…I am no mental health expert, but what I can do is share my experiences with all of you in hopes to help those battling mental illness feel even just a little less alone.
I will never forget the day of my suicide attempt. It was cold, like really cold, and it was snowing. A lot. I was (obviously) not in the right state of mind, and I lashed out at those I loved the most. I was in so much pain, and I didn’t know how to process that pain. So I lashed out. I may not remember exactly what I said, but I remember storming out of my mother’s house, screaming that she’ll never see me again and that would be that. Then I jumped into my car and left. It was really early in the morning, and the roads were empty thanks to that fact, and the snow. It was really coming down. I went and parked in a parking lot. I was so angry and hurt. My mind was racing and I couldn’t get it to slow down no matter what I did. I cried and I cried until finally the tears stopped, and it was almost like I stopped feeling anything at all. It was in that exact moment that I made the decision to take my life. I calmly started my car, made the turn out of the parking lot and sped my car up…my eyes never leaving the pole directly in front of me. I didn’t blink until my head smacked off of the steering wheel from the impact of my car hitting the pole. Next thing I remember is the firemen pulling me out of the car. I don’t even remember the ambulance ride, but I remember thinking to myself,
“…you couldn’t even do THAT right.”
I felt defeated.
After the first 72 hours in the hospital, I was admitted to the psychiatric ward for (at least) 30 days to get the help I so desperately needed. I was at my rock bottom, and I finally collapsed and accepted that fact. My white flag was up and as weak and fragile as I was, I was waving that flag feverishly. I needed help. I couldn’t go on living the way I (barely) was, and on top of that – I couldn’t get better without some help. This was it – my utter rock bottom…now, there was nowhere to go but up.
I failed at living, and I failed at dying. I had lost all hope and will to go on. I was lead from the emergency room to the psychiatric ward by a nurse that I don’t ever remember making eye contact with. The feeling of shame was too much to bear. Sitting in a room, another nurse began asking questions. Attempting to better understand what help I truly needed, she asked triggering questions. Discussing, even in the briefest of details, the many traumas I had experienced in my life was overwhelming. I stared at my hands as I began listing all that I could remember, thinking to myself, “Will my hands ever stop shaking again?” It’s always difficult discussing trauma, especially when so much of it is still buried, and especially when in such a fragile state. As I continued, I glanced up and saw the nurse writing everything down…by the end, she was flipping through multiple pages of notes. That couldn’t be true. That couldn’t be my story. Was I really THAT damaged? But, alas – it (I) was.
It was like peeling an onion…there were so many layers and the more I cut in, the more the tears flowed.
For the first few days of my stay in the psychiatric ward, I couldn’t get out of bed. I was exhausted. I slept and I slept, and still – I would wake up even more tired than I was beforehand. I couldn’t eat, not only because I had no appetite – but also, my hands would not stop shaking. Not light tremors, full blown shaking. I couldn’t hold a full glass of water without spilling the damn thing. I spent my days and nights in bed, either sleeping or staring out the window. I couldn’t make eye contact with the rotating staff that would check in on me every 15 minutes. Anything that could cause me any harm was taken away from me the minute I walked into the ward. No shoelaces. No mouthwash. No makeup in glass bottles. No hair straightener. No cell phone charger. The list went on. I felt stripped of everything…my dignity included.
Family and friends would visit and when they left, I would feel like I was worse off than before they came. I was ashamed, and these acts of kindness felt like a slap to the face. I had inflicted so much pain on them…I felt as though I didn’t deserve their kindness; I didn’t deserve their love. When you hate yourself as much as I hated myself, it is extremely difficult to accept any form of love. The shame and guilt was too much to handle.
Then one day, I found the courage (and energy) to get out of bed. I ventured into the cafeteria and made my way into line for breakfast. Eventually I lifted my eyes and scanned the room. Everyone there was in the same boat. We were all broken and at our end. I’d find out later that for some, it wasn’t their first time there. There were addicts who had fallen off the wagon. There were some battling different demons in their own right. But the fact was – we were all broken. It actually felt like a relief. I really wasn’t alone in this.
I started to get into a groove. I’d wake up and go get breakfast every morning. I even made some friends, and we would always sit together. We would rarely talk about why we were there, instead – we’d try to find a way to feel a little more “normal” while in there, discussing any and everything else. Group therapy was always tricky for me. I couldn’t stand the idea of sharing my problems with a group of strangers, when I couldn’t even face them on my own. I’d meet with a therapist one on one every day, though. Slowly, it got easier to peel that onion. We discussed my many traumas and how they were affecting my everyday life. We discussed my rock bottom. We discussed how I had gotten there, and how I would overcome it.
As the days went by, I started to physically feel better. The shakes were subsiding. I was able to eat again. I was able to make eye contact. I went to therapy every day. I was able to hug my family when they came to visit me. I was able to go for a walk with them. I was able to laugh again. I actually appreciated the visits.
I worked with the therapists to develop a plan for leaving the ward. These discussions were terrifying. I had figured out how to live within the confines of the ward, how would I survive in the “real world?” I would feel so overwhelmed with the idea of going back to reality. I liked my structured life there. Wake up, get my meds, get my breakfast, go to therapy…everything was structured and I wouldn’t be left to my own devices. I wouldn’t be left alone with the boogeyman in my head.
When the time came for me to leave though, I felt confident in myself. I felt confident in my ability to manage on my own. I had a great support system around me of my family and friends – and I knew that now there was nowhere to go but up.
Of course, life isn’t always that simple. The mental health battle is one you will fight for life, but the difference between my state of mind when I was admitted to the psychiatric ward and when I was released was, now I finally wanted to fight for my happiness.