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.

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.

Fight, etc.

Been quiet around these parts lately. I guess I haven’t had anything interesting to talk about, except I escaped the job I hated and got into one that I hate just as much and is just as bad for my brain as the first one. So, yay for that. I’m trying hard to keep my head up and sometimes take things hour by hour if that’s what I need to do. It’s exhausting. Yesterday I found myself in that passive “not going to actually do anything about it but I really wish I wasn’t around anymore” mindset. That probably sounds horrifying to people who aren’t sick but for me it’s as normal as something like that can be. I have a hard day or start stressing too much about something and there’s that little monster ready to introduce that thought into my head. He’s an asshole. I’d take this over the actual suicidal state that’s landed me in the hospital, but obviously it still sucks. Who wants to walk around feeling like that? I don’t know what the answer is. Talking about it scares people. Talking about it to my shrink makes him want to throw more medication at the problem and I already take so much and truly don’t think that’ll help. And yet I’m not cool with the idea that I just have to live with thoughts about not wanting to live. That’s some bullshit.

Anyway. That’s all I got. Feeling kind of crappy but hanging in there. This has been a really, really hard year and I’m tired, but just on principal I’m not surrendering to this goddamn disease. Fight, fight, fight, etc.

Ten Minutes

The fun continues. I’m on day 5 of the full dose of Lamictal that’s supposed to fix the way I’ve been feeling for weeks, but apparently that takes time because I’m anxious as fuck and irritable beyond belief and so completely unable to handle stress that I had to come home from the office early because I couldn’t even work. I felt like I was going to lose my shit at any moment and I’m really trying to avoid that happening at the office. When I was standing out in the cold waiting for my Uber, freezing half to death and crying a little bit, I had vague thoughts of taking myself to the hospital so I could just rest and be somebody else’s problem for a little while, but then realized that wouldn’t help. I learned a few things in my time there, but ultimately that place didn’t really help me. It kept me safe from myself for a few days and that was it. Nothing was lastingly better in any significant way after I came home. But how and when the fuck am I going to get better? I’m so tired and frustrated and pissed off because every time I go to my doctor he’s like “SOON” and I’m like “THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH” and he just smiles and tells me to be patient because he doesn’t have to walk around in this body every day feeling at least three-quarters of the way out of his mind. Instead of feeling so depressed that I have thoughts of wanting to die, I feel so overwhelmingly anxious and stressed and panicky and angry and can’t see how it’ll get better and THAT makes me wish I could make it be over by flipping a switch. It’s like a different flavor of the same problem. Same dance, different song. And of course missing work doesn’t help the anxiety because I already feel like I’m not doing well there and am being treated accordingly, so then I’m so anxious I can’t work and go home and then feel more anxious because that certainly isn’t helping matters. I’m still a goldfish in a bag that some bratty little kid is shaking. In all the time I’ve been sick I’ve never felt so little control of my own body and behavior and it’s so scary and makes me feel so alone in it and certain people in my life don’t help matters by treating me like because I’m bipolar, none of my thoughts and feelings are have legitimacy or value: I’m not pissed because someone’s being shitty, I’m pissed because I’m a bit “crazy” right now. Actually no, I am still capable of having normal reactions and recognizing when something is bullshit. I’m medicated, not lobotomized. FFS. Bottom line is, when I’m upset or in a rage, don’t tell me to just go take a nap. I’m not a toddler having a tantrum.

It’s so hard to describe if you’re not in it, and it makes me feel so alone because how can you comfort someone if you don’t understand what’s the matter and I don’t even know what to ask for. So I sit at home and take my benzos with wine and try to chill the fuck out and it works for like ten minutes at a time. That’s all I’ve got at the moment – ten minutes at a time. I guess I can do that for a while until things get better. They have to get better.

