***TW: This post addresses suicide***
“Recovery is a process, not an event.”
I first heard this sentence in January while I was in the hospital. I’ve spoken it and typed it out both on the pages of this blog, and in encouraging messages to friends who are struggling. It resonated with me as profound. In truth, recovery is all about self reflection and self awareness. It’s about looking at yourself with radical honesty and openness and willingness to do the painful work of becoming aware of your own mental health diagnosis(es), your own symptoms, and your own way of relating to those symptoms in a healthy way.
You may not know this about me, but I pretty much only do things that make me feel at least remotely competent and capable. I’ll never be Steinbeck, but I can passably fumble with word choice until I’ve got a decent sentence; I’ll never be David Gilmour, but I know my way around a strum pattern on my acoustic guitar; I’ll never be Dorothea Lange, but I have a cursory understanding of what angles and edits make a photograph powerful.
As you may have noticed, my hobbies all revolve around expression. Which, I suppose, is a bit ironic. It’s just part of the dichotomy of my life, I guess. Because, were I making a list of areas in which I have absolutely no competence in my personal life, expression would top it. When I’m having a really hard time with something, I am spectacularly bad at reaching out. Conversely, were I making a list of things at which I am too good, over-thinking would be the crown jewel. I can analyze anything to death. You’ve heard of beating a dead horse? I beat the glue and jell-o that dead horse became. (Metaphorically. No animals were harmed in the making of this blogpost.)
This combination of not reaching out and turning inward and falling into my thoughts, it turns out, is quite dangerous.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that Tuesdays are the day I “Tell All.” I pour my life into a sieve and dig through the pebbles of my experience to find those gems, those moments which are deeply personal, but also relatable. The ones that demand display; the ones I hope will make an impact.
And holy shit, have I found a lot of gems hiding in the sediment in the past three weeks. Possibly pyrite, possibly gold. But demanding display either way. This is a story which I feel, with every fiber of my being, must be told.
But, I’ve hesitated to write it.
I’ve given pause to the idea of putting this out there for many reasons. Fear of the response it may receive. Self-doubt about even having the right to tell this story in a public forum. Anxiety for needing to tell it. Guilt for my actions. Deep shame and the idea of not being worthy, not just for this blog post, or even the blog in general, but of life in general. The past three weeks have been very sobering, very healing, very reflective. But I still feel that sense of dread in putting this “out there.” I feel that, somehow, my actions may invalidate my message.
Some of you reading this may know the events leading up to today, and, ultimately, this post; some of you may not.
For those of you who do not know what’s been going on, but know me personally, I apologize that this is the means through which you are learning those specifics. But that same shame has prevented me from reaching out to all of my beloved family and friends and explaining it over and over again. For you, I certainly hope that this post is not viewed as dismissive of your feelings or offensive. I simply do not have it in me to explain everything repeatedly. That said, I am around and happy to talk with you on a more personal basis after you’ve read this if you would like.
Remember how I said I simultaneously struggle with expressing myself and thinking way too much? I also am pretty horrendously bad at reaching out for help in times of crisis. I think myself into a corner, sometimes obsessively. The problem with being an over-analytical person is that you can gain a false sense of security in your thinking. You can fool yourself into honestly believing that you have considered every angle in depth and that you have, for lack of a better term, “the whole picture” on the table before you. This is problematic for everyone, but it is particularly difficult for those of us living with mental health diagnoses and battling the constant onslaught of distorted thoughts. That’s where my downward spiral began.
I began to slip into a depressive episode. I recognized it. I reached out to reschedule my appointment with my psychiatrist to a sooner date. I spoke with friends and my therapist about it. I did all those things we’re “supposed to do” when things are getting rough. And I am fantastic at doing those things if I’m at a four or five out of ten. They become more difficult when I’m at a six or seven. Once I top seven, they become impossible.
My bipolar depression was getting me all dressed up. The demented black fabric of a veil that distorts my vision but seems not only normal, but necessary, given the occasion, was draped flawlessly over my head. Then came my PTSD. Toddling alongside me for a little while throwing the little explosive bits of memories at my feet, a sadistic flower girl; then, transforming into a malicious father, holding my arm tight and leading me to the altar of the unholy union of screwed up brain chemicals and trauma.
