What a Difference a Year Makes

It occurred to me yesterday that it had been exactly one year since I had been hospitalized. One year since I had felt the bottom drop out and sought help. And it got me thinking of how far I had come, how far I still had to go, and the journey thus far.

At first, I thought I haven’t come far enough. I’m still struggling. I still have some very bad days, and I still have some emotions and thoughts that overwhelm me.

And then I realized that I was being really unfair to myself, and negating what progress I have made. When I actually compare where I was and how I felt last year this time to where I am and how I feel this year, I couldn’t ignore that I had made way more progress than I gave myself credit for.

Last year I was teetering on the edge, and was thisclose to standing on a ledge. I was inconsolable and suicidal. I was self-harming and doing anything I could think of to ignore and suppress all the pain. I was sleeping fewer than four hours a night and eating everything in sight. My dreams were killing me, with images and ideas that left me disturbed and scared so bad that they would wake me almost every night. I was afraid, hopeless, helpless, and I felt more alone than ever. I couldn’t even imagine seeing the next day, let alone a year later.

So I asked for help. I took myself, in my pj’s, crying my eyes out, down to CAMH 24-hour emergency down at College, and I asked them for help. I told them that I was afraid for myself and that I wouldn’t make it if I was left alone any longer. And just like that, they took me in. They said they could help and they wanted to. That floored me. They wanted to help me?! Why? Well I still don’t know why, and frankly I don’t need to know anymore. All I know is they did.

I spent six weeks in their care, and the team that was built around me, saved my life.

To be clear, they had saved my life, but I still wasn’t totally sure that life was worth living. And I was pretty sure that I would end up right back where I had started. It was only a matter of time.

I had very few illusions about my prognosis. I had been low before and somehow managed to claw my way back. Several times. Granted it wasn’t really ever a recovery so to speak, it was more just getting to a point where I could function. Enough to work and pay bills and keep a home, but just enough.

My relationships were stressed, at best, my health was on a downward spiral that I’m still working to manage, my work was a joke with no purpose or enjoyment on any level, and my thoughts were slowly deteriorating my will and my sanity. I wholly assumed that this time would be no different.

But…it was.

I don’t know exactly why this time turned out differently. I just know that it did. Maybe it was the team I had behind me, maybe it was the medication, maybe it was me, or maybe all of the above. Whatever it was I had somehow found a path towards living a life worth living. I was able to get into, not one, but three different programs that would help me work through my destructive coping methods, address my overwhelming thoughts and emotions, and teach me how to build a life worth living.

Every day poses an obstacle that can still stump me, and there are days where I am filled with uncertainty and anxiety, but I am learning, and despite the uncertainty and anxiety, I am making changes that are positive. I am learning better ways to cope that are not destructive.

It is by no means, an easy journey, and there are no guarantees that everything will turn out okay, but it’s farther than I’ve ever come before. It’s far more progress than I’ve ever made before. And the changes, so far, have stuck around. I can only hope that this is a turn towards a better life that will last.

And hopefully, this time next year, things will have improved from today, and I can tell of all the latest progress I will have made. At least, that’s the hope.

Until next time… 🙂

*TW* Thinking About Suicide

Ever since last Friday and hearing about the tragic suicide of Chester Bennington I’ve been thinking about suicide. It has sadly already been a week since the news first broke and my thoughts are still heavily on him and suicide.

When I first heard the news I was just truly shocked and speechless. Chester Bennington had died? That couldn’t be right. That can’t be. Please don’t let that be true. I sincerely hope this is not true. But it was. He had died. And he had killed himself.

That was a heavy blow I am still unable to get past.

I couldn’t help but wonder how such a talented and insightful singer/songwriter could take his own life. Just weeks after a new album release, and practically days to the start of a North American tour. He was the frontman to a wildly successful group, and had millions of adoring fans who looked up to him and listened to his beautiful words with a ferocity that few can claim. And he had killed himself?

I just can’t understand it. I can’t understand how it could be possible. I can’t understand how he decided to make the choice that he did. I can’t understand it. I question this as if I myself have never struggled with suicidal thoughts before. But I can’t help it. I can’t help but feel confused. How could someone seemingly doing so well would commit suicide? Why? Why did he do it? Why would he feel that this was the end? Why would he feel that life was no longer worth living? What was it that broke him?

