T is for a Tale of Two Hospitalizations (Part Three of Four)

dark TFor those who are just joining us, here’s a recap: After a stressful couple of years, I found myself in a deep pit of depression and suicidal thoughts. Although I have been suicidal basically all my life, this particular incidence was different in that the impulses to kill myself were nearly impossible to fight. I was hospitalized for the week of Thanksgiving of 2012.

So how was I when I was released? A bit better. I was no longer having the nearly physical impulse to kill myself. The thoughts were still there, but I pushed them away with anger. I was angry at myself for my “weakness” and angry at my disease for putting me in the hospital. I thought was I was “less then” for allowing my control to lapse. I despised myself for having let myself to be suicidal to the point where I was “unsafe” with myself (“safe” and “unsafe” are terms the doctors used to determine how bad your suicidal ideation was. If you were “safe” with yourself, you could be trusted not to hurt yourself or others. If you were “unsafe”, you were likely to hurt yourself).

After the hospitalization, I still hated myself. I hated everything about myself from the strand or two of gray in my hair to my toes. I especially despised my need to be seen as special and my desire to be loved. I wanted to be perfect, with no needs, no desires, no emotions. I wanted to be someone, something, anything, other than myself.

At the time, I was finishing my last semester of college (undergrad). The medication I was given at the hospital made it possible for me to graduate. I didn’t graduate the way I wanted to though. I wanted my last semester of college to be like my first semester. I had made great grades and felt hopeful my first semester. In my last semester I failed several classes, was terrified of my future, and felt undeserving of breathing.

After graduation, I waited. I waited to feel better, waited to get a job, waited for an appointment with my local community mental health center. I waited because I knew the medication I was on was not right. It barely helped. The difference between being on that medication and being unmedicated was the difference between taking an hour to get out of bed and taking an hour and five minutes. I was still suicidal, still avoiding life, still terrified.

I finally got in to see a psychiatrist in January of 2013 and my meds were changed. I started seeing a counselor and finally got a job in February. I was doing telemarketing. Not because I enjoyed it, not even because I was good at it (I wasn’t), but because it was the only job I could get at the time. I hated the job, but I took it so I could pay the bills.

Slowly, I started feeling better. The suicidal thoughts became less and less intense until they were more of a soft whisper at the back of my head. I still didn’t feel like I was worthy of anything, especially anything I enjoyed. I still didn’t take good care of myself. But I had found a balance that allowed me to get though the day.

It was on April 29th that that precarious balance was, quite literally, broken. That was the day that I fell down a flight of stairs and broke my left arm.

April 29th, 2013, was a Monday. And, in my typical fashion, I was reluctant to go to work, but I was going anyway. I’d waited till the last possible second to get out of bed, but I’d done it. Like any other day, I got dressed and started out the door, a bag of garbage and a tote bag of books to return to the library in my left hand. At the top of the flight of stairs I take to get to the ground floor (it’s about ten stairs) I tripped over my own feet and fell, face first. The strange thing is that the moment before I fell down the stairs, I saw myself in my mind’s eye falling down the stairs. Then I felt the impact. I landed on the (appropriately named) landing right before the stairs turned a corner.

My first thought was for my glasses. They were new and expensive and I couldn’t afford to replace them. Fortunately, they were fine. There was something under my chest. For some reason, I thought it was the stair carpeting. “That’s why I fell,” I thought. “The carpeting came loose.” I tried to push myself up with both hands but flopped right back down. My left arm wasn’t working. The thing under me wasn’t the carpeting, it was my arm.

I managed to push myself up with one arm and sit up. Then I took inventory. My left arm wouldn’t work by itself and I noticed that I was bleeding from some sort of cut right above my inner elbow. I didn’t feel any pain though. After a second or two I realized that my arm was broken and that I probably should do something about it. So I called 911 and waited for help, trying not to cry.

You see, I was afraid that if I started to cry, I’d start to feel the pain. And then I’d never stop crying.

When the EMTs got there, they helped me off the stairs, into a neck brace, and onto a stretcher. Still I felt no pain. I remember being loaded into the ambulance then nothing until I woke up in ICU.

I’m told that I spent the rest of the day in the ER (I fell at around 7:30am) then went into surgery to repair the break at 1am the next day. I had broken my wrist and demolished my elbow. The spot that I thought was just a cut was actually where my bone had poked through the skin. It took six hours of surgery to put the pieces together. I had three pins in my wrist and several plates/pins in my elbow.

It took two days in the ICU for me to wake up. My brother and sister-in-law told me that at one point they weren’t sure that I would live. Apparently every time they tried to take me off the respirator, I wouldn’t breathe on my own. They were terrified and having flashbacks to other times they’d watched loved ones die in the ICU. But eventually I did breathe on my own (when I did, I immediately pulled out the breathing tube myself. Which you’re not supposed to do because if you do it wrong you can rip out your vocal cords), and became coherent.

After another day in the ICU, I was transferred to a regular floor where I had a room to myself. The entire time I was in the hospital I was given really good painkillers and spent a lot of time sleeping. The hospital staff was nice, but very busy, leaving me in pain a time or two, but I thought I was dealing well. I was visited by people I hadn’t seen in years (one in decades) and felt okay. I’d never broken a bone or had a (medical) hospital stay before, so I thought I was doing okay.

