A few weeks’ ago, I opened my inbox for a newsletter mentioning suicide prevention week. The word couldn’t sit with me because I have lived what it means up close and personal. You see, a lot of people have told me it should’ve been over by now, and that I should “move on.” What a lot of folks don’t understand in the academic world is that even though life goes on, these things stay with you, because I learned the hard way that you are the only one struggling and the one who should be pulling it together.
Last year I started to lose interest in lots of things, including basic human functions like eating, cooking and sleeping. It coincided with my thesis proposal time. I was just sad the whole time and I couldn’t put my hand on what it was. My whole body muscles were cramping, I was nauseous most of the time, and the pain was just so severe that I had to crawl out of bed to get a glass of water, barely able to stand, let alone work on my PhD. Multiple months went by with my state of mind only deteriorating. I was not showing up to lab.
At that point, I was still unsure why I felt so broken and why I was just down, yet so angry all the time. I wanted to quit. I wondered for many days whether this load of suffering and pain would just ease if I sever the veins in my hands and let out that dirty blood and cleanse myself. I contemplated ways to do it. Everyday, those noises in my head telling me to grab the razor blade went louder. I’m an international student in a different country, my family doesn’t fully grasp the weight of this, and I was too ashamed to ask for help. As the lights in the world kept getting grimmer, an email from my advisor was the wake up call that I should seek professional help. After weeks of attempting to get in a room with a psychiatrist and a therapist, it finally happened. People think mental health experts are like a magic pill, you swallow your antidepressant and rant about your feelings, then you can go now and work 80 hours a week. What nobody tells you at the PhD orientation is that burnout, depression, and suicide when they happen are things that continue with you and what you learn is how to navigate those roads.
With time, I gradually started to feel human. One of the things that always bothers me is that we focus on the initial reach out without sustaining it long term and making sure that the person is indeed having a long term plan to continue to seek the care they need.
“With time, I gradually started to feel human.”
Now that over a year has gone by, there are still bad days, days where I don’t feel okay and days where I’m much more depressed than others. Recently, due to the psychiatrist office error, I did not have my anti-depressant refill in time. A day went by and I could tell something was wrong with me. The muscle pain, the sadness, the constant crying, I was not okay. The sadness turned to anger to hatred toward myself and I wanted to end it right there. I was sick and tired of everything. As I cried while thinking of the how’s and where to do it, I looked over at the foster dog I had and knew I can’t do this no matter how bad I want to, no matter how appealing the razor blade was. I hugged the dog and dialed the number I had saved for “SUICIDE EMERGENCY” at 3AM to get an out-of-network professional to get my prescription. As I recovered from that incident, I realized one thing: how easy it is to slip back into the sneaking depression’s maze. It’s not fun.
So what? Why do I write all of this and share it? Because it matters. So if you are reading this and can relate to any of it, I implore you to know that you are not alone, and that your life matters, you are not a burden and you certainly have nothing to be ashamed of. We need to do better at creating that supportive community that knows when one part of it is aching and reaches out to them for help, even in spaces as isolating, competitive, and toxic as academia.
Khalid Al Kurdi
Georgia Institute of Technology
IMPORTANT: If you are having thoughts of suicide, please reach out for help immediately. Suicide may seem like the only option, but it is not. Organizations like Lifeline and the Samaritans literally save lives. Call a friend. Call your family. If you feel like you can no longer cope, call the emergency services. Your life is precious.
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