I was fortunate to see Linkin Park in concert with one of my best friends a few years ago, and it was one of the best nights. Their concert still resonates with me today when I hear their music, and I was hoping I would one day see them in concert again. They were just so good. But alas it is not meant to be. The one concert I was fortunate enough to see will have to be my single concert memory. Fortunately it’s a good enough memory it should last. But it certainly doesn’t make that we will never see Mr. Bennington in concert again any easier. In fact, it makes it harder.

His death is truly heartbreaking. He was so talented and his lyrics were beautiful poems. Listening to some of their music was like coming home. It felt like not only did he understand what you were feeling but he knew how to articulate it. He knew how to weave the words together so well that he could make the hardest emotion seem poetic and lovely.

I know that fame and success, no matter how much you have, doesn’t guarantee anyone anything when it comes to struggling with mental Illness. Having family and friends around you doesn’t guarantee anyone anything. If anyone understands the fragmented, disjointed, scary thoughts that can accompany mental illness it’s someone else (like me) who is also struggling with mental Illness. And for those of us who do struggle with mental illness, and have had suicidal thoughts, we know all too well how quickly things can go south, and how close many of us have come to dying by our own hands.

Those who struggle with mental illness tend to take solace in each other’s struggles. There is something about knowing that we are not alone, and that what we are feeling or struggling with is not just us. That others have scary thoughts like we do. That others have overwhelming emotions and urges that we try so hard to manage makes it seem a little less daunting. We hold onto each other and our respective struggles or demons or disorders and feel just a little bit less hopeless and alone. We hold fast that we will make it out alive. That we will all make it out alive. We hold fast that if others can make it then maybe we have a chance too. And when we lose one it can set us back. It can put a stop on any progress we’ve made thus far, and it can relegate us back to old habits and patterns, and the belief that we won’t be able to beat this. It can throw us into a tailspin that leaves us wondering and scared that we might be next.

We sometimes can’t help but think, if he can’t make it then what hope do I have?

It is always difficult to hear about the loss of a fellow sufferer. When the light of one of us is darkened by their own hand I think we all take it a little personally. Whether you knew the person or not. Because it means one more of us who didn’t make it. It means one of us didn’t make it out alive. It means the darkness took another light. It means that there is one less of us to hold onto and hope for better things. It means there is one less of us hoping to pull through. And we need all the hope we can get.

As anyone who has struggled with suicidal thoughts can tell you that often the thoughts are not on a linear path. In fact, they rarely go in any kind “logical” order. Feeling blue to sad. Sad to depressed. Depressed to severely depressed. Severely depressed to suicidal. It would be great to track it from phase to phase but it just doesn’t work that way. The path of mental health and mental Illness almost never goes the way of order. It is chaos personified.

It is sporadic and temperamental. It is tenuous and fragile. It is scary and dangerous. It is subject to change without a moment’s notice, and can leave you feeling like you’ve just been hit by a truck. You can wake up feeling okay and on a good path, and mere hours later you could be feeling like suicide is the only way out. Certain behaviours and moods can certainly help to identify and intervene before it gets that bad but as many signs that can be seen there are double the amount that can come out of nowhere. And the scariest part is that you can be feeling better and doing better and still have suicidal thoughts come on. You can be in recovery and moving forward and still find yourself falling backwards.

For myself there was something truly terrifying and so very fragile about moving away from depression. I was feeling better and I was seeing things clearer but there was still this nagging darkness behind me. In some ways it comforted me that my old familiar darkness was there, but it also scared me because it could creep up over and take me down again at any moment. And in fact, it did.

I remember the night I walked the floors of my hallway holding a knife and feeling like there was just no other way out. I was so terrified that night that blood would spill on the hardwood floors in my bedroom that it still shocks me I somehow managed to survive that night. I am still not sure what got me through to morning but whatever it was it stayed my hand long enough to call for help.

What really shook me about that night was that I had been doing so well. I had been seeing a therapist and making great strides in finally understanding a lot of my past and my trauma. I only recently discovered that back then I was really just scratching the surface, but I digress. I was working full-time, I was in a relationship that I loved, and I was doing stuff that interested me. I was generally feeling okay about things overall. It was by no means a complete recovery but it was certainly better than it had been.

Back when I was crying every day and feeling like the world was crushing me. When I felt so alone and lonely and that no matter how many words I used no one would ever understand me or be able to help me. When I felt so weighed down by life I could barely make it out of bed. Comparatively-speaking I was doing really well.

