Updated: Jun 24
| This is the 475th story of Our Life Logs |
I’ve often wondered what drove me to have those wicked thoughts of wanting to commit suicide. Did I, in fact, have a mental illness? Was I a coward? Was I really being selfish?
Eventually, I answered those questions. Here’s how.
I was born in Washington, DC in 1975. The youngest of three to parents that were DC Public school teachers. We were not wealthy, but we were not poor either. My parents always worked two jobs, had a strong work ethic, and taught me the value of appreciating the little things in life.
But honestly, I hated my childhood. I was fat, dark-skinned, and had a terrible stutter. I was the butt of all of the jokes, and I hated going to school. I was brilliant, but growing up in the 80s and 90s, being smart in Prince George’s County…you always had a target on your back. I was always called a nerd and other colorful names like “skillet,” “tarbaby,” “black raccoon,” and my favorite, “black-ass.” That was the beginning of my depression.
It didn’t help that my father was mentally abusive as well. He was very strict, being raised by two strict parents in Alabama. I would get a spanking for everything and would always be referred to as fat or dumb “black-ass.” I didn’t understand why he called me those things. My father was darker than me.
The name-calling and being jeered and dismissed for the color of my skin, I could tolerate. Those hateful words did sting and I thought I was ugly.
However, there was one thing that I couldn’t understand. Why was I sexually abused?
• • •
On three different occasions, I was brutally raped by three different men. The first when I was six years old, next, it was at the age of eight, and the last evil act occurred at age 12. I referred to it as the twisted trifecta.
I never told my parents because I didn’t think they would believe me. The men that did it were friends with my parents and would deny it. Back then, people didn’t talk much about pedophiles and it was harder to prove. I sucked it up and internalized all of the anger, the pain, and the hurt. Internally, I was enraged, disgusted, ashamed of who I was as a human being. I hated myself. It was my fault, I thought, I allowed it to happen. Who else could have been at fault?
As a teenager, I blocked out my sexual trauma but I was still angry. Eventually, I bonded with the anger. It was like a weird Stockholm Syndrome I developed and it became part of my identity. It was during those teenage years that the thought of suicide crossed my mind. It started out small, but as the anger built up each day, more thoughts would manifest within my brain.
Again, I kept this all to myself. I was pretty good at masking my pain and, in high school, I used football as a great outlet to take out my anger and frustration by hitting people legally. And I did. A lot. In fact, I was a team captain my junior and senior year. If I didn’t have football, I don’t think I would have survived high school.
I met my ex-wife in high school. We met when I was 15 years old in Chemistry class. She was my high school sweetheart. She caught me cheating off of her test and the sparks just flew. We had instant chemistry! She always thought that I was a bit off with my thoughts. I never led her to believe that I was suicidal or angry, but I knew she suspected something.
Either way, she still loved me and accepted me for who I was. Being with her, I felt safe and secured. I always wanted to spend time with her because those dark thoughts would not come to me when she was in my company. She was my beacon of light in the midst of my darkness. She gave me hope.
When college began, things became more difficult. I was just dumped by my girlfriend and was having a hard time playing football. I was unfocused, stressed out, and homesick, being that I went to college in Alabama. I just felt lost. There was a massive void in my soul, and I didn’t think that anybody cared about me.
I hatched a plan to take my car and drive it off a bridge in Alabama. I knew that if I went fast enough and veered out of control at the right time, I would plunge into the river.
It wasn’t meant to be for me to take that drive of death. My mother called me right before I was about to leave. I told her that I was sad and that I was stressed out. I told her that I didn’t deserve to live anymore. She only responded with three words, read your Bible. That’s all she said, and she hung up. I didn’t take that drive. Instead, I cracked open my dusty Bible and read it. And I continued living as a shell of a man.
I believe I got married way too young. I was 25 and I married my high school sweetheart. It was the happiest day of my life but also the most stressful. This woman would finally see me for who I really was. I could no longer hide the demons that lived inside of my soul. I don’t think anybody could handle my emotional tsunami that wreaked havoc in my life. To this day, I feel awful because I unleashed hell on her and my children.
My oldest was born in 1998 and I was still trying to figure out who I was. My son was one of the reasons why I got married so quickly. I wanted to give him a stable household. The other two kids came back-to-back in 2001 and 2003. The pressure of being a father, husband, and provider was too much for me to handle.
