I was 12 the first time I contemplated suicide. I should have been thinking about boys and what color nail polish looked best. Instead I was trying to decide if taking a bunch of pills was the way to go, or if slitting my wrists was better.
My parents didn’t know. I never told anyone. There was a lot of drama in our home at the time. I’m not really sure what it was all about, but my parents fought. A lot. And I felt lonely, and afraid and trapped in darkness. I just wanted it to end. If I had been able to figure out a fool-proof method, I wouldn’t be here telling my story.
But I didn’t figure it out and I am here. And I want to share my story with you. Because it’s important.
I’m not sure how I coped for all those years. Life was chaotic and miserable. I remember spending a whole day lying on the couch, facing the wall and crying. There were big, blow-up fights with family members. Confusion, fear and depression were daily companions.
I remember the feeling of standing outside myself, watching myself yell and scream. I knew it was wrong. I knew I needed to stop, but I couldn’t. I literally could not stop myself. It was terrifying.
These episodes would be followed by a depression so deep I didn’t know if I’d ever find my way out. Sometimes I’d feel sure it would never end. That’s when the desire for the pain to stop grew so strong, I’d think about killing myself.
After 5 particularly difficult years, where I lost my mother, my aunt, my grandmother and my marriage, I became so depressed I was hurting myself and planning my suicide. Desperate, I took myself to the ER and was checked into the behavioral health unit of the local hospital. But it wasn’t until my second trip to the hospital that I was finally diagnosed as Bipolar. I was 42 years old.
No one should have to suffer that long. But in my family, mental illness was not allowed. It meant you were weak. So I suffered in silence, trying to be strong. Until I just couldn’t do it anymore.
People wonder what it is like to be bipolar. Its like being hijacked by a tornado. Imagine you are walking down the street. You have a destination in mind, you have things to do, you have a plan. Then a tornado comes roaring down the street and surrounds you. You try to keep moving forward but the winds are blowing you sideways and backwards. Things keep rushing past your face, things you need. You reach for them, but they are gone before you can wrap your fingers around them. People are outside the tornado. They are yelling at you. Some are giving orders, others advice, but you can’t really hear what they are saying and couldn’t follow directions even if you did. You might be giddy with excitement or angry at the interruption. That’s mania.
Then there is the other side, where you are weighed down with 2000 lbs of chain, where everything is gloomy and grey, like looking through a fog at night. Your body can barely move, your mind is encased in jello. People tell you to shake it off, to get up and do something. But the chains are so heavy you can barely walk and your mind just won’t function. You have so much to be thankful for, they say. But you can’t remember what. That’s depression.
It took me a few years to really figure out a wellness plan that worked for me, but now I am fairly stable. I still have episodes, but I am better able to manage them and get them under control before they do any real damage.
If there wasn’t so much stigma attached to mental illness, if I’d been more aware of the signs and symptoms, maybe I wouldn’t have suffered so long. Maybe my kids wouldn’t have memories of a screaming, raging mother, or one who just laid on the couch and cried. Maybe my life would have been a better.
It’s time to end the stigma and the prejudice. Mental illness is a physical abnormality in the brain. It is no different than having diabetes or a heart condition. It’s time it was recognized and treated as a real medical condition. It’s time for more research into better treatment options, ones that don’t mask our personalities and stifle our creativity. It’s time for hope.
A writer, speaker and mental health advocate, I am also something of a gypsy. I have spent most of my life moving around the country, from Michigan to Florida to Maine and now Phoenix, AZ. I even spent a year living in a tent.
When I am not writing, I like to knit, crochet, bake and color. Most days you can find me at home, computer on my lap and a far away look in my eye.
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