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How 3 Days in The Psych Ward Saved My Life

A suicide attempt in sobriety landed me in a psych ward, surrounded by people who talked about porn, corn and hearing voices. They just may have saved my life.

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I had three-and-a-half years sober when I tried to kill myself by overdosing on Phenobarbital. It was the 4th of July and I’d joke later that I was still so torn up by the split of America from England that I couldn't take it anymore. But at the time there was nothing funny or patriotic about it.

I had tried to kill myself once before, when I was 34 and living in London, by slashing my wrists with a box cutter. It was terrifying: blood was pouring everywhere and I could see the muscles and tendons and flesh inside. In my experience, the British healthcare system—especially mental healthcare—leaves something to be desired: all they did was sew me shut, give me a tetanus shot and send me on my way.

But this time was different. I was in living in Los Angeles, and I'd been to a meeting that very day. I had called my sponsor. I had sponsees. I was performing regularly as a comic and getting good reviews. And yet I still felt that deep despair—I hated myself and worried that my husband hated me too. I had been insecure about the way I looked at 20; now that I was pushing 40, I could only imagine how my slow physical decline would impact my already fragile self-esteem. I was scared—really scared. I had my addiction under control (as under control as I could have it) but my borderline personality disorder, my body dysmorphic disorder and my depression were taking a toll. I was tired of fighting to feel “normal.” I wanted out, but I was scared to pick up drugs again. My drinking and using always landed me quickly in the ER or jail. I knew that wasn't the answer, but what was?

I had read somewhere that there was no antidote for Phenobarbital and since I had been on it for years for a seizure disorder, I took a generous handful—45 to be precise. I also did it right in front of my husband—talk about taking the poison and expecting the other person to die. It was a cry for help. It was a fuck you. It was so many things. 

“Don’t do that,“ my husband said. “You’re not going to die. You’re just going to get really ill." 

I paused. A mouthful of chalky pills. Whatever, I thought and gulp—down the hatch. I was immediately greeted by a sense of relief mixed with horror.

He called 911 while I went into the kitchen and grabbed a steak knife, deciding I’d cut myself in front of him.  

“She’s brandishing a knife!” he said into the phone.

Brandishing? Who says "brandishing"? Was this a production of Hamlet?

Knowing the cops were on their way, I bolted out the door, not sure where I was going. I saw the EMT guys and the cops at the elevators and surrendered. An overdose of pheno gives you a drunk-like high and when I'm drunk, I'm angry so I was very, very angry. As they wheeled me into the elevator on a gurney, I gave my husband the finger and shouted a loud "go fuck yourself" just as the doors closed.

Next thing I remember I was in ER, choking down liquid charcoal. And I was loaded. Fortunately, I seriously underestimated the mark and didn't die but instead just got terribly ill—as my husband had predicted. Is it a relapse if you try to kill yourself but just end up accidentally loaded instead? Isn't that just a shoddy suicide attempt or a faulty chemistry experiment? Anyway, I started counting days again. Around the same time, a former sponsee sister relapsed by shooting a speedball of such great proportions that she had a heart attack and then a stroke—and survived.  

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