by Kurt Cunningham

I tried to end my life one night after having a wonderful fun-filled evening with friends. It was in November 2012 — I had a plan in place for months. Not one person had any idea what I was planning to do.

After a series of life-changing events that began in 2009 and included the closing my once- successful business of nine years, and culminated with the death of my mother in August 2012 life just seemed unbearable to me. My finances were a mess. My health wasn’t great. And I couldn’t make a romantic relationship last more than a few months.

Life just sucked! So I thought about every option I could end my life and finally decided on a plan that I could carry through with that wasn’t violent, or that wouldn’t bring harm to innocent bystanders. I remember coming home and getting everything in place to follow through with my plan. I’m sure you’re wondering what my plan was, but I would never want to put any ideas in someone’s head that was considering harming themselves. Once I was finished, I remember taking out the trash, grabbing my cat, and laying on my couch with the cat on my chest, unable to stop crying until I fell asleep.

Of course with the recent suicide of Robin Williams, countless articles have been written, news stories have flooded television for days, and now the news media are onto the next sensationalistic story. So I wanted to share my experience and acknowledge that I am a survivor of suicide. That sounds…I don’t know…kind of dramatic.

But there is something about creating a plan, going through with it, and the result not being what’s anticipated that is very dramatic. How are you supposed to feel when you wake up from a medically induced coma to see your friends and family at your bedside waiting for you to wake up?

My first thought was not “DAMN it didn’t work!” I can’t even remember what my first thoughts were. I know I was pretty delirious for a while because I thought I was at some lady’s home, and she was taking care of me while she decorated a Christmas tree. That lady was a nurse in my private ICU hospital room. The “tree” she was decorating was my IV drip rack. There were so many bags on that thing that they looked like ornaments. It was if strands of tinsel were flowing into my arms. I’ve done a fair share of drugs in my life but I’ve never mainlined Christmas. I had contracted pneumonia; there was a fear of liver and kidney failure. To say I was in bad shape would be an understatement.

It was a lengthy hospital stay. I was under 24-hour watch, which meant a nurse sat next to my bed every hour, every day. After about a week I was transferred to the “West Wing,” and believe me it was nothing as plush as the West Wing of the White House. The West Wing of UCSD Hillcrest is the psychiatric ward of the hospital. It’s like taking a step back in time. I believe it was a portion of the original space of the hospital when it was first built. It was very stark, sterile with plastic furniture and doors that locked us in. It felt like a prison and I was on permanent lockdown, there was nothing I could do about it. You don’t get to sign yourself out of a psychiatric ward like you can after a typical stay in a regular hospital – you are there until some stranger says you are back to normal…whatever the hell that is.

I was told by staff members that I would have a particularly difficult time there because I was the only “highly functional” patient in the ward.

They weren’t kidding. This was no resort-type facility that we often hear about celebrities going to because of “exhaustion,” but this support was an important part of the journey to recovery. I needed to be safe.

I sat alone. I tried to read. I would sometimes talk with the nurses when they weren’t busy.

“I don’t belong here. I’m nothing like these people! Don’t you know who I am? Get my friend who is also my City Councilman on the phone. Call my friends who are City Commissioners. Placing me here is obviously a mistake!”

I was coming unglued. The lunatics had taken over the asylum, and I was going down with them.

I begged to be let out. At one point a doctor gave me some false hope that I might be released over the weekend. Unfortunately, it was a Thanksgiving holiday weekend and the ward was being run by the “B list” doctors. Their idea of therapy included coloring in coloring books and making flowers out of colored paper. Finally, the following Monday the “A list” doctors came back on duty and saw that my mood was deteriorating because of my surroundings. I have a wonderful group of close friends who were visiting the hospital every day, bringing me some of my favorite food, keeping me focused on what my plans were for when I got out of the hospital. The nurses and the doctors were very impressed by the amount of people that would come visit me. I think I broke the record for the amount of visitors in one day. Hell, I even had a drag queen in full gown & crown visit me on Thanksgiving Day. It was like a dadgum parade in there. But it also showed the doctors I had a great support team waiting for me when I was released. The ongoing visits reminded me that I had a team of support, that I was not alone in the world.

Luckily that support system was willing to do anything they could to help me get reacquainted with life and back on my feet.

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