Stormy seas

[TW: suicidal thoughts]

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Every year, I take some time on this day to reflect on my own struggles with suicidal ideation and behaviors, which over the past five years or so have been frequent and sometimes severe. This summer marked three years since my suicide attempt. I feel like that happened to another person. Thanks to therapy and appropriate medication, I think it’s been at least a year and a half since I had serious suicidal thoughts, and by that I mean “Maybe I should go to the ER” kind of thoughts. I had a depressive episode in January where I had some “I wish I was dead” kind of thoughts, but that’s passive ideation, not active: I didn’t find myself thinking of a plan. In May of last year I lost my grandma, which was a huge blow, and then this past May I lost my job. Two big, stressful events almost exactly a year apart. Not easy. But I’ve held it together remarkably well, and like I said, no active suicidal ideation.

I’ve realized that people who love me are still scared, though.

The day I lost my job, I called a close friend and told him what happened. He told me to breathe, helped me calm down, and stayed on the phone with me until I was at least temporarily okay. I then took two Ativan and laid down in bed to sleep. Ativan makes me sleep the sleep of a hibernating bear. I awoke hours later to the sound of keys in my back door (he has a set) and stumbled out of bed. He came sprinting through the apartment to my bedroom, saw me, and grabbed me tighter than I’ve ever been held before. He was sobbing. “Oh my god. I’m so glad you’re okay. Oh my god. I’ve been texting you for hours and you didn’t answer me and I was so afraid you’d hurt yourself. I don’t know what I would do without you.” I was taken aback by how upset he was, and I was blown away by that fear and the love behind it. I looked at my phone and saw the dozen of texts that I’d slept through, starting with tones of mere concern growing into sheer panic. I felt awful. I cried too, partly out of pure guilt for scaring him, but also because I was so moved by the love that caused his panic. He didn’t want to let me out of his arms.

Later, I gave it some thought. My friend was the only one whose mind jumped to the “what if she hurts herself?” place in this particular situation. But in another situation, who else do I know who would rush over to my place if they were concerned I might be a danger to myself?

Quite a few people, actually. Quite a few people who would drop everything to be by side when I needed safety and support. The more I thought about it, the more humbled and grateful I felt.

What love I have in my life.

This World Suicide Prevention Day, I’m thinking not of my dark times, but of the light these people are in the darkness. They are my lighthouses on stormy seas. And I’m so grateful.

What love I have in my life.

Crawl

I’m having a depressive episode.

I sleep 14 hours a night and still feel so lethargic that I spend the day feeling like I’m moments away from giving up and just crawling.

I should’ve seen it coming. I slept almost nonstop all weekend but wrote it off as just being tired. But that was a missed warning sign, because nobody needs as much sleep as I was getting. Monday was a rough day at work and I felt very bottled-up and upset about some stuff that happened, but fortunately I had therapy and that helped a bit so I still didn’t think anything was really amiss.

Tuesday, though, the depression monster got me by the throat.

I woke up for work and within an hour started wishing I was dead. Not actively suicidal, but so sad and in so much pain that I wished I could flip a switch and just be gone rather than live a day in that misery.

My depression, much of the time, is like having everyone who’s ever been terrible to me, ever abused me, ever repeatedly cut me down, trapped in my head with me. And they’re always insidiously whispering awful things, like how I’m fat and stupid and ugly and I’ll be alone forever and don’t deserve any of the good things in my life and I’m going to rot in hell for my bad choices and I’m not talented or competent so eventually everyone at work will realize what I fraud I am and I’ll get fired. Those things, on a loop. All. Day. Long. And because I’m all fucked up, I believe every word of it.

I probably spent, all told, two hours of Tuesday crying silently in the bathroom at work. Just little bits at a time so my face didn’t get too messy. I’d allow myself a couple of quiet sobs and then make myself shut up in case anyone in there could hear me. I got in the elevator and it was empty so I hysterically sobbed my way down nineteen floors and then composed myself before the doors opened.

I didn’t eat that day because I didn’t feel like I deserved to.

Sitting at my desk, I took out my powder compact and the dead eyes in the mirror scared me. Just blank, glassy, expressionless, dead eyes. The depression monster, looking out.