My left arm was in what they call a soft cast. The bottom of my arm rested in a cotton covered immovable fiberglass shell that was shaped to my arm in a slightly bent position. The rest of the arm was wrapped in an Ace©-type bandage from just under my armpit to just above my fingertips. After a few days, the hospital wanted to discharge me, but there was a question of where.

At first, they said I shouldn’t be alone upon discharge because I’d need help. And they were right. I’m right handed, and the breaks were in my left arm, but there’s lots of stuff you need your non-dominant arm/hand for that you don’t realize you need it for until you can’t use it. For example, pulling your underwear/pants on. So I asked my brother and sister-in-law if I could stay with them for a few days. They said no, because they had a house full of people and nowhere to put me. Then the hospital tried to get me admitted to a short-term care facility. However, I had no insurance, wasn’t on Medicare, and had no money. To make matters worse, not all facilities were “equipped” to take someone of my size. After a day or so, (when my orthopedic doctor caught me making my own bed because I was sick of waiting for someone else to do it) it was decided that I could go home alone after all, if someone checked on me periodically. So home I went.

The first few days were okay. I slept a lot, had painkillers (not as good as the ones in the hospital, but they did the trick), and my family checked on me once or twice a day. Then I made my first mistake, I started to worry about money. I had no insurance, no savings, and had missed two weeks of work (half a month’s pay). So I got permission to go back to work, mistake number two.

How did I work with only one arm? Easy. I was a telemarketer, most of my job consisted of talking and pressing two or three buttons. If I needed to type more, I could take more time. No problem (or so I thought). What I didn’t think about was how the stress of the job, combined with the trauma of my injury, would affect me. I had to cut back on the painkillers in order to drive to work and be coherent when I was there. The job itself was stressful for me before my injury  (because it was such a mismatch to my personality), but after my injury it became impossible for me to deal with. After a couple of days, I started to call in sick, saying I was having a medication interaction.

The truth was, that precarious balance I’d established with my mood had been shattered along with my elbow. While I was in the (medical) hospital I could distract my mood with painkillers, talking with the nurses, watching TV, and sleeping. Now that I was out and trying to work, my family checked on me less and less, I didn’t have as much to distract me, and my mood dived.

Let’s put it this way, in the space of a couple of weeks I went from being functional in every way (all my limbs worked, I was working, I wasn’t happy but I was moving forward) to having trouble pulling on my underwear and crying all day. The suicidal impulses returned with a vengeance. There were times that the only reason I didn’t take all of my painkillers at once was because the bottle was on the other side of the room and I didn’t have the energy to get up to get them. I spent a week lying in my bed, crying, arguing with my brain, calling off work sick, and praying that I’d be brave enough to live so my landlord wouldn’t have a mess to clean up (can you image the bodily fluids a corpse leaves behind?). It happened so fast and went so deep that I was more than terrified. I was “unsafe” with myself and I knew it. Everyday, every minute, every breath, was a fight.

So what got me in the hospital? I had an appointment with my psychiatrist. It took me all day to get myself there. Arguing with myself each step from the bed to the bathroom, putting on clothes, driving; telling myself that I would be fine, that I just need an adjustment of meds, that if I just took the next step, put on the next article of clothing, drove to the next light, that I was closer to an end to the fight. It wasn’t until after I got to the doctor’s office, checked in with the receptionist, and sat down, that I realized that I was lying to myself. I couldn’t do it any longer. I had a plan to kill myself, I had access to materials that would definitely kill me, and I no longer had the energy or will to fight anymore.

Picture your typical doctor’s office. A hugely fat woman is sitting in a chair, left arm in a bulky cast and sling, hopeless tears streaming down her face. Frankly, I scared people. Wide-eyed, the nurses asked me what was wrong. All I could do was shake my head and cry. After a minute or two of letting me cry in the waiting room, one of them lead me to another room where my vitals were taken and I eventually told them what was going on. The nurse immediately got the doctor. He told me that, instead of having our usual 15 minute medication maintenance appointment, he was going to hand me over to a crisis counselor (in the same clinic). The counselor told me that I had two choices, going to a psych ward by ambulance or having a family member drive me there. I chose to call my sister-in-law.

Stay tuned, my next blog post will have the rest of the tale.

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T is for a Tale of Two Hospitalizations (Part Two of Four)

t blackWhen we last left my poor depressed self, I was enroute from my local hospital to the psych ward. But what I didn’t mention was the most important thing, what got me admitted: I had a plan. I honestly think, no matter how much pain I was in, how miserable I was, I would not have been admitted if I hadn’t admitted to having a plan. I won’t say what that particular plan was (it probably wouldn’t have worked anyway), but I had an out available if I got too tired of fighting myself.

That said, let’s return to November of 2012. I was taken by ambulance to a hospital 45 minutes from home to be admitted to their “Behavioral Health” ward. Read “psych ward.” Now, throw out any images you may have gotten from movies or TV about psych wards. There was no padded room, no drooling patients, no Angelina Jolie leading patient revolts.

