It’s been awhile. I have gone back and forth about writing this post so many times over the last week. A large part of me wants to speak about the things that I’ve been going through, but an almost equally big piece of my mind wants to just keep quiet. These two opposing inclinations both have the same origin–self-preservation. It’s only I can’t quite decide what the best course of action would be in that regard.
Or, rather, I couldn’t.
However, one of the things I am having to come to terms with is my propensity to keep to myself, and how it’s not actually helpful to me. So, I am going to listen to the voice telling me I need to talk, need to share. Even though the thought of doing so is unnerving. Opening up and telling people what is going on in my heart and in my head are not easy for me. But I’m realizing more and more that, for my own well being, I must fight my natural inclination to play everything exceedingly close to the vest. I don’t really like the alternatives.
You see, two weeks ago, I wanted to kill myself.
Perhaps ‘want’ isn’t the correct word. What I wanted was to stop feeling the way I was feeling, and at that time, suicide felt like the one way to make it–finally and completely–stop.
I have touched on both my physical ailments (my PCOS) and my mental illness in previous blog posts. I even mentioned that I had recently, for the first time, gone on medication. Well, as anyone who struggles with mental illness can probably tell you, no pill is an immediate cure-all. It’s not as easy as flipping a switch. In the case of anti-depressants, it often takes several weeks to over a month to build to what they call ‘therapeutic levels’ in your body. That’s what is generally considered peak effectiveness.
And that’s if the drug works for you.
Brain chemistry is such a complex, variable thing. A drug at the exact same dosage can affect two different people in completely different ways. Sometimes, the very thing given to someone with depression can actually worsen the situation.
Unfortunately, that’s what happened to me.
Instead of helping to alleviate the symptoms of my severe depression, the Wellbutrin that I was prescribed turned those symptoms up to eleven. I was no longer just anxious, I was having panic attacks. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I would start to cry and not be able to stop. Great, gasping sobs that I smothered in my pillow so no one would hear me.
It felt like a black hole opened up somewhere underneath my ribs, and every bit of happiness and joy and light was sucked out of me. Everything was sucked out of me, until I was hollow and empty and I hurt. Physically. Down to my bones.
At the time, it seemed like I could not possibly feel any worse than I did at that moment.\
I kept fixating on things I hadn’t done, or hadn’t done well enough. Every disappointment, fuck-up, and failure. Those words raced through my head on a loop I couldn’t break. I tried to force myself to think of other things, to concentrate on something else, but I couldn’t hold onto those other thoughts for even a second.
Depression lies. I’ve read that and heard it so many times. I know that. But in the grip of that moment, it was very hard to remember, because the voice of the depression was very, very loud. It sounded right.
I have had suicidal thoughts before, but usually in a very general, “I want this to stop, and if I wasn’t alive anymore, it would stop,” way. But in the early morning hours of August 1st, for the first time, things went much further than that. I began to plan.
Always before, when I began having those kinds of thoughts, I would remember what it felt like to be on the other side of that coin. I’ve lost friends to suicide, and I know how devastating it feels to be left behind wondering and wishing. So when I got that low before, those memories would come back and I would think, “I could never do that to my friends and family. Not ever.”
Two weeks ago, ‘not ever’ didn’t enter my mind. Instead, I was thinking, “I hope they will understand. I hope they will forgive me.” Because all I could focus on in the moment was how much pain I was in, how desperately I wanted it to stop. I couldn’t see past that. It was too big.
A small part of me, the part that remembered what a liar my own brain chemistry can be, was trying very hard to be heard through all of that noise. But the voice was barely a whisper compared to the insistent, incessant voices of my depression and anxiety.
I won’t go into details of what I had planned. Both because I do not at all want to give anyone else who might be struggling any ideas they might not have had on their own, and because I don’t want to focus on that. I will say, though, I had a step-by-step plan that I believe would have been disastrously effective.
The fact that I had a plan I believed would work scared the shit out of me. And that moment of fear allowed that small voice to get a teensy bit louder.
Unlike the few other, slightly less powerful instances that had taken place in the week prior to August 1st, I didn’t keep what was happening to myself. When my husband woke up and saw that I was crying (though I hadn’t managed to fully stop, I had quieted down a bit), he asked what was wrong and I told him.
Not everything. Not explicitly, because I couldn’t speak the words.
But I told him as much as I could.
It felt unfair, like I was burdening him with my problems when there was nothing he could do about it. I didn’t want to upset him. And when he realized what was going on, he was upset. But he was also wonderful. He listened, and he held me, and he didn’t make me feel bad for any of the things I did manage to say. He told me he loved me, and that he didn’t want me to be in pain, and that we would figure out a way to make it better. He encouraged me to call my doctor’s office and tell them how the medication was affecting me.