I saw my very concerned therapist again on Tuesday night, and I was able to get in to see my psychiatrist on Wednesday morning. He didn’t seem alarmed, but then again, he never does. (Rather taciturn, that one.) We’re going to try upping one of my mood stabilizers a little bit and see if I even out. No drastic measures yet, like putting me on lithium. Lithium side effects can be nightmarish so that’s an absolute last resort.

Today was better. It’s probably at least partially the placebo effect because of the increased meds, but I didn’t cry at all, I had a little energy, I ate, and I only spent a small portion of the day absolutely loathing myself. I call that improvement. Part of it, too, is that in the midst of feeling so awful, being taken care of feels so good – going to my therapist an extra time and letting her soothe me, seeing my psychiatrist and letting him help me, getting loving and concerned texts from friends and letting them support me…it’s all a direct contradiction to the voices telling me I’m alone and unworthy and all that shit. And it shows how far I’ve come as far as seeking and accepting help from my support network. Turns out that letting people show concern and care for me really helps. Duh, Minerva. Duh.

This is the worst episode I’ve had in a long, long time. It scares the hell out of me. But like I said, I’m letting people help me and hopefully this med tweak will lift me out of it and also keep me from having episodes this severe anymore.

That’s all. Just documenting, more for myself than for you, my sweet readers. I’m probably depressing the fuck out of you lately and for that I am sorry. Thanks for reading, and for the times you comment or reach out to me privately. I’d still do this even if nobody read it, but I do find it comforting and satisfying to know that people do read and even sometimes take something away from it. Y’all are awesome. Thank you.

Tick…tick…tick…

[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.

Truth Hurts

shame

I finished IOP (intensive outpatient therapy) last night. It was so hard but also very worth it. I learned so much about myself and how to be a mentally and emotionally healthier person. There were lots of gentle lessons but also a lot of brutal ones, too. They dragged up some serious shit into the sunlight that had been buried in darkness for a long time — shit I thought I was done with but had actually just stopped talking about. That was a wake-up call.

During my time there, I only met with my therapist a few times. I could only handle so much self-examination in a compressed period. When I saw her last week, she said something like, “Now that you’re finishing up IOP, let’s spend some time thinking about how to move forward and what you want out of your therapy.” Okay. Easier said than done, but okay. So I gave it some thought over the past week and realized that the reason why therapy felt stalled was not because of anything she did or didn’t do, but because of what I am and am not doing. I’m hiding behind humor and shallow subjects and putting on a show that I’m fine (this is called masking), but a lot of the time I’m not fine. And I hide it. And I need to do some soul-searching to figure out why.

I saw my therapist again tonight and she ambushed me with the question again with five minutes left in the session. I got flustered and babbled on about how I need to stop masking and be more honest with her about things and she said, “Yes, I feel like [XYZ] happens and you don’t talk about it until it’s at a crisis level, and we try to figure out why it happens and get it under control, and then you seem fine and then it happens again. We’re stuck in a dynamic that isn’t working and I just wonder if this is pointless for you.”

Uh, what?

Is…is she thinking about breaking up with me?

I cried on the way home. I was in a panic. But then I texted a good friend and we talked it out. I didn’t express myself well in the moment with my therapist, but I know what I need to do.

I need to stop being so afraid of shame.

I can barely even type or say the word. Shame. That awful feeling of humiliation and distress and crippling self-judgment. It’s beyond horrible. But the truth is that some of the things I need to talk about make me feel ashamed, and I run from that feeling like my hair’s on fire. I will talk about literally anything else to avoid discussing something that makes me feel shame. While it’s true that shame can be toxic and self-destructive (god, we can be so hard on ourselves when we’re ashamed) it also potentially signals a need for growth and change. Hate feeling ashamed of a certain behavior? Maybe it’s time to search for another way to behave, ya know?