This hospital, located in an affluent suburban area, had multiple areas within the “normal” hospital for their psych patients. Patients were separated by age (child, adolescent, adult, geriatric), medical condition (did you require constant monitoring? Were you detoxing from something? Did you have any physical problems that needed watching like open wounds or broken bones?), and how functional you were (were you in a psychotic state or not). Obviously, I was taken to the adult ward with no major medical problems and was functional.

To picture the ward, imagine a square separated into four quarters with a circle in the center. The circle in the center is the nurses’ station. One quarter was for administrative stuff (where they kept the meds, charts, and the staff break room), one for the geriatric patients, one for adults with medical problems, and one for adults without problems. Each section was kept locked so a patient couldn’t wander into a section they didn’t belong to. Everyone on my floor was functional. Those who weren’t or were younger were kept on another floor altogether.

By the time I arrived at the ward it was one in the morning. The EMTs had me strapped into a gurney and they wouldn’t let me get out until we were actually in the ward, behind locked doors. A psych tech met us in the ER and lead us to the ward, unlocking the doors on the way. I was to later find out that the locks were because we weren’t supposed to leave without permission.

After I was allowed off the gurney, I was strip searched. Yep, strip searched. I later found out that they had to do that to be sure that we had no hidden wounds or contraband (sharp things, drugs, etc) hidden under our clothes. The tech was very respectful, she didn’t touch me, but it was still embarrassing. They even had to check between my rolls of fat. Humiliating. After allowing me to dress, they took an inventory of what I brought with me. My wallet was locked up and any personal items, including my cell phone, were tucked away in a locked storage room. I was allowed access to them twice a day. Then I was taken into an office and asked a bunch of questions about my medical and psychiatric history. Everything from “have you ever been abused” to “how often do you feel suicidal.” I had to sign a bunch of paperwork, including one that said I agreed to be admitted for at least 3 days. I was told that I didn’t have to sign that form, but that if I didn’t my case would be brought before a judge and the judge would commit me against my will anyway. I had to sign another form that informed me that I would not be allowed to legally own a gun for the next 3 years.

Then I was given the rules. They were simple: no violence, be respectful, no personal items on the floor that could possibly be used to hurt ourselves (with the exception of pens. I guess they had to allow us to write), if we wanted to use our own toiletries we could (but they were kept locked up and only allowed out while we were using them), family could bring us books and candy but it all had to be searched before we were allowed to have it, and we had to attend as many activities as possible.

Finally, I was lead to a room. It mostly looked like your basic hospital room. Two beds, a couple of nightstands, a bathroom. The big differences were that all the electrical outlets were covered and the beds weren’t your typical hospital beds. They were wooden platform beds attached to the floor. They gave me a couple hospital gowns (since I didn’t bring a change of clothes with me) and some toiletries. I didn’t have a roommate (I got one the second day), and they allowed me to close my door to sleep (although they did do “bed checks” to be sure I was where I’m supposed to be throughout the night).

In the morning, they woke me up at 7am. I was told that I could hang out in my room or in the group area (a living room type area) until breakfast. The group area had a coffee maker/hot water dispenser (for tea or hot chocolate) that we were allowed access to most of the day. Our days were scheduled from 7am to 10pm. The first few hours of the day were for getting our meds, having our vitals checked (blood pressure, temperature, etc) and getting access (monitored access) to our personal items. After breakfast, we alternated between group counseling and free time until lunch. After lunch there was an hour of visiting time then more group counseling. At 3 there was a “shift change”. Basically, we had to stay in our rooms while the first shift staff updated the second shift staff about our individual statuses. Then there was more group counseling until dinner. After dinner, we were again allowed access to our personal items, there was another visiting time then, yep you guessed it, more group counseling. After a final bit of free time, we had “snack time” (granola bars, chips, pudding, etc), a final group then more free time. We had to be in our rooms by 10, although they didn’t make us go to bed if we didn’t want to. Bed checks occurred throughout the night and we weren’t allowed out of our rooms until 7am. On weekends and holidays, the schedule was slightly different, more free time, an additional visiting time, and less group counseling.

Group counseling in the psych ward isn’t like it is out in the real world. Yes we sat in a circle and yes there was some sharing, but each session was focused on something different. In the morning, we each had to set goals for the day (something concrete and attainable for the day. “Feel better” was too vague, “sharing more in group” was better). Our final group was a check to see if we accomplished our goals. Some groups consisted of being taught the symptoms of our various diagnosis’ while others were about specific things we could do to manage our diseases. Not all sessions allowed for sharing, but most did. And there was at least one art therapy session and one “spirituality” (non-specific spirituality so as not to offend anyone) session a week.

You didn’t have to attend all the group counseling sessions, but it was highly recommended. The psych techs wrote down everything we did. How much time we spent in our rooms, how much we ate, if we showered, how many groups we attended, if we participated, and so on. The more cooperative you were, the more you shared, the more groups you went to, the faster you were discharged. The first day we got a physical from a medical doctor and, if we had any concerns, specialists were called in. In my case, the doctor called in a nutritionist since my diabetes wasn’t well regulated. We saw a psychiatrist the first day as well. Everyone was immediately placed on meds. You then saw the psychiatrist every day or so until you were discharged. You were also assigned a social worker who was supposed to help you with your family issues and discharge planning.

