It’s 2019 and this original post, made with a lot of fear and a major push of will is still extremely relevant, not just for me, but for so many people in the world, so many people in my life, and so many people in YOUR life, even if you don’t know it.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I guarantee that every single person who reads this knows someone who has mental health struggles. It can range from PTSD to depression to anxiety to bipolar to eating disorders to schizophrenia. You probably don’t even know it in many cases because most people have learned to hide it (and themselves) very well. But I promise you, there is someone in your life that survives a mental health struggle every.single.day.
I posted this on a different blog in May 2014 and thought it would be a good idea to repost it to this blog which has a different readership…it’s a long post, but worth the read, in my humble opinion. At the end, an update on where I’m at today.
I love May for many reasons. The grass is green, flowers are blooming, the windows are open, and I can get outdoors to do things without impersonating the kids from A Christmas Story. And, it’s my birthday month, so you know, that’s always a big plus (hint: I have Amazon wishlists…feel free to find them and buy me presents. KIDDING!)
But May also marks the anniversary of an unbelievably hard time in my life. This month will mark 4 years since I drove myself to the hospital and told them that if I didn’t get help, I was going to take as many pills as my body would hold so I could die (failing to mention that I’d already started that little process). I thought I wanted out of this life that I felt was making me so miserable…yet some small part of me still held a glimmer of hope, I guess.
I don’t remember driving to the hospital or waiting in the ER waiting room…
I remember the intake nurse telling me repeatedly to be very sure of what I was saying. She didn’t know that it wasn’t my first rodeo…between 2008 and 2010, I tried several times to kill myself…always with pills, never with “success”. It seems my body has a very high tolerance for medicine…dosages that probably should’ve worked, only made me sleep for days and then throw up for a couple more.
I remember the very kind, young doctor who was semi-hippie-esque and hugged me as I sobbed huge, wracking sobs. He told me over and over that we’d work this out, that I’d feel better, that with the right help things wouldn’t look and feel so bad. He calmed me down enough to tell him the details and then he asked me one simple question “Are you ready to start over?”. I couldn’t speak, I just nodded my head.
I remember the ambulance crew telling me that they thought I was “hilarious” and why would I ever consider suicide when I seemed so happy? Even at that point, I was still putting up that facade of being ok and well.
I remember standing in a room, naked, while the nurses checked me over from head to toe to make sure there were no signs of self harm…and how embarrassed and ashamed I felt. They were kind and gentle, but it was humiliating to be scrutinized in that way. They gave me fuzzy socks and a warm blanket because I couldn’t stop shivering, even though I was sweating bullets.
I remember the abject fear I felt when the solid steel door shut behind me, locking me in a hospital ward that I would not be able to leave for a minimum of 5 days. I remember how bleak and sterile it felt.
I remember calling my boss and explaining to him where I was and that no, I didn’t know when I’d be back to work (because it’s not like there’s a specified end date to treatment for depression). I remember him calling me back because he didn’t believe I was in the hospital.
I remember calling my mom and how stunned and sad she sounded. My facade of happy works wonders when you don’t see me for months on end and only have my voice and my words to go by to determine my well-being. I didn’t talk to my dad…I haven’t talked to my dad about it to this day.
I remember meeting my roommate and thinking how ironic it was that I got paired up with a girl almost 20 years my junior who shared so many of my core beliefs (yay feminists) and superficial interests in movies and books and music. There were times when it felt like we were having a slumber party instead of being in a psych. ward, which just seems kind of surreal.
I remember the morning when the meds they gave me kicked in. It was the first morning in at least, at the very least, 15 years that I woke up and didn’t feel like there was a giant knot in my stomach and an elephant was sitting on my chest. I was so happy…giddy even. It was such an amazing feeling. One of the orderlies on the floor told me that morning I was glowing. THAT is how amazing it felt.
I remember the moment the floodgates broke, while in group therapy, reading this segment of a poem:
PLEASE HEAR WHAT I’M NOT SAYING (excerpt)
Pretending is an art that’s second nature with me,
But don’t be fooled
For God’s sake don’t be fooled.
I gave you the impression that I’m secure,
That all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without
That confidence is my name and coolness is my game
That the water’s calm and I’m in command
And that I need no one
But don’t believe me.
Reading it made me realize that I did not have to be alone in this situation while at the same time putting into words how I was feeling–something I couldn’t seem to say with any amount of accuracy. The passage described me almost perfectly and it scared the hell out of me to think that everything I put out to the world was a lie.
I celebrated the last week of my 30s in that hospital with a wonderful roommate that I’m still friends with; with nurses and therapists that cared so much; with a doctor who quickly picked up, that by nature I’m sarcastic, and he dished it right back at me in a joking manner that made our sessions so much less difficult; and with other people who knew what I was thinking and feeling because they were sitting in the same boat with me.