And then that night happened.

As the sky darkened outside my windows I suddenly felt this crushing weight on me that literally pushed me to the floor. Where I remained for a few hours crying until my tears ran dry and I was totally numb. I suddenly felt so hopeless and helpless that I was forever doomed to pain and suffering no matter what I did. I felt as if life was just not something that I was meant to have. I was never meant to be happy or have good things. I was forever destined to darkness. And it crushed me. I mean it broke me right down. As depressed as I had felt before, this weight that came over me literally left me breathless. I remember sitting just outside my bathroom gasping for air because something was breaking me down. Something was suffocating me. And it wasn’t long before I suddenly found myself with a knife in my hand and the will to live just fell away.

I didn’t care that I could die. I didn’t care if anyone might miss me. I didn’t care who found me or how. I didn’t care about anything. Literally. I lost my connection to the world so profoundly that it wasn’t until I saw the blood running down my leg that I realized where this was going. I frantically searched the apartment for bigger knives and drugs that I could take and things I could use to end it all. Anything was fair game. Jumping out the window, slicing my body to pieces, taking every drug in the apartment, or all of the above. I was on a mission and the completion was death.

Whatever carried me to morning did so without my knowledge.

I remember seeing the sun peak through the window and as I lay on the floor staring at the ceiling I was amazed that I was still alive. I laid there on the floor for most of the day after, as if I had run a marathon the night before, and at some point I fell asleep as the adrenalin dissipated. And it wasn’t until the following night before I finally moved off the floor. I slept most of the next few days away and spoke to no one. I’d like to say that what happened that night was cathartic and that it was a breakthrough for me, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t even close. It had terrified me. It had set me back to a place where I couldn’t even trust myself. It had literally almost killed me. It had not left me unscathed and I did not feel any better about life. It took months and serious therapy to bring me back to where I could function again.

One thing I did learn from that night was that even someone on the recovery can still be broken. I learned that being in therapy and coming back from depression did not mean that everything was okay, or that I was fully functioning again. It did not mean that the darkness couldn’t take me again. And that’s not to say that therapy and recovery are a lost cause because they aren’t. And it doesn’t mean that recovery will be negated in one fell swoop. Yes, that night blindsided me but that might not be true for others. And when I look back I can see in some parts why I turned to suicide that night.

That night almost killed me AND I still believe in recovery and I still believe in hope.

I wrote earlier that the path to suicide is not linear, or constant, and it often makes no logical sense, which is true. However, it is still a path. Suicidal thoughts rarely just spring out of nowhere for no reason. There are usually some signs that show where things are headed. Sometimes we see the path, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes others see the path before we do. And sometimes we don’t care what path we are on, or where it will end up, as long as it ends the pain and suffering.

What I want to really be clear about here is that suicide is something that should always be taken seriously. Whether the person is asking for help or whether they fully intend to end their life, the threat should be treated as real and true. I want people to understand that suicide is scary at times, even for the person who is attempting or committing suicide.

I want people to understand that suicide is rarely about not having a great life or great success. It is rarely about the people around us and in our lives. It is often about us, and our own pain and suffering. It is something that can happen to anyone and there may be times where it seems to come out of the blue. It can hide and spring on you when you least expect it. It is something that can happen when you’re in the darkness or trying to come out of the darkness.

There are as many reasons to commit suicide as there are people in the world. And what is enough reason for one may not be reason for another. So that is a lot of reasons and a lot of chances for the path to turn dark. And it’s important to keep in mind that feeling suicidal is not a weakness nor does it mean failure. It means that you need help. You are struggling, out of ideas, and out of options, and need help. You are boxed in, overwhelmed, stuck, lost, and need help. You feel helpless, hopeless and worthless, and need help.

The bottom line is that you need help. And you are entitled to it as much as anyone else is. You are NOT worthless. And even if you’re hope has diminished then let someone else hope for you, until yours comes back.

I am going to close this by saying that I hope anyone who feels suicidal, please reach out for help. Or if you know someone who is suicidal, please try to offer them support, whether it’s making the call for help for them, or just sitting with them to let them know they aren’t alone. Please take all suicidal threats seriously because it could cost a life.

