought that this was the big secret that always kept me so tortured, and I went with it. I acted gayer than a rainbow flag on pride day.
My sixteenth year proved challenging. I was trying to be an adult when I was still a child, and my habit of drinking was picking up speed. I was drunk all the time, anywhere. Drinking was a solace for my depression, a mental state too blurry for me to even be aware of my problems. At any family gathering I was secretly filling water bottles with any clear liquor I could find and soda bottles with any dark. Liquid oblivion was at my fingertips and I abused it without discretion. Drinking had a direct connection to my mood and my mood at sixteen was not the best. It only took my mother a few months after I had started drinking regularly to realize that I was getting trigger-happy with the 180 proofs. The confrontation led to a breakdown that gave me my first stay at a psychiatric ward for nine days, a bipolar diagnosis, weekly therapy sessions after, and a prescription for a mood-stabilizer.
By seventeen I was in my longest relationship with my first girlfriend and she was part of the reason for the breakdown. One word describes her: toxic. I loved her because my mother hated her, because it gave me an excuse to be angry and show it. If anyone had asked my mother how she liked being a mother at this time I would be afraid to hear her answer.
When I was not giving one of my heated demonstrations of teenage rebellion, I was in isolation with my thoughts. Frustration grew within me to the point that I could no longer control my own thoughts. I needed to let out my demons, but I was too afraid of the consequences. On October 1, 2009 I had a regular day like any other. I went to school, I socialized, I went home, but this time with a plan. My demise had been planned over the course of my life; I always knew how I was going to do it. Finally a switch went off in my head and I did not argue with it.
I took my prescribed 200 milligrams of Seroquel at five pm, just like the doctor ordered. I had been taking these pills for four months and did not feel any different; I could almost say that they were making me feel worse. Seroquel is like a totalitarian dictator: He gives you a daily appointment at five P.M. sharp, a strict curfew of nine P.M. in which you are lulled into a deep sleep. It is such the charmer that you fall into dizzy spells at the most inconvenient of times; it strips you of the slightest inkling of creativity making even Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” look insipid, lifeless, and unimaginative. I hated the pill, but my mother and everyone else around me loved it. They loved my numbness and confused it for sanity. I still had a riot of feelings inside that I was too tired to express; better to let the magic of my pills give them the person they actually wanted to be around.
That night I sat on my bed with my recently refilled prescription of Seroquel and a two-week-old bottle of Pamprin in front of me. I researched the side affects of an overdose with a combination of those pills. The results for Seroquel were pleasing, but Pamprin held small hope. So I found a bottle of Benadryl. Results: pleasing. Still not enough. I went to the kitchen and took my mom’s Aleve from the cabinet. Results: far from pleasing, but I decided it would be enough to get the job done. The four bottles of pills were dumped on my bed, and I separated each kind into groups of tens and their odd remainders. I went to the kitchen and poured myself a tall cup of fruit punch, and took them in groups of ten, handful after handful. Still, I felt it was not enough and just decided to take the rest of the Seroquel. I went back to my purse, got a cigarette and smoked what I believed to be my last one in the dark. After the cigarette I stumbled back to bed and closed my eyes while I finally let everything attack me without putting up a fight.
My suicide attempt was, as doctors put it, serious. Had my brother not found me that night on the high road to the grave, I would not be here five years later telling this story. Had my mother not run every red light on the way to the emergency room I would not be here. Had some greater part of me not grown stronger and held on to every slight beating of my heart, I would not be here. Perhaps the greatest reality I got from my dance with death is that timing is everything.
Someone once asked me if I regretted ever attempting suicide, and my answer is no. It’s not that I encourage or promote it, but it saved me. Without any words I was able to let my truths come forth--at the risk of losing my own life, but still. I am also not saying that suicide no longer crosses my mind--it does. On bad days I have gotten close to doing it again. Depression is not something with a clear-cut cure, especially for people who have to fight their own brain chemistry, but it is something that can be dealt with. My chance at happiness did not come until I let myself out.
Marla Sanchez, 22, graduated from City College in December with a degree in English Literature and a Journalism minor.
What anxiety really feels like and how to fight back.
By Taylor Coleman
First, my hearing starts to fade away, replaced by the sound of my beating heart. My neck tenses up from the noise, followed by a mind-splitting headache. Then my breathing gets faster, far outside of its regular rhythm. My eyes bulge and I can’t concentrate and feel out of control.
This whole experience ends with what feels like an asthma attack—like I can’t breathe and I never will be able to again. Fear overwhelms me and it seems as though I will not live past this experience.
I had my first bout of anxiety in 7th grade, and I have been living with panic and fear of it ever since.
