“If you have never tried it yourself or helped someone else through it,
you cannot begin to imagine how difficult it is to kill yourself.”
—Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression
By Cat Saunders
On December 7, 2016, 22-year-old Jake came home from work, ingested four and a half bottles of pills, and lay down to die.
Things didn’t go according to plan. Instead, Jake ended up brain dead for three hours and spent the next eight days in a coma. Brain damage caused significant memory loss and left-foot debilitation. At the time of this interview, three weeks after the suicide attempt, Jake’s recovery was underway but the final outcome was undetermined.
According to the Center for Disease Control, there were 41,143 suicides in the United States in 2014. That translates to one every 13 minutes or about 113 people a day. Since suicides are often shrouded in confused circumstances, at best, or socio-religious stigma, at worst, suicide as the cause of death is likely to be underreported.
In the U.S., people kill themselves at a far higher rate than they kill each other. In 2014, those 41,143 suicides far outnumbered the 16,108 homicides. There are also two times as many suicides as there are deaths from HIV/AIDS, and in the LGBTQ community (Jake is gender-nonconforming), the suicide rate is even higher. In Jake’s age group (10-24), suicide is the second leading cause of death.
As Kay Redfield Jamison says in Night Falls Fast, “…I have been impressed by how little value our society puts on saving the lives of those who are in such despair as to want to end them. It is a societal illusion that suicide is rare. It is not. Certainly the mental illnesses most closely tied to suicide are not rare. They are common conditions, and unlike cancer and heart disease, they disproportionately affect and kill the young.”
This is the story of one young person who tried to commit suicide and failed. There are thousands of stories like Jake’s, since every completed suicide in America is overshadowed by 25 attempts. What makes this story so compelling is first of all that Jake is willing to be public with it.
In most cultures, including ours, the stigma surrounding suicide is so powerful as to silence even the most outspoken among us. To make matters worse, this socio-religious silencing—in this case arising from shame after a failed attempt—comes at the very time when support is needed most.
In Jake’s case, this silencing was thwarted by social media, which allows even the most private news to leak out in mass numbers. Once this happened, Jake’s family decided to take the bull by the horns and talk openly on Facebook about what was happening in order to dispel rumors.
Although Jake’s parents preferred not to use their family’s surname in this published interview to keep a modicum of privacy as they heal, they nonetheless join Jake in advocating for education and compassion around a subject most people would rather ignore.
Cat: I was probably more anxious about this interview than you were. I was afraid that my questions would feel invasive, because I know you’ve been barraged by people asking you all kinds of questions that you felt were none of their business.
Jake: I’ve been literally poked and prodded with questions from everyone for about a week now, since the 20th of December when I got home from the hospital.
Cat: Our interview won’t feel like an invasion of your privacy?
Jake: No, because you were very sensitive about the way you asked. It was my call whether I wanted to do it or not. You weren’t trying to force me to do anything. You weren’t terrorizing my family like other people have been doing. You weren’t messaging my mother or my sister trying to get information to figure out what’s going on.
I understand that people are concerned and they’re trying to understand what’s going on. But most people don’t realize they’re invading my personal space when they ask so many questions, especially during a time when I’m still processing this. I’m still trying to get through this. It hasn’t even been a month yet. I just got home. This is all very new. It’s surreal.
I’m trying not to beat myself up for what happened, because I didn’t expect that I was going to live and have to deal with it. This was NOT part of the plan!
But now I’m obviously going to have to deal with it.
Cat: I want you to know that I never let an interview go without letting the person review it and make sure they feel good about it.
Jake: I think that’s lovely. You’re being perfect, dah-ling! I’m giving you permission to ask me anything you want. If I don’t want to answer something, I’ll just plead the Fifth!
Cat: Was this your first suicide attempt?
Cat: Had you thought about killing yourself before?
Jake: I’d been thinking about it for maybe 2-3 weeks beforehand.
Cat: Had you told anyone that you were thinking about it?
Jake: I had, but I was more of a “suffer in silence” type of girl (which is wildly unhealthy, as it turns out). I don’t think anything would have changed my mind.
Cat: How about earlier, before you moved back to your parents’ house? Were you contemplating suicide then?
Jake: Something was happening in my life. Maybe the move back to my parents’ house was the final nail in the coffin because my life had totally been falling apart.
I wasn’t getting along with my roommate. She was extremely judgmental because of how she was raised and how she is as a person. I couldn’t deal with it. After I was hospitalized following my suicide attempt, she posted that I was dead. She jumped the gun on it. She made a really bad call about that.
