Part 3: Still Alive

Content warning: suicide

 

Writer’s note

This piece was written in celebration of the end of my chronic suicidal intent; it has been one year full year since my fifth and last attempt. One year of growth and healing. This piece is my way of validating my past pains and letting go of the person I used to be. It is an emotional piece. Please take care of yourself.

 

 

 

If you got this far, thank you. I hope you're okay.

 

The thing about suicide is that the failed attempts become traumatic memories themselves. 2.5 years after my first attempt and almost 2 years with my counselor, I have finally started trauma processing work around my suicide attempts.

 

I'm learning to let go of the belief that I can't keep myself safe. I'm learning that as crazy as it sounds, the suicide attempts were my attempt at keeping myself safe the best way I knew how. I didn't know I had a choice. I didn't see a future for myself. I didn't know I could reach out for more help. I didn't know that my loved ones would stay throughout it all. And I tried to see. I tried my fucking best but I just couldn't see it at the time.

 

So now, I'm starting to look back at 19 year old Ji Youn with empathy instead of shame. I never wanted to die. I just wanted rest and I couldn't see it happening while I was alive. I was exhausted from carrying so much guilt and shame for a decade.

 

I am incredibly proud to say that I've gone a full year without any suicide attempts. How I got out of a year and a half-long period of chronic suicidal intent? Hope. Hope that I could create something of myself, or my story, into a possible, fulfilling career. And that's this - The Tipping Point.

 

So to every single person reading this, to every single person I've met and encountered in my professional realm, to all of my mentors, friends, and loved ones - thank you. Thank you for listening to my story, for being a part of The Tipping Point community, and for keeping me alive. For helping me realize that I can keep moving forward, that I'm not just a mentally ill college dropout. And thank you to the police officers who kept me alive. Looking back, I now realize that they must have been scared too. They didn't know what else to do. And that's okay. It's taken me 2.5 years to realize how they could've helped me better myself.

 

When I first left school, I was too ashamed to say the word: suicide. But now I'm embracing it as a part of my story. I am not my story, I am not my past. I am who I choose to be, who I choose to create myself into.

 

Suicide is happening whether or not we talk about it. 25% of Canadian deaths between the ages of 15-24 die by suicide. And many suicide attempt survivors carry so much shame. So let's talk about it.

 

If you are a suicide attempt survivor or have lost a loved one to suicide, please message us through The Tipping Point. We would love to share your story with our community.

 

With love,

Ji Youn

Founder of The Tipping Point

 

Part 2: Dehumanized

Content warning: suicide, harsh language

Author’s note

This piece was written in celebration of the end of my chronic suicidal intent; it has been one year full year since my fifth and last attempt. One year of growth and healing. This piece is my way of validating my past pains and letting go of the person I used to be. It is an emotional piece, and many parts come from a blog post I wrote right after that night. It can be difficult to read. Please take care of yourself.

Part 2

The handcuffs hurt. I asked to take them off, or at least put them on my front. I knew that once the police was there, I had lost. There’s no getting out. The police would take me to a hospital, I would have to wait a long time to see a psychiatrist, being treated like a 5 year old child. I would have to repeat my story again for the hundredth time, I would convince the psychiatrist that I had all the resources one could possibly have, and then they would let me go home.

 

I hate the hospital. I fucking hate the hospital.

 

I asked to be sent to the Vancouver General Hospital instead of St. Paul’s. I had been to VGH for my first three attempts and St. Paul’s for the fourth. None of them were fun experiences but the fourth was dehumanizing and I didn’t want to go back. They took me to St. Paul’s.

 

They undid my handcuffs and gave me some water to drink. They took my blood pressure. And I sat. I asked the police officer how I would become a cop. She said there was an info session every 2 months. “Cool,” I thought. “Maybe I’ll do that. Then I might have some power as a cop in this fucked up system.” I was so fed up with these cops though. They kept asking questions and I made it clear that I wasn’t interested. I asked if my friends were coming. They called my sister so that the family knew that I had failed, or in everyone else’s terms, was “safe.”

 

The nurse came to lock me up in the room. This time I was prepared. This time, I wouldn’t walk in so easily.

 

“So you’re going to lock me up in a room? When I just tried to kill myself? Without being able to see my family or friends right now? Oh, and I have to wait til the morning to see a psychiatrist? Who can’t fucking help me? Do you really think that this is what’s best for me right now?”

 

“It doesn’t matter. This is the Mental Health Act. These are the rules.”

 

“Rules? Who the fuck makes these rules?”

 

“Psychiatrists, medical professionals.”

 

And I screamed...

