Some parts of this article may be triggering. I wrote this not to shock you, but to help reduce the stigma around suicide. This particular event was a one-off psychotic episode that could have cost my life. I have told virtually no one about this experience. My hope is that my sharing makes other people feel better about whatever they are going through. That anyone, anytime can be going through a private hell that we know nothing about.
What is stigma? Stigma is defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person”. If you are someone who has attempted suicide, perhaps the stigma manifests in a belief that you are not worthy of love, friendship, happiness or employment. So how do we reduce stigma? We can not let the stigma create self-doubt or shame, we don’t need to equate the stigma with our being and we can speak about it. I hope that this can open a conversation. Let’s talk about suicide with the ones we love. We might save one life.
This story surrounds Coachella 2019. I was happy, healthy and living in New York at the time. 36 of my favourite people from Australia had rented a ranch just outside of Indio for the festival. I had decided not to join them as I had been training for an ultramarathon which was scheduled for the next weekend. But a few days before the festival, two of the crew got engaged. I couldn’t miss the celebration. Not to hamper my training, I made an agreement with myself that I would not drink alcohol. I jumped on a last-minute flight on Friday evening, landed in Palm Springs, got an Uber to the ranch, jumped the fence, fired up the DJ decks to surprise my friends upon return from Day One. When the crew rolled in after midnight, it was like a scene from a zombie movie. The Californian sun had well and truly baked our weary festival team. Most hit the hay early in preparation for Day Two of their party marathon.
The next morning, spirits were high. Tunes rang out as people partied in the pool, and Palm Springs delivered another sublime cloudless day. In lieu of drinking, I split half a tab of acid with a friend to turn the contrast up and melt a little into the playground that is Coachella. We were treated to some incredible Australian acts from Parcels, a special audiovisual trip curated by RUFUS DU SOL in the HP dome, and finished the night arm in arm singing every word to Tame Impala. We left the festival and made the hike and van ride back to the ranch.
That night was a party night at the ranch – the apex of the festival. My friends, being Australian and all, had opted to take advantage of the relative arbitrage of drug prices. Subsequently, there was an oversupply of just about every drug. Plates of this and that were passed around like hors d’oeuvres at a fancy gallery opening. In particular, cocaine seemed to have a never-ending supply. With the acid wearing off and my energy levels dipping, I indulged in a couple of complimentary lines. Cocaine has never been a favourite of mine, but invariably after a few drinks it magically appears and at $100 per gram in the USA, it’s exceptionally easy to come by. They say New York is the city that never sleeps. They don’t tell you it’s because half the adults are smashing key bumps in the bathrooms.
The night escalated. With everyone getting higher and higher, the late-night crew kicked on. This is where I first started to notice my ego getting out of check. I had never done cocaine without alcohol. Together they actually make for a pretty pleasant mix. Alcohol is a downer, cocaine is an upper. If you’re fucked up on booze and slurring your words a bump of coke can straighten you out enough to hold a conversation. Too much cocaine without enough alcohol, and you’ll end up staying up late and chewing a stranger’s ear off about a business you’ll never start together. No alcohol and cocaine? Well, you’ll soon find out where that led me.
I began to act differently, making fun of one of my friends. I was speaking over people, and cracking jokes I wouldn’t usually, just to get laughs from the rest of the group. I had the awareness to recognise this, but not the ability to stop. I kept smashing lines and kept talking more about myself. The ego had been let loose. The numbers dwindled until there were just two of us out. My flight was at 1 pm the next day and I had all the energy in the world, so we decided in our dopamine oversubscription that we would clean the kitchen. It’s somewhere around here that the dark thoughts started creeping in. I remember holding a knife and looking at and thinking – why did you say all those mean things to your friends tonight? You are such a jerk. You should just kill yourself. I didn’t, choosing to do another line instead. My last comrade was getting sleepy, but we walked down by the lake to watch the sunrise. He decided to call bedtime and I asked him how he was going to sleep. He said he’d just pop a Valium, about half our crew had taken them.
