Connections in this heavy life

Nine years have passed since my life was shattered by depression and anxiety. Tonight, as I sit here typing on my laptop, it’s hard to imagine how someone could be suffering so deeply that suicide could seem like the best solution. But nine years ago, I felt the pull to end my life. The pain was too heavy, I couldn’t see a future. My world was a mix of meds, doctor’s appointments and therapy appointments. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Just trying to get out of bed in the morning was a monumental feat each day. I couldn’t see hope. I was blinded by my depression. I thought maybe it would be easier to just stop living.

Fortunately I didn’t sit with those thoughts alone for too long. I was completely ashamed of having those feelings, but something inside me begged my heart to tell my husband and my parents. And so I did. They fought like hell to get me back from the ledge. I do know how lucky i am to have the support system which surrounds me.

It was during that time my dad suggested I take a part-time administrative job to pass the time and give me something to do while I worked on getting well. I was hired by an overly-confident, condescending VP to manage his calendar and other secretary work. His management style exacerbated my anxiety. I dreaded going to work three days a week, although I made several friends in the office who made it tolerable, so I stayed.

 

Bertie was my angel when I was there. A soft-spoken, slim African-American woman in her fifties, I’d take breaks just to walk by her reception desk and chat. She’d invite me to pray with her, the worn bible always in her purse, pages marked. I know she could sense my unease. Sitting beside her with my hands folded in my lap and her gentle voice reciting psalms and prayers, my breath steadied. I felt loved and noticed.

 

This week I learned of two suicides in our local area: one a young, prominent veterinarian, the other a 19-year old girl with a beautiful smile. News circulated today about a mother suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety who took her baby’s life and then her own a few weeks ago. Then the Lafayette shooting in the movie theater where it’s been reported the gunman had serious mental health issues. And of course the Sandra Bland story. So much sadness. So much lost.

 

My heart breaks for the families and friends of these victims of mental illness. We have so much work to do.

You may not be one of the 25% of Americans who live with a diagnosed mental illness. But chances are extremely high that someone in your life, someone you love, does live with a mental health disorder.

 

So what would happen if we would pay closer attention to the people around us? Be open to noticing when a friend is struggling and extend a supportive listening ear and a hug. Or help that person into counseling if you suspect they’re not taking care of themselves the way they should be.

 

In our day-to-day activities, even simply looking people in the eye and smiling can make a huge difference in someone’s day. You might be the only person who noticed them. We’re so attached to our devices that we barely look up anymore and connect with the people in front of us. I’m totally guilty of it too, but we can change.

I know it seems unfathomable to think that someone would choose to end their own life. But when your entire world collapses on top of you, and you cannot muster the strength to pry it off to start over, giving up feels like an easy way out. Let’s connect as a society so that people realize their lives are worth living. Don’t underestimate the power of extending a hand to someone in need.

How I Dug Myself Out of Suicidal Depression

{Trigger warning: talk of suicidal thoughts. If you’re in a sensitive place right now, you may want to skip this post.}
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Looking back now it’s so easy to point to the things I did during my year-long devastating depression which in turn lead to my recovery. But in the moment, my husband, my parents and I, we had no clue what would work. We were just trying so hard to get the “old Jenn” back.

Why is it so hard to look forward when you live with depression? Because you’re just trying to make it through the day you’re in. Tomorrow feels impossible, too heavy and suffocating to entertain even a thought of it. So you stay in the here and now and try not to let the anxiety about what’s coming next crush you.

That’s how it felt for me, anyway. When I thought about my life and what the future might look like after two hospitalizations for mania and a diagnosis of Bipolar type 1, I wasn’t able to fill my lungs with air. Every day felt impossible to bear, like I was drowning. So instead of thinking too far ahead, I sipped the air in gulps and lived my life in moments.

Like the moment I realized I was experiencing suicidal thoughts for the first time.

And the moment I realized I had to tell my husband but was terrified because I didn’t want to hurt or scare him. He had been through enough already.

Or the moment I realized the pulsing anxiety making me so nauseous I could barely eat from day to day was the reason I suddenly had to shop for a size smaller.

This realization was soon followed by the moment I admitted to myself that I didn’t want to go on like this. That I had had enough. That I wanted to get well already, for the love of God. I was done being sick.

I didn’t want another sun to set while my anxious mind paralyzed my dreams, didn’t want to be forever consumed by this sadness. I knew I was the only person who could make the decision to change my outcome.

I wanted to come out on the other side of a mental illness diagnosis smiling and happy, despite it all. I wanted to enjoy life. I wanted a family. I wanted to build a future.

So this is what I did at my pivotal moment at the end of 2006, the most draining year of my life.

I advocated for myself.

I decided to try the medication my doctors had been encouraging me to try for many months. I stayed on top of side effects and my symptoms by keeping a detailed journal so I could share my concerns with my doctor between appointments. And I came to terms with my illness, this life-long condition I face each and every day.

I am extremely fortunate to have good doctors, and the most loving, supportive people around me who care deeply about my well-being. I realize it’s not always as simple as trying a new med and communicating with your doctor. But this acceptance thing. The point in my life when I decided to embrace my sometimes malfunctioning brain so that I could move on and make progress was my turning point.

It’s what sparked the fire in my belly to advocate for mental health. It’s what told me that sharing my story could help other people. It’s my way of saying that if I could do it, you can do it, too.

Last week’s tragic news of the passing of Robin Williams occurred while we were traveling on the west coast. I, like the entire world, was deeply saddened by this tremendous loss, but we need to remember that suicide claims the lives of over 39,000 people a year, and suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 64 years old in the United States. It’s time we start talking about mental illness and how to prevent suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a great place to start. Also, if you are struggling, please reach out for help. Talk with a family member or friend. Or contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline
1-800-273-8255
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