My section of the ward held mostly people with Depression and Bipolar disorder. There were also a couple of people who had substance abuse issues. If they were still detoxing, they slept in the medical section of the ward and allowed onto our area for counseling when they were coherent enough to participate. The ward was co-ed, but each room was, of course, single sex. We had access to two phones in the hallway that we were only allowed to use during free time. We were told that our calls would be monitored if it was necessary (like if we had problems with an abusive partner or were an abusive partner. During my time there this wasn’t an issue).

I spent the first part of my first day wide-eyed, hyper-vigilant, with my shoulders up around my ears and my arms wrapped around me. I think some part of me expected the other patients to grab at me or something. I must have looked pretty freaked out because the staff kept asking me if I was okay. After lunch, I started to get sick with a headache. That’s when the proverbial shit really hit the fan. My room was right next to the phones and one of the patients was constantly on it. Unfortunately, this particular patient had one of those high, screechy, loud voices which set my teeth on edge. The anxiety of being in a strange place, being strip searched, her voice, and my headache made me completely lose it. I threw up, argued with the staff, and refused to go to a group counseling session. These are all things I never do. Especially since I hate to throw up (control issues) and feel disrespectful if I argue with those in authority. After a nap, my head felt better. Unfortunately, that was when the anger set in.

Suddenly, I felt that I didn’t need to be there. After all, I knew I wasn’t going to kill myself, even if I did have a plan. I’d lived my entire adult life suicidal and never had to be hospitalized before. I was self aware and in control of myself (or so I thought). I was a g**d*** psychology major! And every group counseling session just made me angrier. It was all Psych 101 stuff (because most of the patients didn’t know much about psychology, therapy, or their diagnosis). I didn’t need this, I thought, I already know this, I’m better than this. I was a confused, arrogant, messed up soul.

Of course, after that first day, I figured out how to play the system. Cooperate, hide your anger, do whatever the staff asks, attend all the groups, and talk in groups. Be a good girl and eventually they’ll let you out. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was shooting myself in the foot. There was good information being discussed in group counseling. The staff was more than willing to have individual talks in private to help us deal with our specific needs. If I had had a more open mind, I may have learned that I needed to review all that basic psych stuff. It might have kept me from having another incident. If I had opened up and let myself talk about my issues, I might have felt better faster. But I didn’t do any of those things. I just played the game, kept everyone at a distance, and waited to be discharged.

There was one exception to my game playing. I was reluctant to contact my family. They didn’t know I was there. For all they knew, I was happily studying and going to classes. One of the requirements for discharge was to have at least one “family session.” Basically this was a meeting, either by phone or face to face, with a patient’s family and/or friends, whoever would be their support system upon discharge. The primary purpose was to be sure that the patient would have someone to keep an eye on them and help prevent relapses. The secondary purpose was to deal with any issues the patient may be having with their primary relationships and/or to deal with any questions or problems the family/friends might have with the patient’s diagnosis. I didn’t want to “bother” my family. Or at least that’s what I thought. Looking back on it, I now know that I was embarrassed to be in the psych ward. I felt that I was weak because I’d “allowed” myself to get that bad. My pride was bruised.

It took them three days to convince me to call my family. What eventually convinced me was that I had to get a ride home and I’ve only got my brother and sister-in-law in the area. No way was I gonna tell anyone else I had been admitted. If I had been thinking clearly, I would’ve realized that telling my family wasn’t that big of a deal. It’s not like they weren’t aware that I was a “screw up.” They knew I made bad decisions because of my mental illness. But what they didn’t know, because I never told them, was exactly how bad it was. They didn’t know how close to death I got or how much I worked to simply get through a day. So I finally got on the phone and called them. And, of course, they were understanding and supportive. After another couple days, we had a family session via phone (it would’ve taken them an hour and a half, one way, to drive out there). The only things I remember from that session were my family saying that I needed to talk more (everyone tells me I need to talk more. I’m not a Chatty Cathy) and that they would keep an eye on me, try to intervene if any symptoms of my disease got worse or changed abruptly. Then my discharge date was set.

Another thing you had to do before you could be discharged was have follow up appointments set with a psychiatrist and a counselor. This was to make sure they weren’t just sending us out into the cold world to try to figure it out all on our own, and to be sure we wouldn’t be right back in the hospital the minute we got out.

I was discharged the day after Thanksgiving, a day or so later than the psychiatrist said I could go home, by my choice. I didn’t want to disrupt my brother’s Thanksgiving plans, he always invites a bunch of people from work and my nieces would be there. I didn’t want any of those people, especially my nieces, to know I was “crazy.” Again, my pride was in charge. Thanksgiving at the hospital wasn’t that bad. There were less group sessions and the hospital fed us turkey. The food was actually good at this hospital, so that wasn’t so bad.

