I just had an experience at the Walgreens that reminded me I’m still ashamed of my suicide thoughts, even now. I’m very outspoken about my mental health challenges, and yet suicidal thoughts are the thing I just can’t make peace with. And so, for September Suicide Prevention Month, I’ll tell you my story.
Before I tell you what happened at Walgreens, let me give you the backstory. This past April I started having suicidal thoughts again. The thoughts terrify me and wear me down to the point where I’m afraid I’ll give into them. In my head, these thoughts respond to every freaking thing in life, good or bad, with lies – “there’s no point,” “life is meaningless,” “people may be sad for a few weeks but they’ll forget about you,” etc. They hit me many times a day, sometimes many times an hour. They’re relentless.
I started trying to figure out why, after so many months living thought-free, they would reappear. I thought maybe I should ride them out, and so I spent the first few weeks doing yoga, meditating, trying to eat well, get enough sleep. When that didn’t work, I blamed it on the hormones my doctor had changed me to, and went to see her. After making some adjustments for a couple of weeks, we decided to put me back on the exact same hormones I’d been on.
But the thoughts still raged on. It was then I remembered that Walgreens had changed my Zoloft generic. I remembered opening my prescription and seeing that the pill shape and color changed. It was a hard, unbreakable round pill when before I’d been taking an oblong pill that I could break in half with my fingers. I checked the date on the label, and sure enough, it matched with the date I started having suicidal thoughts.
My psychiatrist is a firm believer that generic drug manufacturers can yield different results. I was a total non-believer. I couldn’t see how it was possible. They’re the same drug, maybe different fillers. How could this be possible?
But then again, I am not one to argue with my suicidal thoughts. I just wanted them gone. So my psychiatrist wrote a prescription specifying the manufacturer I had before. I promptly went to Walgreens, and my insurance rejected the prescription saying it was too soon to refill. So I paid out of pocket for a month’s worth to see if switching manufacturers was the ticket.
Within one week the thoughts stopped. I’ve been blessedly thought-free for the past month. But it’s time for the prescription to be refilled. I ordered the refill online, and went to pick it up tonight. This is where my stigma story begins.
I picked up my script and checked it before leaving the store and saw it was the wrong manufacturer. I took it back up to the counter, and the technician said that my insurance won’t let her order the other manufacturer. I asked her what I needed to do, how I needed to call, because I was not accepting the wrong manufacturer.
It was then she asked me “What’s wrong with this manufacturer?” I said it made me sick. That wasn’t enough, and she asked “What were your symptoms?” I hesitated, and then with tears starting to form in my eyes I said, “I had suicidal thoughts while on them.” Then she said “And you didn’t have them on this manufacturer?” and I replied “No.”
Besides the fact that it’s questionable for a technician or even a pharmacist to ask me for my personal health information when my doctor clearly wrote the prescription specifying the manufacturer, I was a bit shaken by my reaction. My eyes watered not because I was sad or afraid, but because I was ashamed.
I know that my suicidal thoughts are symptoms of my disease. I know they are a biological response to depression. I know I don’t bring them on or use them as a way to control people. But I still feel shame. Deep down inside of me, I wonder why I can’t control them on my own. Why can’t I will them away? If I was simply more grateful for what I have, wouldn’t they disappear? Am I just selfish like people say?
Unfortunately, I don’t get to end this story by saying I’m 100% back to being proud and not ashamed. I wish it were true, but I know every time I admit to having suicidal thoughts I will feel some tinge of shame. That is the scar of stigma. I can only commit to continuing to tell my story and break down stigma bit by bit.
September is Suicide Prevention Month. Read more stories at nami.org so we can take on stigma together.