How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Do you remember the essays we used to have to write in school, at the beginning of the year? Explaining what we did over our summer vacation? Well, this is how I spent my summer vacation in 2017. But it’s not what you’d expect and it’s certainly not as exciting as one would hope.

The word to describe that summer vacation was… pivotal. I changed a lot that summer and it was the part of the driving force behind what was to come.

After I was released from the hospital the day before Easter, I thought that would be the end of my nightmare. That I could put the events of that weekend behind me and move on, as if they never happened. Little did I know that not only was this not the end, but that I would never be able to truly put it all behind me. That it would live on forever as an integral piece of my story, as scary and shameful as it is.

I met with my psychiatrist maybe a week after this all took place. Obviously he had caught wind of what happened and needed to follow up with me. I thought that this might just involve a slight change to my medication, but that wasn’t the case. He said that I needed to begin a partial hospitalization program as soon as possible at one of the behavioral centers across town.

Part of me couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The other part of me couldn’t believe that I was naive enough to think that this would be the end of it. You don’t attempt suicide, ride in the back of a police car, and get hospitalized only for your doctor to drop it and move on. It was evident that I needed more help than my periodic visits with my therapist and psychiatrist could provide. I needed something more intensive. A program where I would spend my days and learn to live like a functional human being who doesn’t want to be dead.

I thought I had moved past those suicidal thoughts, the ones that got me in the situation to begin with. But then at the thought of reliving everything, they all came flooding back. I would rather die than address the level of pain that I had experienced, that I had forced my children to experience. It was over. I simply couldn’t go through it again, ruminating on the details of the worst night of my life.

And yet I would. While I was technically not being forced into the program involuntarily, I was sort of not being given a choice. So he made some phone calls and set up an intake evaluation for me.

This was the end of April. I was still working at the school, so I thought that I would be able to finish the year and begin the program after that. But that was not the case. The therapist who evaluated me determined that I needed to start the following week and that I would be there four days a week, all day, for the entirety of the summer (assuming the insurance company agreed). In case anyone isn’t aware, that is A LOT of therapy.

So I had to go back to work, only to let the principal and my team know that I was going to have to leave before the end of the year. Again, I felt like an inconvenience. A burden. And these are the sorts of thoughts that had gotten me in this mess in the first place. But for once, I was going to do my best to forget about everyone else and focus on getting myself the help that I obviously needed.

I drove across town and started the partial hospitalization program the following week. I was going to be there from 8:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon, four days a week. When I arrived, the therapist assigned to my case showed me around and got me acclimated. She gave me a folder full of information, including our schedule for the week. It was a lot to process, but I was ready to get going in hopes of beginning some sort of recovery. From what I battled every day. From the nightmare that I had experienced a month before.

My days involved classes on specific subjects. Co-dependency, communication skills, types of medications, grief, the science behind specific disorders, and the class that resonated with me the most… anger. I knew that anger was the emotion that I needed to learn to control. It stemmed from my mania, but that wasn’t a free pass to behave how my brain was telling me to. I had to rewire it… create new pathways to override what already existed. Does that sound like a difficult process? Because it is. You have no idea just how much work it is, how exhausting it is. But I was ready to put in the work. I needed to put in the work.

I also had two hours of group therapy every day. That might have been more challenging than anything else. Not only did I have to listen to the stories of others, I had to share my own. I had to allow myself to be vulnerable and reveal parts of me and my past that I would have preferred to keep hidden away. But again, this was all part of the process. And it showed me that I wasn’t alone in my struggles. Other people were battling bipolar disorder or other types of mental illness. Other people had attempted suicide. Other people had made rash decisions due to their ilnesses.

There were days when I came home feeling lighter, after unloading the weight of the pain I was carrying. But there were more days where I came home completely wrecked, after tapping into emotions and trauma that I had been suppressing. I still have therapy sessions like that now, so I try not to plan too much on Saturdays because I never know how I’m going to feel when I come home.

The day that I found out that I was officially completing the program and being discharged, I cried. I had bonded with the other patients and my therapists. I had learned to depend on my new support system and I wasn’t sure how I was going to get through my day to day responsibilities without it. I didn’t feel ready. But my therapists were confident that based on everything that I had learned and how I had progressed over the weeks, that I would be okay. I just had to find the confidence within myself to believe that, too.

