Even though I was 14, I already had a nightly routine. At 9:45pm on school nights I gathered my pajamas and had a bath - by the time I was done drawing the water it would be 10pm and my local oldies station, AM 740, would play old radio shows like The Shadow and Dragnet.
It was 2008 and a Wednesday, which to cool kids like me meant The Jack Benny show was on tonight. He was one of the funniest comedians I have ever heard and I looked forward to Wednesdays just to hear a new episode. But that day I wasn’t too concerned with what was on that night, because that was the night I was going to die.
Now, obviously that didn’t quite pan out, but I’m going to tell you about it anyways because it’s fairly important for how my life unfolded afterwards, so humor me will you?
My eighth grade teacher was a eccentric guy who used to love spending entire classes telling us stories or teaching us about anything but what was on the curriculum. One of these stories he had informed us how when he was a kid he almost drown in a swimming pool but was saved by his older sister. He described the experience as being wonderful - once you got past the whole “God save me I’m dying” part. He said once the water reached his lungs he felt at peace and wouldn't have minded dying that way at all..
Being an impressionable youth, I decided that drowning was the best way to go. I didn’t have the method for swallowing pills down yet and I couldn’t tie a noose to save my life (though I had tried!). Also, the idea of stealing one of my Dad’s many guns to use on myself warranted a huge butt-kicking if it failed, so ironically I had decided that the bathtub method was somehow the “safest” option. Plus it would (hopefully) leave much less of a mess for other people to clean up afterwards.
And so, with little thought of repercussions, I lay down in the bathtub and pushed myself under the water and tried to make quick the rest of my life.
Looking back it was poorly executed and laughably planned out. If I had really wanted to die, I would have just done the gun thing or taken a razor out of my pencil sharpener or something. I’m fairly certain I was holding back, because the second breath of water in my lungs left me coming up for air and coughing like a maniac.
Eventually, I’d try the same thing again once I started high-school to no avail - I think the biggest deterrent for me back then wasn’t the act of going through with it but instead how everyone would have had so much more damage control to do if I had succeeded. At least if I was dead, I was dead and they’d only need to get over it and clean up the mess, but if I survived...well, it would be awkward, to say the least.
My mental health issues hadn’t just come from nowhere though - genetically, there’s a history of anxiety attacks and bipolar disorder in my family, which even to this day I’m worried about being affected by.
I had always been sort of weird emotionally too.
I had a few close friends throughout public school who I loved hanging out with, yet I remember frequently spending my recesses sitting alone with my head tucked between my knees. Recesses were usually 15 or 45 minutes back then (depending on which break it was), so this meant I usually was situated in that position for a great length of time, not associating with anyone and really just spacing out. My friends and peers would occasionally try to talk to me or get me to come play, but I’d brush them off or tell them to go away with no explanation or rationale. I’ll never forget one instance when I did that to them and my best friend just hissed, “Let’s leave him alone, he’s just in one of his moods”. In retrospect, I think kids knew something was wrong, but I’m glad they went as easy on me as they did and I managed to get out of public school while only having a few fights under my belt.
Upon entering high-school I still got picked on but learned to fight less. I decided that having long hair to cover my face and wearing a ball-cap all the time was a really good fit for me too since it meant I’d rarely have to look people in the eye, but it also meant I was prime fodder for people to poke fun at.
Specifically, this short little pipsqueak who sat behind me in my first semester of 9th grade. He made sure to make my first year at high-school a living hell, but just enough to get me used to the idea of not wanting to meet new people for risk of them being anything like he was.
As a result, high school was a very stagnant time for me - I ate lunch outside my locker by myself instead of eating at the cafeteria like everyone else. In essence, the anti-social tendencies I had learned in public school carried over and I continued to feel more and more isolated. I wanted to hang out with some of my friends but I had no experience in doing so and didn’t want to seem weird, so I opted to not do it at all. In my first ten years of school I had probably spent time with my friends outside of school only a dozen times or so.
This isolation sparked my second suicide attempt, which essentially mirrored the first and helped me conclude that I didn’t really have it in me to try and do it a third time, as much as I might have wanted to.
Instead I just soldiered on, living my life one drab day at a time the only way I ever knew how: by shutting myself away from the world around me.