In a way it seemed fitting to close out that decade of my life by basically hitting rock bottom and realizing that I wasn’t the person I thought I was and I would have to start from scratch all over again, building me from the ground up in many ways.
It’s been four years since then and as much as I’d love to say I’m exactly where I want to be, that would be a lie. These past four years have been an incredibly huge struggle. A struggle to learn to love the person I am, a struggle to have honest and open relationships with people, a struggle not to fall back into old patterns and habits, a struggle to take my meds every day even when I think things are “fine”. There are days when it’s still a struggle to even get out of bed and function like one assumes normal people do…shower, brush teeth, make food, go outside, interact with other humans. Some days I succeed, some days I fail. I stopped keeping track of which I did more of.
But the biggest struggle (still) is quieting that inner voice that still tells me, every single day, that life really isn’t worth it. No medication in the world, no self-help, no amount of therapy, no meditation has made that voice completely stop. It’s not as loud as it used to be, it’s not as persistent, but it’s still there…always. Thankfully that therapy, meditation, medication, books, support groups, friends and my parents are there to help me cope when the road gets rough. And I call upon them far more now than I ever used to, but probably still not as much as I should. Asking for help has never been something I’m good or even average at. But I know I have to and I know that if I don’t, then I won’t be on the mortal coil anymore.
Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I felt some inexplicable pull to share this with the people I know. There is such a huge stigma to mental illness. And that’s a heavy burden to bear for people who are already struggling just to get through each day. That stigma needs to be eradicated and I hope that by me and other people sharing our stories that there’s a chance we can chip away at it and start realizing that just like physical illnesses you might not be able to see, mental illnesses is just as devastating and painful and REAL. And that others will realize that we’re pretty normal (relatively speaking) people…we aren’t contagious, we aren’t going to suddenly go homicidal on them (most people turn their anger and pain inwards on themselves, not out at others), and we’re not going to force our issues upon them…a majority of us share it only with those who’ve made it clear they’ll be there for us. We learned the hard way that not everyone is cut out to help us cope—and that’s ok.
Hopefully this month and all the months and years to come will see better communication, better information, and better qualifications for mental illnesses…and most importantly, it will see people realizing how important it is to take care of their mental health; that it’s just as important as their physical health in every way.
I really wish I could say that life has improved immensely for me in the 9 years since that hospital stay. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. I’ve lost my father and my brother. I take care of my mom who is very slowly dying from COPD or possibly another metastatic cancer that will invade her body. I live in a town I loathe with people who are as different from me as night and day. I’ve eradicated almost my entire family from my life because they take toxicity to a whole new level and that sends me spiraling hard and fast. And the things I love–arts, great music, author readings, museums, etc. are over an hour away.
Five years ago, intellectual conversations about anything and everything were a regular part of my weeks. Now, I’m lucky to have a really good one every few months, if that. I don’t have a career that challenges me. Hell, I don’t even have a full-time job because there are few available, and I guess I’m more qualified for the caliber existing (or so I’ve heard back from several companies).
I have little to no social life, have gained more weight than I ever though I would allow to happen, and I can’t remember the last time I had a deep, belly laugh or smiled in a way that I can feel it in my eyes and my heart. Every night…every single night…I go to sleep hoping I won’t wake up in the morning. And every morning I wake up angry, just because I woke up.
And getting quality, effective mental health help in Iowa is hard. In SE Iowa, it’s almost impossible. There are very few psychologists or mental health workers set to deal with long-term, ongoing therapy. There are a load of licensed social workers who have base knowledge, but not the depth of knowledge necessary for serious and major mental health issues.
All of this creates an ugly vortex that seems inescapable. Yet, I do get up every day. I try my best to take care of mom. I continue sending out resumes. I’m trying to start my own consulting business as a “side hustle”, and I continue taking classes when my mental faculties are able to handle the rapid pace of accellerated classes (it’s taking longer than I had planned).
My support system is not big, but it is solid. I have two close friends, one being my former hospital roomie, I know I can count on. I’ve met some people online who understand what I’m going through, and I no longer fear calling a mental health hotline when I feel I’m not coping and the suicidal ideation becomes a little to real.
Yes, there are days when doing what “normal” folks do every day with ease is impossible or nearly impossible, but I accept those days as part of what I have to deal with for the time being. And I keep hope alive that the people who run this country will realize that if given the resources to take care of our mental health, many people can and will become more productive, more effective, and help develop a more understanding and accessible society.
If you think you or someone you know needs help, do what you can to find it. Know that it can be extremely frustrating, but in the end, it will make a difference. If you do have mental health issues…DO NOT BE ASHAMED OF THEM! They are not a “fault”, they are a medical issue like any other you would be willing to talk about. There should not be a stigma and that stigma dies when more people speak out about their mental health.
Be well, treat yourself with the care you’d give to those you love and care about, know that sometimes self-care is more important than anything else you can do in your day, week, month, or life. And speak out to those who denigrate others’ mental illnesses and issues–let them know that shaming is not acceptable.