The thing was, I did get better while I was there. I was given medication that, while it didn’t completely alleviate the symptoms, did make it possible for me to finish out my last semester of college. While I was there the interaction with the other patients and staff, and my anger at the situation, kept my mind busy and I was able to ignore my suicidal thoughts. I didn’t leave cured, but I left safer than when I arrived, so the primary purpose of hospitalization was fulfilled. At the time I was too angry and ashamed to appreciate how much this was a gift.

Yes, hospitalization was a gift. It was one I didn’t do much with, but it was offered in kindness and respect by the hospital staff members. That gift was a break from my normal life, a chance to focus exclusively on my disease and try to manage it. It was an acknowledgement that I was worth spending so much time on, regardless of my disease. Because the staff at the hospital didn’t treat me like my disease. They treated me like a complex individual with a complex problem who needed to stop and breathe and be nurtured. They treated me like Bonnie, not like “Major Depression with Suicidal Ideation.” And sometimes that’s exactly what we need.

Stay tuned, my next post will be about my second hospitalization. Because I didn’t get it right the first time.

T is for a Tale of Two Hospitalizations (Part One of Four)

black TPrior to 2012 I had never been hospitalized. It had been recommended a couple of times, but I was too stubborn to let anyone “lock me up.” Besides, I always said, I could always control my suicidal impulses. Until, for some reason, I couldn’t.

Here’s why I was hospitalized the first time…

The summer of 2010 I was working an okay job, making decent money, with good insurance. But I wasn’t happy with my job or my life. So I decided to go back to school full-time days and work full-time nights. Of course, it didn’t take long to realize that I couldn’t do both full-time. I chose school over the job because I was afraid that I’d never finish my Bachelors degree. As of mid-September 2010, I became unemployed (my job didn’t offer part-time hours). I thought I’d be fine. My school offered on-campus, free, health services as well as a counseling center. And at first I was fine. After a couple of months I found a part-time job to keep my lights on and concentrated on my studies. It was hard, but I was doing it. I thought things were going okay. Sure, money was tight and my landlord/creditors were not happy with late/under payments, but hey, I was living with it all. Basically, I was on the edge. One puff of wind and I would tumble.

Tumble I did. It took a bit longer than I thought, not till May of 2012. Up till then I kept it together, sometimes by the skin of my teeth. Sometimes by a patchwork of charities and payday loans and prayer. Eventually I used up all my second and third and fourth chances and my landlord wouldn’t work with me any longer. I got evicted. Thankfully, my brother let me sleep in his guest room so I wasn’t completely homeless, but it wasn’t good.

Then, I had to go off my meds. At that time I was getting my psych meds for free. The manufacturer of the meds had a program that would send the meds directly to your doctor for free if your income was below a certain amount. And mine was (how could it not, I was only working 20 hours a week at a minimum wage student job). So, every few months, I’d go to my university health services, which had on on-site pharmacy, and pick up my meds there. That summer, the university changed its policy. If you weren’t taking classes over the summer (and I wasn’t, my financial aid wouldn’t cover it) you couldn’t use health services without paying a fee. A fee you couldn’t pay in increments. A fee I couldn’t afford. I had meds; they were waiting in the health services pharmacy. But they couldn’t give them to me unless I paid the fee. Off meds I went.

So there I was, broke, off meds, only getting counseling through a group that focused on eating disorders (I have Binge Eating Disorder—hence the circus lady physique) and was essentially homeless. Yes, my brother was allowing me to stay at his house, but I only stayed at his house to sleep or do laundry. Not because he or his wife didn’t want me there, they did. And not because I didn’t get along with them, I do. I love them to pieces and we get along great. I stayed away because I felt that I didn’t have the right to disrupt more of their lives than necessary. So every day I’d leave right after I got dressed and didn’t return till it was time to go to bed. At the time I was only working 30 hours a week at my student job so I spent a lot of time sitting around the library. Without my psych meds, my mood got worse and worse. Feeling like I was a burden on my family didn’t help. And I had no friends (or so I thought. I had friends, just not in my town). At this point, I nearly gave up on my degree. But I was so close, one semester left.

That September, when my financial aid kicked in, I used some of the money to get a cheap place to live (why didn’t I do that before? Would you give up a nice studio apartment to live in a rooming house where you had to share your kitchen and bathroom with four total strangers—and possibly bugs?), and breathed a sigh of relief. I was able to pay ahead a couple of months rent and get up to date on my car payment. For the first time in two years I had a bit of time where I didn’t have to worry about being evicted or having my car repo’d. I wasn’t sleeping in my brother’s guest room, passing time at the library, never really having the alone time my personality craved. I could come home after class and be completely alone. No one would be bothered by my comings and goings. No one would “people watch” me (like at the library) while I read. I could breathe.

I breathed. Then I imploded.

I didn’t go back to health services for my psych meds. I rarely went to group counseling (the only counseling I was eligible for at the time). And if I did, I didn’t talk about anything other than my eating disorder. I told no one that the suicidal thoughts were getting worse, that I was having a harder and harder time getting out of bed, that going to class or work was becoming a fight against anxiety, that it was all I could do to breathe much less go through a regular day. By November, breathing was pretty much all I could do. I quit my job. My world shrank to the size of my room and the walk to the bathroom and kitchen. If I ran out of food, my only real coping tool, I would throw a coat on over my filthy pjs and drive to a grocery store. But only after hours of talking myself into it. For two weeks, I rarely washed, never talked, and spent my days fighting the impulse to kill myself.