THERE’S A FUCKING DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHAT ACADEMIA TEACHES YOU VS. PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. IF YOU’VE EVER BEEN IN MY SITUATION, YOU WOULD NOT LOCK ME UP IN A ROOM BY MYSELF WITH NONE OF MY LOVED ONES AND MAKE ME WAIT FOR HOURS.”

But they forced me in. They were on the verge of putting me under restrictions, as in making me swallow sleep pills or forcefully injecting me drugs or carrying me into the room, which would cause a scene. So I walked in, hopeless, rolling my eyes at this fucked up system.

 

They made me take all of my clothes off. My underwear too. Really? My underwear? Because I’m somehow going to kill myself with my bra? They made me take off all my jewelry. They put on a plastic hospital bracelet on my right wrist but they cut away my Brazilian ribbon bracelet that my friend put on for me before he left town.

 

That ribbon bracelet had meaning. In the Brazilian tradition, you tie it around your wrist with three knots. Every knot, you make a wish. And when the ribbon naturally comes off with time, those three wishes will have come true. I had wished for my illness to get better, for my relationship with my parents to get better. And they took that from me too.

 

I stared them in the face. “Why are you a nurse? Why are you a police officer? Do you actually care about people? YOU ARE SILENCING A MARGINALIZED PEOPLE. YOU ARE SILENCING ME. YOU ARE NOT GIVING ME A FUCKING VOICE. THIS IS NOT HOW YOU HELP PEOPLE. WHAT THE FUCK AM I GOING TO DO WITH THIS PIECE OF RIBBON TIED AROUND MY WRIST. HOW THE HELL AM I GOING TO KILL MYSELF? Here, you should have my piece of gum. Here, take my hair ties. I might kill myself with these too. Glasses - they’re fucking deadly. Take them.” They cared about my physical safety but not my mental safety. Their “rules” made me want to kill myself even more.

 

They stripped me naked. Of all things mine and of my voice and of my thoughts. They told me to follow their rules because they were the rules. Otherwise I’d have to go to worse and more strict procedures. I told them, fuck the police. Fuck the nurses. If it means I have to follow a system and its rules without having my own opinions on how things should run, on how people should be treated, fuck it. I don’t want to be a part of it.

 

I fell asleep under drugs. I was woken up by a psychiatrist. I honestly don’t even remember what I told her. She didn’t ask much. I was probably half asleep. I had breakfast. I went back to sleep waiting for my parents. My parents came and picked me up. I couldn’t stop staring at my bare left wrist where the yellow ribbon used to be.

 

Part 1: My Last Taste of Death

Content warning: suicide, traumatic current events

Author's note

This piece was written in celebration of the end of my chronic suicidal intent; it has been one year full year since my fifth and last attempt. One year of growth and healing. This piece is my way of validating my past pains and letting go of the person I used to be. It is an emotional piece. Please take care of yourself.

 

Part 1

It was one of those in-bed-all-day mental health days. Those days you just . . . exist and try to sleep away, face wet from tears. So I took a late afternoon nap. Then in my nightmare, I tried to kill myself and the police had to chase me down.

 

That night - Saturday, July 9th, 2016 - was my fifth and last suicide attempt.

 

Suicidal ideation is thinking about suicide. Suicidal intent is actively wanting to die by suicide. There's a distinction. In high school, I lost a close friend to suicide, which sparked my mental illnesses. From that experience, I learned what it meant to be left behind. So no matter how depressed I got in the following years, no matter how much I could empathize with his pain, I thought - I would never leave that way. I know what it does to the people who get left behind.

 

So the first attempt was like opening up a new door - a whole new reality I didn't think could exist. Realizing that I was capable of it. Recognizing that I was in enough pain to see its consequences but still crave death. It was both terrifying and relieving at the same time.

 

The next year and a half was surviving. Every new day, my goal was to not kill myself. My hopes for a successful future was buried by this reality. Winning was surviving. Winning was not killing myself. As the suicidal intent got less impulsive and much more concrete, I started doing my research. I didn't look for the least painful way to die - no. I looked for the cleanest way to die. Such that whoever would find my body wouldn't be as traumatized for the rest of their lives. I also researched how much a funeral cost - $7000 average in North America. It would take 3 painful minutes for me and only $7000 for my parents for this to all be over.