It started with my mother and I arguing about me choosing to hang out with my friends over staying home. Then it escalated. It was 10:53 PM on a school night and she recited the same line that I still hear now that I’m in my 20s: “You’re an ungrateful child. You know that? You think your friends are better to stay with than I am? Leave! Go see how the other half lives.”
I went to my room, closed my door and went to sleep. Around 11:45 PM, I felt someone shaking my shoulders awake. Thinking that this was my mom ready to comfort me after our little blow out, I was shocked to see the police. Through anxiety and tears, I tried to understand what they were saying to me. All I could think was, "what did I do wrong? Why was this happening? Where’s my mom?"
That’s when my breathing started to increase at rapid increments. The police tried helping me calm down with a common breathing exercise for people with anxiety disorder. “In through the nose, out through the mouth.” As I complied, I heard the person I thought was my hero in the background screaming, “She’s faking it! The little bitch tries everything in her power to play victim. I want her out of my house!”
I know now that I am a victim of domestic abuse. A mother shouldn’t ever talk to a daughter that way. Her screaming, name-calling and other aggressive behavior--and scaring me by calling the police--left me feeling degraded and worthless, like I had no use being around and that I was no more than a nuisance in everyone’s lives. Having your mother constantly telling you that you don’t matter piles up. It made me anxious, waiting for the next outburst from a mother who I loved and was supposed to make things better. Inside, I also worried, “could she be right?”
Eventually other situations induced my anxiety. Going away my first year of college excited me because of the freedom I was about to experience and the chance to escape my main trigger of anxiety. Nothing could ever make me feel as anxious as the uncertainty I felt living with my mother. Or so I thought. Then I was faced with other, overwhelming kinds of stress.
While I was still adapting to the new environment at Plattsburgh State, I registered for five classes while also working my first retail job at Walmart. Everything seemed fine for the first two months, but then midterms arrived and the work started piling up. While I was juggling my job and classwork, things took another turn when other students of color and I experienced the open racism that was common in the upstate region. People driving through campus with confederate flags, vandalizing the predominantly black housing; others commenting how entertaining it was to have "urban" kids in the neighborhood and betting on how long we would last at the college.
I thought I could handle these aggressions and everything else I had to manage. However, two weeks before finals I had to leave because everything felt like it was closing in on me. Then those familiar feelings came rushing back. Chest hurting, head pounding, another mind-racing anxiety attack returned even though I was hours away from home.
I returned to New York City, and after a few months of recovering and getting my mind right, I transferred to City College, and pulled myself back onto my path of success. Through trial and error, I’ve found ways to control my anxiety and keep panic attacks away.
Avoiding major stress-inducing situations is one way. It sounds impossible because life is full of unpredictable scenarios. However, my solution is to work on finding different viewpoints that make the situation seems less tense. It's hard, but it helps a ton. As best as I can, I try to see the positive in the predicament and embrace that positivity as a learning experience.
Activities that distract from negative thoughts and boost endorphins are another way to help control panic attacks. I use yoga as my outlet, which gives me time and space to push myself past limits I didn’t believe I could achieve before. It also lets me meditate and clear my mind to reflect on my position. Yoga gives me the understanding that I need to realize that I’m blessed to be where I am today: healthy, alive, educated, and active.
Finally, after meeting with psychiatrists and counselors, medication is another source of relief. Antidepressants help me from reaching that level of stress that brings me to a dark, sad place that is hard to climb out of. Taking a daily antidepressant is similar to taking birth control: Yes, it helps my mind to relax in high stress situations, but it is not permanent.
Taylor Coleman, a Bronx native, is in her senior year at City College. Deeply interested n the arts and film, Coleman expresses her views and passion through creative writing and collecting pictures.
Dependence became a part of me like limbs that develop in the womb. I am the perfect candidate thanks to my life history and mental wiring; I was made for drugs. Uppers, downers to calm uppers, hallucinogens to beat boredom, weed to ease it all, cigarettes for rumination, painkillers to feel the clouds tickle the small of my back. I love the cycle of it, the routine of it, how stuck I get in it, thinking about it, doing it, quitting it. There is something so definite, so sure in using; you always know that the bad feeling won’t last--the cure will come and take you into a blissful rapture, spiraling into incoherency, excused from your actions for lack of cognitive control.
My experimentation with chemicals began at an early age. When I was thirteen, a play fight with my brother led to my right arm breaking in four locations. After my arm was reset and the cast on, the doctor gave me a month’s prescription for oxycodone, no refills. I took one before going to sleep and within minutes found myself in this serene and happy place I had ever known. I spent two hours floating on my bed, thinking lovely thoughts, certain that this was the best moment I had ever had in my life, while sensing a monster slowly forming inside of me.
