Once upon a time, I had a kind-of suicide attempt. It happened in college. Actually...I guess it ended college. My own, personal, rock bottom at age 19.
To set up the story, let me bring you up to date with some things that were going on in my life at the time:
- I was a student. I was a full-time illustration student at Pratt, just starting my third year.
- I had just moved into my first "real" apartment. I had moved into an apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with a friend, and was dealing with the complicated ways in which friendship changes when you become roommates. I was also living with this stick-thin ice queen and a very handsome Balthazar waiter. Everyone in the house was, I thought, better-looking and definitely more skinny than me. They were all the type of people who forgot to eat lunch. I have never in my life forgotten to eat lunch. They all made me feel fat and unattractive.
- I was working a LOT. In addition to being a full time student, I had gotten a job waiting tables at a Middle Eastern restaurant on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. I was the only white person who worked there, and the only girl. Some of them were touchy, like “oh I just brushed your nipples by accident”. I cringe saying this now, but at the time I just accepted it as part of the job.
- I was broken-hearted. I had also recently had a love story that fizzled out. We'd had a beautiful and rom-com worthy meeting wherein I was watching him perform at the Sidewalk Cafe in the East Village and he locked eyes on me and maintained eye contact for the rest of his set. Swoon! But when we started to date, it turned into nothing. I was inexperienced, and this feeling of magic that turned into nothing was deeply disappointing to me.
I was bingeing and purging on a very frequent basis.
- I was in therapy. Her office was on Central Park west, a room in her apartment, a street I aspired to live on sometday. I felt so important breezing past the doorman and saying I had an appointment with so-and-so. My therapist was a hardass, and accused me of using bingeing and purging to dissociate from the real world. I hated her for making me face that truth, and would frequently binge and purge after our sessions.
But it all began to fall apart after September 11.
I saw the buildings go down--everyone at Pratt did. Without really getting permission or talking about it, everyone basically abandoned whatever they were doing and ran up to the roof. I remember I was working at the art supply store; we all just left and didn't even lock the door. We all saw the towers go down. I think what I remember most is that it was actually oddly beautiful, seeing each tower go down in a huge puff of what looked like glitter. But then when it dawned on you that it was actually steel and fire and there were people in it...it was almost too much to comprehend.
After that, things stopped mattering for a while.
I stopped caring about work. I stopped caring about school. I stopped caring about being polite to my roommates.
And then one day in October, I just gave up. I don’t know why it was that day in particular. Here's how it went down.
Early in the day, I was supposed to meet my roommate for a movie. But I spent my last cash on a slice of pizza on 72nd street, and I was too embarrassed to ask her for money, so I just didn’t show up. This was before cell phones and a highly rude thing to do.
Instead, I went to work early. I remember I was wearing a stupid-looking hat that day. When I got to work, my co-workers said that I looked like "a lesbian". I kept the hat on to prove that their words didn't affect me, but they did.
On my break, I bought some alcohol from a deli that didn’t care about legal ages, and chugged it in the bathroom. I am not a big drinker, so this was unusual for me. I got kind of drunk, and my fellow waiter noticed.
After work, I walked home, reasoning that this would "burn off" the candy bar I bought after work and devoured. I was dreading seeing my roommate. When I got back to my apartment, my roommate asked if we could talk. I said sure, as soon as I took a bath. Then, this is what I did.
I began running a bath. Into the bathroom I took a bag of stale Oreos (they belonged to one of my roommates) from the cabinet. I ate them all under the cover of the bath noise. I crept back to the kitchen and got a bag of chips; I ate the entire thing as the bath continued to fill. I stopped the water, but went back to the kitchen. I found a box of cheesecake mix. I poured some milk right into the bag and ate it with a spoon, right there in the kitchen. Anyone could have walked in and found me.
I left the bath full of water, put my coat on, and left the house. I needed to go to buy ipecac, which is what I used to induce vomiting, but no place in Greenpoint was open at this hour (it wasn't trendy then like it is today); I'd need to go to the 24 hour Walgreens on Union Square.
I walked to Bedford avenue for the subway, stopping wherever I could along the way and buying more food. Doughnuts, sprinkle cookies, a bagel. While waiting for the train, I saw someone I knew, and he waved. I ignored him.