Wintry mix

I think this is what they call a mixed episode. Supposedly bipolar II’s don’t get them much, but I’m restless and hostile and irritable and can’t sit still and I’m also depressed as fuck. I’m fine and laughing and in less than 5 minutes I’m having an emotional breakdown. I start a sentence and am sobbing by the end of it without any warning that I’m about to get upset. I fly into a rage over the stupidest shit – I bumped my head on an open cabinet in my kitchen and was instantly so pissed that I lost it and opened and slammed it until my hand hurt. I didn’t feel this out of control four months ago when I was planning how to die. I can’t do anything except play Xbox and watch My Little Pony because my attention span is so short and I start to panic if I try to focus on anything real like reading a book. (Hard to freak out when you’re watching pastel ponies fly around talking about friendship.) I haven’t finished a book in almost a year, and I used to read 2-3 per month. I have things to be happy and excited about, things to be motivated for, and I feel good about them for most of the day and then suddenly I hate my life and have no hope and want to die. I haven’t had a suicidal thought in months but now here they are again. If there’s a hell for me, this is it – manic and depressed at the same time. I see my doctor on Thursday and thank god for that. For a couple of days after cutting the Abilify it seemed like things were settling down, but they’re not. I don’t think there are a lot of other options besides the path I’m on and that’s the scary part. Maybe this is all just a long, slow adjustment phase, but what if it’s not? This is just as bad as the blackest-black depression I was in before my diagnosis changed. I feel like a goldfish in a plastic bag and some shitty little kid is shaking it. I’m furious and sad and scared and I feel absolutely nothing like myself, and all I have ever wanted out of this entire godawful situation is to feel like myself again. It’s such a basic, reasonable thing to want I’m so fucking tired and so fucking mad because I don’t get to have it.

Me, Interrupted

[Trigger warning: Suicide]

2016 has gotten off to an unusual start.

On December 30th, I went to the hospital because I was suicidal to a degree that I’ve never been before. I experience quite a bit of suicidal ideation as a matter of course (so fun!) but this time was different. Before, I would have the “I wish I was dead” thoughts when I was super upset about something, usually crying or paralyzed by anxiety, or so depressed that I couldn’t move. And even then, the vast majority of the time I didn’t think about actual suicide; I’d wish that I could just pop out of existence, or go to sleep and not wake up. I didn’t want to kill myself, I just wanted to not exist anymore. Thoughts like that were scary when they first started for me a couple of years ago, but it’s surprising (and sad) how quickly I got used to them. It’s like once my brain reached out and went there for the first time, it never snapped back into its original shape. It got easier and easier to go to that place, to the point where the thoughts became intrusive and would pop into my head when I was thinking about something normal. Okay, so tonight I have that volunteer meeting at 6 and then when I get home I need to do laundry so my black jeans are clean for the party on Saturday, and I also need to need to run the dishwasher because I forgot last night and hey I could just step out in front of that bus right now and it would all be over. Or I’d be thinking about a problem and mulling over what I could do about it, and within two or three steps I’d somehow arrive at just killing myself because who fucking cares anyway.

So that sort of thing is bad enough by itself. Right around Christmas, though, I had a perfect storm of stressful and upsetting events hit me in rapid succession. They were each upsetting in their own right, but hitting me like BAM-BAM-BAM  was too much and something inside me broke. Looking back, I see now that I was doing really badly for at least at month beforehand, but it’s hard to see the downward spirals sometimes because I’m in them. I’d been drinking more and more in the evenings, ducking into the bathroom at work to cry more and more often, and thinking lots of thoughts like, “I can’t talk to anyone about how I feel because nobody can help me. People mean well but they don’t understand and there’s nothing they can say that would take these hellish feelings away, so there’s no point in telling anyone.” So, on December 30th I found myself sitting at my desk at work, very calmly planning my death. I’m not going to share what the plan was, because I’ve been required to share it with several people already and it creates a tidal wave of guilt and shame and horror and anxiety that doesn’t get any better each time I explain it. I’ll just say that I made a specific plan, which had never been the case before, and when I realized that I was very calmly and deliberately doing the necessary research I needed in order to die, I started shaking all over and got up from my desk at 2:00 in the afternoon and took myself to the emergency room.