I took my time meeting new substances in high school, always counting on an oxy to satisfy, but always open to the idea of trying something new. By sixteen I was snorting and ingesting all kinds of prescriptions my friends and I could get our hands on. It was a relatively tame practice back then. We would take them if we had them, without going crazy when we didn't. Alcohol was the main substance back then as it was readily available. Though drinking could hardly hold a heel to pharmaceuticals, it was preferable to sobriety.
The allure of chemicals is simple: escape to the world where your problems and worries don’t exist, or at least don’t matter. Drugs came into my life at the best time for breeding addiction. As I reached adolescence I was receiving waves of repressed memories that to this day I wish had stayed in a corner of my subconscious. When the memories began to surface in forms that didn’t resemble dreams, I thought I was going crazy. My mind was telling me of these things that happened to me in the shadows of my childhood. Having to define myself in terms of someone else’s dark actions brought a new set of issues to the table and instead of talking about it, instead of telling someone, I just kept them in my head and found solace in the simplicity of drowning the memories in a drink or five, or a pill or two. My inability to consolidate that chapter of my life and give it a place to expand and waste itself in the present is in part why I was so easily seduced by white powders and laced tabs.
I never thought using could become a problem. It’s not like I spent every waking hour looking for a fix or stealing from people to buy a black market prescription, but if it was in front of me I never hesitated. On rare occasions, when dealing with myself was too much to handle I made a point of getting drunk or high, and most of the time it was exactly what I needed. But other times, the means led to ends that added to the collection of events I needed to forget.
Senior year, the night before graduation, I was upset over one thought or another and I called a “friend.” We went to the parking lot of my old middle school with Four Lokos, listening to whatever the radio was playing. I have always been a lightweight; two drinks and I’m slightly over the tipsy line, so one full Four Loko amounted to an arsenal. I wasn’t feeling well, but I was with someone I had known for years, someone I trusted. I asked him to take me home as I passed out on the front seat, and as the car moved I thought that’s where we were headed.
My blackout faded and I was half-naked on a bed I knew was not mine. I didn’t have any strength against him and he knew this. By the time I had processed my situation I was too detached; it all happened and there was nothing to do. I wasn’t coherent until I was home in my own bed, replaying it over and over again, not sure if moving past it was possible. I only knew that I was going to keep my mouth shut like I always have, like I always will. Blame is a kind of plague I have learned to keep within my own borders, so that no one else has to.
College started with the occasional painkiller and routine drinking on weekends. But in December of 2011 my chemical fate was sealed. In a shady warehouse in Brooklyn my cousin’s ex-boyfriend sold me my first molly. This drug is considered the cleaner version of ecstasy--pure, without the extra add-on of cocaine and other undesirable substances, but it is just as dangerous. For me, chemicals have always been about the instant gratification. From the moment they enter my system they take over my mind and senses and quickly create the illusion of “everything is okay.” I impatiently waited for this new chemical to take its effect on me when a feeling I had never known introduced itself. I had never felt like paradise in my own body until all the serotonin rushed through my brain, perfectly in tune with the music blasting in my ears. That night turned into the loveliest blur. I danced everything away, even to the music of a Major World commercial on the ride home. The next morning I woke up feeling drained, but in love with the person I had been the night before.
In the blink of an eye my life turned into raving, popping pills, and dancing until ten in the morning Friday through Sunday. I felt alive, escaping into dark underground parties in the arms of molly. Soon one pill wasn’t enough to get the magic to kick in, and I needed four to six in one night to get half as close to the first experience. The dangers of molly did not escape me. In my first year of raving and using on a weekly basis I made a lot of friends and lost several others to drug related causes. I mourned them all with pills and parties.
It took me a long time to even consider that I was addicted, but soon I would find out just how deep into the hole I was. I had my set dealers I bought from exclusively and trusted. However, one night I was presented with a dry spell around my usual drug stops and went to a party empty handed, feeling the pressing need to figure out how to get some. I asked a few friends where I could get molly and all responses were along the lines of “No, but I know where you can get E.” After several failed attempts I gave in because I preferred a drug I didn’t particularly like over being sober at a rave.
My track record with ecstasy was unpredictable. I never knew what roll I was going to get and the uncertain kick-in time was torture. I started with one, gave it an hour and felt nothing, so I got another one. Maybe a half hour passed after the second one and I took a third. Some twenty or thirty minutes later, I took a fourth. An hour later I got desperate and took two in one shot. All six hit me at once, and I didn’t care that I ingested six pills in a three-hour period or that the chemical delay consumed most of the night, giving me only two hours of dark stimulation.