I didn’t really get the sort of summer that I wanted. No vacations, very little sleeping in, not much family time, not many outings with friends. But I got the summer that I needed. It was heavy and hard and exhausting. But it was life changing. And even though things were still far from perfect (as evident by later events), I gained coping skills that I still use now. They help me live as close to what can be considered “normal” for someone who has bipolar disorder. And I will never be the same as I was before that summer.

I may not have been to a theme park that summer, but it was one hell of a rollercoaster ride.

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And Then the Bottom Dropped Out…

This post is a continuation of my previous post, where I give my account of my suicide attempt and when the police were called as a result.  This is what happened over the next 12 hours.

I don’t remember much about the drive, other than the fact that you feel every turn and every bump much more significantly when your hands are restrained behind your back. People tell you how uncomfortable handcuffs are and they’re not lying. But it’s one of those things that you never truly understand until you are forced to wear them.

I didn’t realize that in situations like this, they take you around to a back door near the psychiatric wing. They try to keep your visibility at a minimum, which I appreciated.

When I got inside, I had to sit on a chair by the nurse’s station and had to answer all of the basic questions, like my name and birthdate and if I had any allergies. For a moment, it felt like just any other visit to a doctor or hospital, despite the fact that it was so vastly different.

Once I was checked in, one of the officers removed the handcuffs and told me to take care of myself. The nurse took me to my room and laid out a gown. Instead of leaving the room while I undressed, she stayed. She had to inspect my body and put my clothes in a bag in the cabinet. I can’t remember if I was even allowed to keep my underwear on, but I know that my oh-so-important bra had to go. Too many ways that I could have injured myself with it. She asked if I wanted hospital socks, and if I promised not to try to strangle myself with them. I gave her a look that said “Are you fucking kidding me?” and she said “You’d be surprised. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” I guess I was naive in the suicide department. I said yes, I would like socks. I was cold, after all. I’m always cold.

The nurse took my vitals, and asked a bunch of other questions, like what medications I was currently taking. They made sure that they confirmed what I had swallowed and then proceeded to get me my other already prescribed medications. I guess it was obvious that I needed them. They also gave me something to relax. Again, so much of this was a blur, so I don’t know what exactly it was.

The room that I was in had a glass wall on the side where the nurse’s station was. There was an officer assigned to sit outside of my room, I’m assuming to make sure that I didn’t try to hurt myself or make a run for it. I didn’t intend to do either. I just wanted to lay in the bed and cry. I got my wish, at least for a while. The nurse checked on me periodically, but for the most part, I was left alone.

I tried to sleep a little, because it was past midnight at that point. I was emotionally exhausted, but sleep was still a struggle, even with the sedative that they gave me. I’d nod off for a few, only to wake up in confusion about where I was. I kept asking myself “How did this happen? What sort of person does this?” Until that night, this experience seemed so foreign. So far off from the plane of reality that I never imagined that it would happen to me. And yet it did. Apparently I was the sort of person that does something like this.

The only thought I remember fixating on was the fact that it was Friday night and Easter was on Sunday. I hadn’t done my shopping yet for the kids. Who was going to take care of Easter? Who was going to be the Easter Bunny? I know the kids had a fully capable father, but I was used to taking the lead with holidays and I was terrified that my kids would again pay the price for having a crazy mother.

The nurse wheeled in a large computer monitor on a cart and said that there was a psychiatrist who was going to video chat with me and ask me a bunch of questions. I don’t remember the specific questions aside from “Are you actively suicidal now? Are you making plans to kill yourself?” You would think that based on my current situation, I would be more suicidal than ever. You would be wrong. All I wanted at that point was to be back at home with my family. Snuggling in bed with my kids like this nightmare never happened. I told the psychiatrist no, that I was no longer actively suicidal and that I wasn’t making plans to kill myself.

I have never felt so alone in my life. I had no idea what my family knew about where I was and what was going on. I was also angry. With myself. With Daniel for calling the police and causing this whole ordeal. But then I remembered that it wasn’t him, but me who caused it.

Morning rolled around and the nurse told me that it was determined that I was no longer a danger to myself or anyone else, so I was being discharged. My head was spinning. How was I going to get home? Who should I call? But it was brought to my attention that somehow, Daniel had found out where I was and was asleep in the waiting room.

