Some days I nearly fall to my knees, filled with overwhelming gratitude.
Some days I can’t seem to get out of bed, filled with dread for the coming day.
This is life with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and occasional bouts of Major Depression.
I did not choose this life. I would not choose this life. I would not wish this life on anyone, even those who tell me I could “get better” if I just prayed harder or believed more or breathed deeper or loved my family just that much more. Even those who turn their heads when I talk about mental health, about suicide. Even those nurses who lack compassion for suicide attempts—supposed “calls for help.”
I can still hear your voice outside my hospital room. I can still see your name on the nurse’s board in the hallway. I know you know me. I know you were there.
Most days in 2016, I find myself on an even keel. I function at a normal level, meaning that I fall behind on laundry like the normal, everyday human being. I sometimes get frustrated with my children, like the normal, everyday parent. I think my period, especially considering I elected to have an ablation, is stupid, like the normal, everyday woman. I miss my daughter, every single day, like any birth parent ever created by the system of adoption.
But I also get stuff done. I run a successful business with my daughter’s mom. I write more often than I don’t, even if it doesn’t all show up here for public consumption. I read books again, which is a huge indicator of how I’m feeling mentally; I cannot read when I am lost inside my own anxious head.
I remember to do things. I clean bathrooms. I menu plan, though I didn’t do so great during the summer months because summer feels too hot to cook. We grilled a lot, and by we, I mean my husband. My anxiety can’t do open flame. Another reason I’m not a firefighter.
I drink my morning coffee, but know when to stop. I have a gin and tonic, but know when to stop. I take my medication, and know when I might need an extra dose of my anxiety meds—the first day back to school, air travel, when my dad has surgery and I can’t be there with the family.
I understand my mental health. I do not feel afraid to discuss it, even in mixed company. Even with those who, upon my mention of it, look away, cringe, judge, or try to discount my life experience.
I have stood on the edge of this life and the desire to end it all, on that bridge that is any bridge, and I have come back. Twice now. Both times I came back because someone cared enough to intervene. Both times I chose to walk a path of recovery because people in my life surrounded me with enough love and compassion to help me find my way back to me.
Not everyone is afforded those luxuries, a person to pull them back before it’s too late, a group of people who love you even when you don’t love yourself very much.
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.
It’s a day that makes me think, makes me feel a lot of things.
This morning I woke up to a house full of boys, friends over for a sleepover last night. I woke to a dog who licked my face mostly because she wanted to go lick the face of the boys she could hear in the living room. To kisses from my husband returning from work. To a text from the mother of said boys, laughing at a picture of their sprawled, sleeping bodies all over my living room as I headed to bed last night. To the smell of sweet, blessed coffee. To sunshine. To the song “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” in my head as my daughter tried to convince me last night that Disney is not evil.
To my life.
Over the past nearly two years of recovery, for a long time my first thought of the day was, “I want to die,” or, “I don’t want to be alive.” I’d shake my head, physically shaking the thought away, and then take my medication. I didn’t want to think those thoughts, but they just popped in there many mornings. That’s what Intrusive Thoughts act like; you know it’s not a thought you want to have, that it’s not good or productive, but it just—POP—shows up. I lived for many, many months with that as my first thought of the day.
I told my therapist, sometimes. I still get scared, even in therapy, talking about what I know to be Intrusive Thoughts out of fear of losing my children, of being deemed unfit, of being pegged as suicidal and sent back to the hospital.
Even now, I’m not ready to talk about either of my hospitalization experiences. I have those memories very tightly locked away. They feel scary; they feel like they happened to someone who wasn’t even me. I will deal with them in therapy at some point, but that point is not yet. Not now. Not today.
Today I woke up and thought, “What time is it? Why are those boys awake? The sun is really bright. I have to pick up kid drinks for the cookout tonight. Mmm, this bed is comfortable. Why is this wretched song in my head?!”
But I still took my medication.
A few times during 2016, things have felt really hard. Things I can’t tell you about here in this space, because they aren’t part of my story; they just affected my story. Or I should say they affected my story too much until I realized that the mental health of others doesn’t have to negatively impact my own mental health.
I say that in hopes of believing it; I’m not quite there, really.
The mental health of my children will always affect me; I will always want them to be okay, but I will love them fiercely even when they don’t feel okay. Losing a friend to suicide will never leave me, though I am processing it appropriately; the first week or so felt like a weird dream sequence though, and I still go to a not-so-good place if I think too hard about it.
But I’m okay. I’m improving. I still have Generalized Anxiety Disorder; don’t expect to take me somewhere with a crowd or new people and have me act like I act when I’m sitting on your front porch in the morning sunlight where everything feels safe. I still go out, I’m still doing new and scary things. I’m still putting myself out there, maybe even more so than ever before, but it remains a struggle. And might always remain a struggle. I don’t know yet.
I’m not currently battling a bout of Major Depression either, which feels like a dream in itself.
I share all of this because there are readers here, there are people in your family, friends in your circle, coworkers, acquaintances, parents of your kids’ friends, neighbors, strangers, who aren’t in a good place right now. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. There are approximately 117 suicides every day. Speaking of Ohio, in 2014, the suicide rate was just over 12 people per 100,000. Additionally, as there are no legitimate ways of tracking suicide attempts, surveys estimate that at least one million people engage in “intentionally inflicted self-harm,” whether or not that self-harm is attributed with an attempt on their life or not. (All information from American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.)
There are people in your life, in my life, that need to know they’re not alone. That the Intrusive Thoughts that pop into their head when they wake in the morning, when they’re driving down the road, when they’re alone at night, are not a death sentence. That even experiencing suicidal ideation and starting to make a plan don’t mean that it’s over. Neither does an attempt on your own life. You can get help. You can get better. You don’t have to live this way; you don’t have to feel this way forever.
You are worth the hard work it takes to recover from mental illness, from wanting to throw your hands up in the air and scream, “I just can’t do this any more.” You are enough.
For those of us in good places who haven’t been in the past, I encourage you to tell your stories. Our stories matter and can save lives. For those who have contact with any human being at all, ask someone how they’re doing, and mean it. If you know someone in your life is struggling with anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness, make a true attempt to let them know they have your support. It can make all the difference.
If you are currently feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can now also text the Crisis Text Line by texting “Go” to 741741 for support. Please know you are never alone.
I’m here today as proof you can get better. I’m here today for you.