Story Time: Why #SuicidePreventionMonth Is Not Enough

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

September is Suicide Prevention Month, which dredges up a lot of complicated feelings in me. You may or may not know that I’m a survivor. Almost two years ago, I’d been on antidepressants that, as usual, had an adverse affect on me. I was so messed up, I was convinced that no one loved me, that my husband had abandoned me, and that I should just die. I was also grieving the loss of a dear friend, so I’m sure that didn’t help. None of those things were true—my husband was in fact baffled at my behavior and worried—but I couldn’t see through the dark clouds.

Depression lies.

From the moment I woke up the next evening, confused but alive, I felt ashamed of what I’d done. I didn’t tell anyone for a long time. I felt stupid and I felt like a failure. It took another year before I finally came off all of the medication and was properly diagnosed with PTSD from multiple traumas throughout my life.

But that year in between was hell.

None of my doctors realized that the medications they were prescribing me were just making things worse. In fact, despite how awful I felt, they usually just increased the dosage or added a second or even third medication. I finally talked the psychiatric APRN I was seeing into discontinuing my medications. Through the haze of pharmaceuticals, depression, and anxiety, I could still hear my gut. And my gut was saying “Drugs are bad, mmkay?”

Unfortunately, for reasons that I will probably never understand or forgive, my APRN didn’t wean me off. We’d discussed how various psych meds always strongly affect me, and I even asked if I needed to wean. He said no, and within days I went into withdrawal.

I felt an infinite amount worse.

Almost immediately, I became completely unable to care for myself. I spent my days lying on the couch binge watching TV and movies I can barely even remember. I became a ghost woman, barely eating, not taking my arthritis medications, and rarely sleeping. Even my thoughts weren’t my own. They weren’t suicidal, per se—I didn’t want to hurt myself—but I kept thinking things like, “I wonder what’d happen if I filled the bathtub and tossed a toaster in? Wait. Why the fuck did I just think that? I don’t want to do that.”

It was frustrating because I’ve been suicidal in the past but it was my decision, if that makes sense. This was like a stranger had stepped into my brain and was pulling the strings.

I knew it was the medication.

Psych meds have what’s called a half-life—the time it takes for the substance to get completely out of your system. As you go through the half-life, if you don’t wean, you will start to have withdrawal symptoms. The medications I was taking happened to have a shorter half-life, which means they’re even harder to come off of.

Though I was still seeing a therapist and the APRN, neither of them thought to do something about this. I was on my own.

I tried to ride it out. I really did. I kept telling myself it’d get better, especially as each day passed. But there are really no words to describe how I felt. It was terrifying, like crawling through endless cotton-thick white mist. I had no concept of time, no desire to write, and it seemed like I’d never be myself again. I just wanted to get back to my life.

On a Tuesday evening, I made the decision to go to the ER. I did not feel suicidal but I knew I needed help coming off the psych meds. While I didn’t exactly want to try any other medications, I guess I thought the hospital staff would prescribe me something to ease the transition or at least refer me to a new doctor who could.

I was so wrong, and I deeply regret going.

The staff did not listen to me. I tried to be honest, briefly explaining my history and how psychiatric medication always seems to do the exact opposite for me. But instead of hearing “past medication made me attempt suicide,” I think all they heard was “past attempt at suicide.” I was signed in against my will and, no matter how hard my family, husband, and I tried to explain again, I ended up being held for a week.

During my first night there, I had to meet with a social worker who asked if I had ever been sexually assaulted. I told her I have, twice. Not an hour later, they parked a patient next to me who kept screaming about how he did not rape his girlfriend.

The whole experience was horrifying, and almost a year later I still have flashbacks.

But after I was finally released, I found a new therapist who was trauma certified. Between the drugs finally wearing off, her proper diagnosis, and the new techniques she taught me, I felt better within weeks. I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t received the proper help that I needed. Maybe I would’ve started seeing a new provider and taking yet another medication that wouldn’t work; my mental illness has never been chemical, so there’s no chemical balance to readjust. Maybe that next medication would have been the one to finally kill me.

I’m not saying antidepressants, etc are all bad. They help a lot of people—many of whom are my own loved ones. But we over-prescribe them. Few providers know what to do with trauma patients, even though many of them are required to ask the same screening questions. And mental illness in general is so stigmatized, too many people just get brushed off. Hospitals have quotas to fill so they can make their monthly budget; affiliated and private providers are overbooked with too many patients.

