Unabridged Founder Story
HI, AND WELCOME TO MY INNERMOST THOUGHTS SURROUNDING MY MOST DEEPLY PERSONAL MENTAL HEALTH JOURNEY. GLAD YOU’RE HERE.
My name is Ariel Davis and I am the founder of GripCity, a mission-driven woman-owned grip sock business created to help you find your footing, whether during tough workouts or tough times.
I’m also a wife, daughter, sister, friend, aunt, creative, business owner, council member on NY's Suicide Prevention Task Force and active volunteer with The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI-NYC). I love hiking, traveling, napping, puns, kombucha, teacups, and basically anything with milk chocolate. I’m also someone who has intermittently struggled with major depression since my early college years, and a two-time survivor of attempted suicide.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., with nearly 50,000 deaths and 1.4 million attempts made each year. in 2018 and what feels like a lifetime ago, I very nearly became another statistic in that tragic toll.
There are no words to express how grateful I am to be here. If hearing my story helps one person feel even a glimmer of hope, or helps to bridge a gap in understanding between someone experiencing mental illness and their loved ones, I will consider this account of my struggle to have been worth it.
Here it goes:
I didn’t just wake up and decide I was going to try and end my life.
In the months leading up to the morning of December 4th, 2018, I had become incredibly depressed. I was getting professional help from a therapist and psychiatrist but, while I made veiled references to suicide, I never let on just how all-consuming the depression and suicidal thoughts had become. In reality, trying to hurt myself was all I could think about.
Generally speaking, I avoid any kind of movie or situation where violence or bodily injury might occur. I cover my eyes, leave the room or refuse to watch in the first place. But in my depressed state, I’d walk across the street and fantasize that I would be hit by a bus; I’d go to the top of tall buildings only to consider how much I wanted to jump; I’d fixate on sharp objects, sometimes taking them with me into the bathroom or bed. If I admitted to those around me how I really felt, I knew they would insist that I check in to some sort of inpatient psychiatric program. Not wanting that, I avoided the type of disclosure that might have helped me get better sooner.
Depression wasn’t new to me.
I had experienced major bouts of depression in the past. These episodes usually occurred around periods when I was adjusting my medication for one reason or another, or was experiencing significant stress at work. Also, this was not my first attempt. A decade earlier, while still in college, I was hospitalized for a month following an attempt and took a semester off from school to recover. At the time, that ordeal felt like the end of the world — but it wasn’t. I ended up getting better, graduating, and overall, had a pretty great decade. I went on to graduate school, fell in love, moved to Brooklyn, found meaningful work, traveled, got married, and made enduring friendships. I had so much distance from that dark period during my college years that I nearly forgot it had happened to me.
So, fast forward to two years ago, and there I was with the trappings of a good life — and all those awful and strangely familiar feelings came flooding back. I thought to myself, “How can you have everything and still be this miserable?”
As we’ve been reminded by recent suicides of prominent figures like Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade who seemed to have it all, mental illness is one of the great equalizers. It doesn’t discriminate based on age, zip code, appearance, the degrees under your belt, or any other accolades or achievements. You might have assumed I would have learned this the first time around. After all, I was somewhat familiar with the science on clinical depression; I helped raise money for mental health causes; I read the articles; I did the fundraising walks. At times I even considered myself to be somewhat of an activist and patted myself on the back for my efforts for supporting a cause I no longer felt personally affected me.
But no. Instead, I spiraled. I talked myself into believing that there was some quota for how much society is willing to tolerate people with mental illness, and that I had exceeded it. I didn’t deserve to live in this perpetually sad and pathetic state and burden everyone around me.
Unable to separate my identity from my illness, I blamed myself for everything.
Through the distorted lens of depression, and with generous help from social media — the kind that filters out other people’s struggles and amplifies their successes — I looked around and saw everyone else “figuring it out.” Friends were reaching new heights in their careers, having kids, and hitting other major life milestones. I, on the other hand, barely had the stamina to shower or feed myself.
