September 23, 2017
This is the day that I wanted to end my life.
Yes, I tried to commit suicide three years ago. It’s a day that brings up a lot of complicated feelings for me. Sadness. Anger. Disappointment. Relief.
And it’s not lost on me that September also happens to be National Suicide Prevention Month. Of course that didn’t cross my mind at the time, but the irony of it now is undeniable.
It’s difficult for me to remember some of the details of that day. But others? Others are burned into my memory despite how much I’d like them to leave my brain forever. These are the ones that give me nightmares and make me sick to my stomach.
Bipolar disorder. That is where this story begins and ends. A morning that started with a severe, explosive manic episode and ended with an impulsive decision that I couldn’t take back. A decision that landed me in the hospital for 10 days.
The same pills that are supposed to help me are the ones that I turned to in my most desperate of moments. They’re the ones that I wanted to make me fall asleep forever.
I threw up. I thrashed and screamed as my husband carried me out to the car. I didn’t want help. I just wanted it all to be over. How dare he try to intervene? I was doing this for him, for our kids. They didn’t deserve a wife and mother who behaved this way.
In the car, I hit him. I kicked the dashboard. I tried to open the door and jump out. I was feral, like an animal. Or a monster. I’m not sure which. Or maybe the monster is just what was inside of me, causing me to act in such a way that endangered myself and my husband.
I exhausted myself as we drove to the other side of town. My face was tight with dried tears. My throat was raw and hoarse from screaming. My scalp was bleeding from where I had clawed myself. My forehead was bruised from where I had beat it into the wall. My husband was quiet and solemn in a way that I don’t think I had ever seen him before. I still don’t know what was running through his mind in those moments. We haven’t really talked about it. I think he’s just glad that it’s behind him. But it will never truly be behind me.
We arrived at the behavioral health hospital on the opposite side of town. I didn’t have any fight left in me, so I followed my husband without question. Without hesitation. I walked behind him, almost as if I were sedated. I answered the questions at intake honestly. Do you wish to harm yourself or others? Yes.
They took me upstairs. They made me remove my clothes so that they could examine my body. I signed some papers and my husband left. And there I was. My new home for the next week and a half.
They took my clothes and shoes. They gave me a gown and socks. I was taken back to a single room that had just opened up, almost as if they were waiting for me. They gave me a bag of toiletries. Baby shampoo. A basic, harmless toothbrush. A small bar of soap. Nothing that I could use to harm myself with.
I sat at a table in the common area, glassy-eyed and alone. Some other patients came over and introduced themselves. Most were there because they had also attempted suicide. They shared their stories. Told me about their children and other loved ones.
I was asked to join everyone as they went downstairs to the gym. I didn’t feel like it, but I’m also a sucker for peer pressure. I was embarrassed as I left the unit and got on the elevator, dressed in my gown and knowing where I had just come from. We got to the gym and people played basketball and hopped around on yoga balls while I sat on the sidelines. I felt like I was in some bizarre, alternate universe. Where seemingly normal people are shut within the walls of a hospital. People like me, I suppose.
We went back upstairs because dinner was approaching, but I didn’t have an appetite. They brought me a tray anyway and gave me a menu for the next day so that I could fill in my requests. I used a tiny stub of a pencil to write with, like the kind they give you at a golf course. Apparently a full sized pencil could be used as a weapon. Who knew? Not me. I wasn’t particularly well-versed in all of the potential ways to hurt or kill yourself. I just knew my ways, which apparently weren’t very effective because I was still here. I was in this place when the only thing I wanted was to be nowhere.
I slowly moved my food around with my fork. Picked at it and took a few bites just so that they would be satisfied.
After dinner, I was told to get in line for my meds. They gave me my old reliables (or maybe not-so-reliables), but said that changes would likely be made the next day once I met with my doctor.
I went to bed early that night, in my cold, sterile room between the clean, white sheets. Maybe if I went to sleep, I would wake up and this would all have been a nightmare. Instead, I woke up to a nurse coming into my room, jabbing a needle into my arm and taking blood. This was a nightmare, but not the kind that you wake up from. It was the kind that you have to live through.