We have to do better.

I don’t know how to patch the holes. All I know is writing, so all I can do is share my story and hope it inspires other people who do know what to do and have the power to make things better.

Putting these words out there used to terrify me. It still does, a little, and I’m not quite ready to share all the details. But in less than a year, thanks to my therapist’s help and quite a bit of independent work, I feel stronger than I ever have. Last week, I was able to let go of the past and stop letting one of the men who assaulted me continue hurting me. I was able to step out of that trauma cycle, stop obsessing over what happened, and walk through the door. I’ve closed it, and I feel fantastic. Free. I’ve got my magic back.

I just know that, someday, I’ll be able to let go of what happened to me last year. I’ll no longer feel uneasy at the very mention of a hospital. And I’ll keep getting stronger.

I’ll probably still have to deal with depression, anxiety, and flashbacks for the rest of my life, but not as intensely. The problem with multiple traumas is that it’s like ripping open a gash over and over. The original wound never heals, and just festers unless you get the right help. But I’m finally healing—mostly because I finally got the proper diagnosis and treatment. Now, when I have a flashback, I know to let it happen and remind myself that I’m in 2016 and I’m safe. When I have an anxiety attack, I know that it won’t last forever, that if I just breathe and ride it out, I’ll be okay. And I know that when I start to feel depressed, it’s time to ramp up my tools (journaling, yoga, meditation, essential oils, R&R, etc), and I know to always carefully balance my workload as a preventive measure so I don’t get overwhelmed and spiral out.

This isn’t the happy ending to a movie; my life is a work in progress. I’ll still have bad days or months or even years. But something tells me it will never be that bad again. I can’t even put into words how strong I feel, even when I’m down. I’m so much stronger than I ever was.

And even though a lot of that magic is mine, the spark started with Erica, my therapist who I may not see anymore but always think of and will be forever grateful to. If we had more Ericas in the world, maybe we wouldn’t need a suicide prevention month.

To learn about the warning signs of suicide, please read this article.

If you or someone you know might be in danger of hurting yourself, please call 911 for medical emergencies or Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or, if you prefer, text Crisis Text Line.

I am not a trained or licensed medical provider. I am just a woman who has been there. I can offer an ear but I cannot give you any medical advice. Please use the above resources to get professional help.

To Be Understood

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

Recently I found out that the depression and anxiety I’ve been dealing with isn’t chemical, isn’t major depressive disorder or dysthymia or bipolar disorder, but is actually the result of multiple traumas—probably PTSD. And the more I learn about trauma and how it affects the brain, the more what my new therapist says makes perfect sense. All of this misery started fifteen years ago for me, directly after a majorly traumatic event. Since then, I’ve been through several other traumatic ordeals. I didn’t even think of them as traumas until long after they’d happened; for years, I thought of them as Things Not to Think About.

But the thing is, our brains remember these things whether we want to or not. These events become dark spots in our memory, resulting in behavior and feelings that make us think we’re crazy—especially if we’re not connecting them to those Things Not to Think About. This is why trauma is frequently misdiagnosed. Many mental health professionals know about trauma but aren’t trained enough to recognize the signs, to see where trauma has been confused for something else.

I spent years careening from professional to professional, pill to pill. None of it worked. A psychiatrist reasoned that this was because I have bipolar disorder when, in actuality, the problem wasn’t chemical at all. No wonder antidepressants weren’t working (or, more often, making me feel worse)! This same psychiatrist speculated that it must be bipolar, because I’m an artist and “lots of artists are bipolar.”

Our mental health system may help a lot of people, but it’s also a very flawed system.

Up until last month, my coping method for those Things Not to Think About was to avoid them like the fucking plague. I know now that this was how I tried to protect myself. Turns out, avoiding these things actually made me feel worse. I ran and ran, spiraling into depression and anxiety, sometimes feeling better but never for very long.

My new therapist is working very closely with me. She tells me that I need to accept the things that have happened. First, though, I have to face them. I have to acknowledge that they happened.

I’ve been in denial so long, I don’t know how to face these things. Even when I do, I gloss over them and try to make a joke. Laughter is my coping mechanism. I laugh at everything—nervous, awkward laughter. And by avoiding everything for so long, I’ve racked up a hefty amount of shame. I think our society often shames or even blames victims so much that when we become victims, we are afraid to even acknowledge to ourselves what happened. So many women don’t report sexual assault, for example, for multiple reasons. Fear. Inability to prove anything. Embarrassment. So these women remain silent, hoping that they can just put it behind them.