Cat: It was not her place to post about you in that way.
Jake: She said something like, “My best friend took his own life this weekend.”
Cat: She was trying to elicit sympathy for herself?
Jake: Exactly. For her. That’s not okay. My family messaged her and asked her to delete that post, saying, “Jake’s not dead.”
After my roommate posted that about my being dead, many of my friends messaged her, asking why she would do that. Now she’s changed her phone number and changed her last name on Facebook.
There’s a woman I’ve befriended named Natasha Lady Krishna. She dated Lou Reed in the ’80s and also dated Steve Buscemi. She’s 63 now, so she’s been around the block. She lived in the East Village in the ’60s. So cool. She’s a Krishna, so she started a prayer circle for me. She mailed a letter to Shiva Balananda at his temple in India, and they did this big prayer ceremony for me in India!
Natasha also messaged my roommate and told her that what she did was a very bad judgment call. Coming from Natasha, I think it carried a lot of weight, like my roommate might want to take it seriously.
Cat: That was definitely a serious breach.
Jake: At this point, I’ll let that bridge burn and just keep walking. I don’t need that right now.
Cat: Or ever!
Jake: Right, or ever! No one needs the judgment. I don’t need the judgment. I have nothing to feel sorry about.
Cat: No, you don’t. You’re actually an inspiration for me with the in your face kind of statements you make on Facebook, which you follow with words to the effect, “Look, if you don’t like it, tough shit!”
Jake: Thank you! I’m kind of surprised that I’m here right now in general. I’m surprised that I’m doing things on my own. It’s kind of strange.
Cat: What do you mean?
Jake: This is the first time I’ve been out of the house and ventured out on my own since the night it happened.
Cat: Which was what night?
Jake: December 7, three weeks ago.
Cat: Can you go back and tell me about that night? I know you’ve had some memory loss.
Jake: There are things that I remember, and I’m regaining more memory, so that’s good. It’s just certain events and certain people that I’m not remembering. I still know all the lyrics to various songs. But I’ve noticed a pattern. It’s acquaintances that I’m not remembering, and specific events, which makes sense.
It’s a strange thing, but it’s cool. It’s getting better, and I’m looking on Facebook pages and Instagram to help me remember things. I forgot what I used to look like, but now we (in my generation) have a virtual log of everything we’ve done in our lives.
Cat: When did you start your Facebook page?
Jake: In 2012.
Cat: You have about five years of Facebook posts to help stimulate your memory of your own life.
Jake: My right brain was damaged, so I think that’s why I’m shaky and was atrophied on the left side. My left toes still don’t move on their own, and I’m still wearing an ankle brace to help that side.
Cat: Did you have trouble walking when you were in the hospital?
Jake: I did. I had to use a walker. I still have to do more physical therapy. The first couple of days when I was out of the coma and in physical rehab, I couldn’t move my legs at all. I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t do anything. I’d been in a coma for eight days. The time that everyone said I had woken up, I was still sedated and I don’t remember having woken up at all.
I used a walker on the way out of the hospital. I met with a physical therapist once when I was there. I met with doctors to determine if I was well enough to go home, or if I needed to go to in-patient on the psych ward. That was really weird.
Cat: What was weird?
Jake: Having all these doctors around me, asking me questions. I also had to meet with a psychologist every day to talk about why I tried to kill myself.
The good thing is that the doctors are saying that my memory and my physical function are getting better, and that they’re only going to get better as more time passes.
Cat: What else do you know about when you were in a coma?
Jake: My little sister was by my bedside every day. I don’t remember it, but everyone confirmed that. My little sister is also my best friend. She has always been my best friend. I love her so much. That has never changed.
When I was in a coma, she moisturized my face every thirty minutes, because she knew that my psoriasis and eczema would flare up if someone wasn’t moisturizing my skin. She was just being perfect and wonderful.
Cat: That kind of touch is really good stimulation for the brain. Not to mention the love that came with it.
Jake: People were praying over me. Something else happened that I learned about later on my own Facebook page: A bunch of my friends stood around my hospital bed and sang Brittany Spears songs to me.
I should have woken up sooner! I mean, I wish I would have been there so I could be polite and say thanks, guys!
Cat: You feel like you shouldn’t have been in a coma so you could have been polite and said, “thank you”?
Cat: You and I were talking earlier about another one of your best friends. I don’t know if you saw it, but he recently posted something about depression on Facebook. I thought it was pretty funny and also powerful in its message.
