"I feel my life just drifting away"

Roddy-James Rodriguez is just one of the hundreds of students on campus, who give up on life each year, and attempt suicide. His struggle with depression is rooted in years of neglect, abandonment, and self-hate.
(Aiken Lao)
Listen to the full episode27:30

[WARNING: CONTAINS SCENES OF GRAPHIC VIOLENCE]

Roddy-James Rodriguez is just one of the hundreds of students on campus, who give up on life each year, and attempt suicide.

I wake up and it's morning. I open my eyes and try to see clearly. And one of the nurses walks in, and she bursts out crying, and she says, 'We almost lost you!' All I could think to say was, 'I wish you did.'

The mental health crisis isn't new, and it isn't going away. And while schools are scrambling to beef up their support staff and resources, the reality is, the system is failing students.

Roddy's struggle with depression is rooted in years of neglect, abandonment, and self-hate. Throughout his entire life, he was failed by pretty much everyone -- his schools, his community, and even his own family.

"I FELT LIKE A STRANGER IN MY OWN HOME."

As a kid, Roddy's father was extremely strict with him. In particular, he always tried to control Roddy's interests and hobbies. Roddy was often into toys that were viewed as feminine by his dad. For example, when he was taken to a toy store at eight years old, his brother asked for a remote control car, while Roddy wanted a cooking set. It wasn't long before his father started punishing him for his behaviour, in an attempt to veer Roddy's interests elsewhere.

"My mom walked in and she saw me playing with the makeup, and she was like. 'What are you doing? Take that off!' And like, I had to be showered to just get rid of everything on my face. When my dad got home, they started talking, and they sort of came in the room and they're like, 'I think you need to get hit with a belt.' And there would be a point where I would have to be crying so much and screaming so much for it to stop," Roddy remembers.  

He's just like, 'Have you tried like praying, or just like not thinking about it, or just like, don't indulge in the fact that like you're gay? Because like it's essentially going to ruin your life.'

Roddy couldn't figure out why his father had so much anger towards him. But as he got older, things became more clear - his dad was doing everything in his power to crush any notion that his son was gay. But Roddy desperately wanted his dad's acceptance, so he internalized his father's actions, and tried really hard to change.

In the years following, Roddy denied his homosexuality. He started playing sports, shaved his head, and even dated girls. But he could only keep up the facade for so long before the lying started to eat away at him.
Roddy, as a child, sitting with his dad, and brother (on the right)

By the time Roddy was in high school, he couldn't hide who he was anymore, and was ready to come out to his father. Unsurprisingly, it didn't go well. "He's just like, 'Have you tried, like, praying, or just like, not thinking about it, or don't indulge in the fact that like you're gay? Because, it's essentially going to ruin your life,'" Roddy recalls his dad telling him.

After that day, his parents not only stopped talking to him - they couldn't even face him. "I think they couldn't look at me the same way because every time I would try and meet eyes with them… like, they would sort of go into their own rooms and not really talk to me. I definitely felt like a stranger in my own home," Roddy said.


SELF-HARM

It was hiding under the surface for years, but now that Roddy was out, so too was his parent's resentment and disappointment. If there was any comfort in his home, it was gone. And Roddy did everything he could to avoid it.

He started trying to explore the gay community by socializing, and hitting up bars as an underage teen. And while he didn't have trouble making new friends, it didn't take long before he felt that sense of rejection again. Men often expressed their disinterest in Roddy because he was Asian, and wasn't masculine enough for them.
After being abandoned by his own family, Roddy was also alienated by the gay community.

"It's like another hurdle you have to jump through because you're always striving for so much acceptance in like, your family life, and then you hear, and see about this community where everybody is like, welcoming and happy to see you, but you're not taken as seriously because you're just not that base standard of what people imagine a queer person to be like," Roddy said of the gay community.  

Roddy began falling down a dark path of self-hate, and believed that he deserved all the emotional pain he was experiencing. And with nowhere to turn, he decided to go downstairs to the kitchen, grab a pair of scissors, and he began cutting his wrists. "I made sure that they were quite deep because, with what I was feeling, I felt like it was already making an impact on my life that, I might as well make it physical, and really see the results of my pain. And compared to the pain of rejection and self-hatred, cutting seemed like nothing in comparison," Roddy said.

"I made sure that they were quite deep because, with what I was feeling, I felt like it was already making an impact on my life that, I might as well make it physical, and really see the results of my pain. And compared to the pain of rejection and self-hatred, cutting seemed like nothing in comparison."  

Going forward, Roddy continued to use self-harm as his coping mechanism, knowing what it might lead to. "Should anything go wrong from cutting myself, I could always kill myself in the end because I'm already digging this hole into self-destruction, and it's getting deeper and deeper as I cut myself, that I feel like, I'm essentially creating like this exit strategy for myself. And It was comforting to know that I had that escape," Roddy said.  