I know that there will be some suicides that won’t be able to be stopped. There will be some who will not see the next day. There will be some who you won’t know are struggling. There will be some who will go out of their way to not tell you they are struggling. There will be some of us that won’t make it out alive. But if you see it, or they ever do tell you, please try to help.

For those who find themselves in the darkness and are unable to find your way back to the light, I sincerely hope you find peace, no matter where it lays.

Hope and hugs for everyone out there 🙂

SUICIDE LINES – CANADA:
Call 911
https://suicideprevention.ca/need-help/
https://thelifelinecanada.ca/help/
http://www.yourlifecounts.org/need-help/crisis-lines
http://www.suicide.org/hotlines/international/canada-suicide-hotlines.html

The Unsettling Feeling of Calm

I wanted to share this because I’m curious to know if anyone else has experienced this. Or if it’s just me and I’m losing it. 

Today on my way to an appointment, I was on the bus and it was about halfway through my trip when I realized that I felt calm. It hit me quite suddenly as I was just looking out the window and thinking. Was I…calm? Was my body…calm? Wait a second, was calm? Really? Are you sure? Me? Calm? That can’t be right. Okay, what’s going on? 

So I scanned my body to look for anything that might be there, a flutter, some tension, anything to tell me that my body was in a state that wasn’t even close to calm. And as I reached my toes and still had not found anything, it started to sink in that I wasn’t really feeling anything at that moment. Say what? I wasn’t feeling anything? 

I thought maybe I was numb then. That made sense. I wasn’t feeling anything in my body because I was numb. But the body scan told me it wasn’t numbness because even when I’m numb I physically feel a certain way. There are still physical sensations that tell me I’m feeling numb. And this time there was nothing. Just…nothing. No anxiety. No tension. Nothing. My breathing was normal and my body was calm. 

What the crap was this?

I scanned my body again, looking for the slightest twinge or tension, thinking I needed to double-check this out because I couldn’t be just calm, could I? And again the scan told me there was nothing. My body was not in a state of anything. Was this what riding the bus with no anxiety looked like? Was this what an anxiety-less body felt like? Was this simply riding the bus? Was this what just taking a bus looks like? Was this what just taking a bus feels like? 

Well I don’t like it. 

Now don’t get me wrong, when I say I was calm I don’t mean that my mind was blank or quiet because it was neither. I don’t mean that by being calm I was not having a swarm of thoughts going through my mind because I did. In fact I was thinking about my life and my emotions when I realized how calm I was. I was not really relaxed, meditative, or even happy because I wasn’t. It was just…calm. 

For whatever reason, I was not tense or anxious or feeling like I would pass out or freak out. I was not worried that I might die or anything. The absence of the chaos I usually carry within me was very unsettling. It wasn’t long before I wondered if I should be freaking out. I mean this was not my usual feeling. This was not my usual state. This was not the way I normally take a bus. This was new, and weird, but suprisingly even when I thought of freaking out my body just stayed calm. For a moment I was unable to even stir myself into feeling anxious. I have no idea how. And I have no idea why. I just was. So this was calm? This was just sitting with myself? This was just being?

Interesting. 

I actually managed to stay calm for the next hour or so, and frankly I’m just stunned. I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know why it happened. I have no idea how I managed to stay calm in my body as my mind pondered life’s questions. But there it was. Me. Calm. 

Alrighty then. Good to know. 

I’ve decided not to analyze this to death because I have a feeling it will never be explained. I have a feeling that it actually doesn’t  matter why it happened. So I am going to accept it for what it was, a feeling of calm while going to an appointment. 

I’d like to say that I was able to stay there, in the calmness, but unfortunately my anxiety about not having anxiety managed to build my anxiety level, and within a couple of hours I was back up to a 7 or 8 on the anxiety level scale, and also had a slight panic attack on my way home from the appointment. 

On the plus side, I was super pleased that I had at least caught a glimpse of what a zero on the anxiety level looks like. It’s nice to know that it can happen, that it is possible, and that I can get there. I’d like to know why or how it had happened so I could harness it for the future but I know that is probably not possible. Some things can’t be harnessed like that. At least, not yet. 

As unsettling as it was to just be calm and not have anxiety and all the baggage that goes with me wherever I go, I’m really glad it happened because maybe it will happen again. And maybe it might even last longer. Or maybe I’ll never see it again. Who knows.  But at least knowing it’s possible is good. 

Has anyone else experienced this? I really hope it’s not just me.