I don’t have the emotional reserves tonight to tell the whole story in detail, but I was admitted to a psychiatric unit on New Year’s Eve morning. I have never been more afraid in my entire life. This particular unit was a cross between a hospital and a prison. We couldn’t have cell phones, iPods, laptops, anything made of glass, anything with shoelaces or strings, dental floss, or bras with underwires. We had closets but they had no doors, rods, or hangers. There were no towel bars in the bathrooms. Even the fire sprinklers barely stuck out from the walls. There were a few wall-mounted telephones in the corridor that we could use to make and receive calls, and the cords on them were barely long enough to get the receiver to your ear. There was a fine but dense mesh over all the windows that could only be opened with a key. My unit had two sides, and each side went down to the cafeteria for meals at set times, three times a day, in the elevator that could only be operated by someone with a key. After meals we stood in line at the nurse’s station to get our medications in little paper cups with another little paper cup of water to wash them down.

tumblr_lc9pqnYxza1qzi80do1_500

Between meals, we had group therapy. Group therapy, quite honestly, was one of the most amazing, powerful, enlightening, and exhausting experiences I’ve ever had. My fellow patients, I came to realize, were truly beautiful souls. We had all arrived at roughly the same time, and we were each bottoming out in our own ways. We were stripped down to the rawest, barest, saddest, most exhausted and frightened and vulnerable versions of ourselves, and we cautiously accompanied each other through those first really rough couple of days and started having breakthroughs together, and breakdowns too, and there was so much pain in what these people were going through, such unspeakable trauma they’d suffered, and they shared it all out loud with an honesty and bravery that made me cry. I learned so much just from sitting quietly and listening to them – I think I learned just as much from listening, if not more, than I did from talking through my own stuff. They inspired me so. It was so hard and so rewarding at the same time.

donald

I was on the unit for five days and I have lots of things to share from my experience there, but it’s way too much to tell all at once, so it’ll come along organically as I write my way through this next phase, the post-hospitalization phase, which so far has been…weird. It goes without saying that I was overjoyed to come home to my own apartment and my own shower and my own bed, but I also came home to the life I’d been completely sheltered from for five days. Could you willingly surrender all forms of electronic communication for five days? No texting, no email, no social media, no Google when you find yourself wondering about something? No news alerts, no Amazon, no Fruit Ninja, no checking your bank accounts? It creates an extremely uncomfortable feeling of isolation, and that’s exactly the point – in our downtime, we couldn’t fall back on the easy, mindless, sometimes compulsive methods of distraction and self-medication we’d learned to use so well. We had to sit quietly with ourselves and feel our feelings and think our thoughts and sometimes watch ABC because that was the only station the TV in the dayroom could get. So coming back to my couch and my Roku that lets me stream a zillion different movies and TV shows, and my iPhone that basically puts the world in the palm of my hand, felt strange and honestly a little scary. I felt very fragile coming home to the same life that I’d been living in such darkness and despair and fear before, and I had to learn–have to learn–how to live it in a different way. A way that’s more centered on truly taking care of myself instead of just fumbling around for various ways to numb my pain. Because the pain’s still there, mostly. I’m not suicidal anymore, but I still have major depression with a side of anxiety, and it’s possible that I always will. I can take care of myself to the best of my ability, but the fact remains that I may be sick in one degree or another for the rest of my life. But I try not to think that far ahead, because navigating individual days, and even hours, is enough of a challenge. The difference is that it’s a challenge I feel up to, at least most of the time. Old patterns and habits are hard to break, but I’ve come to understand how much better I’ll feel once I break them. It’s a tiring process, and sometimes when I’m alone I break down and cry out of sheer exhaustion, but that’s okay. Everything I feel is allowed – what an amazing thing, to be learning to accept myself like that.

So I’m back in the swing of things, more or less, and I’m starting to feel like myself again (I know I’m getting better when my sense of humor starts to come back). I know I’ll have some setbacks and disappointments, but I’m prepared to accept that. Fighters fight.