Every minor insecurity that bubbled up quickly escalated to a full boil; I interpreted every misstep as a personal failing and intrinsic character flaw. Without considering possible causes for my sudden change in behavior and personality — namely, that I had slowly gone off anti-depressants I had been on for over a decade and wasn’t regularly seeing my doctor! — I concluded that this change was a manifestation of my true character.
I also built a very convincing narrative that the only reason people cared about me was because I pretended to be someone I wasn’t. I had somehow tricked others into believing I was smart, caring, and competent. I had manipulated my husband into marrying me; I was the worst sibling; I was a disappointing daughter; I was a lousy and selfish friend — dirt, basically.
It seemed as if everything I laid my eyes on was a sign deliberately put there to remind me of my worthlessness. You overcooked the broccoli?! Of course, you did. You screw everything up. You lost your sunglasses? You ungrateful idiot. Everything is wasted on you. Self-compassion has never come easily to me, but this was next-level bullying. When I could have benefited most from a little grace, I became my own most skilled tormentor.
From ideation to active planning
During this very dark time, not able to sleep through the night or focus on anything for longer than a few minutes at a time, I did a lot of secret morbid late-night googling in “incognito mode” on methods for ending one’s life.
Using the little energy that I had, I wrote goodbye notes to the people I loved and hid them in various places around the apartment. I wrapped gifts I had been saving for the holidays and set them aside. I even picked out a possible love interest who I wanted my husband, the love of my life, to consider dating after I was gone—yes, you read that correctly. I was so detached and numb to everything around me that I convinced myself that everyone would be truly better off if I were dead.
After what felt like an eternity of struggling (but was in fact just a few months), I was determined to put an end to this existential misery. I made the decision to overdose on a mixture of pills, liquor, and cough syrup, and I went through with it. I’m writing this post, so you know how it turned out. But on December 4th of 2018, and several days that followed, it wasn’t entirely clear that I would be here, and on the other side of depression, to have the chance to write something like this.
Surviving the suicide attempt
Some survivors express relief, remorse, and/or regret after a failed suicide attempt. I did not. When I woke up in a completely disoriented state and with a tube down my throat, I was not even slightly relieved to learn that I had survived. With my husband and family members around me, all the feelings of shame and worthlessness came flooding back, made worse by the new humiliation I felt at having failed at yet another thing. I also felt guilty for taking medical resources, the incredible doctors and nurses who saved my life, away from people who I deemed “actually sick.”
Suddenly, I also felt like I had been trapped in a cage; I knew that I had missed my chance to end my life and was enraged by the knowledge that I would have no privacy or independence for the foreseeable future. Since you can't exactly check yourself out of a psychiatric ward or hospital when you’re judged to be a danger to yourself (and even if I tried, where would I have gone?), there was no way out but to get better. I was convinced that the doctors were wasting their time, but as I had no real say in the matter, I knew I would just have to go through the motions. In the days and weeks that followed, my eyes still darted around any given hospital room looking for ways to hurt myself. I couldn’t help it, and I still kept this to myself.
Life on the psych ward
After days in the ICU and over a week in the psychiatric ward of a hospital near our home in Brooklyn, I was transferred to a psychiatric hospital in Westchester with a specialized longer-term inpatient facility.
Everyday life in the psych ward was monotonous, draining, and strange, even with caring, attentive staff and a world-class treatment team. For many patients, the highlight of the day is visiting hour—which, at the very least, serves to break up the seemingly endless days of therapy, board games, pacing around the unit, or sequestering in one’s room. But personally, I dreaded knowing that my family was coming to visit. It always felt like I was just the same miserable person every time they showed up, and that I was letting them down.
After nearly three insufferable weeks in this specialized hospital setting and several new medications, my condition still hadn’t improved. I became even more convinced that I was beyond hope. See, even these highly skilled doctors can’t fix me?! Plus, inpatient care is incredibly expensive, even with insurance, and I was acutely aware of the financial burden my illness would pose. And for what? They might as well flush it down the drain.
