Many suicides left a mystery behind them in this world. Were they crazy? Were they evil? Or were they ill? I used to think they were simply stupid until the day when I became one of "them." My name is Nancy Xia. At age eighteen, I made a desperate attempt to end my life. Miraculously, I survived, but I sustained a severe injury and will live with a physical disability for the rest of my life. . . Thirteen years later, however, I am a happy and productive person. I love life and I love to live. I feel like I have an obligation to speak for others who were lost forever to suicide. After reading this book, it is my hope that you will come away with a better understanding of mental illness and a fresh and insightful perspective on some of the most troublesome social issues of our time around mental health. For these reasons, I feel profoundly compelled to share my story with you.
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Twenty to midnight, every decent creature was at rest, except me. Lately, sleep had become a luxury I could not afford. I carefully closed my friend’s front door and stepped down to my road of no return. The moon was bright and the sky was clear. A setting like so incompatible with what was about to happen.
On that quiet street, my heartbeats were the only sounds in my ears; in that lonely world, my shadow was my only companion. Will I be alone on this road to heaven? Will I go to heaven at all? Oh well, there is no heaven. I never believed in religion. I was brought up in a country that denounces God and all of its alternatives. I was told that religious people are gullible and uneducated. I was taught that I should rely solely on my own strength. Thus, when there was no way I could climb out of this grave on my own, I chose to bury myself.
I entered a much darker avenue after crossing the intersection. The fear of the night overwhelmed me. My thoughts found dangers behind every bush . . . Will someone jump out from behind the shadows? But thinking twice, I felt the irony. I am going to die. There is nothing that is more frightening than death. I wished that some devil would jump out at that moment, assault me and slaughter me. This might be my last chance to taste sex before death. And better yet, he might be my only chance of dying as a sorry victim instead of a pathetic suicide. The pain throbbing in my temples urged me to pick up my speed and fully embrace the darkness.
I heard a big noise coming from behind. I turned back and saw a bus. Even though I could see my condo from where I was, I decided to take that bus. As I stepped onto it, the driver blinked really hard as if confirming he wasn’t seeing a wandering ghost. I certainly was not the typical passenger at this time of the night, but the four drunken young men on board were. They were slouching in the front seats with their overstretched legs blocking the passageway. Their baggy denims intimidated me. One of them surveyed me from head to toe with his last bit of sobriety. I did not want to go near them. I remained standing beside the front door, continuously feeding the driver’s curiosity. He had no idea that he would be the last person to see me alive.
I got off the bus at the next stop. A small plaza was located at that intersection. There was a short cut to my building via the back of the plaza. I used to work as a cashier in the corner supermarket there. Memories flashed back, and I felt like I was walking home after work. Of course, it was the very last shift of my life. As I turned the corner, I immediately saw my building standing firm under the moonlight. Each balcony looked like a springboard hanging in the air, bouncing up and down to allure me. I wish I could go to the very top one and dive like an Olympian. My unit was on the eighth floor; about twenty-five meters above the grave, this should be high enough. “Hurry!” someone was commanding me, an extraterrestrial being that intruded into my consciousness not long ago. It had changed me into some sort of automaton. My only program was self-destruction.
Each step seemed part of the program. I found myself exiting the elevator running toward my unit not caring how much noise I made. I unlocked the front door and turned the knob abruptly. I had to reach the balcony before my parents could stir. Before they wake I would have already landed on the ground.
After I threw the balcony door open, I stretched out my arms and dangled most of my upper body over the railing. The scenery suddenly changed. I saw how far down the ground was. It would be a dive into a bottomless pit . . . I would die . . . an actualization of my worst nightmare. I don’t want to die; I am still scared of death. Instantly, I was human again.
I walked back to the living room and heard my mom’s voice trembling from their bedroom. “There . . . is . . . is . . . a thief . . . in . . . our home.” Then, I saw my dad’s head lurking behind the door. He had a quick peek toward my direction. He must have seen a monstrous shadow standing in the dark, a scene from a horror movie. He slammed the door and screamed, “Go away, we are calling 911!” His voice was so creepy, goose bumps poked out all across my skin. The very reason they were scared was because there was no telephone in their bedroom.
“Baba! Mama! It’s me!” My desire for death totally vanished.
“Xia Xi!” My parents ran to me and held me so tight as if they would never let go of me. They must have figured out why I came home.
“Baba, Mama, I still could not get any sleep. I did not sleep at all. I feel extremely suicidal! I cannot help it!”
“No, no, no, you cannot do this to us. We cannot live without you!” We tangled up into a howling ball.