I also need to work on vulnerability, which is tied to what I just said. Admitting to being ashamed or embarrassed means feeling incredibly exposed, and that’s scary. I trust my therapist probably more than anyone else in my life, and I’ve always thought that I’m totally open with her, but now that I really think about it, I still find myself thinking, “Not gonna talk about that because I might cry, and what if I can’t stop?” When, honestly, who cares if I can’t stop? Who cares if I sob through the whole 50 minutes and go through an entire box of kleenex? Apparently I care, and I need to work on that. I need to let go and just cry and swear and struggle out loud. Sometimes my relationship with my therapist feels like we’re just a couple of girlfriends, and I don’t need that. I have plenty of girlfriends. I need a therapist. And that’s something that both she and I have to work on, I think.

When she said, “I just wonder if this is pointless for you,” it scared the shit out of me. Just the tiniest implication that I could potentially not see her anymore made me freeze with my cup of tea halfway up to my mouth. I felt sick to my stomach. Is that a sign that it’s time to step up and make it real and honest and anything but pointless? Is this a sign she was trying to make me see? I think so. Because otherwise, what am I doing? If I’m not going to sit on that couch and be open and vulnerable and thoughtful, why sit on it at all? So I need to be willing to talk about all of it. The shame. The fear. The doubt. The pride. The love.

The truth.

Tune-Up

I haven’t written in over a year and thought I might check in. Last time, I wrote about the one-year anniversary of my suicide attempt and how different I felt coming out of the experience, having realized what an amazing support group I have and how I need to use it. Since then, things have been going really well. I’ve been mostly stable, with a few depressive blips here and there, but they’re not severe and typically only last a few days as opposed to, like, months as I was experiencing before my bipolar II diagnosis.

Lately though, things have been…weird.

I’m having a personal issue (what it is isn’t important) and it’s something that keeps  cropping up every now and then. The shame is that it’s a surmountable problem, but I don’t talk about it until it’s reached a crisis level and I’m totally fucked and in a panic. I don’t even talk to my therapist about it because I hate talking about it so much. (This, for those of you not in the know, is called avoidant behavior –  if I don’t face it, it’ll not be a thing.) It causes me to need help that’s hard to ask for. My behavior has made my relationship with my parents very strained, and I can’t stand that. They help me endlessly, not without questions (and sometimes yelling) but in the end they’re always there. So to have a wedge driven between us really hurts. In my darkness moments, I really do have those stereotypical thoughts like, “They’d be better off without me.” They deserve a better daughter. I get into a thought spiral where I feel horrible guilt over being sick and the ways that’s impacted them as parents, and crushing guilt that I’ve always been the one they worried about. I have a brother and I’d never say that my parents have never worried about him, but dude has his life together in a major way. Pretty much always has. I have this view (maybe it’s skewed, I don’t know) that I’m the one that’s always been the worry, the major concern, the cause of stress and sleepless nights. I’m the one who clung to my mother three years ago in the hallway of their house and just sobbed, “I’m so sick,” over and over again. We’re not a hugging family, but she held me and just said, “I know baby, I know.” I think about putting them through moments like that and I can’t even imagine the horror and panic and pain I caused. I can’t imagine what it’s like to see your child, your baby, feeling that way and not knowing how to help. I couldn’t help being sick. I know that. But my illness has had consequences beyond my own body and mind, and sometimes I feel wracked with guilt about that.

My depression and anxiety have been out of control lately, and the aforementioned issue reared its ugly had recently, and my therapist, for the first time, seemed truly upset with me. “Why don’t you talk to me about this before it’s a crisis? Is it something I say or do that makes you not want to tell me?” “No,” I sobbed, “it’s nothing to do with you.”

Later that night, she gently put out the idea that maybe I would benefit from going back to an intensive outpatient program.

I’m crushed. I don’t want to do IOP again. It was so hard last time, and while I know that it taught me so many crucial skills and was such a positive experience, I feel like a failure for having to go back again. I feel completely overwhelmed by the idea of going back to two hours a night, three nights a week, for six weeks. It’s so, so hard. I don’t mean for that to come out whiny, but it’s just the truth. It’s painful and exhausting and completely mentally draining. You have to think and talk about the last things in the entire world that you want to think and talk about. That’s the point, especially for me, the reigning champ of avoidant behavior. But there’s a good sense of community there, though, that I do like. You get to know people and their problems from week to week, and you root for each other. The trouble is that I’m an empath and when someone is in pain, I’m in pain. If they cry, I cry. So I spend most of group therapy struggling not to steal the show and basically hiding in a kleenex. Then I go home and sob until I feel all cried-out. Doesn’t sound therapeutic, but in the end, it is. IOP taught me coping techniques that I couldn’t have learned anywhere else, and I’ve carried many of those lessons with me ever since.

