Over the past few weeks the foliage has been at its peak here in New England. A week ago, it dawned on me that this was the first time in a few years I’d actually appreciated that beautiful season between summer and winter. In fact, last year I didn’t notice it at all. Autumn happened in New England and I happened to be in a very dark place.
Mental illness is the reason I’ve posted only once over the past year. One year ago on October 24, 2014, I attempted suicide. Spoiler Alert: I survived. At that time, realizing I had survived was devastating. I had made it abundantly clear in the goodbye letters I had written that I wasn’t taking such drastic measures as a way of getting attention. This was not a cry for help. This was to be a permanent goodbye. Thankfully, that’s not what happened. I lived to see the next day and I’m so incredibly grateful to have a second chance at life.
Surviving is the hardest part. For the first few weeks, everyone–friends and family–is just glad that you’re alive. Then, once the shock of the situation wears off for them, it’s assumed that you’re all better. After all, you’d just spent a couple of weeks in a lock-down psychiatric ward and doctors had signed your release forms, so, good to go, right? Just because you’re no longer a danger to yourself and others does not mean you’re even close to being all better. It just means that you’re mentally stable. Let’s use that term loosely, shall we?
Remember that TV show, The Swan?
Basically, they took a bunch of homely women who came from abusive backgrounds, gave them an unimaginable amount of plastic surgery to make them all beautiful and then somehow all of their dreams were supposed to come true. Thankfully, part of their transformation involved seeing a therapist several times a week during the show to help them with their transition into beautiful women, but it was unsurprising that a lot of them went back to their abusive husbands or boyfriends once the show was over. And I think the “why?” is pretty obvious. It didn’t matter that they now had gorgeous, glossy hair, beautiful button noses, and a mile of cleavage. They still felt worthless on the inside. They couldn’t imagine themselves deserving anything better than what they already had.
Yeah, welcome to my world. Sure, I had survived. But even after nearly 2 weeks of around-the-clock psychiatric care and monitoring I still felt completely worthless. I didn’t have an ounce of self-esteem and yet I had no choice but to start over from scratch. Move to a different house in a different state, find a job, and buy a car, all while trying to sort through a suffocating amount of guilt, remorse, regret, and anxiety.
My plan on that rainy, dismal day last October included alcohol and a lot of it. Given how disgusting alcohol has always tasted to me, I needed a ton of soda to wash it down. But drinking that much liquid raises a question: Where is the nearest bathroom? I was parked in the mall parking lot so I walked into Sears, not really understanding how un-sober I was, went to the bathroom, and took this selfie. I posted it on Facebook and Instagram as my way of saying goodbye to everyone without them knowing what I was about to do.
I had just gotten my hair done a few weeks earlier. I had lost 60 of the 75 lbs I had gained due to alcoholism (I’ll blog about my alcoholism at another time). Outwardly, I looked like I was okay. Okay enough to fool the good people of Sears. But I already felt dead inside. As I’ve written before, by that time my “chronic fatigue” was so bad that I was bedridden. I could barely care for my son. My health was continuing to deteriorate, but Jack’s needs were continuing to grow. I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t be his mom. It was selfish of me to think I could. If I was out of the picture, he’d have the chance at a better life. There were a million reasons why suicide seemed like my best option, my only option.
And that’s one thing the majority of people don’t understand. Suicide isn’t always done for selfish reasons. In fact, I’d say it’s rarely done for selfish reasons. Once you view your existence as a burden to others, taking yourself out of the picture feels like the logical choice. It doesn’t matter if you have incredible people in your life telling you how wonderful you are and how much they love you. Without the intervention of mental health professionals, it’s extremely difficult to overcome those feelings.
It’s important to remember that those who are suicidal are making these decisions while in the depths of despair. They are not in their right mind and probably haven’t been for quite some time. A lot of people who have suicidal thoughts may experience psychosis as well–hearing voices or seeing things that aren’t there. These voices or visions may be encouraging or commanding them to end their life. Imagine how difficult it would be to make a logical decision while hearing voices all day long! No amount of love, kindness, prayers, or casseroles is going to fix a broken brain. Immediate intervention from mental health professionals is critical. Go to the nearest ER. Or call an ambulance, if necessary. Chances are, this isn’t something that can wait.