 

The last attempt was the accumulation of immense internalized anger. In the previous few months, I had been dealing with shame, guilt, anger, jealousy and excruciating pain around drastic life events, traumatic current events, and toxic relationships. The Stanford rape case, the Orlando shooting, all of the police brutality towards African-Americans. A toxic relationship with a man who repeatedly walked away when I needed help and repeated begged me to accept him back. Dropping out of school and then receiving dozens of stories of trauma, suicide, and mental illness, and carrying that weight around with every step, not knowing how to let them go. White, male “friends” talking over me about what sexism is like, what racism is like - and “debating” about it until exhaustion.

 

So when that nightmare happened, it made sense. Later that night, I ended up sitting on the railing of the Lions Gate Bridge, sobbing and screaming my lungs out.

 

“It hurts. It hurts so bad.”

“Really Ji Youn? Does it really hurt that badly to leave them all behind?”

“But I’m so tired. I’m so fucking tired and done. It’s my choice. I don’t even know at this point.”

 

I didn't want to die. I just didn't want to live the life I was currently living.

 

They say that suicide is a permanent solution for a temporary problem. And yes, this is true - but it digs deeper than that. My entire body could be on fire and you could tell me that it's only temporary. Just a few more moments, or just a few more seconds - and help will come; healing will come. I don't care if it's 5 seconds or 2 minutes. In that kind of pain, any amount of time is too fucking long. In that kind of pain, any amount of time feels permanent.

 

I sat on the railing, crying and looking out into the night. The internal conflict was unbearable. Just one little jump and the pain would be over. I would fly down and the ocean would embrace me. I could finally rest.

 

But instead - violence. I felt a sudden weight surround my body and the next thing I know, the world was on its side - half darkness, half cement. I know I was screaming but I could barely hear myself. “Let me do this. It’s my decision. You can’t make my decision for me,” I kept screaming.  Arms yanked to my back. Cold metal on my wrists. Muttered voices.

 

“It's over,” I thought. But the worst night of my life wasn't over just yet.

 

Spiritual Healing

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WHY I'VE SPENT 80+ HOURS STUDYING THE BIBLE

"You gotta be so grounded in yourself such that these illusions nor other people's perceptions of you can shake you." - Papa Kim

 
“You gotta be so grounded in yourself such that these illusions nor other people’s perceptions of you can shake you
— Papa Kim
 

My dad is Buddhist and he comes from a Catholic family. My mom is atheist and she comes from a Buddhist family. I didn’t grow up with much religion. My dad would tell me cool things about Buddhism once in a while, that’s about it.

I’ve never been super fond of Christianity. White supremacy, the patriarchy, colonialism - in my mind, it’s attached to a lot of violence and corruption. But last year, I was curious as to why there was such a strong connection between the residents of the Downtown Eastside and this religion. So I went to a week-long bible study camp called MarkWest and studied the first half of the Book of Mark. When I got home, I wrote a blog post about my learnings.

This year, I did another 40 hours to finish the Book of Mark. Why did I go again this year? Because life shook me up. I burned out in April - hard. I realized that my work with The Tipping Point has been more driven by my fear of pain than by my love for people. And that was because I didn’t love myself enough. I needed to learn self-acceptance. I needed to feel grounded.

I went into this second week of bible study with emotional receptivity. Another 40+ hours of bible study, consecutive days of crying, and a week later, I came to a number realizations.

I was taught that suicide is considered a huge sin in many religions. It felt incredibly invalidating of mental illness and I was irked at the thought of sin. This past month, I learned that to sin is to miss the mark. The mark is 100% love. There are times when we try our best, but fear gets in the way, and we still sin. And that’s okay. The goal isn’t to never sin. The goal is to act with as much love as possible.

There is suffering on the path to love. I had questioned the intensity of suffering in the past few years of my life. I’ve been questioning the suffering that is required to move forward with The Tipping Point movement. But I was validated in that I have been doing it right.

To be connected to greatness, i.e. The Universe, God, The Creator, is like hang gliding. You are the one flying, possibly with mixed emotions of fear and excitement, but something has got your back.

I want to be able to see myself for the entirety of who I am. There’s a passage in the Book of Mark where a blind man asks Jesus to be able to see. That day, I broke down crying at the brokenness of myself. To which my friend said, “I hope you will be able to see yourself the way God sees you - with love and forgiveness.”

I give fear and pain so much power because it is familiar. I am afraid of change, of the possibility of slipping back into that dark place. But what are the chances? I am a different person now.

Healing is harder than surviving. Surviving is preventing myself from leaning into suicidal intent. Healing is acknowledging the suicidal past and becoming more open to love.

It is not easy to open yourself up to love. Many of us never learned to receive it in healthy ways. But on the last day of camp, I did open myself up - just a little bit. Love poured through me and I cried tears of relief and gratitude. Love is a phenomenal thing.