You see, my brain seemed determined to kill me. Images of me with slit wrists, ropes around my neck, handfuls of pills, were all my brain sent me. I couldn’t see that I had family in the next town over who loved me. I couldn’t see my friend’s phone numbers in my phone. Death was all I saw.

But that wasn’t the truly horrific part. The worst part was the impulses, those were new. Never before had I had nearly physical impulses to act out those images. Driving meant white knuckles on the steering wheel and a “stay in your lane” mantra. I didn’t dare get my groceries at any store that sold anything other than food. I could spend hours in the pharmacy section staring at bottles of pills (regular sleeping pills or the pain/sleep combos?), weeks contemplating what kind of rope would be best to hang myself with (nylon or cotton?), months pouring over the pocket or kitchen knives (which would be sharper, cleaner?). And never, ever, did I enter my rooming house via the exterior stairs. I would go through the longer entrance on the opposite side of the house because it was enclosed. No chance of flinging myself off the second floor landing that way.

Time after time I avoided the cutting, hanging, swallowing of pills by telling myself that having to clean up after my attempt would be a worse burden on my family (and landlord) then my live, worthless, self. Finally, I reached out. In preparation for my graduation (and loss of university supplied health services and insurance), I had obtained the phone number of our local community mental health center. On the Friday before Thanksgiving, I called to make an appointment. And the person on the other line saved my life by asking a simple question: “Do you feel as if you might hurt yourself?”

Yes, God yes. “Yes,” I told her, using the calm, professional, voice I’d spent years using as a telephone customer service agent. “I’m suicidal.” (You would’ve thought I was talking about paper towels. The poor woman was shocked when I finally told her the truth). Before I knew it she was asking for my level of suicidality (on a scale of 1 to 10, how suicidal are you feeling, with 10 being you’ve got a gun to your head) and talking me into going to the emergency room. So off to the ER I went. There a shrink—I mean psychiatrist—asked me a bunch of questions about how I felt and told me that I was going to be admitted.

My local hospital doesn’t have a psych ward (or as they like to call them Behavioral Health Facilities), so I ended up being taken (by ambulance, they didn’t trust me to drive myself) to a hospital 45 minutes from home. I spent the next 10 days, including Thanksgiving, at that hospital. Locked in.

Check out my next post for what that hospitalization was like…

H is for the Humane Society

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Jasper

I went to my local humane society the other day and almost left with a car full of furry roommates. Seriously, could you refuse this guy?

I often will stop by the humane society just to pet the kitties and doggies. One day I’d like to volunteer but for right now, visiting is a reward I give myself when I do particularly well, motivation-wise. I used to go when I needed a hug, but for some reason I always felt worse after visiting then before. Maybe because the animals needed hugs more than I did or maybe because it just reminded me of what I didn’t (or couldn’t, my depression would tell me) have.

But this time, not one but six animals gave me that take-me-home-I-won’t-tell-your-landlord-you-have-me look. The first one was the puppy above. That’s Jasper, a three month old Chihuahua mix. Normally I don’t go for Chihuahuas. I think they’re too high strung and yippy. But he looked so sad, sitting all by himself in a puppy cage.

As I may have mentioned, I’m a cat lady. But I visit the doggies too. In fact, I’ve been thinking of getting a service animal. Yep, they’ve got them for mental illnesses. Usually they’re dogs, so I thought “what the heck, I like dogs too. As long as they’re not too slobbery or yippy.” This visit I came across the perfect dog for service work, a lab/retriever mix named Bennett.

Bennett

Bennett

The guy’s only seven months old but already was too big for a puppy cage. How could I resist a dog named after an Austen character? But I did, of course. I’m no push over. At least in the dog area.

Next came this gal:

Catrina

Catrina

At our humane society, the cats live communally in glass walled rooms and you can go into the rooms to visit and play. (If you’re serious about adopting a pet, volunteers will take you to private rooms where you can get especially acquainted with an animal.) Catrina, seven years old, stared out the window at me from the moment I came into view (I later watched her do the same thing to a group of kids, so I wasn’t too flattered). She came at me as soon as I walked into her room and did pant leg circles. I offered her a hand and she graciously allowed me a pet then jumped up on a cat tree to watch me greet all the other cats in the room. As I left, she jumped back down and walked me to the door, allowed me another pet, then watched me walk down the hallway. I don’t think she blinked once the entire time I was in her room. If she were mine, I’d have to rename her Vigilance.

Hope

Hope

The next room was the largest, and several black kittens started to play with me, but found each other much more interesting. A couple of grown-up kitties deigned to allow a pet, as long as I didn’t interrupt too much of nap time. But it was Hope, a four month old, who wouldn’t let me go. She kept head-butting me and had no problem whatsoever with being held. If I stopped petting for even a second, she pushed her little head under my hand, purred, and gave me one of those “love me” looks that only cats can give. She never said anything though, just purred like she was home. I spent a good ten minutes just giving her a cuddling. Best ten minutes ever.

