Celebrating my Re-Birthday!
The above picture is from my 40th birthday this past December. Every new year that I’m blessed to be alive is a gift to me; and I am so very grateful for this life. I celebrated my 40th birthday in December; but today, June 20th, I celebrate my “re-birthday”. 😊
I often talk of my brother’s long-fought battle with depression, and the pain of losing him to suicide; but today I want to share a little bit of my truth. As far back as I can remember (and definitely as far back as I have had diaries), I have struggled with depression and hopelessness. I ended my teenage diary entries almost nightly with the wish for it all to end. I don’t know how much of that was true in those moments or how much of it was me struggling for a way to cope with my undiagnosed depression, but it was the only way I knew how to communicate the pain I felt inside.
I had some stressors in my life, but not to the place where I should have felt the level of despair I felt daily. I thought the worst of myself (which I still struggle with even to this day), and I couldn’t understand why everything felt so much harder for me than it did for everyone else. I believed that I caused issues everywhere that I went, that people were sick of me, that my family and friends would be better off without me around. For years I tried to push these feelings down and ignore them, smiling on the outside and screaming on the inside. I wondered if I would ever feel truly happy, what could that possibly feel like?
I experienced physical manifestations of my depression, including cluster migraines in the years prior to my diagnosis. In 2002 after countless doctor visits related to my migraines, my doctor decided to get real with me. She diagnosed me with dysthymia (a low lying, long term depression) and was trying to get me to consider taking medication for my depression, but I didn’t want to be medicated; I had preconceived notions about what depression was and I wasn’t educated on the facts. She reminded me that I was a young mom and my mental health was about more than just me. My doctor explained depression in a way that was easy for me to understand, comparing the need to balance the chemicals in my brain to the need for a someone with diabetes to balance the insulin in their system. This visit built the foundation of my mental health; and we started experimenting with anti-depressants to find the right one for me.
It took some time to find the medication that fit my needs, but after some trial and error I realized one day that the noise in my head was much quieter. Suddenly I felt “normal” for the first time in my life and I was feeling so much hope for the future.
In December of 2002 we lost my brother to suicide 5 days before Christmas, and the rug was pulled out from underneath me. I spiraled into a major depressive episode and could not find a healthy way to cope with such a tragic loss. I was lost in an eating disorder, drinking more than I should have, being careless with my safety, and planning a way to join my brother. I had a plan to join him, June 20, 2003 six months from the date that he died.
(When I speak about this period of my life, I often say that I feel like I am talking about a made-for-TV movie; it seems so far away from my reality now. The blessing is that I have grown from there, the lesson in that struggle remains to this day.)
I was more lost in my pain and hopelessness than I had ever been. I had never been more certain that I wanted to leave all of the pain behind…
then I was reminded of the pain that a tragic loss brings to so many people. I watched as someone very important to me mourned an unexpected loss of a family member, I looked at his family and I remembered how we all felt after my brother died. I remembered sitting on the couch staring at my parents Christmas tree the morning that he died, thinking how I knew he thought he was fixing things, how I knew he thought we would be better off without him… and how wrong he was about all of that. I remembered thinking about how he was so wrong to think his death would fix anything and that it changed everything… it robbed us of so much… it brought so much pain. These memories flooded my brain and forced me to really think about my plan. This was the moment that my “thinking brain” came head to head with my “emotional brain” and both sides fought it out.
Friday, June 20, 2003 was the day I had planned to end all of my pain… it became the day I faced all of that pain head on and changed my life for the better. I saw my therapist, I came clean with my plan, and I ASKED FOR HELP. We worked together on a plan to keep me safe for the weekend, including being honest with my boyfriend (now husband 😊) and agreeing to a safety plan, and we made arrangements for me to be admitted to the hospital that Monday morning. I was so afraid of what a “mental hospital” would look like. I had images from old movies in my mind and thought I would be made into a zombie. My hospital experience was nothing like what I thought it would be; the stigma behind mental disorders creates such an inaccurate picture and it’s a shame that is what kept me from getting help for so long. I was in-patient with doctors, lawyers, mom’s, teenagers, people who looked “normal” and not at all like what I thought people in “mental hospitals” looked like.
Asking for and getting help is quite literally THE BEST decision I ever made in my life. I was buried so deep inside my depression that I don’t think I would have made it out without the amazing intervention of medicine and talking therapy that came with an in-patient stay. I am so very grateful to all of the individuals who contributed to my healing process. I feel blessed.
So… today I celebrate my 14th re-birthday. I am PROUD of the road I have walked to become this 40 year old woman. I am GRATEFUL for the amazing souls in my world who have walked this road alongside me. I am BLESSED to be alive.
It is my hope that sharing my truth might help another person who is struggling, or help others to understand a little bit more about depression and more specifically suicidal thoughts. The more we talk about it, the more we break down the stigma attached to it, and the more likely it will be for someone to reach out and ask for help.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts please visit the website for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for some fabulous resources. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1–800–273–8255 and to get support from the Crisis Text Line text HELLO to 741741.
Every year along with friends and family I participate in a 5K to benefit the Samaritans of Boston in celebration of my brother’s memory. Walking alongside so many people who have lost someone to suicide or fought their own battles with suicidal ideation reminds me that I am not alone, nor will I ever be.
I used to be afraid to be honest about my story, I felt ashamed and scared of what people would think of me. Knowledge is power though, and the more I’ve learned the more I know that I have nothing to be ashamed of. In the fourteen years since I reached out for help, I have shared in some of the most fabulous memories that I almost stole away from everyone all those years ago:
I married the most amazing man in the universe;
I had my second beautiful child;
I was there for every meaningful moment of my first-born’s school memories- concerts, plays, PROM, GRADUATION. (So thankful);
I have been there for every meaningful moment to date of my second-born’s school memories too;
I celebrated with my parents on their 50th wedding anniversary;
I celebrated with my friends and family through happy times, promotions, marriages, babies, and much more;
I was there to support my friends and family through difficult times;
I was there to hold another brother’s hand in his final moments;
I have new family members to love through marriage and birth and they get to know who I am; and so much more!!!!
I have experienced all of this and an abundance of happiness and joy in the fourteen years since I decided to stick around and fight for myself.
I am proud, I am grateful, I am so happy to be celebrating my fourteenth ‘re-birthday’!
Every day isn’t easy, but I can promise you that every day is worth it. 😊
Thank you to everyone who has been a part of my journey, I am so thankful for you in my world. ✨💖✨