[TW: suicidal thoughts, hospitalization]
I had a rough couple of days last week.
I realized that December 30th, 2015, was the first time I took myself to the ER because I was suicidal. Four years to the day. I remembered it because I was thinking about New Year’s Eve and the worst one I ever spent – drugged out of my mind, alone, trying to sleep in a strange bed in a strange place. I remember the incredibly flat pillow and the yucky feeling of the vinyl mattress under the sheet. I remember lying there in the dark and being so scared, so sad, and so in shock that this was where I needed to be – alone and drugged up in a locked hospital ward so I wouldn’t kill myself.
I went to the ER in the mid-afternoon of December 30th. I took an Uber there. As I was getting out, the driver said, “Happy New Year!” and I choked down the hysterical sobs that tried to burst from my throat
When you walk into an ER and say, “I’m suicidal,” they spring into action the same way they do when someone comes in with chest pain. They immediately take you into a room and take away every single thing you have – your bag, your clothes, your shoes, everything. You can keep your underwear but not your bra (because of the underwire). They let me keep my phone until they decided I was going to be fully admitted.
And then I waited.
For approximately sixteen hours.
Don’t go to the ER for a psych issue in the afternoon or evening. By the time the ER concludes that you do need to be admitted, the behavioral health units all over town are basically closed to new admittings, and you have to wait until morning for them to find a bed somewhere for you. So I waited the entire goddamn night and the following morning was finally got loaded into an ambulance to be taken to another hospital. This involved being separated from my friend who’d been keeping me company for all those hours, and I was terrified. I remember taking out my forgotten earrings, giving them to her, and finally having to surrender my phone. By then it was New Year’s Eve, 2015.
More details are depressing and irrelevant and I’ve written about many of them already. I don’t know what it was about the anniversary this year, but I just kept ruminating about that experience – not the psych hospital experience overall, but the ER experience and that first night on the ward, and I was a mess. I kept welling up with tears and getting shaky and just so, so sad. Fortunately I had therapy that night and we talked about my sadness and where it was coming from. I decided that I’m sad for myself. For that four-years-ago Minerva who was so lost and afraid and didn’t have the correct diagnosis yet and so wasn’t being treated properly. I’m sad that sometimes I scare the living hell out of the people who love me.
I’m sad that I’m sick.
To me, there’s a difference between that and wallowing around asking “Why me?” over and over again. There’s a difference between self-pity and just feeling sad about your circumstances. I’m just so, so sad that I’m sick and need all this help and probably will for the rest of my life. Bipolar disorder can improve through treatment, but it doesn’t go away. And I’m sad about how it’s not this neatly-enclosed bubble where it impacts me and only me. Mental illness is a stone thrown in a pond that sends out ripples. It’s not just me that it hurts. And I think I feel saddest about that. In John Green’s wonderful book The Fault in Our Stars, the main character is a teenager with terminal cancer and she describes herself as a bomb, a grenade that will one day go off and hurt everyone around her. I know what she means, but I also think that the bomb can go off many times, with varying degrees of devastation. My three hospitalizations were certainly bombs going off. I ruined my parents’ long-awaited Hawaiian vacation with my first time in, Mother’s Day the second, and Father’s Day the third. That third time, when I actually attempted suicide, was the biggest bomb of all. That bomb was a big one and it was shaking and smoking and beeping scarily and had it gone off, nothing would’ve ever been the same again for anyone who loved me.
I’m just so sad that the bombs are there to begin with.
To everyone who cares about me: I know that I don’t need to apologize for being sick and that you would never ask me to. But I’m sorry that I scare you sometimes, that you worry about me, and that you find yourself having to ask me, “How are you doing?” in a way that’s probably a bit different from the way you ask other people. I’m endlessly grateful that you ask, but I’m sad that sometimes I’m not able to say, “Hey, I feel great!” I mean, sometimes I do feel great and it’s the truth, but sometimes it’s not, and I don’t like to lie to you. And I’m sad that you have to figure out what to say when I’m not great. (For what it’s worth, “I’m here for you,” is plenty.)
The bombs haven’t been beeping for quite some time. Honest truth. I’ve been taking care of myself, taking my meds religiously even though I hate them sometimes, seeing my therapist once a week and really digging in to things with her.
And I do have tons things to not be sad about. I have people who care for me deeply and are endlessly supportive, even when I’m sure it’s hard to be. (I had a close friend say to me recently, “Sometimes you talk to me about some of these things and I don’t know what to say because I haven’t been through them, but just know that I’m always, always listening.” Pure gold.) I have access to the healthcare I need exactly when I need it. I have a life of love and humor and inspiration – seriously, I am so lucky to have people in my life who lift me up, inspire me, and make me cackle-laugh, which is how you know you’ve ambushed me with something funny I wasn’t expecting. So in spite of feeling so, so sad sometimes, I know how fortunate I am as well. That combats the sadness and makes me feel like I’m throwing that fucking bomb into a bottomless crevasse. And it is not welcome back.