Suicidal thoughts really ramped up and all the rage finally surfaced. During the 14 years of my marriage, it was chaos and ultimately a disaster. I was always sad, always crying, and perpetually angry. My ex-wife couldn’t deal with my emotional roller coaster. Honestly, I couldn’t blame her.
• • •
In 2012, I tried to end my life as the thoughts of death seemed like a good idea. I stuck a shotgun in my mouth and swore I was going to pull the trigger. My goal was to give my bedroom a new fresh coat of brain matter on the wall. My ex-wife talked me out that unstable mindset. That would be the first of many attempts.
[Storyteller’s note: I have to give my ex-wife a lot of credit for being calm in such an intense pressure situation. It was life or death for me, and each time, she talked me out of death. Thank you for your kind and calm words.]
After my last attempt to take my own life, my ex-wife checked out on me mentally and emotionally. She got tired of me talking about killing myself or trying to kill myself. We eventually divorced due to the mental illness and my infidelity. She forgave me for cheating on her, but my mental state ran its course with her. By the end of 2012, she had enough of me. She asked me to leave and I did. I didn’t put up much of a fight because I would have divorced myself as well.
I checked myself into a mental institution. The daily thoughts that I had were not rational. My mind was defective, and it needed to be fixed.
After I returned home from the hospital in 2012, I chose to be open about my mental illness to those close to me as a testament to being brave and not quitting on life. Accepting the fact that I did need help made me strong and brave. I was not worried about how my circle of friends and family would view me.
On a chilly day in December 2019, right before Christmas as I was driving from Virginia into Washington DC for a meeting, the bridge on my route appealed to me. I admired the bridge as I drove across, thinking to myself, maybe this would be a great place to jump and die.
I pulled my car over to the side and listened to the rush-hour traffic whizzing by my vehicle. My car shook with each eager commuter who flew past. Did they suspect that there was a person in that luxury car who plotting to kill himself?
During that moment, I was at a mental crossroads. Which way do I go?
If I decided to jump in, my body would immediately be swept away to eternity. I imagined it being frigid. I did not care if I ended up in heaven or hell. All of my problems and struggles would be gone forever. I convinced myself that I failed my loved ones and me.
As I sat there in my car, I asked myself, Am I a weak man for contemplating ways to die? I didn’t understand why that urge would resurface after lying dormant for so long. Grant it, I had just lost my job, wrongly terminated, but it wasn’t the end of the world. Was it?
I was sucker-punched in the head when that thought manifested in my brain. “Is life really that bad that I would be so enamored with a bridge?”
That’s when it clicked.
As I pulled over on that bridge in 2019, the four years of therapy training quickly launched into action. Unlike the past, where I needed my ex-wife to convince me that life was worth living, I was able to talk myself off that bridge. I soon recognized that my life isn’t over because of a minor setback.
I truly recognized that my sexual abuse wasn’t my fault, that I was beautiful for being dark-skinned, and that I deserved to live a happy life. I never thought I would have a moment of weakness again; however, I am thankful for being able to overcome and eradicate those thoughts from my head and put my questions to rest.
I drove away from that bridge with a smile on my face. I proved that I was not weak, and I conquered death, giving it the middle finger. I don’t think those thoughts will ever resurface again in my head. I value each breath of life. I appreciate my children and friends. My life has a true purpose. I have a calling to help those that are struggling the way I struggled. I won’t take the easy way out when life presents stressful obstacles.
I am a survivor! I am a warrior! I am thankful for therapy!
This is the story of Carlin Hertz
During his childhood, Carlin suffered sexual abuse and bullying, creating confusion and rage that he never shared with anyone. He tried to keep his dark thoughts and memories at bay, that is until he married and had a family of his own. His depression spiraled, leading to several attempts on his own life. His final attempt in 2019 gave Carlin the clarity to seek hope.
Carlin Hertz is an avid skydiver and has jumped 10 times at various places all over the country. He is also a student in Mixed Martial Arts. He has a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a white belt in Judo. During the weeknights, you will find him performing on stages throughout the DC area at open mics. He is a poet and recites his own poetry. He loves to read, cook, and has become a HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) addict.
This story first touched our hearts on December 23, 2019.
| Writer: Carlin Hertz | Editor: Colleen Walker |