So I’m trying to keep the good stuff in mind as I embark on IOP: The Sequel. My first session was yesterday and it went okay. Didn’t cry too much. We did a unit on social anxiety that I found really helpful. So it’s off to a good start.

What I’ve been struggling with, though, is the thought that I have to do this again. I feel like a failure. Why wasn’t once enough? Where did all that knowledge, all those skills, go? I’m sad and depressed, but I’m also angry. Why the fuck can’t I just live a life that doesn’t require professional help to manage? Other people do this all the time. I mean, I’ve been saying for years that basically everybody would benefit from going to therapy at least once in a while, but what I mean to say here is that I’m pissed off that I’ve been in therapy for four (five?) years, I’ve had three stints in various psych hospitals due to suicidality, 6 weeks of IOP, not to mention a whole cocktail of medications, and I’m still all fucked up. Why can’t I navigate a functional life without needing all that shit? Is there some piece of me that’s missing, and if so, did I ever have it? Was I always going to be like this, since the beginning? There are millions of people like me in the world, but more millions of people who aren’t. What shitty short-ass straw did I draw?

I’m scared, too. I pride myself on being very self-aware. But these last several weeks have shown me that, sometimes, I’m a mystery to myself. And I don’t like that feeling. What other fucked-up-ness is hanging around in here?

I sound really why-me whiny right now. Maybe I am being whiny. I’m just really pissed off , more mad than depressed, that I have, and have had, all this help and I still just cannot get. It. Together. I try so hard. I really do. And moments like these make me feel like it’s just not good enough. A friend told me this week to think of myself as a car that just needs an occasional tune-up, that’s all. And that’s a nice way to think about it, except that I feel like I’m that sad abandoned El Camino up on blocks in the weedy abandoned lot next to the mechanic’s garage.

In my better moments, I decide that I’m just a work in progress, like we all are. Maybe my path is just a little longer and has more twists and dead-ends than is typical. I’m depressed and angry, but I’m still going to go to that goddamn IOP and learn everything they have to teach me, even the stuff I learned last time. Can’t hurt to hear a lesson more than once, right?

Eventually I’m going to move past the resentment and self-blame and all this other shitty stuff I’m feeling right now. IOP is going to help. I know it will. And it’s okay that I need to go through it again. It’s okay to need whatever it is that I need to be safe and stable and something at least resembling happy. In my good moments, I know that. I’m just struggling with the bad ones right now.

Sunrise

R10171_image1

[TW: suicide]

I looked at the calendar today and noticed that this Sunday is Father’s Day (oops). Then I realized, out of nowhere, that this weekend marks an anniversary for me.

A year ago this weekend, I tried to take my own life.

I think about the time that’s passed and can hardly believe I’m the same person I was a year ago. Maybe I’m not. After I got out of the hospital, I started intensive outpatient therapy. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it changed my life and is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself, mental health or otherwise. I met some amazing people at different places in their own journeys, and I learned how to handle various types and levels of emotions with a new set of skills – the most important being what to do when I’m freaking the fuck out and sobbing uncontrollably and presenting a danger to myself. (Most interesting trick I learned? When your distress is at an 8 or 9 out of 10, hold an ice pack on the back of your neck. It works.) I always saw myself as good at being in touch with my emotions and understanding why I felt a certain way and what to do about it. After three stints in a psychiatric hospital, it became apparent that I didn’t have the coping skills I thought I had. So I kept seeing my regular therapist, my psychiatrist, and going to outpatient therapy, and I got through it. I learned a lot, I got myself stabilized, and I was released back into the wild with a new set of skills and, most of all, a good feeling that I’ll probably never need to be sent to a hospital again. Since then, that good feeling has mellowed out into more of an “I will work as hard as I can on myself so I will hopefully never go to the hospital again,” type of thing. Life comes with no guarantees.