Depression and PTSD are wed, and have always been wed. A truly unbreakable vow. Depression and Bipolar are also wed. I guess I’m stuck in the middle of a polyamorous, abusive relationship, of sorts, from which I can never fully escape.
Depression feeds off distorted thoughts, and PTSD likes to stuff depression’s face by the shovel load. About six weeks ago, now, I began experiencing a truly incessant attack of memories. Flashes. One or two seconds max for each. But each memory would trigger another. Each memory carried with it a sense of self-loathing. Each fragment coupled with thoughts like, “I’m such a fucking idiot.” “How could I let that happen to me?” “I didn’t do enough.” “I’m a coward.”
These thoughts and memories increased in frequency until they were a constant companion. The days were flashes; the nights were horrific nightmares. This went on for three weeks.
In a previous post, I used Jaws as a metaphor for PTSD. In the final week of July, if we were following the movie timeline, I was frantically trying to shut down the beach after several attacks. But my attempts were unsuccessful. I convinced myself that my support system was indifferent or ill-equipped to handle such a beast. So, I went off-script. I didn’t need the shark expert; I didn’t need the dedicated but inexperienced sheriff. So, the next week, I was out in the water with all the hubris of Quint, pushing full speed ahead into the ocean of my symptoms, believing that I had not only the knowledge and ability to kill the beast, but also that I was the only one who could. I didn’t need a crew. I didn’t need backup. On August 11th, I was in the decimated, broken boat being torn apart by the shark.
Feeling as though I had alienated or shut out everyone who may be able to help me, and realizing in a moment of complete shock that I was, in fact, wrong in my assumed knowledge and experience in handling the situation, I resigned myself to my fate and let the shark take me.
Because on August 11th, I attempted suicide.
The “sheriffs” in my life are, thankfully, persistent and tenacious. And despite my best efforts, one of them chartered a dingy and followed me out to sea without my knowledge. Then she dove into the treacherous waters, beat the shark back, and pulled me to safety.
I won’t talk about the specific reasons why, on this day in particular, I was resolute, because reading the specifics of other people’s reasons online was a big contributing factor that day. I won’t go into the specifics of the means of my attempt, because research shows that that is not only ineffective at suicide prevention, but actually harmful to prevention efforts.
What I will say is this: Had it not been for my friend, I would not be writing this post. Had it not been for a fast response EMS team, I would not be writing this post. Had it not been for diligent doctors working all night to save a life that, honestly, didn’t want to be saved, I would not be writing this post. I very nearly succeeded in my attempt to end my life.
But that’s not the point I want to make. The point is this: I am so thankful that I am here and able to write this post.
I talk so often about transparency on this blog. I truly believe that it is important to look at ourselves, look at our supports, look back on moments of success and moments of crisis to evaluate them and learn from them. And man, have I been doing some serious looking at myself the past three weeks. With the help of professionals, I’ve been able to use my analytical skills in a healthy way, to better identify the moments in which I truly need to reach out for help.
I spent five days in a voluntary crisis stabilization house which utilized a Trauma Informed approach. I learned a lot while there, about myself, about my strengths and weaknesses, and about coping with that damned shark. With the help of my psychiatrist, my medications have been adjusted to be more effective. With the help of my therapist, I walked through the entire timeline of my attempt, in a safe, non-triggering way, to understand exactly what factors “pushed me over the edge” and the moments in which I could have (and should have) called someone. With the help of a few close friends, I’ve learned that the people in my life who say they care about me kinda, actually, you know… mean it. With the help of family members, I’ve made and implemented a safety plan. All of these strides took some serious, guided self analysis and some massive humbling on my part.