Jake: Can you describe it?
Cat: There was a photograph of a man lying flat on a mattress on the ground outside, in the sunshine. The caption said something like: “If you’re depressed, just go outside.”
Jake: That one! I did see that.
Cat: I responded with a thank-you comment and mentioned being bipolar.
Jake: Are you also bipolar?
Cat: Yes, first diagnosed in 1976 when I was 22. Are you?
Jake: Yes [extending his hand to shake Cat’s]. Hello! I love it! Well, I don’t love it. It’s the worst, but you know what I mean: “Hello, we’re here!”
Cat: Yes, it’s a lot to deal with, but we’re here.
Jake: Yes we are!
Cat: When were you diagnosed as bipolar?
Jake: It happened when I was 15 and had a complete nervous breakdown. I felt like my life was falling apart. I was failing a class. I was taking APA English, which is usually one of my best subjects. But this was a very stressful time.
December 13 is the day I had the nervous meltdown. It was right after a breakup happened—my first serious relationship. I was also doing costume design for two productions. I wasn’t having a good relationship with my parents. That was horrible. I was also doing work on the yearbook. A lot of stuff was going on in my life.
I just freaked out. I ended up stabbing myself in the forearm. My dad found me and of course I had to go to the hospital. I wasn’t seriously injured, but something was obviously going on. I was put on medication and I started going to see a therapist.
That was when I became a very different Jake. Kind of like the movie, “Girl, Interrupted.”
They said it was a suicide attempt, but I said no, it wasn’t a suicide attempt. After that, I realized that the world was no longer a beautiful place. I just changed as an individual.
My doctor tried various medications on me trying to find something that worked. I was on Lamictal the longest, until I was 21. But then my insurance changed and I couldn’t afford the medication because I couldn’t afford insurance. Now I’m on Lamictal, Dilantin, and Trazodone.
Cat: Did they consider your nervous breakdown a manic episode?
Cat: It only takes one manic episode, along with the other criteria, to diagnose Bipolar Disorder.
Jake: Then the medication confirmed it, in terms of what did or didn’t work for me. The thing is that you can’t go off your medications once they start working. They are working because you are staying on them! That’s the mistake that everyone makes with medications.
Cat: You mean that people go off them when they start working, thinking they don’t need them anymore or because of the stigma. Now there’s a whole other can of worms: the stigma about mental illness and then the additional stigma of being treated for it.
Jake: At that time when I was a teenager, I started seeing a psychologist. I’d been fighting with my parents more. I’m sure I was just an angst-y teenager.
Cat: How far back does your memory go, and what exactly happened on December 7 that you can remember?
Jake: I remember that day. I went to work and came home as usual. I’d been thinking about it for a few weeks. I had been isolating myself, I realized. This life was just getting really hard and what’s the point of it all? I was feeling worthless, like nothing was happening in my life.
It felt like my life was falling apart. I didn’t have any more health insurance. I was going into debt. Work wasn’t going the way I wanted. I had to move back in with my parents. I felt so insecure. I felt like, “What’s the point of this?” I thought everything would be so much better without me.
Once I got home, I was like, “Do it! Whatever!” I knew that we had a ton of medications in the cabinet.
Cat: Yours? Or everybody’s?
Jake: My little sister’s, but she wasn’t using them. They were from over the course of years. Most of them had actually expired, but I know that doesn’t mean anything. There were four bottles of Wellbutrin. I don’t even know what Wellbutrin does.
Cat: It’s an antidepressant, but you definitely don’t want to take four bottles of it!
Jake: Yes, you definitely don’t want to take four bottles of it! I also took half a bottle of some Prozac I found somewhere else, and followed that by a bottle of rosé. I found some red wine in the refrigerator and drank half the bottle.
I also made a playlist beforehand.
Cat: I assume no one was home?
Jake: My parents were upstairs. I get home from work around 10:30pm, so my parents are usually in bed. I was downstairs in my room, which is next to the bathroom.
Here’s my “death playlist” if you want to look through it [he shows his tablet to Cat].
Cat: Your playlist is called “So You Killed Yourself.” Past tense.
Jake: Yes. I ended up making this playlist before I took all the pills, because I wanted to listen to music while I was dying. I also ended up writing the lyric from the song “Lua” by Bright Eyes on a note and put it next to my bed.
Cat: What was the lyric. Do you remember?
Jake: “You’re looking skinny like a model with your eyes all painted black. You’re always going to the bathroom though you say you’ll be right back.”
