In the last week and a half, I’ve actually been using the phone part of my smartphone for hours a day. (Unheard of for a Millennial, obviously.)
This is because, on Wednesday of last week, I was deemed actively suicidal by my therapist. And I agreed. It’s official, there are papers.
I’ve been calling as many people as possible, to tell them as intimately as possible, the story of what happened. I’m not sure, as I write this, how much of the story we’ll get through today. But the message is too important to be limited by Verizon’s allocation of anytime minutes. It’s time to start, so buckle in.
The story starts Tuesday evening, last week. I’d been down for a long time. I spent the day mostly in bed with increasingly intrusive thoughts of self-harm that ranged from the darkly comic (I wish there was an atomic bomb nearby that I could just throw myself on top of before it went off) to the horribly real (I sure do have a lot of pills, what would happen if I took all of ’em?). My parents tried to help. We entered a too-familiar back-and-forth:
“What do you want?”
“I want to be dead for a while.”
“What can we do? Want to go for a ride?”
“I want to be dead.” (Not how quickly the “for a while” gets dropped.)
“Want to go to the bookstore?”
“I TOLD YOU, I WANT TO BE DEAD!!!”
At this point I had gone from listless and distant to agitated. I was yelling at my mother, who was only trying to help but couldn’t hear what I was saying any more than I could say what — if anything — would help me. If you’re wondering, it’s not much more fun to say “I want to be dead” than it is to hear it. It hurts everyone involved. I was in the place of utter frustration that Allie Brosh captured so perfectly:
This wasn’t the first I’d felt this way. But it was always easy to tell that what I really wanted was an escape — from the waves of crippling anxiety, from the constant leeching of my life-force from depression, and most of all from a life I felt, at that point, had functionally ended. I was already dead, I was just waiting for my body to catch up. I certainly wasn’t Kenrick anymore, and I could hardly remember who he was.
(Hang in there, dear reader, it’s darkest before the dawn, I promise.)
That night, at some indeterminate point, sleep having abandoned me as surely as my self-worth and hope, I found myself in the kitchen in the dark. What hadn’t abandoned me was the pain. A heartbeat that, with each thump, signaled one more moment of pain stretched out across an infinity. I got scared. I got angry. Like a coyote with it’s leg in a trap, I was mad with the pain, ready to lash out at anyone or anything. But I’ve never been one to turn my anger outward, and sometimes coyotes will chew their own leg off to free themselves from the trap.
I don’t really have the dentition for that, so I took a paring knife and made some scratches along the outside and inside of my left arm. (Point of interest: I’m not a habitual cutter. It takes weeks of severe depression and anxiety and a really, really bad day to even give me the impulse, let alone override my impulse control. The first time I cut was in the last three years, and this was time four or five. It’s not something I was giving myself gold stars on the calendar for.)
What made this time different than the others though, was the same as what made those self-destructive thoughts earlier different so scary. There was a new, nasty edge. A not-so-little voice telling me if I’m going to sit here and just etch half-assed cat-scratches into my arm then why don’t you “man-up” and do some real damage.
It scared me, hearing that, feeling it. I didn’t listen, but I knew it was there now.
Let’s take a step back.
I’ve been afraid of suicide since I first got diagnosed with depression, about four years ago now. I know — how could you not? — that not everyone finds their way out the other side. Suicide is not nearly uncommon enough. Robin Williams’s death hit a deep chord in me; I was haunted by the resonance for days.
I was diagnosed while getting my master’s degree at MIT. Severe anxiety with a side of depression. I checked in with a therapist every week, a psychiatrist every few weeks, attacking my condition with medications and meditations on my experience alike. It helped, and I’ve never stopped getting consistent treatment since. So lest anyone think I was afraid to ask for help, or not taking advantage of the resources around me, know I ended up where I was despite almost 4 years of continuous treatment and an open, healthy relationship with my caretakers. Everything you’ve, they knew. (This is not to be read as “don’t bother with treatment” but as “sometimes even good treatment isn’t enough, and a more dramatic intervention is needed.)
So it was that once Wednesday rolled around, and I had a scheduled appointment with my therapist. I went in and unloaded. She said, very gently, that she thought the best next step would be hospitalization. I didn’t argue. If suicide or serious self-harm is a pit, I’d somehow stepped too close to the edge. I wasn’t planning a jump, I wasn’t standing with my toes over the edge … but the wrong breeze or a misplaced step might have been enough.
I no longer felt safe in my own skin.
Soon enough, the nice people in the ambulance came, and I didn’t fight. I chatted, even made jokes with them, as I began my first of many narratives about how, yes, I am in legitimate peril. I was a model patient, thanks to my … wait for it … patience. Though that was due as much to emotional shock as anything. I had to prove to what now seems an absurd number of people that, yup, I’m serious. You’d think that a signed piece of paper from a mental health professional would get you the express route into the psych ward, but nope. I told the EMTS, any number of nurses, the psychiatric gate-keeper for the floor I was trying to get admitted to — hell, even a guy from my health care provider had to drive over and sit down with me to put one more stamp of approval on my official “You Are A Danger to Yourself” card. I like to think if I just got one more they’d have given me my next admission free.
I left my therapist’s office sometime around 2:00 p.m., and by the time I was able to see a clock on the behavioral health unit it was well past 8:00 p.m. I immediately felt caged, nervous, alarmed. As soon as those doors closed — and LOCKED — everything became real.
After doing my best impression of a rabbit frozen in front of a fox for a few minutes, a nurse checked on me. Someone explained that everything was done for the day. This was my room number. I could take this to help me sleep. I took it. I laid down. And against all odds I did sleep, at least a little.
The next morning, I woke up. And I mean I woke up. I got up, got out of bed, and took some timid steps into the cafeteria for breakfast. I ate. I had some water. It was all very … normal, if a bit reminiscent of grade school with the abundance of juice cups and graham crackers. And those eggs. You know the eggs. They don’t exist anywhere except schools, hospitals, and maybe chef’s nightmares. I digress.
The thing is, I wasn’t in the trap anymore. I wasn’t in immediate pain. I didn’t — couldn’t — realize this right away. My coyote brain was still stumbling around and marveling at the fact that its leg worked, not quite able to conceive of a world that wasn’t comprised entirely agony and strife. Yet the fact remains: my world had changed dramatically.
As I continue to write posts on this topic, you’ll begin to understand, as I have, just how significant — if scary — the dramatic change of hospitalization can be for someone who has become a prisoner in their own mind.
P.S. As I said with my last post, please share this around as best you can. I’m not writing these just to process my own feelings, or to try to make friends and family cry. (Though I do get a kickback from Kleenex for every box you use.)
I’m writing this because I intend to succeed. And I want my struggles to be as visible as my eventual successes. Perhaps I can make other people feel a little safer, a little more willing to seek help. Perhaps I can make my own dent in the stigma surrounding mental illness.
The best way to head off the shadows of guilt and shame is to drown them in the light of honesty.
Coming at you with 13,650,000 lumens,