After years of self-hate, Roddy was now punishing himself. It was a desperate cry for help. But for months, no one was there for him. At some point, during class in high school, a teacher spotted the cuts on his wrist.

After Roddy told his parents, they made the choice to put school on hold for a year, and he started seeing a psychologist. It took a while, but slowly, things started turning for the better, and Roddy was ready for a fresh start.

He enrolled into university, and moved into a residence on campus. "When I first started university, I was definitely on a better path to healing. I was committed to going to therapy once a week and I was really proud of the achievements that I was making in regards to my mental health. I definitely wasn't cutting any more," Roddy said of his improvements.

Roddy was only able to participate in the first two days of frosh week before attempting suicide.

"I FEEL MY BODY COMPLETELY FADING."

For the first time in his life, Roddy was content and happy. He was ready to meet friends, live life, and have fun. So he jumped into frosh week, full force. And on the second night, he hit it off with someone at a bar. And after they went back to his place, the guy he was with, spotted the scars on Roddy's arm. "He ends up seeing the cuts on my wrist. He grabs my arm, and he's just like, 'You know you're doing it wrong, right?' And he was just like, 'That just proves you're weak then, like, you can't even cut yourself properly," Roddy was told.

I feel my body completely fading, and all I can see in front of me is the stars and the sky. And it's peaceful. And although I'm in so much pain, and it feels so hurtful, in this moment, I feel like I'm finally getting what I want, and what I deserve.

Roddy immediately left feeling angry, and offended. When he got home, he kept replaying back the things that was said to him. All his feelings of self-hate began resurfacing in his mind. Roddy was fed up - so he swallowed all the medication he had in his dorm room, along with any alcohol laying around. He also cut his wrists before deciding to take a walk. He ended up laying on the grass of a nearby park.

"I feel my body completely fading, and all I can see in front of me is the stars and the sky. And it's peaceful. And although I'm in so much pain, and it feels so hurtful, in this moment, I feel like I'm finally getting what I want, and what I deserve," he recalls of that night.
Roddy, in the hospital following his suicide attempt.

Someone called the ambulance, and he was rushed to the hospital. "I wake up and it's morning. I open my eyes, and try to see clearly. And one of the nurses walks in and she burst out crying, and she says, 'We almost lost you!' All I could think to say was, 'I wish you did,'" Roddy remembers feeling. 


GETTING KICKED OUT OF RESIDENCE

It took days before Roddy could even begin recovering from his wounds, both physically and mentally. But he did eventually find some peace, after spending time in the hospital's psychiatric ward.

And when Roddy was finally released from the hospital, he wanted to regain some sense of normalcy in his life. So he went straight back to school, to a community where he felt safe. But when he stepped back onto campus, he was blindsided.

"They give me this letter that informs me that I have three days to leave the residence because I'm a danger to myself, and everybody in the residence. And that, like, most of my frosh leaders who knew about what happened were completely disturbed by it, and it was shocking for them. And I was like. 'Okay, so your solution is to kick me out of residence then. Like, that's the solution?' And he's just like, 'I think that's the best decision for everybody,'" said a representative from the school.

Roddy was forced to find another place, and live off campus for the rest of the school year. The following September, he was accepted into a different residence on campus. But after a few months, Roddy was given a frightening reminder of his past.

You start to realize that everything has become sort of corporate... And it just seems wrong to me to have this institution sort of just use students as money bags. And the moment they become like a legal liability, then they would get tossed out, or completely thrown under the rug.

He woke up one morning to commotion coming from the hallway of his residence, where police and ambulance were looking into an investigation. Just the night before, his neighbour had committed suicide. "It all felt disturbing to me, and it felt like I was reliving everything that happened to me, except from like an outsider perspective," Roddy remembers.

According to Roddy, the school simply swept the student's suicide under the rug. "You start to realize that everything has become sort of corporate... And it just seems wrong to me to have this institution sort of just use students as money bags."

And as everyone continued on with their lives, Roddy struggled to get past what had happened to his neighbour. And after everything he'd been through with the school, he had enough. So he decided to drop out.

After years of rejection and self-hate, Roddy has now learned how to manage his battle with depression.

Every single step along the way, Roddy was let down. His parents abandoned him, the gay community alienated him, the university kicked him out of residence. And in the end, because no one truly cared about him, Roddy nearly lost his life. But now, after all the adversity, Roddy has a newfound strength, and it's allowing him to take better control of his mental health, and ultimately, live life.

"I wouldn't say, that like, the idea of suicide or self-harm doesn't go through my head from time to time. I guess when it comes to re-living like these tough parts of my life, what I really need to do, is sort of reflect on all of it, see how far I've come, what I've sort of been neglecting, and I guess, like, pat myself on the back for making it this far."