The crazy thing is, social workers and primary care physicians have started asking patients standard questions—”Have you ever been physically assaulted? Have you ever been sexually assaulted?”—and then, when the patient answers “Yes,” do nothing. They make a note of it and move on to the next question or to the flu that needs to be treated.

Our society is good at ignoring trauma. The military, for example, fails to treat many veterans who experienced horrific things while serving. I knew someone who, while in the Navy, had to gun down children. He never received treatment. Before he enlisted, he was a charming and handsome young man who laughed a lot. He came back very wrong, saying and doing things that were sometimes weird and other times frightening.

After Columbine, 9/11, and Sandy Hook, as a nation we barely took time to grieve. We’re so good at ignoring our pain.

All I want for Christmas this year is to get past those Things Not to Think About, but it could take months or even years before I recover. I’ve carried these things with me and avoided them for so long, it sometimes feels like an impossible task. In the safety of my own head, I can think about them for fleeting moments without panicking. If asked to talk about them, at best I can gloss over them quickly as if reading facts off a piece of paper. At worst, I shut down completely. Ideally, I’d like to be able to get to the point where I can write about them here, telling my story in an attempt to help others.

But that terrifies me, because then people will know.

It all comes back down to the shame.

There are things I’m afraid to talk about for many reasons, but what holds me back the most is the fear that people won’t believe me. There are a lot of people who have been worried about me, baffled by my increasingly odd behavior. I know I don’t owe them any explanation, but my soul cries to be understood. And I know I couldn’t take that kind of rejection.

But I want to come out of the dark. I want to help others who might be dealing with the same things. And I really, really want to save myself. Lately I’ve felt like I’m not really living, like I’m walking and talking but kind of a zombie. I’d really like to take my life back.

I think everyone deep down just wants to be understood.


via Project Semicolon
via Project Semicolon

I have something to confess: I am profoundly ashamed of myself. Every time I think I have depression, I cringe. And I have no idea why.

No one made me like this. Sure, there’s the stigma attached to mental illness. And maybe that’s part of it. But no one ever explicitly told me there was something wrong with me—except for me.

It wasn’t always this way. I used to parade my depression around boldly. I had a pen pal support group for people with depression. I blogged about it without even blinking. Now, just the thought of publishing this post terrifies me.

But I’m going to do it anyway, because someone out there feels like this too. And I want you to know that it’s okay.

It’s okay to feel ashamed, because we are a work in progress. And someday, you and I are both going to feel proud of who we are—because we should be. Anyone living with depression has serious guts.

Take it a little at a time. Someday soon, you will feel just as strong as you truly are.

#FridayReads Only She Can Save Herself

Scorched, by Jennifer Armentrout

Sometimes life leaves a mark…

Most days, Andrea doesn’t know whether she wants to kiss Tanner or punch him in the gut. He is seriously hot, with legit bedroom eyes and that firefighter body of his, but he’s a major player, and they can’t get along for more than a handful of minutes. Until now.

Tanner knows he and Andrea have had an epic love/hate relationship for as long as he can remember, but he wants more love than hate from her. He wants her. Now. Tomorrow. But the more he gets to know her, the more it becomes obvious that Andrea has a problem. She’s teetering on the edge and every time he tries to catch her, she slips through his fingers.

Andrea’s life is spiraling out of control, and it doesn’t matter that Tanner wants to save her, because when everything falls apart and she’s speeding toward rock bottom, only she can save herself.

Sometimes life makes you work for that happily ever after…

I read this book in just a few hours. Not because it was super short. It wasn’t light reading, either. But I devoured it. I had to know what happened next. Because Scorched isn’t just a romance. It’s about living with depression and anxiety—two conditions that are a huge part of my life.

Andrea tries to self-medicate using alcohol. Her concerned friends aren’t sure what to do. Even she isn’t sure.

There were plenty of moments of levity. I laughed out loud quite a bit. Scorched balances out some pretty heavy material with brilliant dialogue and witty narration.

My favorite part about this book was the relationship between Andrea and Tanner. He gives her room to figure things out for herself, with lots of support.

Readers who enjoy books that tackle real issues with the prevailing message of hope should definitely pick up a copy of Scorched.

If you read and liked Scorched, you may enjoy my novel Diving Into Him, a story about a young woman struggling with alcoholism and her dream of redemption.