tenor

I’m writing this while in the throes of a pretty nasty depressive episode, which I guess is ironic. Last week, when Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain died by suicide, I did not take it well. I was very, very sad and felt very, very triggered. I held it together, but earlier this week my brain just gave up and I spiraled down. But I’m safe. I’m dealing with it in the healthiest ways I can manage while feeling exhausted and sad and shitty about everything. I cried myself to sleep the other night because when I’m depressed, all day long I want to isolate and wish everyone in the world would just fuck off, but at night, all I want in the whole world is to have someone in my bed with me. No need to talk to me, no need to lay a finger on me…just be in my bed. It’s awful. But I have hero-friends who have been coaxing me out of the house, which means I’m washing my hair and wearing normal clothes and even putting on makeup sometimes. That helps a lot. Depression makes you only feel like doing things that keep you depressed, so dragging myself out into society is a big middle finger to my depression monster. Sometimes self care is solitude and rest. Sometimes it’s sitting in a bar while laughing so hard I have to wipe my tears with a tiny square napkin. Because it is possible to laugh my ass off while depressed. It takes a little more than usual, but in the right circumstances, it can happen. And I’m very lucky to have people in my life who go out of their way to help me create those circumstances.

So here I am, one year post-attempt. It sucks that I’m marking this moment while in the middle of my worst depressive episode since it happened, but you know what? While last time I spun out of control and almost put a period at the end of my sentence, this time I’m pausing, semicolon-style. Outpatient therapy taught me how to do that. I know, even in this darkness, that life is good and I’m going to see the sun again soon.

In Treatment

[TW: Suicide, method]

So I’ve been watching this HBO show called In Treatment. It’s several years old but I recently got into it and I’m a bit addicted. It’s about a therapist, Paul, and his array of patients, and each season focuses on a particular set of them and follows them through several weeks of sessions. It’s well-written and hard to turn away from. The patients are fascinating and so is Paul, who goes to therapy himself. It reminds me of all the reasons I myself have thought of being a therapist – because people are so interesting and fragile and in need.

There are some episodes that I wish came with a trigger warning. One of Paul’s patients, Walter, attempts suicide, which is triggery for me in itself, but then he is placed in a psychiatric unit for a week, and his description of it to Paul made me cry – terrible staff, nothing to do, fellow patients who are very sick and often disturbing, etc. The whole plot line is an interesting exploration of suicide and its perception by people on the inside track of it. Walter takes a long time to even admit that what happened was an attempt on his life because he’s afraid of the stigma and getting locked up in the “nuthouse,” “loony bin,” etc. Paul’s treatment of the situation is gentler as he helps Walter explore the feelings of helplessness that brought him to that place.

There’s another patient of Paul’s, Mia, who is a very willful, difficult, rather antagonistic woman. I watched an episode today where she’s going through a tough time in her relationship with her father, and when Paul asks her if she’s been experiencing feelings of hopelessness, she says flippantly, “I’m not suicidal, Paul. Don’t worry. I’m pretty tough.”

I immediately had a thought, and that thought was fuck you.

Fuck you, Mia. Or, rather, fuck you, writers of In Treatment. 

I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I’m not sure – was it the writers of the show being ignorant, or was it an intentional decision made to continue portraying Mia as the difficult, provocative character she’s been all along? The way Paul handles Walter’s suicide attempt is, in my opinion, well done and what I would hope any therapist would do (it’s certainly what mine did). So I was caught off-guard by this “I’m not suicidal because I’m tough” business. Regardless of the intent behind it, it pushed a huge button that I have about the perception of weakness when we talk about suicide.

To someone with my history, it’s really hurtful. Honestly, I think I’m a tough motherfucker. I’ve taken myself to the hospital twice in order to save my life because I felt that I might be a danger to myself and part of me, deep down, knew that my mind was lying and I didn’t really want to go yet. A third time, I was so sick and exhausted that I actually made the attempt and called 911 to save myself yet again because I realized I was willing to hold on just a little bit longer. Do you know how hard that was to go through? To lie there with that empty bottle next to me, waiting to lose consciousness, and suddenly sitting up in a panic, wanting to take it back because I wasn’t ready to go yet? That 911 call was the hardest, scariest thing I’ve ever had to do because I was so afraid I was too late. Sobbing into the phone and explaining what I’d done was the worst moment of my life. I’ve never been so scared. Facing down insensitive ER staff (“how would you like to pay your copay, ma’am?” as I’m sitting on a gurney with absolutely nothing because they immediately take everything away from you when you show up suicidal) and a horrible psychiatric hospital for the third time was the second worst. Here we go again. I was so sad and scared and tired.

