I hate that the reason I am writing this is because I have lost a friend. Someone that I don't know well in the sense that her friends and family knew her, but very well in a completely different way. Here is my story...
The first time I fantasized about suicide was when I was in fifth grade. The first time I engaged in reckless behavior hoping that it would result in death was in high school. The first time I attempted suicide was two years ago, at the age of thirty-four.
What was my childhood like? Everyone wants to know. It had points of greatness, and points of tragedy. But it doesn't matter, because during all of the darkest moments in my youth I always had someone else I shared them with, and that was my brother. And for some reason, he grew up just fine, and I grew up an emotional basket case.
How does that happen? Because I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My brother may or may not, but either way, he was functioning when I could not. He could let things roll off his back. I was called "over-emotional" because I seemed to wear my heart on my sleeve and everything made me sad.
I had the perfect adult life to the outsider. A handsome husband, two beautiful girls, a project people were excited about, community action projects that kept me busy, I was a marathon running coach for charity, and I worked on my art. I remember on the night I graduated from The Leadership Academy, a friend approached me and said, "you must be so proud of yourself. You have accomplished amazing things." I glanced around, embarrassed, to make sure he was talking to me. Nobody understood that when I said I wasn't proud, it wasn't because I was humble. It was because I really wasn't proud of myself. I was the girl who grew up in dysfunction, and instead of succumbing to addiction in the chemical sense, I became addicted to overachieving. The danger being that it is not only an acceptable addiction, but also encouraged and celebrated.
Then the perfect family I created crumbled. I was not invincible after all. No matter how perfect I was, it didn't stop dysfunction from creeping into my perfectly protected world. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was in for a very rough ride, and one that not everyone recovers from.
For years I was the strong one. Reliable. I was the one that everyone knew could keep it together. They didn't mind piling all of their drama on my shoulders because they knew I was their voice of reason. However, once my armor was cracked, it was a complete shatter. I used to run to escape and as a way of self punishment. One time on a trail run something slapped the back of my calf. It felt like a cat clawing at me. My friend, who was running behind me, said, "wow, look at you! You got scratched pretty good there! Still running like it didn't even phase you, you're so tough!" I stopped to look at my calf, and blood was crawling down my leg and seeping into my sock. I laughed. It didn't hurt, and I still had several miles to go.
But something happened that day. When a trauma happens, we form a core belief about ourselves. That moment triggered something in me that associated blood with strength. So when I picked up a box cutter while taking a bath, and practiced pushing on my forearm to see how bad suicide might actually hurt, I found it liberating when I broke skin. The pain of cutting was much less than the pain I was feeling inside.
I practiced this several times. Drawing lines all the way down my arms. Getting deeper and deeper each time. A calmness fell over me and I could breath again. I did this in secret, in the privacy of my bathroom, while my family was asleep. Then the next morning I would wake up and pretend to be supermom. Drop the kids off at school. Then climb back into bed and cry the rest of the day. Pick them up. Put on my happy face the best I could. Then back to the bathroom I went, taking the box cutter with me. When I was in a desparate state the cuts were deeper and faster. I was getting really good at it. And the stripes were slowly moving down to my wrist. My level of bravery was increasing.
During all this time my whole family knew I was suffering. From phone calls in the middle of the night to my mother, to screaming matches with my husband begging him to help me, to quiet sobbing in front of my kids where they just hugged me and kissed my head. But what I got in return was, "you are just having a bad day, everyone has those from time to time," "tomorrow is another day," "look at all the people in this world who are suffering, there are people out there who have it worse," "look at all the great things you have going for you, what could you possibly be sad about?" The truth was that I had no idea. I was just sad. I can't explain the level of sheer despair you feel in depression. It is not like anything I had ever experienced. Complete and utter hopelessness. Over and over I was asked, "what can I do to help?" Hell, if I knew that I would be doing it for myself. But I just kept saying "I don't know," and it just made my family lose patience with me.
So I quit talking to them. Suddenly everything was "fine, really, I'm fine." And they were satisfied with my answer. I felt some relief, because it made me realize that I had power over this. I was gaining some control. I could control the burden I had become on my family. As long as I was "fine," they weren't worried, and if they weren't worried, they were happy, and I was more concerned with their happiness than my own. I decided that I knew what needed to be done in order to detach from everyone, so I slowly began to separate myself and isolate. I quit returning phone calls. I quit answering messages. I didn't make an effort to visit friends. I quit calling family. And aside from the occassional, "hey girl, where are you? what happened to you? call me!" nobody seemed to notice. Once in awhile my best friend would leave work if he hadn't heard from me, and come into my house to get me out. He would take me to get coffee. Or just tell me to get out of bed. But my husband always down-played it, "she'll be okay, she's just in a bad mood."