I was given my bag of clothes and shoes and was allowed to get dressed. I even got to put my bra back on.

I don’t remember if Daniel was allowed to come back to my room or if I met up with him in the lobby. I didn’t speak to him. I was angry, upset, and ashamed. I just wanted to go home.

On the way home, I brought up my Easter concerns. It was Saturday afternoon and Easter was the next morning. He told me that he would take care of it. He went overboard that year. Maybe just because he did the shopping or maybe because he wanted to distract the kids from the nightmare that we had put them through. Either way, the kids had a great Easter and didn’t mention the madness from Friday night.

My mom didn’t know what to say when I got home. She was in disbelief, I think. I gave her a bit of a rundown of what happened and we didn’t really talk much more about it. And we’ve hardly spoken about it since. I think we all just want to forget. Maybe they can, but I never will.

I wish I could say that this was the end of this particular chapter of my story, but I can’t. 2017 was undoubtedly one of the most difficult years of my life and this was just the beginning.

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Standing On the Edge of Madness

Suicide. The act of ending one’s life. It doesn’t matter who you are… someone who has lost someone to suicide, someone who has contemplated suicide, someone who has attempted suicide, or even just someone who is aware of it… people usually don’t want a talk about it.

I say “usually” because, well, I’m here to talk about it.

This isn’t to say that I particularly LIKE discussing suicide. The world would be a much better place if this wasn’t something that killed thousands upon thousands of people every year. But I’m no longer afraid of it. Afraid of the word. Afraid of saying it and starting a conversation about it.

I have actively attempted suicide twice. I have had suicidal thoughts and ideations, both active and passive, quite often over the course of my life. Primarily over the last five years, give or take. And I’m here to talk about my experiences.

In April of 2017, two days before Easter, I attempted suicide for the first time. I didn’t just think about it, I actually tried to kill myself. And before anyone says “But you have three kids and a husband and lots of family and friends who want you here,” I know that. Now. I didn’t know that then.

You see, bipolar disorder isn’t just a mental illness that affects the person suffering from it. It affects everyone around them. And what I have put my family and even my friends through over the years is something that I wish I could take away. Erase from existence.

But I can’t. I know that now and I knew that then. But back then, I saw the damage that I had done as a reason to no longer be alive. Not for myself. Not because of the guilt or the pain that I continued to experience every day. But for everyone else who had drawn the short straw and was being forced to suffer because of me. I wanted to end their suffering. And I thought that by ending my life, I’d be doing just that.

Looking at it from an outsider’s perspective, I understand how confusing and skewed these thoughts must seem. Killing myself would create a whole other type of suffering. One that is much more difficult to come back from than living with a mother/wife/daughter/friend who suffers from bipolar disorder. But was that my perspective when I was in the thick of a severe manic or depressive episode? No.

I just wanted to stop hurting people.

The kids and I were living with my mother at the time. Daniel and I were in the middle of our first separation, for reasons that I’m not going to get into right now. I was struggling. A lot. I was an expert at trying to put on a brave face. Wearing a mask that showed people that I was doing okay. But slowly, that mask started to peel off as my world crumbled.

I wasn’t quiet about my wish to end my life the night that I tried to do it. I honestly can’t tell you why I told Daniel that I was feeling this way. Maybe I was reaching out for help, even though I was adamant that I didn’t want to be talked out of it. Maybe I wanted to prepare him for what was about to happen. How his life was about to change. But these are all “maybes”. Because when people are suicidal, they are truly not thinking clearly, even though they have themselves convinced that they have reached a point of clarity that they have never experienced before.

The events of that night are still very, very foggy. I remember my mom and I having an argument. I still don’t remember what it was about. She and I haven’t really talked about that since. But I ran upstairs to my room and swallowed several of my mood stabilizers. Yes, I realize how ironic that is. And I texted Daniel about what I had done and why. My mom also called him. He called poison control (who determined that the dose that I took wasn’t lethal and I would be okay) and the police.

I was feeling fine. At least physically. And honestly, a wave of calm had taken over me at that point. I was no longer angry and screaming. I was laying on my bed, crying a little, but ever so quietly.