One day in 10th grade I had a particularly rough day - the details of which I don’t recall but left me just wanting to lie in bed in the dark as I did most days when I got home. Being the lazy slob of a teen I was, I had neglected to clean the cat litter even though it was my week to do it, and my mom naturally shouted at me to get my butt in gear. That was the last straw, and I somehow found myself in the basement, breaking down as I scooped each and every last cat turd out of the sand in front of me.
And because I know you were wondering: no, cat litter doesn’t clump as well with tears as it does with pee.
Up until this point, my mom didn’t know about my attempts, so between tears and an awkward game of 20 questions about why I was so upset about cleaning cat poop, I finally told her. She was shocked, but not as much as I had expected. Seeing her so upset forced me to see that my actions had consequences and there was no way I was ever going to try something so stupid again (at least not until anyone who ever knew me had died beforehand).
So I started to see a counselor once a month for roughly half a year. I've been told finding a good counselor is a process - you need to shop around to find the right one. And while I don’t doubt that counselors can help people in great ways, I feel like mine did anything but. Most of our sessions were composed of him talking about himself and how I was supposed to act in certain situations, and most sessions I felt like I had said maybe one or two sentences before he took over and I clammed up, afraid to interrupt.
And then there were the tests. Every time I went to see him he’d have me fill out a form - five questions answered on a scale from 1 to 10 on how I was feeling at that moment. After half a year he compiled the data and said, “Well, Devon, based on these numbers you don’t seem to have depression or anxiety, you’re just more moody than most people. You’ll be fine”.
By this point I felt drastically different from one day to the next. One morning I would wake up and be sunshine and flowers while the next I would feel just as I always had - so how was a chart which I filled out only one day a month supposed to tell me how well I was doing? How could six pieces of paper tell him I was fine when everything about how I felt from day to day was so dramatically against that evidence? Why had he wasted my time telling me about his goddamn fishing trip last weekend and how he was going to retire next year without even bothering to really help me with my problems?
With that, we were finished and I never saw a counselor again.
As the years have gone by, I’ve balanced out a bit. Working at McDonald's for five years taught me how sometimes you need to force yourself to be uncomfortable and into positions you don’t want to be in if you want to get anywhere. Dungeons and Dragons taught me that yes, speaking to people is possible without being weird, and hanging out with friends is just fine when you don’t treat it like it’s the most awkward thing on the planet.
Yet I’ve learned never to grow comfortable with how I’m feeling at any given time. When I’m happy, a voice inside my head keeps me in check, reminding me that happiness is usually followed by sadness eventually so don’t get too carried away.
I explain it a bit like I do my heart condition to people - it feels like a parasite of some kind is living inside you just eating away at your happiness. Whenever you feel like you might have finally pooped it out or it died from all the junk food you’ve been eating, it squirms around to remind you that it’s very much still there.
Recently I was signed up to give a talk at Bonus Stage by Eat Play Mingle, a great Toronto-based event where devs have five minutes to go up and speak about whatever’s on their mind. I was feeling fairly out of it that whole day and regretting having signed up - something unusual for me these days. Only after arriving in Toronto and eating take-out with my girlfriend did I realize there was no way I could do it.
I was staring off into space, my mind running rampant with negative thoughts. I felt my chin quiver as I held back tears so as to not ruin my honey chicken and egg noodle, the whole process eventually culminating in “I want to go home”.
So we did. We stood up, walked down Yonge Street to the GO Station and went home for the night.
Because I had to.
Because this thing which has latched on for all these years refuses to let me go. I had forgotten about it for too long, convinced myself that I had changed and would never see it again. It needed to remind me that it’s still there.
I’m not an idiot. I’m never going to (intentionally) kill myself. Self-harm is a persistent problem with me though, but I don't feel like going into that now.
Like anything else, I find laughing about it makes me feel better. I’ll crack an ‘I tried to kill myself’ joke here and there or even jest about how I’m medically diagnosed as ‘moody’. I’m not saying anyone needs to be as comfortable with this stuff as I am though and other people certainly have been more affected by things like this, at least more than some mopey teenager in a bathtub has.
But all this makes me think back to the first time I told all this to my best friend while we were walking in the pouring rain and his response was, “Well, who hasn’t tried killing themselves?”
And sometimes, I wonder just how true that is.