So I’m over listening to bullshit about suicide and weakness. There is nothing weak about facing down that monster. It’s a fight no one can understand until they’ve been there, and only a person who’s never been there would make the judgment that there’s anything like weakness involved. We have a long way to go to erase the stigma, which is part of the reason I write about it.

If you’re struggling, hang in there. You are so brave. And asking for help is brave too. Reach out to someone you trust or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. You are strong, you are needed, you are loved, and you matter.

Still here

[TW: suicide]

I recently spent the better part of a week in the hospital again. I was so disappointed to have to do it, but this time was even more important than the previous two times, when I went in because I was suicidal.

This time, I tried to kill myself.

I’m still processing what happened and how to feel. It was the lowest and scariest moment of my life. Maybe “tried” is the wrong word, because within minutes of those pills hitting my stomach, I called 911. I realized that I wasn’t ready to leave yet. I wasn’t done fighting to get better and to do such an awful thing to my friends and family, who have done nothing but love and support me as I struggle. I wasn’t ready to give up. So I called an ambulance and stood outside on the sidewalk shaking and crying and listening to the approaching sirens and hoping so hard that it wasn’t too late.

It wasn’t. In the emergency room I had to struggle to answer the basic questions of “what’s your name?” “do you know where you are?” and “do you know what month it is?” but it wasn’t too late. I spent the night in the regular hospital to be kept under observation and then moved to the psychiatric unit, where I stayed for four nights. It was crushingly unhelpful and I left feeling not much better than when I went in. I was both glad and afraid to go home.

But once I got home, I was reminded of what a support network I have and how many people were thinking of and praying for me while I was away. As soon as I got my phone back and turned it on, my text message notifications practically exploded with people letting me know they were thinking of me and they love me and hope I was doing better. I was reminded that I am so loved and cared for – I had a friend visit me twice and bring me clothes, hair product, and mascara (some things about me will never change) and then give me a ride home when I was released. She looked after my cats while I was gone. Overall she was a rock for me, has always been a rock for me, and I will never be able to pay that back well enough. Another friend invited me over and gave me flowers and bought me a much-needed Slurpee. Another fed me pizza and cried letting me know how glad she is that I’m still here. I talked to my mom and cried with her and told her I’m so sorry I did this to her and she told me to knock it off. And still more sent me messages of support and love that reminded me that I’m never alone in this.

It’s hard to explain why, in those darkest moments, it’s so hard to reach out and let people who care about me support me so I don’t do something drastic like this. There was/is a voice in my head that’s afraid of being a burden to someone and putting them in a position where they don’t know what to say or do and dropping a huge terrifying burden into their lap. But I’ve also been asked many times “Why didn’t you call me?” and I can see in their faces how badly they want to help and, in the end, I’m not being fair to them when I don’t.

I know I have a long road ahead and talking about all of this is going to be hard, if not impossible. I have to figure out how to make room in my self-perception to include what I did. But I also I need to embrace normalcy because that stuff (fortunately) has stayed the same. I still need to work and do laundry and make stupid jokes. I still have to stop the cats from eating stuff that isn’t food. I still have to keep being the best friend I know how to be, because I know now that I have the best support network ever, and I have a responsibility to return the favor, whether it be late-night phone calls, bringing someone their makeup when they irrationally want it, or buying them pizza or Slurpees (I’m sensing a food trend here).

Ya’ll are the best and I promise to try my hardest not to leave you, as hard as it might get sometimes. I’m sick but I’m also strong and this awful experience drove that home. And one of the reasons I’m strong is because I have you.

Period.