If he ever thought it was more serious than that, I had no idea. He never told me. He took the kids out to dinner when I quit feeding them, and removed them from me so they didn't have to see me slipping further and further away. They were on the way to the park one day when my daughter came running back into the house after I thought they were gone. She started panicking when she saw me sitting on the toilet seat with a towel under my feet covered in blood. I had cut my forearms several times, exposing tissue, and blood was streaming down my arm and dripping off my fingers, and I just sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. She ran out to get my husband. After scolding me like I was a disobedient child, he pulled me off the floor and put me in the car and drove me immediately to a psychiatric hospital. I was furious with him. He wasn't taking me to help me, he was taking me in order to get rid of me. I had become the burden I didn't want to be.
Sitting at the hospital during evaluation felt like an interrogation. The woman asked me about my thoughts of suicide and my "practice" cuts that were becoming deeper, more erratic, and had moved down my arm closer to my wrist. I told her very matter-of -factly that it was my intention to commit suicide. I was in fact okay at that minute, technically, because I was a little in shock about being in the hospital. I didn't think what I was doing was that big of a deal. Everyone thinks about suicide, don't they? Everyone plans and obsesses about it, right?
The hospital didn't agree. The nurse assured me that my husband was not over-reacting, and that I was exactly where I should be, which was sitting in her office. She gave me the option of staying and being admitted to in-patient, or going home for Easter and coming back in 24 hours to begin partial in-patient...meaning I would spend every day there and sleep at home with my family. I chose the second option, on the condition that my situation was stable and at the slightest hint of trouble I would admit myself. I agreed. And with this came some level of comfort.
I went home, furious with my husband. Scared to death of a diagnosis. I didn't want my life to go on as it was, but I didn't want to be committed either. It still never crossed my mind that I was as bad off as everyone was acting, and I knew for certain I was not one of the "crazy" people that should be hospitalized. So I cried some more, I yelled and cursed, slammed doors, stomped around the house, ignored my husband, who at this time had conspired with my best friend to remove all the knives from the house as though I was a danger to myself, and decided that I just wasn't going to take this lying down. Then I became exhausted of fighting.
24 hours later I checked myself in for the beginning of a three week stint. However, I was the sane one out of all these crazy people. I had lunch with a schizophrenic author. Surely he was way worse than I was. Lunch was provided by the hospital, but we had another lunch waiting for us. A Thanksgiving style feast prepared by a woman suffering from OCD so severe that she stayed awake all night to prepare the perfect meal. Not really for us, just because she was too anxious to sleep. What the hell was I doing here?
It wasn't until two days later when I went to my first suicide prevention class that it finally sunk in. The teacher, a surivor of several suicide attempts, showed us pie charts and statistics. He also showed us the links throughout our lives that got us to that point, and also, explained the science of suicide. What does the brain look like? How is it functioning? What is missing in our chemistry? To see it broken down in terms of genetics was powerful. It made it much easier to swallow and accept. I can't help that I'm "crazy" or severely depressed. It was the combination of a perfect storm. The conditions were just right. From that moment on I took my hospitalization, treatment, and recovery very seriously. I finally found self-compassion.
Some of the things I learned in class: there were high rates of incidents of suicide for sufferers of PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is caused by-sexual abuse, covert sexual abuse, verbal abuse, mental/emotional abuse, physical abuse, and witness abuse-witnessing someone else being abused or witnessing violence or losing someone as a result of a violent trauma. PTSD or "shell shock" is not like "remembering something sad." It is a physical reaction you have to a "trigger." A trigger could be as complex as a memory, or as simple as a smell or sound. But the physical pain you feel from a trigger is very real. Your body does not know the difference between the original trauma and the trigger. So you are in just as much pain thirty years later, as you would have been during the initial trauma.
It sounds as hopeless as it feels, but it isn't. I made progress with EMDR-eye movement desensitization and reprogramming. It's taken baby-steps, but I can now talk about the event without experiencing the entire trauma again, or detaching like it never happened. Now I have a natural reaction. I can get sad without getting depressed. And I can rationalize that the sadness won't last forever. It will pass. I also learned that allergy sufferers are especially susceptible to suicidal thoughts. Suicides are highest in the spring. And from the moment a sufferer makes up their mind to do it, it only takes five minutes or less for the action to take place. I hope that people can understand how quickly these things can transpire and go downhill. Not to mention, someone who commits suicide doesn't actually WANT to die, they just want the pain to stop.
Today the thought of suicide doesn't even cross my mind. My life feels manageable, and I feel optimistic. Even during my sad times, I know I am experiencing them in a healthy way. I didn't thank my husband until my friend took her life. I no longer care what his motivation was for taking me to the hospital, I am just grateful he was as fed up as I was.
As far as what loved ones can do for those that are suffering...say the word. SUICIDE. It's NOT a bad word. It MUST be said. It MUST be asked. If anyone had asked me if I was suicidal, I would have shouted YES!!!! at the top of my lungs. It seems insane to me that my mind was ever in that cold, dark place. SUICIDE. Ask someone, and it may just save them. The word "sad" does not even begin to cover all the emotions someone who is suicidal feels. Embarrassed, hopeless, angry, resentful, bitter, depressed...yes, but not just sad. Asking us to "talk" to you about it won't do any good either. We don't want to talk, we don't know how to explain. Ask us open-ended questions. We will talk. Don't tell us to call a doctor, deliver us to a hospital. We need to know it doesn't have to be this way. That things can and will get better.
