Anyway, I won another award and this one means a great deal to me. It's over there on the right. It's the "I Choose To Live" award and it was given to me by one of my favorite mental health advocates, Jen over at Suicidal No More: Learning to Live With Schizoaffective Disorder. Jen is an awesome mental health advocate who has managed to get herself an associates degree, move on to a four year university, work part time, intern at the mental health center where she was once a patient herself, learned to recognize and manage her symptoms, and get and hold onto her own apartment. This last must have taken a phenomenal amount of determination, because Jen was once homeless and wandering the streets with full blown psychosis.
The I Choose to Live award is given by Jen every year to bloggers who write about mental health issues and basically choose to live, even when confronted with major depression, schizoaffective disorder (also known as schizophrenia), bipolar disorder, OCD, and other psychiatric disorders.
This award applies to me. At one time it wouldn't have. Because there was a time when I tried to choose not to live. I've debated over the last almost two years of blogging about whether to discuss this issue, because talking about suicide or suicidal thoughts makes a lot of people extremely uncomfortable. They don't know what to say or how to act around someone who is expressing these thoughts and they don't know how to help.
I can't remember if I ever shared my story of my suicide attempt when I was 19. I think I did, but I have so many more readers now than when I probably wrote it, so I'm going to recap it for you here.
I was living at home and working as a receptionist at the same office where my mom worked. I had suffered from major depressive disorder throughout my teenage years, a fact which my parents were unaware of. I had a boyfriend from high school that I was "pre-engaged" to - there was a ring, but he told me, "If we're still together in five years, we'll get married." It turns out he was smarter than I was at the time, because five years later, we sure weren't together. In fact, he picked one summer evening when I was feeling at my lowest to break up with me. (I may be getting all of these facts muddled and out of order because that time is really hazy.) I remember driving home, waking up my parents, and sobbing on my dad's shoulder about it. Which was weird, because I always went to my mom for the big stuff. But somehow, this time, I wanted my daddy. (I'm still Daddy's little girl, even though we don't have much in common.)
This was the summer of 1983. Or maybe it was 1984. My mom was having major surgery and my parents were having a rough time with my brother. They decided that it would be best if my dad took my brother away for a couple of weeks so that my mom could recuperate "drama free." (My brother did the best impression of a rebellious, anti-authority, oppositional defiant kid I've ever seen. My house had a lot of yelling, from which I hid in my room with my nose in a book.)
I had spent the day out at the pool with a male friend and we made plans to go to a movie later that evening. I was despondent about the break up with the boyfriend. I had been fighting depression with no counseling and no drug therapy for years. Nobody knew what was wrong with me. (I wasn't diagnosed with bipolar disorder until I was 34. Isn't that sad?)
What I knew was that my boyfriend had broken up with me because he said he thought I would be happier without him. Obviously, that was eventually the case, but at the time, I thought the world was coming to an end. It seemed like the last straw. I had stopped by a local drugstore and bought two bottles of over the counter sleeping pills, "just to have them in case." In case of what? In case the pain got to be more than I could handle. I figured that two bottles would be enough to just send me to sleep and I wouldn't wake up. I wasn't romanticizing suicide. I just wanted to go to sleep and not be in pain anymore. I'd been in pain since I was 13 and I was tired of being in pain. The breakup was just the final insult added many, many failures and epic teenage disasters.
Because, as a teenager, you know that everything that happens to you affects the world turning. The whole world is you and your feelings and you don't know what to do with them. They're overwhelming. Add hormones to depression and you get the potential for a nuclear explosion inside your brain.
I came home from the pool that afternoon, asked my mother if she wanted anything for dinner, and when she said she wasn't hungry, took a large glass of water upstairs to my bedroom. I uncapped the bottles and poured the pills into my hand. It was a lot of pills. But then again, it was a lot of water. I only thought about it for a second, because I was afraid I was going to chicken out and I wanted to be gone by the time my friend came for the movie.
Fortunately, those over the counter drugs weren't fast enough. When my friend came, the doorbell rang and my mother yelled up for me to answer the door. I was frustrated and angry at that point. What the hell? Why was I still awake and breathing?
