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The Lingering Effects

Kyleigh Leist
WhiteFlag Marketing Director
TW: Suicide // The first few hours and days after a suicide attempt, everyone seems to want to know how you are doing. When someone attempts suicide, what happens in the days, weeks, nights, and even months that follow?

Six months ago my life was altered by my actions, my choices, and a small orange pill bottle. Three hours later, I was placed in an involuntary hold in the emergency room, strapped to a machine to monitor my heart, in a cold, bright hallway full of chaos. The hours that followed the harrowing attempt to take my own life were shrouded in suffocating darkness as if the weight of my desperation had seeped into every corner of my existence. Time itself seemed to drag on with agonizing slowness; every minute I stared at the clock, hoping I’d be out of the dreadful hospital within 24 hours. Each hour echoed with the wait and hopes to leave. Little did I know, those haunting whispers by staff turned into turmoil I had no control over.

With every staff member walking past me with the same sympathetic smile, my regret grew and grew. I wasn’t supposed to be there. I didn’t feel like I belonged there. I had been really working on myself and my mental health. Things in life were going well. I was trying my best to never go down this route again. However, here I was, not realizing that my mistake of attempting suicide again would have a far greater impact than the first attempt.

Unbeknownst to me, that 24 hours in the emergency room was going to turn into a full week stay at a mental hospital. Hearing those dreadful words also heightened my awareness of the stigma surrounding mental health issues. Being in a hospital setting, even involuntarily, carried a sense of humiliation and judgment that seemed to follow me beyond those walls. The fear of being labeled as "unstable" or "broken" cast a long shadow over my efforts to reintegrate.

My identity was lost in this new building I was put in as I went through intensive questions I didn't have all the answers to, walked through those heavy doors with shame, a scarred brain, and stripped of all my clothes, rings, and necklaces. Sobbing with swollen eyes and tears running down my face, there I was. In a mental hospital. Without knowing how long I would have to stay here, without having questions answered, and without anyone remembering my name, I was just another patient. Just another bed to fill. Another statistic.

The sterile, fluorescent-lit halls seemed to magnify the bleakness of my situation–I was here for another suicide attempt. I bore witness to the aftermath of my desperate choice with every glance in the mirror, with a cruel reflection of a broken spirit before it. It was a haunting reminder of the darkness that had consumed me, an unrecognizable person staring back at me with embarrassment.

I’ll never forget my first night. Laying on a twin-sized cot, lights dimmed, unable to be shut off, with a nurse checking on me like clockwork, every 15 minutes. “You good?” was the question he would utter to me each time because at 2:00 AM, 3:00 AM, and 4:00 AM, I was still wide-eyed, staring at the blank ceiling, walls with no personality, and a dark room with no windows. The lack of privacy was suffocating, as my personal struggles were laid bare in the wake of my roommate and staff. I was terrified she was going to wake up and panic with the sheer image of a stranger now in her room. As the hours dragged on, a sense of isolation settled like a shroud around me, cutting me off from the world outside. My only contact with the outside world was a dreadful 5-minute conversation I could have with my mother twice a day, but listening to her with a broken voice gutted me.

Every decision I made, every emotion that overcame me, was scrutinized and evaluated, leaving me grappling with a heightened self-consciousness that was difficult to escape. The loss of personal agency further eroded my self-esteem and sense of identity, as I struggled to reconcile the person I knew myself to be with the one being portrayed in these informal, mandatory assessments.

There are so many triggers I have now. While the stay was meant to provide a safety net, it paradoxically exacerbated my struggles and triggered a deep sense of powerlessness.

I’ll never forget the loud noise of the monitor I needed to be hooked up to. The noise reminds me of Zoom when someone enters the meeting; I still get triggered every time that happens–which is daily.

From not being able to wear my favorite Michigan State shirt or my favorite everyday slides I wore while there, to food, noises, music, memory loss, and the inability to escape the feeling of being another statistic or label of someone who’s been put involuntarily into a mental hospital, I am having a hard time, six months later, to adjust back to my reality. The mental toll of my involuntary stay at the mental hospital was profound and long-lasting. Still to this day. The memories of being confined and monitored against my will often triggered intense feelings of claustrophobia and helplessness.

I find myself grappling with a range of triggers that seemed to emerge from the experience itself.

To pass the time, I did puzzles; now I can’t touch them. I ate the same thing every single day for breakfast and snacks, and now I can’t touch those foods. Don’t get me started on the dinner food; my favorite alfredo pasta was now stripped from my food palate and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

We got to listen to music one time during group, and those songs are a trigger that brings me back to sitting outside, finally, but then seeing a 20-foot wall around the building like we were prisoners.

I still can't shut my eyes without hearing that dreadful “You good?” voice. I can’t spread out on my bed, not realizing I am not on a twin-size bed anymore. I should be able to enjoy a shower without the shower feeling like a pressure washer beating my skin with each minute. I should be able to wash my body without feeling like the guilt is being washed off of me.

The trigger of seeing specific foods in a grocery store, the sight of fluorescent lights, the sound of medical equipment, can all instantly transport me back to that sterile environment, evoking a sense of unease that is difficult to shake off. Certain things which I have now associated with the hospital have become inadvertent triggers, sending waves of discomfort through me, still.

The days stretched on in the hospital, each one blending into the next, as I navigated a maze of therapy sessions and medication adjustments. I still, to this day, can’t swallow my medication without almost throwing up from the post-traumatic stress I withstood from that ghastly week-long stay six months ago.

The darkness that has been instilled in me after that hospital visit still seems all-encompassing, wrapping its cold, unforgiving arms around me and refusing to let go. It was a time when the abyss of my despair felt endless, and the future was a distant, dimly lit horizon obscured by the overwhelming weight of my pain. It was a disorienting journey through a landscape of inner turmoil and external regimentation, a period I hope never to relive.

The effects linger far beyond my discharge, leaving me to continue to grapple with a complex mix of emotions and a profound reevaluation of my own resilience and coping mechanisms.

I didn’t have a bad life; I was just in pain. Pain is the great leveler, an indiscriminate beast, that is so overwhelming regardless of how great everything in my life seemed. Depression is a blanket that is embedded in me. A blanket that I couldn’t take off. I see that I’m light now, though. I had to freaking breathe. Breathing through the nights that seemed impossible. The shame of my hospital stay died when I got the chance to tell my story. Healing began when I uttered these words: I am more than a statistic.


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