A Relapse of the Desire to Die

On a weekend in February 2017 I found my brain imploding on itself. I had been gradually losing control for two years, attempting to mitigate worsening anxiety and depression with additional pills given to me by my general practitioner and regular trips to talk therapy.

Let me say that I love my family doctor. She has gotten me through a lot. She and her family are no strangers to mental illness, and thanks to her, when I finally committed to therapy she passed me onto a great therapist. In late 2012 she put me on my first SSRI, Escitalopram (generic Lexapro), and things went well.

That said, she was still just a general practitioner. She had no psychiatric training. She was good for getting me started on my way, but I really should have been in the hands of a psychiatrist. When I went back to her because my medication didn’t seem to be working as well, she didn’t change my prescription. She added onto it. By the time I went to a crisis appointment with a psychiatrist, five years later, I was taking four additional pills a day on top of the max dosage of Escitalopram. Though I tried to convince myself this mish mash of pills was working, it was very clearly not, and hadn’t been for a while.

Anyone with mental health issues will tell you that it is almost always easier to help others than to get yourself help.

While I was congratulating friends on their anniversaries of being free from self harm, I was breaking my own streak after 10 years.

While I was helping a friend secretly celebrate the success of using marijuana to lessen the suffering of their invisible illnesses, I was too afraid of side effects and financial repercussions to switch to a new, legal drug to help with my own.

While I was advising friends to check themselves into the ER to spend a few days in a mental health ward, I was sitting in my local ER parking lot, crying and hyperventilating, telling myself my suicidal thoughts weren’t really that bad, that I didn’t need to go in. It’s a spell. It will pass. Just breathe it away.

And on that day in February, when I spiralled out of control, I couldn’t stop sobbing. My body ached and I couldn’t stand up. I forgot how to breathe. The words I found myself writing in a note to my fiance terrified me. I started punching the wall as hard as I could to feel anything other than that deep, inescapable pit of self-loathing and despair. My brain told me to pack a bag, walk out of my house, and never come back. What the “never come back” entailed I’m glad I left a mystery.

I was a terrified teenager again, but a teenager who had the resources and autonomy of an adult. I realized how much easier it would be to slip away before anyone was the wiser, before anyone questioned where I had gone — or why. I had so many more options for how to make the pain stop; I was no longer confined to my childhood bedroom with no car.

No loved ones had to stumble upon me.

No one had to know what had happened.

In that moment that seemed to stretch into hours, I was lucky that my fiance was home, asleep in bed. I was lucky that I heard my therapist in my head commanding me to wake him up and let him know what was wrong. That everything was wrong. I was lucky that despite every fiber of my being telling me I was worth nothing, that I meant nothing, that I needed to become nothing, I had the strength to go curl up in bed with him and sob and scream in his arms until the all-consuming darkness passed.

I won’t go into detail about what transpired after that moment. It’s for another post at another time. But despite several hurdles, panic attacks, and side effects, I am on something that has elevated my mood markedly. It isn’t perfect, and I am currently stuck in the health insurance limbo of what to do next, but at least my brain isn’t actively trying to kill me. I don’t feel like there is a black hole at the very center of my being, folding me in half to pull me in. I’m still sleeping too much. I’m still avoiding going out with people. But it doesn’t hurt to exist right now.

If my depression as a teenager was scary, then my depression as an adult is terrifying. The complete loss of control leaves me feeling particularly unsettled, even as the new medication keeps me from spiraling downward. It’s a step into a past that I don’t wish to relive, and a hard reminder that I can still be just as fragile now as I was at sixteen. It is a much needed, if not entirely wanted, reminder that I need to stop and take care of myself regularly. That, sometimes, a person has to do more than just breath.