I told my friend what I had done. He begged me to go stick my finger down my throat and throw up the pills. I tried, but nothing happened. While I was doing that, he was telling my poor mother, who had had major surgery a couple of weeks before, what I had done. When I came down and said I couldn't throw up, my mother grabbed the empty bottles and rushed me to the hospital, anxiously looking at me every few seconds. I was angry and told her to quit worrying, nothing was happening.
Except that it was. By the time we got to the hospital, my heart rate was up, by blood pressure was all over the place, my breathing was erratic. They bypassed the "make her throw up" routine and went right to pumping my stomach. I overheard a doctor telling Mom, "She's just doing it for attention." If I could locate that doctor, I would so kick him in the nuts and ask him if that pain deserved any attention.
If you attempt suicide now, you earn yourself an inpatient stay in the psych ward at the hospital so they can diagnose you and get you on a drug regimen to prevent it from happening again. In 1984, I got one night in the regular hospital and an hour with a psychiatrist who did no tests, asked all the wrong questions, and made an appointment for me to come back to see her. Classic suicide intervention at that time. And totally wrong. Someone should have been watching me 24/7 until I was stable, mentally. But they just didn't know.
I went to that psychiatrist for a few sessions and decided I didn't need her. And probably I didn't, because she wasn't doing anything for me. Talk therapy doesn't work for bipolar disorder if you don't treat the underlying physiological disease first with drugs.
Years later, after Joey was born, I flipped out so completely that nobody recognized me. And then I took another trip to the hospital after lining the medication bottles (prescription this time) up along the counter and trying to decide if I wanted to take them. I was so flipped out and in so much crisis that I couldn't think of what this would do to Justin or to my children or my parents. I just wanted to be out of the brain that was completely out of control. I couldn't stand the mania anymore or the irritability or the inability to deal with my children. I couldn't stand the insomnia and I wasn't safe around my children. I knew I wasn't safe around my children and I thought suicide would be the best way to take care of the problem. I just wouldn't be around them anymore. I thought I would be doing them a favor. (Bipolar disorder is such a fucking liar!)
And then I told Justin and he took me to the Emergency Room and they admitted me to the mental health portion of the hospital. His leaving me after I checked in was the scariest moment of my life, but I knew I had to do it or I was going to die.
Awhile ago, when I thought I might write a book about being bipolar, I requested all of my records from that time. When I received them, there were so many things I didn't even remember. And the psychiatric records just made me feel a shame I had worked hard to get rid of. I kept the records in a binder with some ideas for the book for a few months and then threw them out. Because I really didn't want my children to ever have to read about the things I did and how horribly I had acted.
And that's the problem. Mental illness causes you to act in ways that make you ashamed. And then you want to hide it. And so the stigma goes on because if you share with other people, you are really sharing the deepest, darkest, blackest part of your soul; the things you did when you were out of control that now horrify you. You want to erase that part of your history and never let it see the light of day.
But if we don't let that blackest part of ourselves see the light of day, the stigma goes on and no one gets help.
I won't ever write about what was in those notes. But I will continue to stand up for awareness of mental illness and erasing the stigma. One in four people is affected in some way by mental illness. This is an epidemic larger than the autism epidemic. Larger than cancer. It's so big, we can't begin to imagine how big it is.
We need to shine a light on mental illness and allow people to get help before they get to the point of thinking it's better to die than it is to live.
I choose to live. Every day, I still choose to live. For Justin. For my children. But especially for me, because I know I still have more to offer to the world. And I would like to see my children get married, have their own children, retire with my husband to the house in the mountains we've always talked about.
I choose to live.
If you are thinking about suicide or know someone who is, please ask for help. There is a suicide hotline in your area. If you are actively suicidal, please call 911 or go to the emergency room. I promise, they will help you.
Those thoughts in my head were lies that my sick brain was telling me. With medication and a lot of work, I am no longer suicidal. But I still have the unwanted thoughts on occasion. The difference is that now I know the thoughts will pass.