14479621_10208496819950415_1537124262996243507_n

Two years ago, when I was on a trip and going through a rocky time with my mental health, I got a tattoo of a semicolon on my ankle. It was inspired by Amy Bluel’s Project Semicolon, a nonprofit dedicated to presenting hope and support for people who struggle with mental health problems, suicidal thoughts, addiction, and self-harm issues. The idea is that your life is a sentence – a period ends it, but a semicolon means a pause and then continuation. It’s a powerful symbol for a powerful message, and Amy’s project has inspired thousands to share their stories of struggle and survival (and photos of their tattoos).

This morning I read the news that Amy has died by suicide.

It isn’t fair.

I’ve been crying on and off all day, and there are two things I keep coming back to: it’s scary and it’s unfair. I’m choking on the injustice of it. Nobody deserves that illness, that pain, that death. She just couldn’t pause anymore.

I’m feeling well and have been feeling well, consistently, for months. No swings, no highs or lows, a bit of anxiety but overall just a nice stability. But today has served as a reminder for future days when I don’t feel as well:

Pause.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

A light somewhere

So.

So.

Hell of a year, right? Enough already. I don’t think the world is going to reset at midnight on New Year’s Eve and everything will be better, but I hope it’ll be a bit of a relief to put this calendar year to rest and enjoy that initial fresh-start feeling in 2017.

 On the 30th it’ll be a year since I went to the emergency room because I wanted to kill myself. I spent New Year’s Eve drugged out of my skull and asleep by 10pm in a sad little bed in a psych hospital. Yesterday Facebook showed me a photo from a year ago, the day when my college friends and I got together, all seven of us, for the first time in forever. It’s a great group photo and I found myself studying my own face, wanting to analyze that smile that looks so easy and bright. I think about what a wreck I was and feel sad for that year-ago girl who was spinning out of control and didn’t think anyone could help her. My hospital stay was a largely positive experience because I was with the rehab patients, not the other patients who were mentally ill and posed more danger to themselves and others. I came out feeling emotional but also glowingly grateful for the chance to get things off my chest to a supportive group (never underestimate the power of unloading your stuff on a small group of impartial strangers and have nothing come back at you but unconditional acceptance and a complete lack of judgment).  I was better for a while, then started spiraling out again, even worse than before, and that’s when the bipolar II diagnosis came. Ultimately this was an incredibly good thing, but before we got the meds right, I wound up in the hospital again in May. That was a fucking trainwreck. I was locked up with severely sick and disordered patients and nobody there was going to get any better. I woke up to people screaming their heads off in the middle of the night and getting locked into “quiet rooms” that were basically prison cells. It was a horrible hospital with horrible staff and I walked out in no better shape than I was when I went in.

But then I took a month off work and we got the drugs right, and everything’s been different since then. I’m still a little depressed most of the time, but that’s pretty normal for a bipolar II sufferer, and sometimes I’m manic, although that’s mostly mild. But overall I feel much more in control and that’s a win all around. My mom gave me a book about bipolar II and it’s been a revelation to learn how some things that I assumed are just my personality are actually symptoms of depression or mania. Sometimes that makes it hard to know when I’m feeling angry or upset about something genuinely shitty and when I’m not, but it’s still good to know that irrational irritability, explosive anger, and my sometimes-debilitating sensitivity to rejection are often symptoms of hypomania, not my “crazy” personality traits that I’ve spent so much time hating. There’s so much freedom in that because it enables me to understand myself better and recognize when it’s time for self-care to get myself balanced and feeling more like me again. I’m not always an unwilling rider of the bipolarcoaster, as I like to call it. It can be a subtle, insidious disease, but every day I’m learning to recognize its many faces.

That’s been my year in mental health. Six months of garbage followed by six months of slow but steady improvement. Thank you to those of you who put up with me being cripplingly depressed and unable to go out, or relentlessly crabby, or just not present in general, and still supported me. None of it’s been intentional but I know that I don’t exist in a vacuum so I am, in fact, a pain in the ass to be friends with sometimes.  So thanks to everyone who’s still here. I love you. Everything won’t reset as 2017 rolls in, but I still feel hopeful that my health (and life) will stay on this upward trend.

As Bukowski said, “Be on the watch. / There is a light somewhere. / It may not be much light / but it beats the darkness.”