We walked back up the house and I tried to get some sleep on the couch. My mind was racing, I tossed and turned. I started to think – fuck if every one has taken Valium, someone might overdose and die. This is like all the stories you hear about friends on trips and everyone taking drugs and then someone dies. Then I started thinking – no, wait. I am manifesting this shit. Stop thinking about your friends dying! Stop that thought right now. The more I tried to stop thinking about it, the more detailed my manifestations became. I ran through different scenarios of people overdosing. I was so shook, I went outside to try and meditate. It was at this point the thoughts got stuck on a loop. Over and over again I ran through scenarios of my friends dying. I had convinced myself that someone was already dead and I was the cause. I tried to walk around the perimeter of the property to burn off the thoughts. I muttered under my breath, “stop thinking about it, stop thinking about it”. I started punching myself in the chest. Slapping my own face. I was convinced that I had killed a friend. Where my brain went next was the darkest place I’d ever been.
In my mind, I had two deluded options. Option one: if someone had died, and I had manifested it, I would not be able to live with myself. The secret would eat at me like cancer, so I should probably take my own life anyway. Option two: if no one had died yet, I had a chance to save them. I just needed to stop my thoughts. I needed to kill myself.
I scoured the ranch shed for rope. How long this whole episode went on for, I could not tell you. I couldn’t call anyone because I was convinced they would know what I had done. I didn’t find rope. I have no idea what would have happened if I did, or if there had been a revolver handy, or a bridge to jump off. The first ray of sunshine out of the depths of despair came when a friend emerged from slumber. However, this did nothing to allay my fears. There were still 35 potential corpses littered through the house. And I didn’t dare tell anyone what was going through my mind, for fear that it was actually true. And I couldn’t go check the rooms because that would have been suss. So, I played the least fun countdown game of my life. Riddled with anxiety, waiting for a scream, I smiled and hugged each person as they came down into the kitchen. On the outside I seemed fine, on the inside I was in hell.
That morning, Kanye West was due to play his infamous Coachella Sunday Service. We connected a live stream and more weary festival heads emerged from their slumber. I sat there quietly counting each person, still completely rattled by the past few hours. Kanye was two hours late to his show. I thought about Kanye and I thought about his ego, how it could well be one of the biggest egos in the world. I thought about my own ego. How I had fueled it with cocaine and let it get out of control. I let the ego make up a story that I was capable of killing someone with my thoughts. Then the ego double backed on itself and tried to self-destruct. I realised in that moment, I didn’t have to die. My ego had to die. That I was not my ego. I sometimes think to myself that Kanye saved my life. He didn’t, but he just made me see a part of myself that I didn’t want to be. The Kanye that speaks over people, the Kanye that makes fun of other people, the Kanye that thinks he can manifest anything. It’s encouraged me to understand the ego better. To quieten the ego. To never let myself get back to a place like that again.
I am aware that as far as mental health episodes go, this was a pretty privileged one. Here I was on a beautiful ranch, listening to world class music, surrounded by people I love. Yet I was still able to get into a self-inflicted psychosis. I consider myself lucky. But people live with this shit every day. Depression. Anxiety. Schizophrenia. PTSD. Every. Single. Fucking. Day.
What I did get was an insight, for a morning, of just how bad it can get. So when someone kills themselves. I get it. Take away any one of the factors I had on my side and I could well not be here. What I had wished I’d done at that moment is called a hotline. Called professional people whose job it is to talk you down off the ledge. If you are in USA, call National Suicide Prevention Line (1-800-273-8255). If you are in Australia, call Lifeline (13 11 14).
You are not your thoughts. No matter how dark it seems, there are people who will listen. Talk with your friends about suicide. You never know what private hell someone might be enduring. You never know how far that friendly ear might go. The more we talk about these things, the less we have to suffer alone. If this story makes one person feel normal, makes one person feel better about thoughts they have had, then it was worth writing.
Let’s talk about it. Let’s get around each other.