Saturday, April 23, 2016

Because this is how I survived my suicide.

Nut house. Rubber room. Crazy Hospital...Mental Hospital...Psychiatric Facility. What do you think of when you hear those names? Straight jackets? Mentally ill people rocking back and forth talking to themselves or to their hallucinations? Do you think of your co-workers? What about your neighbor? Friend? Cousin? Spouse?...Me?

My first stay was when I was 14. I was released from the medical hospital, and was transferred straight to Herrick Hospital in Berkeley, a psychiatric hospital. I was being treated for anorexia. Although my first few hospitalizations were for my eating disorder, the majority of them (and the longest ones) were due to my depression and suicide attempts. I never wanted to be there. I never thought I needed it. It was always a 51-50, a 72 hour psychiatric hold, that kept me there. I knew the drill though. Play the good patient, say all the right answers and do all the right things, wait it out and after 3 days I would be released and back to my "normal" life. But my life wasn't normal. It was a downward spiral into depression, I was drowning in despair and hopelessness and nothing was helping. The summer before my senior year in high school I ended up on a 52-50, a 7 day psychiatric hold. A few months later I would start my longest stay. 3 months in Herrick, the psych hospital, followed by 7 months at Sunny Hills, a residential treatment facility.

What did I do to be in treatment for 10 months? I tried to kill myself. And I very nearly succeeded.

At the beginning of my senior year I was deeply and severely depressed. I had already started cutting. I was in therapy, I was on several medications. Nothing was helping. My mom had already locked up all the pills in the house, to keep me safe from myself. One day she left home without her keys, and I took advantage of the situation. I grabbed a plastic baggie and took her prescription pills and put a few of each inside. I locked the rest back up, put away the keys, and hid the pills under my bed for a "rainy day". That "rainy day" came in early October. We had taken a test in AP Biology and I received my grade, an F. I remember not even crying about it, the moment I saw the grade I knew exactly what I was going to do about this failure. I was then sent into the hall because the class was going to grade a quiz that I had not yet taken. So I went and sat in the hall, and a minute later I stood up and left. I got into my car, and then I started crying, because in a few short minutes I was going to end my life. When I got home I went straight to the pills under my bed. I took them all, just a couple handfuls, and laid down on the sofa to die. I had my suicide note, and I was ready. I don't remember anything that happened afterwards. I woke up a day later in the hospital, alive. I owe that fact to my best friend Katy. She was in my AP Bio class with me and when she noticed I didn't come back in from the hall after they finished taking their quiz, she called my mom. My mom immediately called home to see if I was there. I don't remember the conversation with her, since I had already taken the pills. But I answered the phone, told her everything was okay, and hung up. Not believing me, she came home to check on me and called 911. Some of the pills I took were medications for hypertension, which sent my blood pressure so low they had to keep injecting me with medications to counteract it. After being stabilized and discharged I was immediately transferred back to Herrick, where I started my longest stay. I stayed there for 3 months while my Mom had to figure out what to do with me. She didn't want me at home, she couldn't have me at home safely. For those 3 months I blamed her for every moment I was away from home. It was only later I realized that things were so bad, that I had left her with no options. Eventually I was placed in a residential treatment facility, a group home for foster kids who could not be in regular foster homes due to their mental health issues. Those of us with stable families to go home to were few and far between. I stayed there for the remainder of my senior year of high school.

Before my suicide attempt I was so depressed that every day was not worth living. The very act of being awake and breathing was too painful. There were moments that did not suck as badly as others, but all the days torturous and hopeless. My Mom was doing her best, she did everything the professionals told her to do. Therapy, doctors, several different medications, even a 504 plan at school to keep me safe when she couldn't be with me (which my AP Bio teacher did not follow). Nothing was working and it was only a matter of time before I found some excuse to go and take those pills to end it all. If it wasn't that F it would have been a terrible swim meet, or a sarcastic comment that I would misunderstand and taken to heart; I would have found another reason. The only thing that kept me alive was the psychiatric hospital, and subsequent stay and the residential treatment facility. Did being there cure my depression? No. Did they make me feel better? No. Did they help me work through my issues? No. Did they keep me in a safe place where I couldn't harm myself? YES. Is that all that matters? To me, now, yes.

Sometimes we need help. Sometimes we simply cannot do it on our own. And sometimes, even with some help, we still can't. That is not a reason to give up, there are options. The options may be extreme, or they may just feel that way, but there are options out there. USE THEM. Are you feeling overwhelmed and anxious? Do you feel like you should be able to control your thoughts and emotions, but can't? Go seek help. Are you already seeing someone and it's not working? Take the meds. Are those not working? Are things getting really bad? Check yourself into a safe place.

Or maybe it's not you, maybe it's someone you love and care about. Support them in their efforts to get better. Love them. Uncertain how to do that? Here, let's practice together.

          You: I heard you checked into a psychiatric hospital. That must have been hard,
                  but I'm glad you got help. Do you want to talk about it?
          Them: Yes, actually that would help a lot.
          You: Okay, let's go get a burrito and chat.

          You: I heard you checked into a psychiatric hospital. That must have been hard,
                  but I'm glad you got help. Do you want to talk about it?
          Them: No, not really.
          You: Okay, that's fine.Want to grab a burrito?

See? Not hard at all. Of course you can substitute burrito for the food of your choice (if you live in Utah, I highly recommend Waffle Love, mmmmm). Take out is especially helpful if that person doesn't want to go out of the house. And an excuse for you to wear yoga pants and stay curled up on the sofa, win-win. The point is, supporting people who are going through something you may know nothing about seems daunting, but it is not hard. Do not make jokes about it (unless they do it first and will appreciate some comedy in the situation). Do not use derogatory terms like "crazy" or "wacko" (unless you are talking about the Animaniacs). Do not press them for more information than they want to share. Do contact them, and make it clear that they do not have to talk to you, but they can if they want to. Make conversations short and sweet, remind them every once in awhile that you are there to talk if they need to. Do treat them the same that you always have (unless you were a jerk to them before, by all means, don't keep doing that). That is a big one. These things are hard to deal with, we don't need to perpetuate a stigma to make them harder. They don't have the plague, they have depression. The more we can start to openly talk about these things, the more people can seek the necessary help to start feeling better, without any shame or embarrassment. That is why I wanted to share my story. Because this is how I survived my suicide.