My dad phoned my friend’s house. “Err . . . sorry to wake you up . . . Nancy walked home . . . Yes, she is home right now.” I could feel the shockwave penetrating the receiver from the other end. My dad continued, “Sorry about this . . . The truth is, she has been feeling very down lately, she really needs someone to comfort her. Nancy said being with her good friend makes her happy. We thought she would feel better boarding at your home for a while . . . No, she did not get any sleep. It is more serious than we thought . . . I am so sorry . . . Okay, thank you so much!” After he hung up, he immediately called his brother in China, “Brother, Xia Xi wants to commit suicide! The fortune-teller was right! I don’t know what to do now . . .” he wept bitterly.
I did not hear the rest of the conversation because my mom took me to my bed. She rocked me in her arms like I was a child again. I looked upward at her, her reddened eyes were begging for my compassion. She had not had a good night sleep since my insomnia started. I had been tormenting everyone, Mom and Dad and of course, myself. How could I stop this brutality? I began to feel drowsy. The warmth of her cradle brought me to a complete rest.
I slept for the first time in three weeks, but I woke up without feeling refreshed. My thoughts immediately picked up speed and brought back this unbearable headache. When I walked out of my room, my dad called me, “I am not going to work for now. I will accompany you every day and talk you out of your problem. This is a crisis and we will deal with it together.” I saw a lot of confidence in his eyes. Did he really think this is a problem that he can “talk me out of”? The kind of evil force reigning over me was way out of his league.
After breakfast, my dad brought me to Bluffer’s Park. We walked slowly along the beach. The balmy sun and the breezy air made a perfect couple. The gorgeous weather suddenly magnified my depression. My dad led me toward a bush of wild flowers. They were blossoming in their prime. “Look how beautiful they are! How beautiful life is. Isn’t life worth living?” I replied silently, yes, they are beautiful, but I don’t think anything beautiful is made for me.
We sat down on a bench facing the peaceful lake. A little boy was flying his kite. His dog was running after him. There was an old man sitting not far from the boy, calling after him to be careful. My dad said, “Look, we will have a life like that. We will be happy again. I know you always want a dog. I promise I will get you one.” As I stared at the smile on that boy’s face, I was jealous of his pure and genuine happiness, a reflection of a life without hurt, sorrow, and of course, depression. His dog was even more eye catching. It was jumping up and down and furiously wagging its tail. That son of a bitch was better off than me.
“Dad, last night I heard you say something about the fortune-teller. What did you mean by that?” My dad sighed. “I never believed in things like that . . . The year when we were applying for immigration, I met a fortune-teller on the street. I was with my friends at the time. A man approached us and insisted on telling me my fortune. I said I was not interested. Meanwhile, my friends wanted to hear theirs. The fortune-teller ignored them and said he only wanted to do business with me. I was persuaded by his determination. He told me that the year 1998 would be a turning point for me, which was true because we were about to come to Canada. He also predicted that when I turn forty-five years old, something will happen to my child. He did not know what.” He paused for a few seconds, “He also said whatever it is, she will get over it.” I was stunned. Is this whole thing meant to happen? Did he really say I would “get over it”? My dad thought of something and chuckled. “Why are you laughing, Dad?” “The fortune-teller also predicted that I would be extraordinarily wealthy.” He said it with sarcasm.
After we left the park, my dad drove me to a temple. It was a place of worship for many of his Chinese coworkers. Although I never knew much about the Christian God, I always believed there was something out there, some supernatural being that had a lot of power and authority over mankind. I was pretty sure that this big boss had no affection for me. As we stepped into the dimmed temple, I felt a chill penetrating my flesh. There was a spell in the air, mystic and spooky. I saw three wooden statues of idols towering at the center. They looked horrifying with their eyes wide open. They were holding some kind of object that reminded me of my elementary school teacher with her spanking ruler. An invisible force in the temple weakened my knees and compelled me to bow. I felt like if I were to stare at the idols for one more second, they would punish me and make my life even more miserable than it already was. I dropped to my knees on one of the mats and pressed my face against the floor. I could almost taste the dust and dirt. I sobbed quietly, “Please help me get over this, please help me, please help me . . .” Then, I bowed and bowed like the way I saw worshippers did on TV.
I continued to suffer from insomnia. The pace of my thoughts was firing like a machine gun, executing every cell in my brain. My head was aching beyond reason. I felt like a monster was furiously growing underneath my skull, pounding and cracking my lobes. Every insomniac night made that creature beefier and lousier.
