Monday, June 13, 2011

Guest Blogging Over at Our Journey Through Life

Today, I have the honor of being guest blogger over at Kris' Our Journey Through Life.  Kris writes an incredible blog about what it is like to live with a spouse who has bipolar disorder.  For someone who has a mental illness, it's always interesting to me to see what a mentally healthy spouse actually goes through on a day to day basis trying to keep the family together.  I have been blessed with a spouse who does way more than his part.  I don't know how Justin has stuck with me through the ups and downs of my illness, because there have certainly been times when I haven't even liked myself, but it's amazing what love can do.

For those of you coming over from Kris' blog, welcome!  I hope you will poke around and find something here that you can relate to.  What you will find is that I am so much more than my bipolar disorder.  I have bipolar disorder, but it does not define me.  I prefer to define myself as a wife, a mother, a writer, an advocate for cancer research, autism, mental health, and fibromyalgia.  Secondarily, I am someone who suffers from both chronic mental and physical illness.  I have bipolar disorder and fibromyalgia.  They do not have me!

Those of you who are regular readers may have already read the post I have shared with Kris on her site today.  Several months ago, I wrote about my suicide attempt at age 19 and I thought it was a story that bears repeating to a larger audience.  And, as an adjunct to that post, I wanted to mention just a few things about what it is like to be suicidal and how it messes up a person's thinking.

I don't think people who have not been suicidal can ever understand why someone would want to take their own life.  I think it is a critical question for myself especially, because I have watched so many people around me fighting so hard to save their lives after being diagnosed with cancer.  And I watched a beautiful little girl lose her life last year to cancer after a terrible battle with acute myeloid leukemia at the age of three.  For most people, there is an instinctual will to live.  So why, after seeing how hard people will fight to stay in this life, would I ever want to end mine?

Depression.  It's a bitch.  And I've had it a really long time.  Much longer than the manic side of my illness and, because I have bipolar II, the depressions tend to be longer, more constant, and even remain when I have my manias.  Often, I am hypomanic and depressed, something called a "mixed mood."  I have never had what I would describe as a true mania, because all of my mood swings involve an underlying dark, sucking depression that never goes away.  And for a long time, it was always a black abyss in my mind, a pit of despair that I somehow managed to hide from those closest to me.

When I have been suicidal, I have just wanted the emotional hell I am experiencing to stop.  I am not thinking about what it would do to my husband, my children, my parents, my friends.  Or, if I am thinking of them, I am thinking that they would be better off without me.  There have been times, in fact, that I have held my life insurance policy in my hands and thought that they would be better off with the money than with me.  But I always manage to put that policy back into the file and wake myself up from my suicidal trance.  After so many years with this illness, I can recognize these thoughts as a part of my illness.  The me underneath the illness really does not want to die.

Suicide can feel like a way out of the overwhelming emotional pain I am suffering; a relief to just go to sleep and never wake up.  When I was 19, I had been suffering from terrible depression for at least three years straight.  I was so good at hiding it, my parents had no idea until I swallowed the two bottles of pills that day back in 1983.  I'm still good at hiding it.  At times, I feel like my depression is the only thing that is mine alone, something that belongs only to me. When I am suicidal, I actually like the feeling of control I have in knowing that whether I continue to live my life is up to me and that I could make the pain stop permanently. There is a very private part of myself that I never let anyone know about or see.  I'm sure this is scary most especially to my husband because I can put on such a good act.

Therapists are always asking if you have a suicide "plan."  This is a plan for how you would carry out your suicide.  Any suicidal person who says they have not thought about how they would do it is lying, in my opinion.  If you are considering suicide, you have also thought through exactly what you would do if you decide to follow through.

See how the thinking is completely screwed up?

I have signed a "safety contract" with my therapist.  The problem with a safety contract, where I tell my therapist what actions I will take if I think I'm going to hurt myself, is that I know that if I truly want to die, the fact that I signed my name on that piece of paper is not going to stop me.  Contracting not to hurt yourself, in my opinion, is simply something that makes the therapist feel better.  I would bet that every single patient that has ever signed one of those has been snorting just a bit on the inside and thinking, "What a joke.  This is just a piece of paper.  I don't have to really mean it.  I just have to sign it to get out of this office."  I asked my therapist once if she really thought my signature on that "contract" would keep me from killing myself and she asked me, "Well, how good is your word?"  I think the answer to that depends on my state of mind.  If the pain got to be too great, my word wouldn't be worth shit.  If I am in a place where I am in so much emotional pain that I can't stand the thought of taking one more breath, my word on that piece of paper would be the furthest thing from my mind.  In fact, I doubt I would even remember I had signed it.

Kris wrote something on her website recently that really resonated with me.  They had never made a plan for what actions they would take if her husband was feeling suicidal enough to hurt himself.  It sounds pretty simple and basic, but we don't have a plan.  What we have is my word to my husband (which honestly, is worth way more than my word to my therapist) that I will come to him if I am feeling that badly and ask for help.  Now that I have been in this battle for my life for so many years (and I really do believe that bipolar disorder is a battle for your life), I know that it's not a good thing to hold that kind of control over whether you continue to live in your own hands.  I know now that if I kill myself, my husband will have to live with that the rest of his life.  I know my children will have to be the kids whose mother killed herself.  I know my children will be more likely to commit suicide if they have a parent who has done it.  I know that it would devastate my family.

And so, with medication and therapy and a lot of work on my part, I now recognize those suicidal thoughts for the enemy that they are.  I recognize that I am not thinking clearly at that moment.  I recognize that things are never static - life always has the potential for change for the better and that like the wind, the thoughts will pass through and go on their way and most likely be replaced by better, more hopeful thoughts.

Sometimes I indulge those thoughts.  But they are just thoughts and, as long as they stay that way, they don't have the ability to hurt me or the ones that I love.

Chelle

If you are considering suicide or think someone you know might be, please talk about it!  You can google suicide hotlines for your area, if you want to talk to someone anonymously.  If you are serious about hurting yourself, please go to the emergency room right away or contact the police department and allow them to escort you.  Or ask a relative or friend to take you.  The hospital will keep you safe.

Disclaimer:  Anything I write on this blog is my opinion only.  I am not a medical expert.  Please consult with your physician, therapist, or psychiatrist if you are experiencing signs of depression or mental illness. Your life may depend upon it. 

2 comments:

  1. Re: Guest post - This is such an important post, thank you for sharing your story, hopefully it will bring more attention to this topic. I am so glad that you receive appropriate help and have a voice of reason.

    Mental illness as you know is not something to take lightly in any degree. It is a shame that some people can't seem to see through the cry for help and right away think it is just attention seeking.

    The despair and darkness that sometimes accompanies depression and other mental illness can be so unbearable that any cry for help should be taken serious. There are many people in this world suffering from mental illness and are still in this day in age ashamed of talking about it for the fear of getting judged or shunned away from, even sometimes by their own friends and family. But, we mustn't give up on ourselves, even though we are not where we should be in terms of the stigma attached to mental illness, there is alot of resources and help available that can help us battle this illness the right way and ultimately we can live good productive lives. Again, thank you so much for sharing your story and guest blogging, I applaud you:)

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  2. Thank you so much for reading, Madison, and thank you for coming over to check out what my blog is all about.

    It's time for those of us with mental illness to step out of the darkness and put a face to mental illness. I think people have this scary mental image of an unwashed person wandering the streets talking to themselves. That is not what mental illness usually is all about. Although, sadly, in its worst stages, it can be.

    Chelle

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