I am learning about love from different perspectives. I am a spiritual learner. I am a follower of Jesus, I am a follower of the Buddha, and I am a follower of New Age spirituality. I will continue to learn from all religions and cultures and enrich my own spiritual identity for a more grounded, loving life.

 

Shoutout to the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship community for their embrace and acceptance of the entirety of who I am.

How has your religious or spiritual practices affected your worldview? What did they teach you about love? Send us a message or share this blog post with a comment!

The Lion

Hi! Ji-Youn here. I met Francis through a mutual friend in November 2016. We talked over coffee for 3 hours. I had just publicly launched The Tipping Point and he said he was working on producing some music. Five months later, he showed me the mini-documentary, The Lion, and I bawled my eyes crying. And last week, I got the opportunity to interview him about his story and the film. Enjoy!

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This is a beautiful mini-documentary about your mental illness and your passion for music. Why is it called The Lion?

Since childhood, The Lion King has been my favourite movie and I’ve always resonated with Simba. In 2009, I moved to Vancouver after high school for university. I made my first friend while playing basketball with this 35 year-old man named Rafiki, which means friend. I was the Simba to his Rafiki. During university, I coped with the stress of school by playing this Lion King video game on Super Nintendo. I imagined writing a song for every level of this game and that’s how I wrote my first song on the guitar - about The Lion King. 

I always come back to the story of Simba - exiled to the elephant graveyard, meeting new friends who he grows up with, and coming back home as an adult, much stronger and wiser. And to be direct - he kills it! I imagine that through my healing, I’m also coming back home, stronger and wiser.

 

What was the hardest part about your experience with Bipolar Disorder thus far? 

It was the blurry line. Hypomanic Francis is very similar to high-functioning Francis. So my family and friends were very confused, constantly trying to analyze me. Some would say I was fine. The doctors would say I wasn’t fine. I could tell that people were trying to get into my head, to try and figure me out and I would try to keep my distance from them.

During my manic episode, I was a residence coordinator at UBC, responsible for and working with a lot of people. Leaving was quite jarring. I realized later how hard it is to get closure, that I may not ever get closure with certain people whom I’ve hurt. I’ve tried reaching out but some never responded. It’s my biggest area of guilt and shame. But for my own sanity, I needed to accept that some things are out of my control.

 

You were hospitalized for a month during your manic episode. What was that like?

The hospital felt very sterile. The lights were bright, dry, fluorescent and empty. I felt like an illness in a gown. It took 2 weeks for them to let me walk out of the building by myself. As I said in the film, the piano was the one thing that kept me going.

Having gone through that experience, I don’t like being in hospitals. But I’m curious about both preventative measures AND spaces. The emergency rooms and psychiatric facilities are reactive spaces. How can we build safe, preventative spaces? Space affects our health.

 

In the film, you talk about feeling the need to “get out.” I’ve felt that myself. How did you fight through those thoughts and feelings?

It was the summer after hospitalization when I started having thoughts of suicide and self-harm. Every day, all day, I lay in the living room. I would wake up, waiting to go back to sleep. And I would go back to sleep hoping that I wouldn’t wake up. It was the following spring when I started making plans, giving my stuff away, and speaking in loose, non-committal terms. My first and only attempt was April 26th, 2016. And I woke up in the hospital the next day, April 27th, 2016 - one year since the detainment. In the attempt, some part of me died. Whether it was ego or fear or doubt, I lost something there and gained the rest of myself.

 

Every morning, I wake up thinking, “Oh, I’m still alive.”

 

What is one thing you would like to say to people who live with Bipolar Disorder?

I have two things. One: if you want to make any drastic changes to your medication, do it with supervision and let your support group know before you do it. I didn’t know I was susceptible to mania. Before the intense manic episode in January 2015, I was on antidepressants going through a depressive state. This is before I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type 1.  At the time, I had support from a counselor and a doctor, but I decided to go off the meds cold turkey and I told them afterwards. What I know now is that people who are susceptible to manic episodes need a mood stabilizer to bring the high down.

Two: you can be louder than your illness. It sends thoughts that are self-defeating and crushing, but once you find yourself in all of that mess, you can be louder than it. Like you and I, we now have days that are tied to our past experiences but it’s forward movement. We’re more than a diagnosis.

 

What does healing look like to you?

At first, the script for the film read “Francis is on the road to recovery.” We replaced it with “Francis is on the path of healing.” To me, recovery has an end. As if I’ve gone off path and recovery is getting back onto the path. But I believe in a healing that is beyond temporary; there’s no end to healing. I prefer to be process-oriented than goal-oriented. Writing music is a part of my healing process. Goals are the byproducts of doing the meaningful thing. I never planned on creating an album; I just wrote what mattered to me at that moment.