My mom was sleeping by me every night. Every toss and turn of mine would awaken her. She was like a puppet and I was her master. The strings on her body were twitching along with my movement. Once every half hour, she would sit up and lightly pat my chest, “Don’t think of anything, try to calm down, let your mind go blank.” When dawn came, she slowly rose from her bed and dragged her weariness to work. I had no idea how she managed to go to work without any rest at night. “Don’t worry about me. I will eat lunch quickly and sleep during the rest of the break. I am able to fall asleep.” I heard her say that to my dad before going to work, “I will sleep beside her tonight.” My dad offered to take her place. “No, you snore very loud. Plus, if you fall asleep, you cannot watch her, what if she . . .” The rest was said in a whisper.
During the day, my dad was glued onto me. He was guarding every move I made. All the knives in the kitchen were hidden from my reach. The handle of the balcony door was wired shut. Common sense told me that the quickest way would be to jump off a subway platform or throw myself over a highway bridge, but part of me was afraid of the pain and torture before dying. Death mocked me for being a coward. The act of living was not easy, but I didn’t expect death would be this hard too. I started searching on the Internet for inspirations. Hopefully, people would share their “recommended” methods to commit suicide. I needed an easy way out of this world, instant and painless. But as it turned out, all the websites I went to were trying to talk people out of their suicidal ideation. I didn’t want to read them anymore. I didn’t want my determination to waver.
One day, while my dad was on the phone with his brother, I opened my mom’s closet and rummaged through her drawers. There, buried under layers of clothes, I found a bottle of sleeping pills prescribed for my insomnia. It was newly obtained from the pharmacy. Sixty pills were inside the bottle. Perfect.
Before bedtime, I wrote a farewell note to my parents. I told them how sorry I was for forsaking them. I wished that they would carry on after my death and have another child to replace me. The words were a bunch of bullshit inspired by cheesy soaps. After folding that piece of paper under my pillow, I was ready.
That night, I acted like I had finally “snapped out of my depression”. I told my parents all the wonderful lies and successfully convinced my mom to sleep in her own room. Right before bedtime, I locked myself in the bathroom, poured out all of the pills and shoveled them down at once. I choked. I spat out a mouthful and swallowed them in three smaller lots. Suddenly I regretted everything, just like that night on the balcony. The last sliver of sanity was struggling to keep me alive. I then thrust my fingers down my throat to retrieve the pills. I vomited at least ten pills into the toilet. They were wrapped with thin strings of blood. Should I call for help? It’s still not too late to change my mind . . . The last thing I remembered was walking back to my room, the moment I laid my body down, I was out of this world . . .
Next morning, I woke up! I tried to get up, but quickly realized my body had lost all of its strength. My fingers were as weak as strings of cooked noodles. I was dizzy and the world was spinning above me. Ironically, after a night of deep sedation, my brain finally caught a break. My desire to die was replaced by my instinct to live. I wanted to live again. Then I called my dad and told him about consuming the pills last night. He slapped me across the face, but I was too numb to feel any pain. He scolded me in a trembling voice, “Look at you! Where is my daughter! You are not her!” He wanted to take me to the hospital right away. My legs were too weak to walk and I was too heavy to be carried. He wrapped my arm around his shoulder like a solider helping a comrade and dragged me all the way through the corridor, the elevator and into the garage. He was crying and cursing every step of the way. On the road to the hospital, I dozed off again on the backseat.
When we arrived at Scarborough Grace Hospital, we were turned back by two paramedics. I vaguely heard that the hospital was closed because it was infected with SARS, a serious pandemic which had originated in China. It was a lethal air-borne disease that had already killed several patients and health care professionals in and around Toronto. The city, the country and the world were as chaotic as my tiny universe.
The two paramedics decided to take me in their ambulance to another hospital located about twenty minutes away. As one drove, the other one began to measure my blood pressure and other vital signs. He seemed nice. Gently he asked me about what had happened. I shamelessly told him the truth, “My boyfriend broke up with me.” This was the reason everyone in my life believed in. But did I really die for love? If he were to take me back, would that be my remedy? The paramedic comforted me by saying, “You are only eighteen. You will soon move on.” I will soon move on . . . I wanted to believe him so badly.
When we arrived at Centenary Hospital, I was placed in a wheelchair and pushed to the triage nurse. Unlike the paramedic, this female nurse was devoid of compassion. She asked me the same question in a rigid voice, “Why did you do what you did?”
“My boyfriend broke up with me.” I curled into a ball, not wanting to face her cold and judgmental look.
“How long were you together?”
“About one month.”
I felt a big wave of shame drowning me.
“Did you think of killing another person?”
“Yes.” For some reason I was more honest than I needed to be.
“How did you think of killing him?”
“. . . I don’t know.” This time I lied.
The sleeping pills I took were the mildest type. It did not do any lasting damage to my brain and body. In fact, the only treatment required was to wait for the drug to urinate out of my system. Later that day, I was admitted to the observation unit. At bedtime, I told my nurse, “I have insomnia. I need some sleeping pills to help me sleep.” She laughed, “You still have a lot in you.”