Keep in mind that extreme anxiety can mimic the behaviors of mental illnesses such as Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. That was my experience. In fact, when I was admitted to the inpatient psychiatric facility they immediately began treating me for Bipolar disorder. My reaction to the medication they put me on for Bipolar disorder was clear proof that I did not have Bipolar disorder, but in hindsight I understand why they rushed to that conclusion, based on some of the behaviors I had been exhibiting at that time. As Ecclesiastes 7:7 says “Mere oppression may make a wise one act crazy.” Put your average person in an unbearable situation for a prolonged period of time and see what happens. Oh wait, I can tell you what happens because that was my life. Eventually, my brain just broke because it could no longer stand the oppression. When your brain breaks, you think crazy things and you do crazy things. Simple as that.
“When you’re in that place” . . . That’s how I begin my sentence when I attempt to differentiate to others how I feel in my everyday life versus how I felt when I was “in that place” last year, experiencing suicidal thoughts. Do you remember that 90’s movie “Powder”? I’ve never seen it, but I remember this scene from the previews on TV:
It was a scene involving the lead character named Powder and a couple of hunters who had just shot a deer. While the deer was dying, Powder placed one hand on the deer and one hand on the hunter who shot it. By doing so, Powder was able to transfer the excruciating pain that the deer was experiencing to the hunter. Seriously, I wish I could just touch someone on the shoulder and for a brief moment allow them feel the despair I felt last year. Then let them compare that to what I experience now. The two feelings are completely different. I could have a truly horrible day tomorrow and not feel suicidal because now I’m coping with a much more stable brain. I’m not in “that place” anymore.
WHERE I AM TODAY:
My everyday anxiety feels like acid reflux, but instead it’s your emotions that are rising in your throat. It feels warmer as it rises and before you know it you’re also feeling a little out of breath. This photo illustrates it perfectly. So basically, it’s like being on the verge of a panic attack all.day.long.
Why, yes. Every single day.
And don’t forget that feeling of wanting to jump out of your skin!
Thankfully, my anti-anxiety medication keeps those bouts in check, but I still experience those feelings to varying degrees every day. This is my life now. And I’m totally cool with that because it feels worlds away from what I was experiencing last October 2014.
HOW I FELT LAST YEAR, 2014
I related to Fantine. For me, there was never going to be a way out, just like there was none for her. I would listen to songs from Les Miserables every day. I preferred to listen to some of the songs in French because they felt even more emotionally devastating.
This is how the “chronic fatigue” made me feel. Useless, burdensome. I didn’t have the energy to help with Jack. I didn’t have the energy to do anything.
I felt trapped, without the hope that anything would ever get better. I lived on the other side of the glass, watching life pass me by.
I was at the bottom of a pit. I could see the light above, but the light couldn’t see me.
This . . . was . . . me
And this is me now
So yeah, it’s a really cheesy photo (looks like I’m trying to reenact the movie poster for The 40-Year Old Virgin), but I refuse to take 100 selfies so I took 3 and this one hid the zit on my chin the best. And seriously, I look like I’ve aged about 10 years since that Sears selfie, but I’m alive so who cares?
I’m glad that I have the courage to say I’m mentally ill. I’m proud of myself for admitting I’m an alcoholic. I am not ashamed to say that I attempted suicide. Because at the end of the day I’m still here, and I did the work to get here. I completed an inpatient psychiatric program. I completed an outpatient psychiatric program. I take medications for depression and anxiety daily. I see my therapist on a weekly basis. I attend Group Therapy once a week. I attend AA to keep my sobriety in check. I’ll be getting my One Year chip this evening! I take care of my mental health to ensure I never get to that horrible place again.
For a very long time, life was about nothing but survival. There was no joy. There was no happiness. But now, not only am I grateful that I survived; I’m grateful to be alive, to be living life no matter how difficult it may be. How amazing is that?