Please be forewarned that this is going to get heavy and be a bit lengthier than usual. I have some stuff to say.
Actor and Comedian Robin Williams killed himself today. And it is bringing me to tears. I didn’t know him. He wasn’t tragically young. In fact, he had a well-documented long, arduous battle with addiction and heart disease. But still, my chest physically hurts for this man right now.
And it’s because I can vividly remember how it felt right before I tried to kill myself.
Five years, one month, and seven days ago, I made the decision to end my life. You have to know that I’ve battled depression since my teens. In my late teens, I began cutting as well to ease the emotional pain and stress I was enduring. I realize that sounds like an oxymoron, inflicting pain to ease pain, but there’s a scientific reason. When you are physically hurt, your brain sends neurochemicals (adrenaline among them) to ease the pain. When a cutter cuts, those chemicals act to calm and soothe. They are also addicting and the next time emotional stress arises, the notion of cutting gets awfully appealing. But it causes social, emotional, and logistical problems which cause stress and so you get caught in a very nasty circle.
I did the dance of depression and cutting until I was about 26-years-old. Right around then a psychiatrist diagnosed me with Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar Disorder, or manic-depression, causes the mood to move between crippling depression and jarring manias. There are two kinds. Type 1 features higher highs, called mania, and sometimes delusional thinking. Type 2, which I was diagnosed with, has worse depressions but milder highs called hypomania. I never truly fit the definition for Bipolar Disorder but psychology is not a precise science. It’s a science of elimination in my experience. Well ma’am, you don’t have this or this so you must have that. I’m currently in the position of lobbying my professionals to move my diagnosis back to depression but that’s like pushing a hippo covered in maple syrup uphill in Siberia in February.
In 2009, I developed the worst insomnia of my life. I’d always been a sleeper. I could take a three hour nap during the day and then sleep twelve happy hours. But a switch flipped and my sleeping days were done. It got so severe that my body would fall asleep and I’d be unable to move but my mind would stay awake. Luckily, we had raccoons. I would watch them all night as they tried, sometimes successfully, to get into the trash barrels or as they would roll up the corners of the newly laid sod looking for tasty buggies underneath. But not sleeping does horrible things to your mind. There is a reason that countries use it to torture prisioners of war. It’s effective. I can attest to it.
Amid a failing relationship, being laid off from work, having my car repossessed, parenting a confusingly neurotic 3-year-old, and severe emotional abuse coming from the two people signed on to love me, it would have been a wonder if I wasn’t depressed. The medications just weren’t working. It certainly wasn’t for lack of effort on my psychiatrist’s part. I was on the phone with him daily getting different prescriptions and advice. But it wasn’t working. I wasn’t sleeping. I started cutting. I was stringent about it. It never happened when my son was home. But my son’s father belittled me about it just the same.
I am not a psychology professional but I’ve been around so here is my handy guide for dealing with someone who is self-harming (and that can mean cutting, picking scabs, pulling out hair, scratching, burning, you name it). The first thing to do is to gently remove whatever object that person is hurting themselves with. Most self-harmers have a routine, using just one object or type of object and harming on the same area of the body. For me, it was the inside of my forearm. When I made the committment to permently give up cutting, I put a tattoo there of a dandilion with pods turning into birds. It gives me hope. The next thing is to reassure that person that you love them. I can’t stress that enough. They need to hear that you’re not angry. Or disgusted. Or horrified (even though you might be any of those things). They need to hear that you love them and you’re going to help them get help so they don’t have to do it anymore. Step three is finding the help. That might be a therapist or a psychiatrist or both. Or it could mean going directly to your nearest emergency department to get admitted to a psychiatric unit if your self-harmer is willing.
The thought of suicide was constantly in my head by June of that year. Constantly having to battle it away was exhausting. I think most people would say the thought of their kids kept them from going down that road. Sadly, my child was used against me in a never-ending campaign of emotional abuse. I was told that I was a bad mother and that Mini-me’s increasingly difficult behavior at preschool was my fault. It took it’s toll. On the other end, financial problems between us had put my already unstable mother on the offensive. From the other coast, she would call every hour on the hour. When I would answer, she would berate me.
When talking about suicide, I often hear people say the person who died was being selfish. I always want to comment, but never do. When I made the choice to end my life, I was thinking about everyone other than myself. I truly believed that my child would be better off without me. My mother happier. My boyfriend less angry. I knew there were people who would be sad but I really believed myself so inconsequential that they would get over my loss quickly and easily.