That first night in the hospital, I managed to get an extremely shallow sleep for at least three hours. A stream of laughter entered my consciousness from the nursing station. Are they mocking me? Are they talking about how stupid I am? I used to be a mean-spirited person who despised people who resorted to suicide. I thought they were weak and cowards, but now . . . Karma is a damn bitch. I began to recall all the ugly things I had done and said against other people. My mind was roused again. My resurrected ability to sleep died its second death.
The next morning, my mom came to visit me. The thick bags under her eyes were hard to ignore. She looked like she’d aged ten years. Though I knew I was the only person who could save her, I was powerless to save myself. “Because of SARS, Dad is not allowed to visit today. He will come tomorrow.” She paused for second, “We cry every time when we see your empty bed. Xia Xi, we need you. We cannot live without you. You have to live for us. I am begging you. Can you assure me that you will not do anything to hurt yourself again?” I said nothing but simply nodded. I did not want to make any empty promises. She took out two books our relatives mailed to me from China, “See this woman? She was trying to end her life at one point. I have highlighted some of the words in this book which will definitely help you.” Then, she started reading . . . All of those words had already been said by so many people too many times. I know the value of life, I know how much my parents love me, I know I am only eighteen, I know the reason for my suicide is ridiculous. I had heard all the inspirational quotes that mankind could offer. In fact, I could give a lecture to a whole bunch of depressed people on why they should not be depressed.
The sleeping pills were out of my system by the time night arrived and my insomnia had returned to its full potency. Death once again closed its grip on me . . .
The next day, I was moved to a psychiatric ward for juveniles. I was given a single room with a large window that looked out to the street and the parking lot. The facility was cozy and tidy, definitely favorable as a break from the outside world. I could not tell if there was anything wrong with my fellow patients. They all appeared to be normal. Some of them even looked happy.
One afternoon, while I was playing with a jigsaw puzzle in the lounge, a young nurse came to me and sat beside me. At first, she was helping me with finding the puzzle pieces and we talked about trivial things. After warming up, she began her real mission. She tried to be assertive, but there was no other way to do it without pinching my most sensitive nerve, “How long were you together?”
She must have read my file. It wasn’t surprising to her. Very carefully she asked again, “Was it very intense? Did you . . .” I violently swung my head to stop her from completing the question. No, technically we did not have sex.
The nurse continued, “Do you know that depression is treatable? Sometimes, thoughts of suicide are temporary. A lot of people we’ve seen only attempted once and recovered eventually. It takes time and patience.”
“How long will it take me to feel better?”
“You are on medications now. In at least two months or so you should feel the effects.”
“Two months!” I was startled. It had only been a month since my depression, I already felt like I had been in this pitch dark battle for life.
“Yes, part of the work depends on the medication; the other part depends on you. You have the power to overcome this.” Everyone kept on telling me I could overcome my depression with will power. Well, at least this nurse only expected me to meet her half way.
Later that day I saw my father. He looked even more broken than Mom. He took my hands and said, “We talked to your uncle in Washington DC, he said it would be beneficial to take you on a vacation. That’s what a lot of people do when they are stressed. After you are discharged from this hospital, we will drive to his city. It has the most amazing museums in the world. You will be fascinated and you will forget about all your problems.” That actually sounded like a great idea. Indeed, that is what a lot of people do after a dramatic breakup. They go away on a vacation, shop like there is no tomorrow, drink like the world is ending, defile their body to finish off their bucket list, and come back redeemed. It might just be the cure for me. I had a flicker of hope.
When Dad left, I sat beside the large window and looked at the world I almost left behind: the still parking lot, the busy traffic, the beautiful sunset . . . Where would I be at this time if I had been successful? Suddenly, I saw my dad exiting the hospital and walking toward a plaza where his car was parked. With all that happened he tried to save a little money and not pay for hospital parking. Tears welled up in my eyes looking at the way he tiredly placed one foot in front of the other. He looked so alone. “I am so sorry,” I mumbled. It was as if he heard me . . . he stopped, turned around, looked up and waved. He put up a smile for me. It was impossible to see his face clearly but I was positive that hope was also in his eyes.
The next day I was discharged and met with the psychiatrist one last time. She was wearing a mask as part of the protocol during SARS. All I could see was a pair of expressionless eyes. I was advised to continuously take my medications. The doctor warned that going away would not make me better because this had to do with a chemical imbalance in my brain, a concept that was foreign to me. She did not offer any further explanation. I wanted more encouragement, such as “You will recover for sure” or “I guarantee you will be happy again.” But I guess she too, did not want to give empty promises.