Enter Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)
After a month and various medication trials, the doctors concluded that I had a form of medication-resistant depression for which they recommended Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). In case you aren’t familiar, ECT is a treatment in which an electric current is applied through one’s scalp to the brain in order to induce a temporary seizure. Doctors analogized the mechanism of ECT to breaking up a blockage in my brain that was making it hard for antidepressant medications to be absorbed. When you hear about ECT, you might picture a disturbing scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But as I soon learned, modern ECT is not at all like what is portrayed in the film. It’s a very civilized, controlled procedure that feels closer to a spa treatment than a major medical procedure. You are placed under general anesthesia during the treatment, and muscle relaxants prevent your body from physically seizing.
I agreed to try ECT, but as I told one of my doctors, I didn’t believe it would work. I even admitted that I hoped that the shock would kill me. With patience and compassion, the doctor calmly asked me to “borrow his optimism” — words I’ll never forget. So, I tried.
ECT changed the entire trajectory of my recovery
After just a couple of weeks and about five treatments, I felt back to a version of myself that I recognized. By my seventh treatment, I felt fully back to the motivated, social, generally happy- go-lucky (!) person that I had thought no longer existed. Soon, I was back at home, reconnecting with friends and family, planning my granny’s 100th birthday, and throwing myself into working on the two businesses I had started before depression put my plans on hold. Without ECT, I don’t know what would have happened to me. I’m so relieved and grateful I didn’t have to find out.
Side note: I know ECT is not a cure-all that works for everyone with severe depression, nor is it appropriate for everybody with my symptoms. But given the rate of success in reducing symptoms, helping between 70 to 90 percent of patients achieve remission—a rate higher than that of antidepressant drugs alone— it’s surprising that this treatment option isn’t more widely known. Since I had never heard of anyone having had it, I wanted to share the role it played in my recovery.
Also, while ECT did cause some short-term memory loss around the time that the treatments occurred, I consider that to be somewhat of a blessing.
WHY SHARE THIS WITH THE WORLD?
Rehashing the details of my experience is both difficult and healing. On one hand, what I went through feels incredibly personal and raw. Some would say “there are certain things you should keep private,” mostly out of a well-intentioned desire to protect me. On the other hand, hearing others’ experiences has given me insights into my own struggles and brought me a lot of comfort and self-compassion. I’m not a religious or especially spiritual person, but sharing my story has made me feel like there was greater purpose behind what I went through and the pain I caused to those close to me. I also share because I believe that:
Silence is what keeps mental illness stigmatized
And I couldn’t be more over that. If you’re reading this and feeling lost or even hopeless, I urge you to open up to someone you trust and get help. It’ll be hard, but you have made it this far so we both know you can do hard things—it just might be the reason you’re around tomorrow to learn about a treatment you never knew existed. I’m forever grateful to the people who refused to give up on me even when I had given up on myself. I know that I’m incredibly lucky to have received the type of care and attention that I did. Everyone is worthy of that kind of help, and no one should need to prolong their pain by waiting until a crisis to get the right treatment. Suffering in silence doesn’t serve anyone.
You don’t graduate from mental illness—but there are ways to manage it
We’re near the end of this story, but I know it isn’t the end of my mental health journey. Unlike some other conditions, mental health issues need to monitor closely, indefinitely. For me, I know and accept that managing my underlying depression will always involve some form of medication and therapy. Like everyone, I also need to be conscious of what sorts of activities, circumstances and people add to or detract from my overall well-being. At the same time, I also feel incredibly reassured to know that ECT is a resource available to me should I ever need it again.
For anyone reading this who is struggling, please know that you are worthy of help; your pain is valid; and no one would be better off without you around. If these words are difficult to hear and hope feels out of reach — trust me, I get it. Hang in there and get help. In the meantime, I would be honored to let you to borrow my optimism.