 

What are the top 3 lessons you learned from this experience of mental illness and healing?

  1. In the suicide attempt, I learned that you can die doing anything. So you might as well die doing something that you love. When I woke up, I learned that everything is meaningless and you determine what has meaning to your life.

  2. The best things are worth waiting for and working for. All the work you put in day to day - though it may not be ready for harvest immediately - if you work from the heart consistently, it will pay off.

  3. We’re all reflections of each other. I’m now super intentional and aware of what I reflect back to people. When I was in the hospital, I used to hallucinate and have delusion thoughts. One time, I went to sleep and had a dream. There was this voice that said, “would you like to meet God?” So I said sure! In my dream, I get out of my hospital bed into the hallway, I open this door and walk inside. In real life, I then wake up. And I wake up in the bathroom, staring at the mirror. These days, I don’t think that I’m God. What I do think though is that everyone has untapped agency to change your own world.

 

TLWA is the sound of healing out loud, of fighting, of gratitude, of coming home.

 

So who is The Lions We Are and what is this album? 

TLWA is the collective of friends and family with whom I collaborate. It’s constantly growing. Back to the The Lion King story, I’m coming back home and bringing everyone with me. That why it’s called The Lions We Are, not The Lion I Am. There’s more to making music than just the musicians.

The process of writing music has been therapeutic. This album is my way of proving to myself that I can still achieve something. Most of the songs are collaborations and every song is for the person who inspired it. This is also my way of thanking people for helping me on my path of healing. It’s wonderful to work and play with my best friends. The music is fueled by love and the love is fueled by the music.

 

If you could have anything on a billboard in a large city read by millions of people, what would you write?

You can change YOUR world. Not necessarily THE world, but YOUR world as you know it. And you get to play a part in changing the world.  

 
 
 

The “TLWA” Mixtape drops June 28th on Soundcloud!

 

THANK YOU, FRANCIS, FOR YOUR STORY, RESILIENCE, AND GIFT ♥︎

 

If you have any questions for him or would like to reach out, Francis would be happy to chat! One of the songs, FOUND ft. Roya Bennett was featured in a lululemon video on Instagram, check it out!

 


 

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length & clarity.

TLWA Cover Art created by: Kimmortal 

College Dropout to Social Entrepreneur

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Last fall, I was so lost.

I had dropped out of school, shared my story and decided to create a movement. I decided to devote the next year of my life to The Tipping Point, not knowing where it would take me and introduced it to the public. In two months, over 10 thousand people read my story through the Daily Hive and the Ubyssey and I still didn’t know what I was doing with my life.

So, I went to a meetup.

There, I met a woman who responded to my story with, “This is big. You could turn this into something.”

Through my own personal experience and the receiving of hundreds of messages from unhappy students, I realized one of the largest factors of mental illness amongst post-secondary students: the fear of uncertainty and the shame/denial of it. Add a heavy workload, student loans, part-time jobs, extracurricular activities and commuting. And then you graduate, and you “might” get a job in the field of your study. I, too, struggled with this uncertainty during my university career, and I trudged through in denial of my interests and health. And then I got really sick. A lot of young people get really sick this way.

So through some networking, emotional conquests, tremendous learning, and A LOT of work, I created Tip Labs, a self-development, peer-empowerment program for young adults.

It is based on the premise that university can’t teach us everything. It focuses on the three pillars of health & wellness, personal development, & professional development - all crucial but undervalued components of success.

And now the first cohort has come to an end. In the past few months, I have had the privilege of guiding my first few students through their own self-doubts, insecurities and uncertainties. We have learned so much from each other, about different interests, various worldviews, and most importantly, about ourselves. We have celebrated the little wins together, uplifted each other through pains and tears, and have become a type of family in just a few months.

I want to acknowledge the courage and growth of these friends. It is not easy to step back from the chaos of our everyday tasks and to reflect on ourselves and the bigger picture of life. I congratulate them for their willingness for introspection and self-investment.

I also want to thank these peers and the rest of The Tipping Point community. This community has turned a college dropout into an entrepreneur, a mental health advocate, and a dreamer. This community has given me the hope and purpose to help me rid myself of my chronic suicidal intent and to reconnect with myself. So thank you for helping me grow and flourish. Thank you for encouraging me to dream big and DO THE WORK. Thank you for making me feel alive, and being alive with me.

Registration for the second cohort of Tip Labs is now open!

Also, join us in celebrating the one year anniversary of The Tipping Point!