I don’t know why I wrote that. I just love that lyric because I feel like I was that girl with the eyes all painted black.
It’s really strange and obscure.
Cat: It also sounds like someone who’s bulimic.
Jake: I never thought of it like that. That’s a good perspective. I just thought of it as someone who didn’t want to be there.
I took all the pills and got into bed, crying. Then I started to feel very, very dizzy. I didn’t get it. I just didn’t understand the world. I felt so worthless and insecure and angry at the world.
Cat: Did you feel like what’s the point of living for anyone? Or was it mostly about you?
Jake: It was mostly about me. I get why other people would want to live, if their lives were going well, if things were going their way. They could probably handle their emotions better than I could. They probably have better self-perseverance.
I didn’t understand my place. I didn’t understand my purpose. I felt like I was a failure to my family. I wanted to die! I didn’t feel like the point was there anymore. I was done. I was just DONE with it! I wanted to end it.
I don’t remember doing this. This is my mom’s and dad’s account. They said they heard banging around downstairs. They were wondering what was going on. I think I probably fell over a couple of times.
My mom said that she found another glass of wine poured in the kitchen, but I don’t remember pouring myself another glass of wine. I remember pouring the first glass of wine in my favorite “cat” mug.
They said I went upstairs and that I almost fell down the stairs. I guess I told them what was going on. They said that my dad carried me down the stairs and they called an ambulance.
At the hospital, they did CPR on me for 45 minutes, including the paddles. I was brain dead for three hours and then I fell into a coma and was on life support for eight days.
That’s what I was told later. I don’t remember any of that. The last thing I remember was being in bed, crying, and then feeling dizzy when I got up. I think a part of me panicked and thought I needed to do something. So I ended up walking around, trying to make it better in some way.
Cat: Do you think you were panicking in the sense that your plan wasn’t working? Or panicking in the sense of wanting to change your mind?
Jake: I think it might have been the latter, wanting to change my mind.
Cat: Like the animal part of you taking over.
Jake: You mean like fight or flight? Yes, I think that was going on.
Cat: Then the next thing you know, you’re waking up from a coma?
Jake: The hospital staff said I had been awake for two days and following commands, but I don’t remember being awake. They had me sedated. The first thing I remember was waking up, and I was in a small room. They had the breathing tube in, and it was very uncomfortable—very uncomfortable. I really wanted the tube out of my throat.
The room was like a nice hotel room, but with a hospital bed in it. A nurse could see me through a window. She kept glaring at me for some reason, and I just glared back.
Cat: Where were you?
Jake: Ironically, it was the same hospital in Everett [Washington] where they took me when I stabbed myself. A different wing, but the same hospital.
I remember still having the tube in my throat. It was at night, and the TV was on. Everything in the room had a weird bluish glow to it. I didn’t know why I was there. Eventually it all came back to me. The staff sedated me again, and then I woke up in a nicer room.
Then an old friend, whom I’ve known since I was 16, walked in. He just stood there and he looked at me. I knew who he was. I knew exactly who he was.
He crawled into bed with me and I started crying. I still had the tube in my throat, so this was all very uncomfortable.
This friend and I had a sort of toxic relationship. It was kind of a weird dynamic, but we had been best friends for years. If I were to die, that’s not just about me. It’s also about all the people who have known me and how they would remember me.
A mutual friend had told this friend what happened and that I was in a coma. Apparently, he had just wailed when he saw me in a coma, and he had visited me every day.
I cried some more that night after he left and then the next day they took the tube out. That really hurt.
Cat: Can I tell you how I found out about your suicide attempt?
Cat: John [Cat’s partner of 30 years] came home from Irwin’s [Irwin’s Café in Seattle, where John eats lunch every day and where he met Jake when Jake worked there]. John said that Linda [the owner] had pulled him aside and told him that you had taken a bunch of pills and that you were brain dead.
Jake: Yes, I was brain dead for three hours.
Cat: You mean you can actually be brain dead temporarily?
Jake: They did an MRI, and things weren’t looking so good, so they did another one because they found that there was still oxygen in my system. The second MRI was to determine whether or not to take me off life support.
Thank God they decided to do another one, although if they hadn’t, it wouldn’t have mattered to me because I’d be dead!
Eventually I started to recover and wake up. I started being able to do many different things like being able to focus on people’s faces. But I don’t remember any of that.
It’s not like I have videos of myself in a coma! But my family did take some videos of me in a coma, flinching and trying to pull out the breathing tube.