Jacque

Jacque

The last room of kitties was for special cases. The kitties in these rooms like it quieter and calmer.

Sasha

Sasha

Sometimes because they were older, sometimes because they were scared, sometimes because they had behavioral problems, and sometimes because they were just that way. Jacque, four months old, was another vigilant kitty. But he wasn’t content to just watch me like Catrina. Nope, he walked right up to me and demanded to be picked up. And cuddled. And scratched. And loved. When I picked up Sasha, ten years old, and set her on my lap, Jacque insisted on joining us. Sasha must have had kitty buddies at her last home because she was just fine with that. Even when he walked on her head.

I’ve never had two cats want to be with me at once. Perhaps my vibe was different this time; I was there for them, not myself. Or perhaps the cats themselves were different. I’ve no idea. But I do know that I’m gonna have to go back. Soon. With maybe a large jacket to sneak one up to my apartment in.

All images courtesy of Tails Humane Society.

S is for Suicide

SaslI love that the American Sign Language sign for the letter S looks like a fist. Why? Because that’s exactly what feeling suicidal feels like, a clenched fist that you’re using to fight against the impulse to die.

I’ve felt like killing myself since I was about thirteen years old, off and on. More on than off. I don’t remember exactly when it started. You see, the thoughts crept up on me. Somewhere between realizing boys weren’t icky, growing breasts and realizing that the sexual abuse was finally over, thoughts of death and images of killing myself just faded in.

I image that those with a somewhat healthy feeling of self-worth would be shocked by such thoughts. But to me they weren’t shocking; they were just a logical extension of my negative feelings and thoughts of worthlessness.

Here’s a typical dialogue between me and my brain when I’m just feeling mildly suicidal:

Me: I should get up.

Brain: Why? Stay in bed.

Me: I’ve gotta go to work.

Brain: They can handle things without you, better even since you’re such a screw up. You always do things wrong; you can’t meet goals or do anything perfectly so why even bother.

Me: But I’m supposed to be there.

Brain: They’ll be relieved if you’re not there. That way they don’t have to see your disgusting body and ugly face. Stupid girl. What makes you think you’re worthy of leaving your room much less going out into public.

Me: If I don’t go to work I won’t have money to pay bills or rent.

Brain: So what? You’re not going to be around much longer anyway you worthless, ugly thing. You don’t deserve to have a nice place to live. You’d be better off dead.

Me: But people love me.

Brain: Do they? Prove it.

Me: Well—

Brain: No one calls you. Or if they do, you don’t answer the phone, you stupid girl. Then, when you don’t call them back, they don’t call you again.

Me: Well, that’s my own fault.

Brain: Exactly! You’re a horrible friend. An awful family member. You don’t deserve to live. You should just die. Right. Now.

Me: But—but people will be sad if I die.

Brain: Oh yeah, sure. They aren’t sad right now that you’re not in their lives. If they were then they’d be coming over and trying to see you. They’ll be better off without you anyway. If you die now then they don’t have to feel obligated to invite you to gatherings at birthdays and holidays. Your ugly, fat, disgusting, worthless self won’t be bringing down their celebrations. No one really loves you. You should just kill yourself. Get it over with. You know you have pills in that drawer. Just take ‘em, get all this crap over with. Make it easier on everyone else and just get outta their hair.

Me: I don’t know. I don’t think I have enough pills to kill myself.

Brain: What about hanging? It’s more likely to be successful anyway. Look, you could hang yourself from the closet pole.

Me: No. No. That’s just wrong. I can’t kill myself. It’s wrong.

Brain: No. It’s right. It’d be the only thing you actually did do right in this life. Right now, you just take up space. You’re never gonna do anything or be anything worthwhile. You’re a weak, disgusting person with no courage. You don’t have enough courage to live, so you might as well as die.

Of course that’s just if I’m feeling mildly suicidal. When I’m bad enough to need to be hospitalized, it’s no longer a conversation. At that point my brain is constantly feeding me images of ways to kill myself and the impulses to copy those images are nearly impossible to resist. I’m a danger to myself around pills, ropes, knives, breakables and motor vehicles.

After a lifetime of being suicidal I’ve come to the conclusion that the only time I’m not going to feel that way is when I’m on psychotropic medications. I hate it, but I’ve accepted it. Somewhere in my childhood a self-destruct switch was flipped in my brain.

Does that mean I’m brain damaged? Sort of. There’s some evidence that those people who had traumatic childhoods and/or Major Depression have differences in their brain makeup and/or damage to their brain structure. In any case, I try to think of it that way. If I have brain damage, then it’s not my fault. I’m not a bad person, I just have an injury and illness that has to be controlled by medication. Am I fooling myself? Maybe, but it’s better than feeling ashamed of myself for being suicidal.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still a part of myself that feels ashamed. There’s also a part of myself that’s proud. I’m ashamed that I didn’t have the courage to make a choice. I was too afraid to choose to live by clenching my fist and making sure I got the correct help sooner. But I’m also proud that I clenched my fists and fought the impulse to kill myself. I didn’t give in. I kept fighting.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Please, please, talk to someone if you or someone you know may be thinking of suicide. Get help. Fight. Live.