On July fourth, my boyfriend took my son to a holiday party. He didn’t ask if I wanted to go. I did some homework for a class I was taking and turned it in online. That’s probably the weirdest thing about this story. I decided that it was time. If I could find some pills that I’d asked my son’s father to hide from me (knowing that I would try to overdose), then it would be on. Once again underestimated, I found them easily, tucked on top shelf in the kitchen. I sat on my bed. I was serene for the first time in what seemed like a very long time. In a very clear voice, I told myself internally I could choose to do this or not. I chose. I took an overdose of hundreds of prescription psychiatric medications.
And then came the tears.
I believe at some point the drugs got me high. I decided to call my son’s father and warn him not to come home. I am thankful every day that I made that call. He showed up angrier than any person I have ever seen but got me to an emergency room where I promptly blacked out. The rest isn’t pretty. I was put onto a respirator and into a coma after breathing in vomit. I woke up in a recovery room with a tube down my nose. And that little room is where my life began again.
The next day a doctor very politely asked if I would like to join him upstairs. I had no idea what that meant but I agreed. I spent twelve days upstairs. I met amazing people who, to this day, are some of my very best friends. Something more important happened. People, both professionals and patients, started telling me that I wasn’t a horrible person and didn’t deserve to be on the receiving end of constant abuse. It was a while longer before I could admit that I’d been in an abusive relationship (which ended exactly a month after my discharge) or feel like I was a good mother. But it was a start.
It was a good start. I’m not going to say it was all sunshine and lollipops because that would be a disservice to any reader who is fighting. Since then, I’ve been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder resulting from the abuse from my parents and former partner, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. I like to joke about the OCD. I have the organizational variety, so if you ever need books arranged I’m your girl. Actually, when it’s not annoying it’s pretty handy. I’m really good at moving. On one end I get to pack boxes which is deeply, deeply gratifying and then I get to set everything up and give it order. Sadly, that’s what I call a good time. When I was diagnosed with ADHD, it was like a light when on. I was surprised because I didn’t know I fit the mold. But, there are things I’ve done or that have been remarked about me — I failed the first grade because I couldn’t stop talking — that suddenly made sense. And as soon as they started treating me with the basic stimulants, I started sleeping. It’s not perfect, but it’s a heck of a lot better.
I don’t regret trying to kill myself. It put me on the path to recovery in my mind and in my personal life. I still struggle with insomnia and depression. But now, when I’m depressed, the bearded gentleman takes care of me and encourages me to take care of myself. My Mini-me is now old enough to tell me that I am important to him. For Mother’s Day he wrote me a letter and part of it read “You’re more precious than a star”,
But I do have guilt at times. A friend of ours died recently and I felt sharp guilt at the fact that I tried to throw my life away when he, and his loved ones, would have done anything for one more day with him. About a year ago, I met a young woman whose father had died from an unintentional drug overdose when she was about 11-years-old. It crippled her. For almost a decade she couldn’t get past the fact that she wasn’t enough to keep him alive. It hurt palpably to hear her speak. I felt painful remorse that I almost put Mini-me in that situation. But, after meeting this blessing in disguise, I know that I’ll never cause him that pain. I’ll never be the reason that he can’t go on with his life.
I still struggle with depression. I’m not always a fun time. Sometimes I don’t shower for days or live in yoga pants. The bearded gentleman has yet to politely point out that my teeth need a good, hard scrubbing. It’s hard on me and it’s hard on him too. There’s an inherent amount of stress involved when your significant other needs you to lock certain medications and razor blades in the fire safe. I’m grateful that he is willing to set up safety plans with me. I’m grateful that he doesn’t resent me for needing a little extra care. I’ll have to write a whole other blog sometime on how to be an amazing mental illness boyfriend. He’s really redefined for me what it means to have a partner.
So, before you puke from all the gushing, I’d like to throw out some more helpful tidbits about dealing with someone who is depressed. There are three that stand out in my mind. The first is love, love, love. When I’m depressed, my brain likes to whisper mean little things to me like “no one loves you” or “everyone is sick of your shit”. It helps beyond measure, even making me cry tears of happiness, to hear that I am loved and that the love isn’t going away no matter what kind of crazy I am. Next on the list is to get involved. Meet the therapist and the psychiatrist. Go to the support group. Make it a point to know when the next appointment is and ask how it went. Nothing helped me get stable quicker than having a steady group of people supporting me in a hands-on way. Lastly, get yourself support. It’s not easy to handle mental illness when it’s in your own head let alone the head of someone you love. Loads of people are absolutely mortified about seeing a therapist. But, when your car is making funny clunky sounds, you get an expert right? Consider your mentally ill friend or spouse like your car, you need advice how to handle the clunker. Plus, it’s not for your head. It’s to learn how to navigate the head that you love and care about. You’d kinda think that ought to happen, crazy or no crazy.
For reading through all that, you deserve a treat. Here are the self-portraits and portraits of our family, done in Kawaii(Japanese Cute).