Cat: I wonder if you would share some of the things that felt obnoxious about the way people treated you during this experience, and then tell me some of the things you found most helpful.
Jake: One thing I didn’t like was when people would message me and NOT say something like, “Oh, hey, I hope you’re doing okay.” Instead they’d say, “What happened?!” Just two words like that, “What happened?!”
I felt like saying, “That’s none of your business.”
Here’s another obnoxious one. People would ask, “Are you enlightened now?”
My answer to that was, “No, I’m still jaded and bitter as all hell.”
Another one I didn’t like was, “How are you feeling?”
Well, the only thing more depressing than failing at offing yourself is having to spend what felt like forever in a rehab facility in a hospital, having people do all kinds of tests on you, and analyzing everything you do.
Having to use a bedpan—that sucked! Feeling like there’s a cinder block on my chest because there’s fluid in my lungs. Having to use a breathing tube, and every time you cough, it feels like you’re getting a hug from Regina George’s mom. I just couldn’t do it!
My left foot wasn’t working and everything hurt. I couldn’t remember certain people. I had amnesia. People were asking me too many questions. It was ridiculous!
I understand that people were concerned, but there is a time and a place, and this was not the time. It might be the place, but it was not the time.
If I’m still in the hospital, do they think they should be asking me all these questions? Then the day I get home, and I’m spending time with my family a few days before Christmas, do you think they should be asking me these questions? No, that’s not their place.
They didn’t have the right to ask me questions, and then make me feel uncomfortable or insecure or like they were judging me. Even if they weren’t, that’s how it sounds. Go away! It felt like such an invasion of privacy.
Oh, and another question everyone asked me was if I could hear while I was in a coma. No, I couldn’t hear. I was in a fucking coma!
Cat: I mentioned to you that I founded the Suicide Awareness Project, which is a grassroots organization dedicated to overcoming stigma about suicide in all its forms. There is so much stigma about suicide.
Jake: Yes, we don’t want to talk about it because it makes us uncomfortable.
Cat: People think that their beliefs about suicide are…
Jake: The be-all, end-all.
Cat: I understand from personal experience what people are talking about when they consider or attempt suicide. And I’ve studied suicide extensively for my work as a counselor, looking at various belief systems about it from around the world and across time. Unfortunately, most people haven’t examined their beliefs and they can be…
Jake: Cruel, intolerant, insulting.
Cat: People don’t realize that their belief system (like my own) is just a belief system and therefore totally subjective. It’s not like there’s some God-given truth about suicide, although plenty of people would cite God as the source of their beliefs about it.
People who cite religious reasons for harsh judgments against suicide might want to explore other religious beliefs about it—and even their own religion’s perspective about it throughout history.
One of the things I was touched by, and also concerned about—for the sake of your privacy—was how you and your family came to be so open about your suicide attempt on Facebook. What was the first posting about it?
Did someone in your family bring it to Facebook? Or was it someone outside your family?
Jake: I think it might have been my mother, and I don’t think she said anything about it directly. I don’t think anyone in my family was even going to mention that it was a suicide attempt until someone else posted about it.
Cat: I was wondering if it was because of someone else.
Jake: I think it was, because I remember reading from my family, “Jake needs positive thoughts right now. Send them please.”
Cat: That was from your family.
Jake: Yes. Then the next one was, “Jake stopped breathing. They performed CPR for 45 minutes. Jake’s back is unstable.” But then it started to come to light. People started to get that it was a suicide attempt.
That’s when my family realized, “Okay, we have to put the ball in our court now.”
Cat: I was wondering if they were sort of forced into it because of other people.
Jake: I think they were. I think they definitely were.
Cat: Was there anything else obnoxious about how people have treated you since you came out of a coma?
Jake: Yes. People asking my sister, on her Facebook page, what happened. What happened?!
She would tell them that I’d been having a rough time, trying to be general about it. But then they would say, “Rough time like how?!”
I felt like, “You don’t need to know that. It’s none of your business. Don’t terrorize my family and ask about our personal business. That’s not okay. If you were really our friend and part of our family, you would know! There’s a reason that you don’t know all the details. Go away!”
Cat: What were the most helpful ways that people responded.
Jake: The most helpful way people responded was when they’d say, “Oh, I don’t know the details, but I just wanted to say that you are such a light. Please reach out if you need anything. I mean that.”
Another helpful thing was when people offered to accompany me to therapist appointments or group therapy. Or when people would give me their phone numbers and say, “If you need anything, please call me.”
