Jesse relapsed during the lockdown
‘The pandemic sent me to rehab’
Do you need help? The Dutch suicide prevention hotline can be reached 24/7 on 0800 0113 or via 113.nl and can offer help in English as well. Or find a suicide prevention hotline in your own country via suicidestop.com.
In June, something in Jesse van Dijk (22) broke. He had been struggling with suicidal ideation for years. This time, he could see no way out and so he took a knife to his wrist.
Fortunately, his attempt failed. He missed his artery by a centimetre. He lost a lot of blood but wasn’t fatally injured. One of his roommates found him and performed first aid. ‘I survived thanks to him’, says Jesse now.
His friends and family were shocked by his actions, as was Jesse himself. ‘I clearly had a guardian angel watching over me.’
As he was getting his arm stitched up in the hospital, he realised how lucky he’d been. ‘I had to stop assuming everything was going to be alright. I had to make some changes.’ He finally decided to get help.
For archaeology student Jesse, his suicide attempt was the culmination of a long period where he used weed, alcohol, and hard drugs. He thought he’d left this period of his life behind him, but when the lockdown started in March of 2020, he lost his grip.
I was high as balls during my high school exams
‘I started drinking and smoking weed when I was fifteen’, he says. Why? He shrugs. ‘I didn’t have the… best childhood’, he says. His parents split up when he was still young, and their divorce was messy. His stepfather was an alcoholic. ‘My parents gave me the freedom to make my own choices. They trusted me. I abused that trust. No one realised it at the time, but I was pretty much high all the time. I was high as balls during my high school exams.’
His behaviour didn’t change when he started studying educational sciences in Groningen in 2017, when he was eighteen. ‘I tried to keep up with my studies and my job, but I smoked a lot of weed and took a lot of speed.’
The emphasis on psychology in his programme was confrontational. He quit and switched to archaeology. ‘But my drug use was still a problem.’ In the meanwhile, he was scouted as a model and walked the runway during Fashion Week in Milan, but that wasn’t a healthy environment for him. ‘Everyone uses so many drugs that you don’t even realise how much of a problem it is. I had lost my grip on reality’, he says.
In October 2018, he ended up in rehab. Upon his release, he decided to quit modelling and focus on his studies, but he quickly started using again. ‘I thought I’d try a drink again. One, maybe two. Except I found myself drinking too much. The same happened with weed and hard drugs. I was stressed out and my natural reaction was to use even more drugs. Before I knew it, it had become a daily habit again’, he said.
Then, in early 2020, he decided enough was enough. All the partying and drug use were taking their toll. Jesse noticed a change in his body: the stress was affecting his heart. He was also becoming increasingly emotional. ‘I never had that before. It was fine when I was using, because I could suppress it. But whenever I was sober I just fell apart and couldn’t stop crying.’
He hadn’t done any studying for at least a year, but he registered for a few classes. In February 2020, he even got a job as a homework aide. ‘I needed stability’, he said. ‘I allowed me to do something useful and try to pay back my student loans.’
But then the lockdown happened. Schools closed and Jesse lost his job. He stopped studying. But the worst part was that his social life fell apart. ‘I loved seeing people, doing things. Partying was my outlet. I started feeling incredibly lonely and aimless.’ The only people he had any contact with were his girlfriend and her roommates. Jesse shut out everyone else.
Being alone made me even more unhappy
He tried to tell himself that the lockdown would soon be over. All he had to do was sit tight. Just for a little while. ‘I’d spent years just running away from my problems, but at a certain point you don’t even remember what you’re running from. The pandemic only made it worse, because I had nowhere to hide. Sitting at home, I was just getting into my own head. Being alone made me even more unhappy.’
He fell back into the hole he’d only just managed to climb out of. ‘After a month, I started feeling like the world was ending. All these people kept dying, how long was this going to go on? Would anything ever be the same again?’ There was only one way Jesse knew how to escape these intrusive thoughts: drugs. What was stopping him from using again?
His girlfriend tried to help him. She even took him to rural France, where her grandma owned some land. There, in the middle of nowhere, away from all the negativity, he hoped to regain his balance. ‘I figured there were no drugs there, so I’d be able to figure out my shit.’
Alas. Jesse returned from a trip to Montpellier with ‘everything I needed’, he confesses. ‘I ended up using for five months straight. It’s a vicious cycle. Everything sucks, and you try to suppress that, but that only makes it worse. I was going insane.’
He tried to commit suicide after a fight with his girlfriend. ‘Before all that, I had some sort of future’, he says. ‘I’d gone back to school, and got myself a job. The pandemic took all that away. I felt like the world was ending, so why would anything I did matter?’
What mainly bothers him is that he isn’t the only one to feel this way. When he was finally ready to accept help, he ended up on a waiting list. Treatment centre Verslavingszorg Noord Nederland (VNN) didn’t have room for him until September. ‘These waiting lists are pretty long under normal circumstances, but now I had to wait two and a half months.’
Jesse wasn’t admitted to a rehab facility until November.
We shouldn’t have to wait for proper help for so long
He’s doing much better these days. He’s getting help and has been sober ever since he was admitted to rehab. But he knows that good friends and acquaintances of his also started to use more when the pandemic happened. ‘It’s especially hard for people who were already on thin ice before the pandemic started. They’re drowning. They’ve lost any semblance of balance.’
He was lucky. He is now stable, but it could have turned out completely differently. ‘I could just as easily have wanted to kill myself five more times over the past few months.’
We need a plan, he says. ‘It’s been nine months since I slit my wrists, and I’m only now seeing a therapist. We shouldn’t have to wait for proper help for so long. It also says something about the pressure these departments are under from all the cutbacks and lack of personnel.’
Jesse is critical of the current pandemic policies and the outgoing government. He knows that politicians live in a completely different world. ‘Students are often forgotten. Mark and Hugo talk nice, but we’re the victims of this whole thing’, he says bitterly. ‘I think politicians severely underestimate how mentally resilient the Dutch people are.’