Anniversaries: On Exiting the Rabbit Hole, One Year Later
I woke Saturday morning with Daisy Mae curled into my belly, my right arm under my head, my left wrapped around her. My right eye was sticky and puffy; shitty sinuses are a constant theme in my life. I picked up my phone: 7:42. Thirty-eight minutes to get ready before heading off to my regular Saturday morning appointment with my long-time therapist, Dr. D.
I sometimes like to sleep nude, especially lately, as my hot flashes — I’m 51 — seem to be escalating in frequency and severity. But as I stripped I remembered: one year. One year.
Dug through my t-shirts until I found it and pulled it over my head. Long sleeves, black. On the front: Stay. On the back: Live through this. org. It’s an advocacy organization for suicide awareness and prevention, featuring the stories of suicide survivors.
August 20, 2015.
I was living in a swirling, black vortex of pain. Devoid of hope, I cried all the time. I often felt like I was out of breath, as if the oxygen I tried to inhale was poisoned. That sounds weird, I know. But I couldn’t seem to breathe freely; rather, each breath seemed to require some superhuman effort. My mind was fighting my body’s will to live, and it was winning.
It whispered to me: Go. Do it. Pussy. Asshole. Loser. Piece of shit. Swallow them. Come on you fucking piece of shit — take them. They’re so small you can take a hundred with three swallows of wine. You’ll be asleep in minutes and it’ll all be over. Come on you fucking loser. DO. IT. YOU SEE THAT TREE? DRIVE INTO IT. EVERYONE WILL BE HAPPY. YOU’RE NOT LOVED. NO ONE LOVES YOU. THEY WON’T EVEN CARE. DO IT. DO IT YOU FUCKING WORTHLESS SADSACK OF SHIT. YOU WON’T FEEL A THING.
So yeah. That kind of sucked. And it scared me: I would kill myself, and I was powerless to stop it from happening.
An odd grin would creep across my face when I thought about it: the moment of impact. The acceleration down the hill on my busy road. Would I fly through the windshield, or would the airbag in my car prevent that? I pictured myself breaking into pieces. Would it hurt? Would I feel fear, or release? Would they be able to salvage any of my organs, and were any of them worth having?
How quickly would my husband and daughter be able to collect my life insurance? Would he be able to take time off to be with her? Would they remember to feed the cats? Would the cats miss me? Would P. miss me, and regret our last phone conversation? Is there a heaven, and if so, would I see my mother and brother again? Would I see Sybil and Pam and my grandparents and Christopher and the Baby Boy with the longest eyelashes I’ve ever seen?
I don’t think there was one moment in that day in which I had any peace.
I worked, and I cried in my cubicle, which was par for the course. I’d taken to trying to drown the unrelenting voice in my head, guzzling cheap wine after work. Self-medicating that did nothing but fill me with confusion and regret; too many mornings I woke with zero memory of most of the previous night. I felt guilt and shame but also? I didn’t care. Anything to make the hate-loop in my head SHUT THE FUCK UP.
When my brain wouldn’t stop I would break a little. I called the national suicide prevention hotline twice in the week before.
That day, August 20, 2015, was like any other: woke up queasy, showered, drove to work, spent a good part of the day crying, unable to concentrate. After work I came home and started drinking in the mom cave. I cried and cried and cried some more. I felt like a trapped animal; my brain was caught in the steel jaws of major depressive disorder.
I was at the end. I had a decision to make.
I’m very, very lucky. This I know. I have a treatable disease: depression. I also happen to have fantastic health insurance and I am incredibly grateful for that. Everyone should have access to healthcare that includes mental health care. I had recently reached out to my long-time therapist; I hadn’t seen him in many months because I was in denial about what was happening to me. We had scheduled an appointment but he had to cancel. I couldn’t call the suicide hotline again. I mean, of course I could. They are there 24/7. But I made a decision: I could kill myself, as the loop was telling me, and finally have some fucking peace, or I could swallow my pride and admit that I needed immediate help. That I was a danger to myself. That if I didn’t get help, my beautiful daughter would grow up without her mother — and she didn’t deserve that. She also didn’t deserve the mother she had: a crying drunk of a shell of a woman who isolated herself from life.
It was late and I was drunk and done. I told my husband D. that he needed to take me to Silver Hill, a psych hospital 90 minutes away. I threw a bunch of stuff in a bag, said goodbye to my daughter, and we left.
My recovery from depression has been a long one. After nine days in hospital, I attended an IOP — Intensive Outpatient Program — three days a week, for three months. Rooted in dialectal behavior therapy, the program gives you tools to cope with depression and support your recovery. I also attended private therapy twice a week, and AA for a little while. A little more than three months after that night, I returned to work, armed with the skills that I learned first in the hospital, and then more completely in my IOP.
I’m a big anniversary person: certain dates will always live in my mind. Not just birthdays and weddings, but death dates. Dates of diagnosis. Dates of tragedies. Dates of surgeries and serious illness. I have a veritable calendar of life-really-sucks-sometimes dates in my head. I tend to get very anxious (I also have general anxiety disorder and PTSD) and often very blue. So the realization that it has been exactly one year since I chose to #Stay struck a chord in me.
Believe it or not, I wouldn’t change a thing about the last year. Not even the part that got me there. I am kinder to myself now. I recognize when I’m struggling; I slipped some in January when my relationship with P came to an end, and that was made worse by the anniversary of my late mother’s birthday, followed by the death of a man I loved, deeply, in February. March brought with it the 17th anniversary of my brother’s death: he died on our shared birthday (sonofabitch) at age 40. I upped my therapy to twice a week again, when I recognized that I was on a slippery slope. I talked to my supervisor and told her that I was struggling; that I might need to take some unpaid time off each week and she was very supportive. I didn’t, ultimately, because I couldn’t afford to, but I increased my therapy and it helped. I made it through before depression pulled me into its grasp again.
I don’t have it in me to go down the rabbit hole again and emerge. I simply don’t. The descent into madness is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. The emergence into the light and back into reality has been a journey, a process that has taken me longer than I’d like.
I’m in the light again.