It was always helpful when people would send their love and be supportive and sweet.
People who are quiet in public about private subjects are my favorite kind of people. This happened today, this morning. I went to Safeway to add money onto my account and go to Starbuck’s before venturing into the city for my appointment with you.
I saw a boy I knew. He walked up and gave me a hug, and he whispered in my ear, “I’m so happy you’re doing well, and I really would love to see you sometime if you’re available and feel like you’ve recovered enough. I’d love to chat with you because I love you so much. I was praying for you the entire time.”
I’m not religious at all, but he was sincere and sweet and kind. It just meant that he was thinking about me and sending some sort of light and positivity into the world.
I think that is what I love the most. That is the most helpful. People just being there. That’s what I love the most.
Cat: Instead of barraging you with questions, they just offer their love.
Jake: Yes. I don’t need to answer any more questions from random people. That’s not how people heal and that’s not how people should be treated, whether someone is going through this kind of thing or not.
Most people have been very sweet. It’s been lovely and nice. Sometimes people bring me presents when they come to visit, and I wish they wouldn’t do that. I know they’re trying to be supportive, but their presence is enough. I don’t want them to bring me anything. I just want to be with them and chat as if everything is normal.
That’s what my goal has been since getting home—normalcy. I know I’m not going to reach that point for a while, so I’m not angry about it. I don’t want people to act like nothing happened. I just want people to pretend with me that everything is normal.
Cat: That helps?
Jake: Yes, I think that is absolutely lovely. A couple of my longtime friends came over and we had tea. We were surrounded by all the flowers that people brought me in the hospital. It was warm. Good conversation. I love those moments. Those are supportive to me.
Cat: It’s impressive that you can feel normal, even for a few moments, after what you’ve been through.
Jake: I pathologically ignore everything!
Cat: You can do that? I would love to be able to do that!
Jake: You can have some! Please!
Cat: I know you’re in the midst of processing a huge life-changing experience. You know what I think is weird? The term that calls a suicide “successful” if it’s completed.
Jake: Yes, especially because people often commit suicide because they feel that they are not successful. That’s so ironic!
Cat: I don’t use the word “success” in relation to completing suicide because it sounds too bizarre. And that’s coming from someone who thinks everybody has the right to commit suicide if they really believe there is no other way out of their pain. No judgment.
Jake: I think suicide is completely valid. I understand why. Now I can say I fully understand why. We both can say that now. I would never judge someone for that. It’s a personal choice.
First of all, we should not be judging each other, because judging each other is how we hurt each other and disconnect from each other and lose ourselves to apathy. That is how we slowly become narcissists and that is self-harming. I think that we die inside when we judge too much.
It’s like the people who are judging me about this aren’t realizing how sad I was feeling, how worthless I felt. They don’t understand because they aren’t me, so they don’t get it. They don’t know my family. They don’t know my work life. They know nothing about me!
People have no right to judge me and make me feel inferior. No one is better than me. No one is less than me. No one’s allowed to judge me. I have nothing to apologize for.
Cat: Well said. When you finally came out of the coma, how did you feel about not having completed the suicide?
Jake: When I first woke up and realized I’d tried to kill myself, I thought, “Well, that’s disappointing. It was a bit depressing, actually.” It took a moment for me to process that and say to myself, “Okay, you’re here. Something’s going on.”
At first, I didn’t realize why I was there in the hospital. People had to explain it to me. After a few days, I started to regain memory. Then they moved me to a different floor, and my parents brought me my tablet. Then I was able to look through the Internet and social media and I saw that “Oh, I tried to kill myself!”
People in the hospital had explained things, but once I got on social media, I began to really understand and begin processing what happened.
I didn’t witness people’s grieving process in person. But on social media, I saw people’s grief in relation to me, because everyone thought I was dead. I was dead for three hours—brain dead. My little sister said that people were even texting her, “Sorry for your loss.”
Cat: How did they even get the incorrect information that you were dead when you weren’t?
Jake: Probably just assumption. Bad judgment calls. Actually, it’s funny that you asked that, because two days ago, my little sister and I were out to get coffee. This girl I knew saw me and said, “Oh my God! You’re alive!” And I said, “Yep! Here I am!”
She was really excited. I thought that was cute.
Cat: After reading social media accounts about other people’s feelings in relation to your experience, at what point did your own feelings about it start to sink in?