Because despite hitting what I hope will be the lowest point of my life, I still struggle with the idea that I can’t “go it alone.” Despite my amazing friends and the family members and professionals who’ve been with me these past 11 months (and longer) through the hospital and my recovery up to this point, when things get really tough, I still feel the need to grit my teeth and push through without help. And it takes an awful lot of humility on my part to finally admit to myself that that approach ain’t workin’. It’s never really worked, but now, especially, it’s not going to do it. As I move out of trauma, as I move into awareness of the implications of living with Bipolar, as I move toward recovery, I can’t move alone. We all need help and support sometimes. And there’s no weakness in accepting this.
And I feel the most hopeful I’ve felt about the prospect of recovery in a long time. Honestly, since all of this started back in November, and probably before that. It’s been a long year. And the stress of all of it culminated on that late Friday afternoon three weeks ago, and the weight nearly crushed me. But now, a large portion of that weight has been lifted.
I am, honestly and with every single bit of my soul, happy to be alive. I’m still in a bit of a depressive episode, but I’m on the tailend. I write that to say that moments pass. They always pass. Even the really long moments that stop time and make you feel like you’re trapped in the event horizon of a black a hole, those moments that make you feel as though time has stopped and there’s no progress or escape to be had, pass. I assume many of my readers have had many dark moments in their lives. I know some of you are also suicide attempt survivors.
I know that the darkness comes in waves. My depression is still with me. I will live with Bipolar Disorder and PTSD for my entire life, but I am so thankful to get the chance to live with them. To be able to get to know them better, to learn to coexist in a manner which puts the power of my recovery in my hands and doesn’t pass it along as chum for the circling sharks.
I’ve learned that true strength is not found in white-knuckling it through the worst moments of our lives, but in finding someone (or a group of someones) willing to come along for the drive and take over when you get too tired. There is strength in vulnerability. Immense strength. Those are muscles I’m going to have to build. They’ve atrophied a bit. And ripping them apart to allow them to heal bigger and better than before is going to be hard work, and it’s going to hurt, but I’m going to do it. I will get that strength.
If you’re struggling with thoughts of suicide, please know that I’ve lived with them in various stages of passive and active since I was thirteen years old. I’m now twenty-nine. I know how draining it is. I know how many tricks our stupid brains can play on us. I know how easy it is to convince yourself that you don’t matter, that you are a burden, and that everyone and the entire world would be better off without you. I also know that these thoughts are lies. You have worth. You have dignity. You matter. I matter. It’s not easy. It’s exausting and it’s painful and it’s hard. But, three weeks out from my attempt, I can already assure you that it’s worth it. I am already so thankful that my attempt was unsuccessful.
I’m still doing the hard work. I’m still looking at myself. I’m still battling with those memories. I’m still dealing with anxious thoughts. I’m still dealing with depression and a tendency to obsess. I’m still living with Bipolar and PTSD. But, for the first time in my life, I honestly feel like I can live with those things. That I can make peace with the fact that these are things I will always live with, to one degree or another, but that I have the power and capability to navigate them. (With help.)
I also want to take a moment to recognize that living in Vermont affords me access to levels of care that not everyone has. Vermont truly does lead the nation in areas of Trauma Informed Care and in treatment with dignity from a strengths based perspective. I don’t want to minimize the struggles to accessing quality care that others face. But, I also don’t want to make it sound as though you can’t move toward recovery without access to the various treatment options. If you live an area with limited access to care, please message me, and I will try to help you find something that can help. (I’ll put that almost-social work degree to good use!)
I will say, though, that I am currently using Medicaid as my insurance, and all of the services I’ve received are through the state designated mental health agency in my county. I’m not a “medical high roller.” I don’t have a choice in my psychiatrist. I have limited choice in my therapist. My primary care doctor was assigned to me by the state. And I believe that access some level of support and care can be found anywhere, even if it’s a support group in your area, or a state funded mental health agency. Something is better than nothing, and once I realized that my recovery was in my hands, my PCP, Therapist, and Psychiatrist options suddenly mattered a little less.
And, if you’re really struggling and truly cannot figure out what to do, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is always available. They have a phone and texting service, as well as an internet chat service, if you’re uncomfortable with making the phone call. Please utilize them.
As always, thanks for reading. Hit me up on social media or drop a comment! Let me know what you think! We’re all stronger together. You matter.