Had I been alone, I really don’t know what I might have done. I would like to think I would have still listened to that little voice, but I can’t say for certain. At the time, that voice was so small on its own. Without my husband there echoing it, it might well have been drowned out once and for all.
Thankfully, I wasn’t alone. Thankfully, I heard what both that tiny inner voice and my husband were saying.
Tuesday afternoon, I called the mental health center (where I was prescribed the antidepressants) and told them that I was experiencing an increase in suicidal thoughts and they got me in to see the doctor the next day.
By the time I saw the doctor, I was no longer in the midst of a panic attack, but I was still shaky and prone to crying and unable to get the thought of suicide completely out of my mind. I told him all of that. And when he asked if I thought I would call someone if I began planning again, I couldn’t say ‘yes’. I wanted to say ‘yes’, but it would have been a lie.
The doctor at Gateway is an older man with lots of smile lines and kind eyes. A grandfatherly sort.
He listened to everything I said, he told me how glad he was that I had called and come in. And then he said he wanted to admit me to the hospital. I felt another moment of panic just then, a fluttery spasm in my chest, and I started to cry again but Dr. D smiled. He said he wanted me to be safe while they got me off the Wellbutrin and onto something else that would hopefully not have the same effects. He said they would help me.
I wanted that, desperately.
For a long time–over twenty years–I have kept all of this to myself. The Wellbutrin might have amped everything up, but it was only magnifying the thoughts and feelings that were already there, making them harder to ignore. Impossible to hide behind an ‘I’m fine’.
And really, I am so tired of trying to do it on my own.
So, when Dr. D said he wanted to admit me, I agreed. And then I immediately began worrying about everyone else. How would my husband take the news? Should I tell my family? My friends? I was terrified that I would tell my husband and he would lose it, overwhelmed by the prospect of my hospitalization. Because I felt overwhelmed.
While the doctor and the staff of Gateway went about organizing a bed for me at the Crisis Unit, I went out into the waiting room to tell the mister. And again, he was wonderful.
He didn’t panic. He barely even batted an eye. If he was overwhelmed at the time, he didn’t show it, and I’m so thankful. I couldn’t have handled anything else just then, and his calm and even hopeful attitude was exactly what I needed.
Things happened very quickly after that. Within half an hour, there was a bed waiting for me at the Crisis Unit and I was heading back to the house to pack up a few things for the stay, which Dr. D said would probably be just a few days, but I knew it might be more than that.
I decided to tell a few of my friends, the people I talk to every day, because I suspected my phone and internet access would be limited at best, if not nonexistent, and I didn’t want them to think I was ignoring them or something.
Again, I can’t stress how lucky I am. My friends were all incredible. Supportive, encouraging, upbeat. They told me I was doing the right thing and that they loved me. They told me we would figure things out, and that they were there for me no matter what, 100%. One of the members of Beta Team Voltron is a nurse, and she gave me tips for what to expect, what to bring, what not to bring. That gave me a bit of calm as I attempted to prepare for the unknown.
They (meaning doctors and therapists and the like) always say how important a strong support system is, and this was one of those occasions when that was eminently true.
My husband, my doctor, my friends, and my family when I called them to let them know what was happening–everyone was kind and calm and expressed their desire for me to feel better. No one made me feel weak, or stupid, or silly. No one freaked out and made me feel like I had to comfort them or complained about any inconvenience I was causing.
I can’t imagine what that afternoon might have been like if I didn’t have those people in my life, or if they had reacted differently. I’m glad I don’t have to. I wish everyone who struggles with mental illness had as wonderful a support system as I do.
I’m not going to lie. I was terrified.
Scared of how I was feeling. Scared of what was waiting for me at the Crisis Unit. Scared of what would happen when I got there. Scared of what would happen if I didn’t go there. (I was voluntarily admitting myself.)
But, at the same time, I felt a tiny spark of goodness. Because I was doing something. I was trying.
The Crisis Unit is about an hour away from us, in a building Dr. D informed me they just moved into a few months ago. It’s a nice facility, though it’s clear they’re still getting situated. The Mister left me at the door (they don’t let anyone who isn’t staff or a patient beyond the door, even deliveries are brought in by a staff member), which was hard. My anxiety was a buzzsaw under my skin. But the staff was kind. The tech who was in charge of checking my belongings during my intake distracted me with chit-chat, and the nurse was friendly and had a comforting smile.