When I got to Walgreens, I purchased two containers of ipecac. The first I downed right outside the door, and I started walking. I bought salad bar fried chicken at a deli, which was probably the worst thing I've ever eaten. I bought another bagel, and crumb cake. Chinese food. Ice cream. Pop tarts. I kept on stuffing myself, slowly milling east because I knew a few parks there where I could at least vomit into a trash can when the ipecac kicked in.
I ended up in Stuyvesant Town, a high rise development in the East village. I also felt sick; I was so full, and I hadn't gotten the vomit reflex yet.
I laid down on the ground near a in a square, writhing in misery. The ipecac still hadn't kicked in.
I downed the second bottle of ipecac, and writhed more, feeling sorry for myself. Then, I began to panic: why wasn't the ipecac working? I could feel those evil little calories like a war fleet, invading my legs and stomach, making me fat.
I needed to take action.
So, I did what seemed like the clearest and best decision to purge myself of all of that food: I got up, I went over to the closest hospital and told the apathetic-looking desk clerk that I needed my stomach pumped because I’d swallowed poison.
It was true, after all; ipecac was a sort of poison. I figured that if I said I'd swallowed poison, they would pump my stomach and effectively purge me of this incredibly epic binge. Yes, this is what passed as logic at the time.
Wow, if you could have seen how fast that lady sprung out of apathy and to life. I remember being brought to a room. I remember having something shoved down my throat. I remember that must have been exactly what I needed, because it all came out then. I basically projectile vomited around the tube they were attempting to insert in my mouth. The vomit went all over me, all over several doctors or nurses or various figures who happened to be around. I detected crumb cake, the buttercream frosting from the cookies, and yes, a little bit of egg roll. There was just so much of the vomit, and it smelled TERRIBLE. It came in waves for what felt like an hour, but it was probably less.
I wasn't even mortified; I was relieved. Finally, I had gotten rid of all of it. I felt peaceful, empty. I fell asleep.
What I hadn't considered is that when I woke up, I would still be at the hospital and I'd have to explain myself.
I was feeling a lot better; I'd purged. However, the hospital wasn't so keen on just letting me go on my merry way: when you come to the hospital and tell them you’ve ingested poison, they consider you a suicide risk.
I'm not going to even go into the pain of having to explain myself, or the incredible grief and anger this episode caused for my parents. Or the mortification of having my dad come in and check me out.
Or this last detail, which has actually bugged me a lot over the years: when I the doctor came to check on me in the morning, he (or she? I forget) said that while I seemed to have traces of rat poison in my system, I was going to be ok.
Wait, I had actual non-ipecac poison in my system? That still boggles my mind.
So, this was my kind-of-suicide attempt. At the time, I would have told you that it was just an attempt to purge myself that got out of control. But in retrospect, I do believe that I was extremely self destructive, if not suicidal, and that it was a cry for help.
After my so-called suicide attempt, I went on a leave of absence from Pratt that well, I'm still on.
I wish I could tell you that this was the wake up call I needed to recover, and that I enjoyed a movie-style montage of eating right, forging friendships, and that everything ended up ok. But really, it would be many years before I entered recovery in earnest. Unfortunately, I still had many years of bulimic episodes and then anorexia that would follow after this hospital incident.
However, the big takeaway from this experience was this: I wanted to live.
Even in the face of suffering there is joy. In spite of the fact that life with an eating disorder sometimes felt like pure hell, I still loved life too much to give up. I think that this flicker of truth was a big part of what eventually led me to the true road toward recovery.
Why am I telling you this?
I'm telling you this because recently, some icons committed suicide: Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. I was deeply affected by the news of both, for two key reasons:
First, the world has lost some unique and great talents. That is a true tragedy.
Second, I feel connected to both of these individuals in my own ways. No, I am not at all suicidal at this moment, please do not worry about that. However, I am in a time of transition from CakeSpy. For a very long time, I was maintaining a persona which was the version of myself that I showed to the world. While I wasn't as famous as either Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain, I know the pressure that not feeling like you "own" yourself can cause. By being in the public, it's like you have to sacrifice part of yourself to the people who love you, in a weird way. I suppose I am projecting a bit here, but from some of what I have obsessively read about their suicides, it DOES seem that this was a factor.
Anyhow, I guess what I really want to say here is: even when it seems really, really bad, I do believe that things can get better, and that living is a truly beautiful thing.