Most importantly, take care of yourself, it is the ONLY way you can help us. People who are suicidal take a LOT of work. We rob our family of time, energy, and patience. We can be selfish at best, and demons at worst. And when we are silent, and you think the storm has passed, we know we are really in the eye of it and it is going to get worse. And some of us won't make it through. Know your boundaries and what you can handle. You can't fix us. You can't say something to take the pain away. More than likely you can't do anything either, because whatever you do will only last temporarily. But you can deliver us to someone who can protect us from ourselves. A professional. Someone who looks at us through a non-emotional lense. And someone who we won't feel like we are burdening. And more than likely you aren't burdened by us, it is just in our own minds.
This is my story, I skimmed over some details I didn't think were important in order to get this message out. But I felt it was an appropriate time to share for all those who are left asking, "why?" We can't comprehend that anyone loves us, because we don't love ourselves. You don't know what you don't know, as family and friends you do the best you can, and the only thing you know how to do. And we are fully aware of that and accept it.
I hope this helps some of you. If you are offended or feel guilt or shame from my words, I apoligize. That is not why I wrote this. And of course if you have questions, please ask, or if you want to share your own feelings, I would love to hear them.
Take care my friends. Be proactive. You may save a life. But the only way to know for sure is to ASK!!!
My birthday was October 15, just a week ago. I had a great time, I was with my family at Disney World. The happiest place on earth! It's been years since I've visited, and boy have things changed. It is much more family friendly than I remember. Being able to charge food and gift shop purchases to my hotel room no matter which of the four parks I'm visiting??? Brilliant! That's less money for me to keep track of! The sales clerk at the gift shop offering to send my purchase to my hotel room for me??? Amazing! Now I don't have to carry bags around for the rest of the day! Childcare was provided for us at our hotel, so my husband and I got to have a romantic dinner together and stay out late! How about that? But the coolest part, and maybe most subtle change from what I observed, was how many gay couples I saw holding hands around the park. Maybe this was always acceptable at Disney, but I wouldn't know, because I never really cared as an eight year old who just wanted to see Mickey Mouse. What I DO know, is that the two men dressed up in costumes giggling like eight year olds, holding hands next to my children, did absolutely nothing to break up my family's union. In fact, my kids got a kick out of a female dancer in the halloween parade blowing kisses to them and shouting "Hey handsome!" Other than that, my girls could have cared less. My husband and I could look fondly at the romantic couple and be reminded of a time in our lives before we had kids, when we didn't have to worry about homework and soccer schedules and potty training. I feel it was a much more positive viewpoint then watching them with disdain and hate.
We never went to Disney as adults, just the two of us. We waited until we had kids, when we knew we were going to have to go at some point. And as adults, it is just as much fun as when we were kids. Seeing Disney through the girls' eyes was magical, and knowing the amount of work and attention to detail that goes into running these parks is overwhelming and makes my head spin. Throughout the entire trip, I practiced what it was like to be a kid again. I watched the two men next to me with delight, because they "got it." Where else can you stuff yourself with caramel apples from an old fashioned confectionary that entices you in by wafting the smell of cotton candy all the way down main street? Or dress up head to toe in costume and squeal in delight/horror as the headless horseman comes barreling down the street on a huge black stallion? Better yet, all of the above at the same time?
Then I get back to Memphis. Don't get me wrong. I adore my city. But we have some very adult issues. The entire country has a very adult duty in which to partake with the upcoming elections and voting already underway. I was reminded about this as I drove by Planned Parenthood today and saw the people picketing outside the front steps. "End Abortion Now" it said on one sign. I admire what these guys are doing. They are so passionate that they picket rain or shine. But I would love to address the issues surrounding why women have abortions in the first place. Why not carry signs outside Planned Parenthood that say "End Rape Now" or "End Incest Now" or "End (fill in health issue) Now" or begin a "Communicate with your Kids" or "Raise Confident Kids" campaign outside of Planned Parenthood? In doing research for another project, I found where children's museums had quit posting "Don't Run" signs because they don't work, and instead posted "Please Walk" signs instead. Whenever I talk to my kids and catch myself saying "don't..." it takes me about two seconds to realize they aren't listening. So I change it around to something positive. And bingo! Success! Now that doesn't mean we don't run into issues, we do pretty regularly, but it's amazing how much easier life is when you can change perspectives. The situation itself may not change, but there is not a single negative thought in my mind. Even if opinions don't change, changing the wording of thoughts to try to see it through someone else's eyes is a powerful exercise.
One that I wish more people and more politicians would do. And instead of the attack ads, maybe something more positive? I love I have a right to vote, but have come to dread election season. Maybe I'll just go back to the candy coated fluffy streets where there are parades and fireworks every night. Where everyone loves one another and walks hand-in-hand without judgement. Where families are forced to interact with eachother and share experiences away from bustling every day life. I have come to understand why Disney might actually be the happiest place on earth. Even if the buildings aren't real and the guy in the Goofy costume is a drama school drop-out, I may just be okay with that for now.