Jake: It was very quick. It was surreal. Once I started reading about it and talking with people about it, people were saying how glad they were that I’m here, and how loved I am. It was surreal, because all of a sudden you have all these people telling you how great you are when you were so used to feeling like shit.
Surreal is an understatement, actually. It was surreal and overwhelming. It was like being in a race car and hitting a brick wall—a brick wall completely made of love, but the car still explodes and you’re still injured because you don’t know how to handle it. It was so much all at once.
People made a sign for me. They made a guest book, so everyone who came while I was in a coma could write in it. So much stuff! People brought letters. All the flowers had notes on them. People did prayer circles, even that one in India! I thought wow, people around the world are praying for my existence. It felt so strange!
It was all so strange because I had died, and I wasn’t supposed to come back, but I came back. It makes me question a higher power. It really makes me think about something bigger than myself. It makes me wonder if I’m special or not.
Cat: Or like there’s something you’re still supposed to do.
Jake: Some sort of unfinished business. Even the doctors and nurses said it was unusual, like I shouldn’t be here. Or am I supposed to be here?
That’s the most surreal part because I didn’t expect to be here. This was not part of the plan!
Cat: What’s your feeling about being here now?
Jake: Like I don’t have a choice at this point. The nurses and the doctors said things like, “We don’t have to worry about you doing this again, do we?”
Well, if I can survive being brain dead and going through an eight-day coma, then I’m probably going to make it through something else. I’m way too self-involved to ever make myself look ugly, so I’m not going to jump off a building or electrocute myself or anything wild. So I told the doctors and nurses, “No, we’re good! Don’t worry about it!”
Guess I have to be here.
Cat: Do you think so?
Jake: I guess I have to be here at this point, because if I didn’t have a purpose before, I do have a purpose now: to advocate. Reading through people’s posts and realizing I had affected people, even total strangers, I thought, “Maybe that’s my purpose—to advocate.”
Cat: You are really good at that, in really important ways that need to be heard—apart from this situation, even.
Jake: This might sound stupid or self-righteous, but I’ve done some good things for people. This story is kind of an indirect example, because it was really a mom who was the advocate.
A few days ago, one of my best friends and I went out to have dinner. There was a young boy, about six or seven, eating dinner with his mother. The boy looks over at me and says, “Oh my God, Mom, that boy is wearing lipstick!”
The mom immediately said, “This is a serious one. You cannot make fun of someone for that. It’s not okay.” His mother totally put her foot down and let her son know that they were having a serious conversation.
I was like, “Go, Mom!” It was cool to see that. Nipping bigotry in the bud while he’s young, because that’s when you begin to figure things out. That’s how you grow. People are raising their kids with the idea of tolerance and acceptance. I think that is so beautiful.
After the Irwin’s Christmas party last year, one of my friends and I went to the Sorrento to have drinks. We had lavender gin and tonics. We left to go back to his apartment to hang out and watch TV.
We were walking next to Virginia Mason Hospital because my friend lives near there. We see this person crying on the street next to the building. It’s a woman crying on the street. Whoa! I’m not going to just walk past that. What if something happened to her?
It’s winter, and she’s wearing little leggings and a thin sweater, more like a tank top, and she had a Victoria’s Secret bag. I thought she must be freezing!
I asked her, “Are you okay? Do you need anything?”
She’s looking up at me and I realize she’s a transgender woman. I think to myself, “Okay, I need to be here.” I ask her, “What’s going on? Do you need me to call anyone?”
We couldn’t find any resources or shelters for her. I’m not going to leave her there. On Christmas? I’m not leaving her there! It’s cold, it’s on the street, and she’s a transgender woman. I’m not doing that. That is not okay to leave her on the street.
People don’t realize that in LGBTQ, there’s still a T there, and we need to be there for each other. I looked at my friend, and he looked back at me. He knew, he just knew what was going to happen next.
I said to the woman, “Okay, you’re coming with me! You’re staying at my place.”
She came to my apartment and we had a little sleepover. She had this book on French aristocracies, and we talked about music. We found out that we both love Amy Winehouse. I made her a necklace and we did a ritual for blessings and we did facials together. It was a lot of fun!
The next day, I had to go to work, so I asked if I could take her somewhere. I took her to the Greyhound station. I let her have my flannel pajama pants and an old sweater I had. She needed them more than I did, because she was freezing!
I didn’t give her the door code for my apartment, but still, it was definitely risky to let someone in my home that I didn’t know, and to let her crash with me—someone I met on the street. But you have to be there for your community.