The police arrived. I was forced to come downstairs. They asked to see the conversation between Daniel and I on my phone. They said that I needed to be taken to the hospital. I didn’t want to go, but I wasn’t given a choice. What I WAS given a choice about was how I would be transported there. Neither option was a good one. They could either call an ambulance, which would have been more traumatic for everyone around me, or they could take me in the back of the police car, which would have been more traumatic to me. I chose the latter, because I had already scared my family enough.

I was wearing pajamas. No shoes. No bra. They told me to go get my shoes on, which were upstairs. I also snuck on a bra, because I wasn’t comfortable leaving the house without one. They would both be removed later, but I’ll get to that in my next post.

I came back downstairs and they took me out onto the front porch. One of the officers told my mom that she should close the front door so that the kids wouldn’t have to see what happened next. Aside from getting into the backseat of the car, I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen next. But now that I do, I’m glad that my mom closed the door.

The officers walked me down to the police car, sitting at the curb in front of my mom’s house. My concern at that time? What the neighbors would think. Not that my life as I knew it was about to change.

When we got to the car, one of the officers told me that it was protocol for me to be handcuffed if I was going to ride in the back of the car.

… what?

I never agreed to this part. Had I known, I’m still not sure that I would have chosen the ambulance, but I can’t really say. But it doesn’t matter, the decision had been made. And I stood there, with my hands behind my back, feeling the metal tighten around my wrists, feeling more ashamed than I ever had before.

The officer opened the door and helped me into the back of the car. He buckled me, leaving the door open while he talked to the other officer. I heard them radioing another officer, speaking in police jargon that I only vaguely understood. And then I specifically remember a conversation about police cars. The new Crown Vics versus the Dodge Chargers. The consensus was that the Crown Vics were nicer, which surprised me.

They closed the door and climbed in the front seats. They started fiddling with things on the dash and I still don’t know exactly what they were doing. They mentioned taking me to St. Francis hospital, probably because it was the closest. They asked me if that was okay. I was shocked that again, I was being given a choice. I said that I would prefer to go to Community South, because my therapist and psychiatric nurse practitioner were both through Community. And I just liked the care at that hospital better in general. They said that was fine. And then we were off.

There is more to this story, but it will continue in my next post.

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There Is No Expiration Date

A lot has happened in my life over the past two years.

Things I’m ashamed of.

Things I’m embracing.

Things that have traumatized me.

Things that have forever changed me.

I have been quiet for so long for a couple of reasons. First, because I wasn’t ready to put my experiences into words. It takes a long time to work through the shit I’ve been through and I was struggling to think about it, let alone write about it. Second, because I thought it might be too late. I thought that maybe my story would no longer be relevant to others, to my audience.

But then I realized something. There is no expiration date on my story. There is no expiration date on my trauma, my heartbreak, my healing. As much as I sometimes wish it would, it will never EVER go away. And even if it did, the person left behind isn’t the same one who existed before.

While each of these topics deserves and will get their own post (probably more), I am going to give you a brief rundown of what has been happening.

– Two suicide attempts

– Two subsequent hospitalizations

– One ride in the back of a police car, handcuffed

– Two marital separations

– One eating disorder

– Multiple incidents of self harm

– One completed partial hospitalization program

– One completed intensive outpatient program

– One new, additional diagnosis

– One house fire

– Four pets killed

– Hours and hours of personal therapy

– Hours and hours of marriage counseling

 

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A print of a piece of art so graciously gifted to me by a dear friend.  If anything describes me, it’s this.

 

Are you still with me? Are you bored and think that these things aren’t worth discussing? There are many more things that I could add to that list, but they are not my story alone and I’m not in a place where I am at liberty to discuss the details of them. At least not until other people are comfortable with sharing their stories, or are comfortable with me sharing my interpretation of their stories. And until those people actually write their stories in their own words, that’s all they will ever be… kept locked in a box of secrecy or be my personal interpretation of their experiences and how they impacted me.

Like I said, each of these events deserves its own post. And they will get just that. I will tell my story piece by piece, after lots of mental organization and probably lots more appointments with my therapist to discuss how best to address it all publicly.

Maybe it’s unfair of me to share these tiny pieces without giving you all any background or details. But it would also be unfair for me to try to sum up two years in one single blog post. So I won’t. I will give these experiences time to breathe before I release them into the world.

This blog may move in a different direction over the course of time… I can’t really be sure. I’m just going to go where my thoughts and words take me. But I hope you’ll join me on my journey.

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Some words to live by…