The lights came on and it was over. I didn’t feel well and my friend could tell there was something off about me. No matter how much I take in a night I am always the go to person to keep everyone safe and get everyone home; somehow I always pulled enough wits. This morning was different though; I was shaky and twitchy, unable to keep my stare under the sun. My friend got me as far as my door before asking me if I was sure I was going to be okay. I said yes when the answer was no.
My mother’s house was at full capacity; my grandparents, brother, nephew, uncle, and mom were all home busy to the sound of nine am. I went to bed foolishly thinking I could sleep this off, my extremities slowly numbing. I could barely keep a thought in my mind before it faded into some haziness. After a few hours of pretending to be asleep I went upstairs and swallowed half a bottle of Nyquil when no one was looking to sedate myself, but to no avail.
My mom left for the nail salon, my brother went to work, my nephew was out riding his bike, my uncle, like always was in his room, and my grandparents were glued to the TV taking naps in intervals. I knew I wasn’t okay; I was thirsty and overheated. Gathering what little composure I had in me, I grabbed as many water bottles as possible and headed for the bathroom. Over the next hours I lay in the bathtub running cold water and drinking bottle after bottle of water. There were moments I was sure I was going to die right then and then there, my heart beating so hard I heard it through my ears. Vomit, drink water, repeat, then dunk myself under the cold water. At some point I fell asleep and to this day I’m not sure what went right, but I woke up.
I kept telling myself that I was done with drugs. For the first time I faced the thought that this had grown into a problem. Over the course of that week I planned my rehab and swore I could rave without drugs. I even told some friends that I was done with it, but the following weekend proved me wrong as I stood against a speaker bored out of my mind and bought two mollys.
In the summer of 2013 I took the dive and dropped LSD, and to no one’s surprise, I loved it. At first I kept it to once a month, but soon I was hopping on the spaceship on a weekly basis. During this time I had also picked up 'shrooms and rather enjoyed doing them together.
My molly consumption had taken a backseat to psychedelics and then I realized that I was now one of the burnouts with Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD). This problem, which I carry with me to this day, is defined by a constant state of hallucinogenic flashbacks of sorts; my vision is never still and at all hours of every day I have mild hallucinations that intensify when I am tired or stressed. At times it can be fun, and it helps when I’m missing the drugs, but more often than not it is a frustrating reminder of the damage I caused to myself.
By my Spring semester 2014 I had a routine, rolling and/or tripping all weekend well into Sunday night, crawling home to take whatever sedative I had at my disposal (pharmaceutical opiates, Advil PM, Benadryl), wake up some time on Monday afternoon and take Adderall if I had a lot of homework, go to class on Tuesday, take shrooms on Wednesday with a group of friends, go to class on Thursday, repeat come Friday. The cyclic schedule of it is what called to me the most; that way I always knew what was coming.
Sometimes, on Mondays, before I got into homework I accepted reality and broke down, acknowledging my weakness. This could go on for hours and I think those were my most honest moments; admitting that I hated needing all these artificial mental states to survive a day. I tried to stop a few times, went three days without so much as a drag from a blunt, but I couldn’t stand myself, I couldn’t take that wave at the first sight of lucidity and before I knew it I was taking something again.
April, I woke up from another trip with a few friends passed out by my side. There was a sharp pain in my ribcage that went all the way to my back. I chalked it up to sleeping in an uncomfortable position and got ready for class. Days went by, weeks and I started taking Percocet for the pain, to no resolve. Finally I made an appointment with my doctor. In the examining room he stared at my visibly swollen ribcage, not sure what was wrong. After X-rays showed that my ribs were intact I confessed my drug use and he sent me for a sonogram; I had an ulcer and the chronic gastritis that follows me today--the sum total of all that “fun” I was having.
In June I said goodbye to drugs, and not just in the privacy of my shame, but out loud to my friends. They are supportive users; I’ve had to get used to watching them do what I used to do and resist. Being sober is hardly the hardest part of all this; it’s the moments when I feel like I can’t beat this without changing my whole life; my phonebook, my agenda, my environment. My mind is not what it used to be. It’s gotten better, but it will never be the same. I go to addiction therapy every week afraid of the day that I have to walk in there and say that I give up, or just stop showing up at all. I’m afraid of the nights when the past sneaks into my bed and doesn’t let me sleep. I'm proud of my one-hundred-and-sixty-five days, but worry--no, I know--I could go back to day one in a matter of seconds.
*This student, who will graduate from CCNY shortly with a degree in English, preferred to remain anonymous.