If you see something happening and you pass by it, you are part of that evil, part of the system of perpetuating apathy. That is not the world I want to live in. You have to be that change, and that’s the change I wanted.
Cat: What are you scared of at this point in your recovery process?
Jake: I’m showing everyone that I’m not scared of people judging me or what people are going to think about me after this. I’ve been scared that people won’t think I’m strong, but underneath I know that I am strong because I got through this. I’m getting through this.
I’m scared of not being able to walk functionally, because my left foot is still not working right. That’s horrible.
I’m afraid…I’m not afraid…but I’m hoping my suicide attempt won’t negatively affect people’s opinion of me. I lie and say I don’t care what people think about me, but I do care what people think about me.
The future after this scares me so much. It scares me so much! Because now I’m like, “Jacob, you’re still here. You made it through. Now you’re going to change.”
This whole issue was a cakewalk compared to what has to happen now: changing as an individual for the better, for yourself. Self-care and doing things in a new and better way. That is frightening. That is absolutely frightening because you never know what the future holds.
Cat: In terms of whether you can pull it off?
Jake: I think I can pull it off. No, no! I know I can pull it off. We got this! We’re good. Hmmmm, are we?
Cat: Part of you is scared.
Cat: I don’t think you’d be a rational human being if you didn’t have that part, especially after what you’ve been through.
Jake: It’s just been so strange, but you know? It’s okay. Everything will be fine. It’s a lot of processing. People are going to ask about it when I go back to work. But I’m excited to go back to work. I’m going stir crazy at my parents’ house. The first few days I was like a vegetable, just crying every day.
My posts say otherwise, but that was just me trying to get through it. It took me three hours to do anything. You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to get ready to come here today. This is the first time I’ve gone out of the house since I was in the hospital.
Cat: You took a long time to prepare for this, not only emotionally like you said before, but also physically?
Jake: Girl, I got you! I wasn’t going to flake out on this! Plus, I needed to get out of the house. I realized that getting back out into the world was my self-care. It was me getting through this. It’s me living my life. I’m ready for that.
Cat: If you could go back in time, would you do anything differently?
Jake: I would replay nothing. I’m a different person now and I didn’t like how I used to be. I felt like I didn’t have an identity and because of this experience there are opportunities I didn’t have before. My family is coming together and we’re actually trying to work things out. I also have medication now that I didn’t have before.
Cat: Is there anything I haven’t asked about that you’d like to add?
Jake: I understand why people want to kill themselves. I understand why people do kill themselves. I don’t judge people for doing it. But when you don’t expect to get a second chance when you do it, you have to think about your purpose because that’s something that makes you special. You’re always a special person. Everyone’s special in their own ways.
But I was brain dead for there hours and I survived an eight-day coma and I wasn’t supposed to live. I lived. I think that means that my business isn’t done. Something needs to happen now, and I was put here for a reason. I don’t think that’s necessarily about a higher power.
I’m not done advocating and I’m not done helping. I’m not done with something. I want people to think of that when they get a second chance. You only live twice!
Think about your purpose. Think about why you’re here. Think about the good that you can bring to the world, and the good that you have brought to the world.
When you realize how many people love you—because everyone tells you that when something like this happens—you start to think about the worth you have as a human being and how invaluable you are as a human being. We’re all priceless. You can’t put a value on a human life.
You’re here with a purpose. We’re here for changing. We’re all part of the battle and we’re all part of the journey. You have to think about all the people you’re going to meet every day and the adventures that are going on. You have to spread light wherever you go.
That’s what I’m doing with my second chance. I’m here to spread light, and I have to try.
Obviously, I tried to kill myself and I failed. Try something else. That’s how I feel.
This interview took place on December 29, 2016, three weeks after Jake’s suicide attempt, and it was published online in April 2017.
Update as of April 2017: Jake is back to work and living with roommates in Seattle, posting as wildly as always on Facebook and bringing more light to a world in dire need of it.
If you or someone you care about is considering suicide, please know that you are not alone. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call them anytime 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.
If you’d like additional resources and have access to a computer, search “suicide hotline” to locate the kind of support that resonates best with you or your loved one. If you do not have access to a computer, call the number above and they’ll help you find the resources you need. There are compassionate people ready to help 24/7. It’s okay to reach out.
Cat Saunders, Ph.D., is a counselor in private practice in Seattle, Washington. She is also the author of Dr. Cat’s Helping Handbook: A Compassionate Guide for Being Human (available through Amazon). Contact Cat by emailing her or by calling 206-329-0125 (24-hour voicemail).