I was woken up early by a nurse knocking on my door. I wasn’t sure where I was at first, but it all came flooding back quickly. It was time to begin the day, with blood pressure and temperature checks and the breakfast that I had requested the day before. I never, I repeat NEVER, eat that early. But since meds were coming soon and I had barely touched my food from the night before, I was able to stomach most of it.
I searched for coffee, only to find caffeine free. Defeats the purpose of coffee, in my opinion, but maybe I would be able to trick my body into thinking that it was awake just by drinking something hot.
I waited in yet another line for meds, a routine that was really just beginning. Pick up the tiny cup, dump it into your mouth, take a quick drink of water and open your mouth and lift your tongue. It felt just like a movie.
Shortly after, we started our first group therapy session. The main topic was adversity. I looked around and sat silently, not yet ready to engage. Luckily, I wasn’t forced to. That would change as time passed. I was sure of it.
During therapy, my doctor came to pull me out. He asked a laundry list of questions. I answered them all honestly, without elaborating. I didn’t have the will to come up with a lie. I barely had the will to keep breathing another day. I was more exhausted than I had ever been in my life. My soul had been drained from my body. I felt like a ghost.
They changed my meds. Started me on a new anti-psychotic and a new anti-depressant. Adjusting to a new medication is difficult under the best of circumstances. But my body and mind had suddenly been slammed with strong doses of drugs that turned me into a zombie. But at least I was no longer trying to kill myself.
It was a Sunday and we were allowed to have visitors. My husband and one of my friends came to see me. I was nervous and ashamed. I didn’t want them to see me like this. In a hospital gown. Completely stripped down to nothingness.
My husband was allowed to bring me a bag of my things. Clothes that fit the criteria of safety (no drawstrings, no bras with underwires), my own shampoo and makeup (that had to be kept behind the nurse’s station), books to keep me occupied. I was so grateful for that little piece of normalcy. Things from my real life, my old life.
I was allowed to use the phone pretty much any time, just not when we were expected to be in therapy. It felt good to talk to my husband, but broke my heart to talk to my son, who was only 5 years old at the time. My girls didn’t want to talk to me. It was too hard for them. It was probably for the best. I had hurt them enough, traumatized them enough. I didn’t want to do any more damage than I had already done.
The days were a blur. Multiple group therapy sessions each day. Some activities to stimulate or educate us, like art therapy and a visit from a dietitian. Someone from the hospital even brought in a service dog to keep us company for a short while.
A day or so before I was released, we were taken outside to a contained area. It was almost like prison, without the barbed wire fences. We still had the summer heat when I went in to the hospital, but that day outside, I realized that we were now in the thick of fall, with the turning leaves and crisp breeze. It was almost like I had entered a different world than the one I had left. I was grateful for that time outside. For the sunshine, a literal ray of hope.
I was discharged on October 3rd. I was given a paper bag to pack up my things and sent home with prescriptions for the new medications that I was given. I hated them. I hated the way they made me feel. But I knew that I needed them, at least for the time being, until my doctor at home decided that I was doing better and no longer needed to be on such a strong cocktail of drugs.
My husband picked me up and the moment that I walked out of the hospital, I was flooded with practically every possible emotion. On the way home, we stopped by the pharmacy to pick up my medications. I remember that the pharmacist told us that one of my medications was unavailable and that I would have to wait a few days for it to come in. My husband didn’t accept that answer, knowing how important and necessary this was, and we went to a different pharmacy that had it.
He took me home and let me get settled before he went to pick up the kids. When the kids finally came home, I didn’t know what to say to them. My son immediately ran up to me and gave me a hug, still unsure as to why I was gone for so long. I had never left them for more than a few days.
My girls were more apprehensive. I wanted them to forget what had happened to me, what I had done. It has taken countless hours of therapy for me to accept that they never will. But they will heal from it. And so will I. Eventually.