Suicide Awareness Month

Q is for Quotes

letters-alphabet-cursive-qBeing unemployed has left me with a lot of time on my hands. And, in my case, a lot of time equals a lot of web surfing which evolves into new obsessions. One of my new obsessions is collecting inspirational quotes. I’ve spent hours on websites like BrainyQuote.com where you not only get a quote, you get a pretty picture, like this:

 

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Here are a few of the quotes I’ve collected:

  • “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” Maya Angelou
  • “Believing that someone could love us, that we are worthy of love, can change everything.” Jodi Aman
  • “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” Albert Einstein
  • “When you play, never mind who listens to you.” Robert Schumann
  • “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” George Eliot
  • “It is our duty as men and women to proceed as though the limits of our abilities do not exist.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
  • “Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Don’t sell out.” Christopher Reeve
  • “Have patience with all things, but, first of all with yourself.” Saint Francis de Sales
  • “Hope is the pillar that holds up the world. Hope is the dream of a waking man.” Pliny the Elder
  • “You must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing.” Andrew Jackson
  • “Life will always be to a large extent what we ourselves make it.” Samuel Smiles
  • “I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be.” Douglas Adams
  • “Everything comes to us that belongs to us if we create the capacity to receive it.” Rabindranath Tagore
  • “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill
  • “Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open.” John Barrymore
  • “Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” Joseph Campbell

Do you have any quotes I can add to my collection?

I is for Image

blue_alphabet_letter_iI’m not a big fan of horror movies or TV shows. After all, since I can be scared just at the thought of walking out my own front door, zombies, vampires and other horror creatures aren’t things I get too excited about.

However, in an effort to keep boredom at bay, and expand my television viewing horizons, I recently tried out the AMC show The Walking Dead. I’ve made it through the first two seasons and suddenly found myself incorporating this show into my personal lexicon.

The strange thing is, I don’t plan on continuing to watch the show. I continued past the first season out of writer’s curiosity, not because I had any connection to the show or its characters. Don’t get me wrong, the show is good. It’s just not for me. And I only do writer’s curiosity so long (What’s writer’s curiosity? In my case, it means being curious about a technical aspect of a story/show/movie. In the case of The Walking Dead, I was curious about plot and character treatment. Had I fallen in love with a character, or its central premise, I may have stuck it out longer. In this particular case, I didn’t fall in love. I had a different reaction to other shows I’ve watched recently for curiosity’s sake, but that’s a subject for another post).

That said, I bet you’re wondering what I mean by the phrase “incorporating this show into my personal lexicon.” Generically, I use that phrase (or variants of it) to mean that something about it will be imprinted into my long-term memory and used again to describe something about me. In this case, it’s an image. Every few episodes, it seems, there’s a zombie chase involving a building or vehicle. Inevitably, despite how slowly zombies move, there’s a scene where a human character has to slam a door/window closed just in time to avoid being eaten. Often, there’s an image of arms/fingers/faces being slammed in the aforementioned door/window. Like this image from season two:

walking-dead-2-10-bus

Image by AMCtv.com

It’s this image that I’m incorporating into my personal lexicon. It perfectly encapsulates how I feel about social interactions (no, I don’t think people are really zombies in disguise about to eat me).

You see, there’s a theory about social interaction in either psychology or sociology (or some other –ology that I can’t think of) that says something along the lines that all human interaction is about getting something from someone else, consciously or not. What do I mean?

Examples:

  • You’re engaging in small talk in the grocery store aisle. You may think you’re doing it because you’re a friendly person. And you may be, but you’re also trying to keep boredom at bay.
  • A fellow co-worker asks you about your weekend. They may be genuinely interested, but they may also be building rapport with you for some future need.
  • Your friend asks you out for coffee. Yes they’re your friend and their only conscious thought is that they want to spend some time with you. But, if the theory is correct, there’s something else they want. Maybe they want to talk about their latest fight with their boyfriend (they want advice or confirmation they did the right thing), or they want to boast about their new shoes (ego boost!), or they wanna hit you up sometime in the future for help moving so they’ve gotta butter you up now (unconscious manipulation, emphasis on unconscious).

My problem with this theory is that I often can’t stop thinking that any social interaction is not really about me, it’s about what the other person needs, whether they consciously know it or not. And, inevitably, or so my brain tells me, they will ask for something I’m not going to be able to give them. Then they won’t like me anymore. And I’ll be alone.

To bring us back to that image from The Walking Dead, the zombies represent those things that other people want from me. So I’ve gotta quickly slam the door against those zombies or they’ll eat me alive.

Is it inevitable that I’ll be eaten alive? Logically, I know that it’s not. Whatever it is that people want/need, I can probably give it to them. Especially since most of the time the only thing people want from me is to help keep boredom at bay (and I don’t think most people are manipulative users, we’re talking the unconscious here). But all the experiences I had growing up—the poverty, the bad parenting, the abuse, etc—have taught the illogical part of myself that I won’t be able to give people they want, so I’ve got to avoid even the smallest of requests. After all, I’m a weak, crappy person who can’t do the smallest of things.

So I keep slamming the doors against the rest of the world. And I’m alone anyway.