The first 24 hours was incredibly difficult.
I was scared and out of sorts and still had the Wellbutrin in my system. Plus, for a hermit like me, being around so many people (I was one of about 20 patients, plus 5-10 staff members at any given time) and so much noise was overwhelming. I didn’t sleep much that first night. I kept waking up whenever the staff talked or my roommate shifted on her bed.
I won’t go into all the details. Day-to-day on a locked ward was actually pretty boring. There’s a schedule for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and meds. They monitored our vitals and our state of mind. (“How’re you feeling today?” was a common refrain. Not in a pushy or obsequious kind of way, but just checking in, taking my emotional temperature and seeing if I needed anything or wanted to talk.)
Mostly, I read and tried not to worry about all the things I have no control over. That’s a hard one for me.
After a day or two, I accepted that there were things I could do nothing about and managed to convince myself not to worry about anything outside those walls. It was surprisingly relaxing, once I let that go. I can’t remember a single other time where I had so little to worry about.
Instead, I concentrated on myself and how I was feeling. When I started to have another panic attack, I recognized it and informed one of the nurses. While I was crying and shaking and embarrassed, she calmly walked me through some breathing exercises and gave me a mild sedative. Between the two approaches, I was able to calm down in a couple of minutes, instead of the hour or hour and a half it was taking me prior to that.
The nurse practitioner there switched me from Wellbutrin to Prozac (and a beta blocker for my anxiety), and I can tell you that within only a day or two, I could feel the difference. Just having the Wellbutrin out of my system made a huge difference. Antidepressants work different for everyone, but I felt like I’d gone from living on a planet with extra-heavy gravity, crushing me, to the moon. I felt lighter and better able to think through my emotions. Hopefully, that will continue.
I was released after 5 days, since I didn’t have any recurrence of the panic attacks after that first day, and wasn’t experiencing any more suicidal thoughts. I’ve already had a follow-up appointment with Dr. D to discuss my ongoing medications, and a transition counselor who went over my continued treatment plan, and today I had my first one-on-one counseling session. We discussed what had been going on, what I want to work on, and what our goals are going to be.
One of those things I need to work on is opening up to people. Sharing how I feel. Not keeping everything bottled up inside and downplaying and minimizing the things that happen to me. And that’s what this post is about.
Saying “I went through this. It happened.” Admitting I was scared and needed help.
That part of me that didn’t want to write this post, that’s the part I’m working on. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed, but I tend to think that telling people what’s going on in my head is pointless. Why bother others with the craziness?
But that closes me off from the people I love, and leaves me feeling lonely. I don’t want to do that anymore.
I think, as painful as the experience on Wellbutrin and as frightening as being admitted to the Crisis Unit was, it was actually a good thing. A really good thing. A blessing in disguise. It might not have felt that way at the time, at least to start with, but it does now.
Of course, I’m not “fixed”. I’m never going to be what would generally considered “normal”. I have to keep taking my meds, provided they continue to work, or looking for better meds (or a combination) if they don’t. I have to keep going to therapy, keep working on my coping skills. I have to keep speaking up.
Right now I feel better than I have in a long, long time. I feel hopeful.
I may fall down. In fact, I probably will. There will no doubt still be days when I feel like I can’t get out of bed. Where I don’t get out of bed or answer my messages. Nights when I lie awake thinking about all the things I’m doing wrong or not doing well enough. Times when I can’t stop crying.
Maybe I’ll even start thinking about those steps again. I might, at some point down the line, have to go back into the Crisis Unit (or some place like it) for another week. Or longer. Who knows?
Hopefully, if and when that does happen, I will be able to remember how it felt this time. How it felt when I got help, and my support network was there for me when I needed them. If not, I’m sure they’ll remind me. Like I said, I’m a lucky woman.
If you or anyone you know are feeling suicidal, please reach out. Call a friend or a family member or a doctor. Hell, call a stranger if that’s easier. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7 free and confidential support. Call them. 1-800-273-8255. There’s an online chat. Text ‘CONNECT’ to 741741 from anywhere in the US, for the Crisis Text Line, if that’s more your speed. There are crisis lines all over the world. Wherever you are. Reach out.
Someone is out there for you.
And if you can, consider being that person for someone else. I speak from experience when I say outside support is so, so, so important. I know it’s not always easy to deal with a loved one with a mental illness, but you could save a life. I wouldn’t be here if not for the people in my life who have had (and continue to have) my back. I have to do the work, but I couldn’t do that without them. I’m so thankful for them. I hope they know that.
And I hope you know I have your back too.