20 Hours in the Psych ER: 6 Months Later

“Get off me! Get off me! Get off me!” The words echoed down the hall of the Psych ER as they brought in a teenager, restrained against the gurney, screaming for his life. It was just over six months ago. It was a Tuesday at 5:30 am. I remember it vividly.

The only clock on the floor, the only sign that time was passing, was right through the double-paned windows to the left of the borrowed bed from upstairs (there were no beds available in the actual psych ward, so everybody was camped out in the ER; by the time I got there on Monday at 5:00 pm, there were people that had been around for two days. So, they had to bring up beds because they ran out of couches and chairs). My “bed” was right by the Nurses’ station because I watched the Monday Night Football game between the Giants and the Lions (surprise: the Giants lost). After the game was over, I was too mentally exhausted to even think about moving so I stayed put, pulling two chairs together to make a makeshift semblance of comfort, of home. Eventually, they brought one of those reclining hospital chairs for me to use, hoping I could get some sleep.

I didn’t sleep. Not until my dad left.

That’s when the screaming started, and I was jolted awake from the semi-deep sleep I was in, having a flashback to the day I, too, said those words: different circumstances, but same terror.

I mean, if you’re going to have a flashback, the best place to do it is the Psych ER because there, the guy who’s been there three days already will come sit next to you because he wants you to feel safe, because he noticed the tears streaming down your face when the nurse asked you what was wrong and you said “He just wants to go home.”

Because we all want to go home.

I want to go home, I say as I’m sitting on my couch writing this. Home is where we feel safe. And the truth is, I haven’t felt safe anywhere in who knows how long. And I want to feel safe, and I want to be strong without coming across as weak. I don’t want people to view me as weak, which really is just a sense of pride. But I’m not proud of who I am.

Because, sometimes, I’m ashamed when I tell people how much I’m hurting, how much I’m struggling.

And I wish I could accurately explain to you how much I’m struggling, how much I’m hurting, how much I’m remembering. There are days when I go up to church, even if I’m not working that day, simply because I don’t want to be alone–I shouldn’t be alone, and it’s one of the places I can go where I know there are people around, people who know me and love me and know what I’m going through, but who care for me anyway.

And I don’t know how to describe to you what a blessing that is because right now, as I’m writing this, I’m feeling so many things (my therapist likes to call these “Crisis Moments” where the feelings I’m feeling are disproportionate for the moment), and the tears I’ve been holding in all day can’t be held in any longer.

And I’m ashamed.

This isn’t how I want to be.

I’ll worry about any one else, but I don’t want people to worry about me: I don’t want to be a burden because all I’ve wanted to do my whole life was lighten people’s load, make their lives easier. When my youngest cousin was in diapers, I’d be the one to change them simply because I didn’t want anyone else to be inconvenienced.

I don’t want to be an inconvenience.

And people graciously put up with me (and sometimes I’m not sure why).

And I wrote a blog post last night (and so many people read it, more than I was expecting), and I thought it was the hardest one I’ve ever written, but it wasn’t. This one is.

This one is because there are so many things I want to say, but  I don’t know how. This one is because I want so badly for there to be a future tense in my life, but I’m not even sure right now if I’ll always make it to tomorrow.

Because just over six months ago, I drove myself to the Psych ER. I parked in the parking garage, had a twenty-minute panic attack in my car, and then spent five minutes trying to convince myself not to jump off the side of the parking garage.  And since then, so much has happened: I started therapy, got put on meds, was diagnosed with PTSD after finally opening up to my new therapist. I’ve had panic attacks at the gym so bad that I’ve become actively suicidal, and, my brain, in order to protect me, made me sit down on a bench until it gave me the “All-clear.”

And if you asked me last night if I’d be writing this today, I’d have told you “no.” Because I thought for sure I’d be dead.

Because here’s the thing about suicide that so many people get wrong: it’s not a choice. There’s no thought, no plan; there’s only action.

When the psychiatrist asked me that Tuesday morning after spending 16 hours waiting to be seen if I ever had a plan, I said “No.” Because that’s the truth.

I’ve had moments.

Just moments.

Moments where I’m feeling everything at once: panic and empty and sadness and shame and guilt. And it’s all too much.

Moments that last hours: where my body’s telling me one thing and my mind’s telling me another.

Don’t get me wrong: sometimes suicide is thought out. Sometimes people do have a plan: they have a time and a date and the how scribbled somewhere in the calendar of their minds.

But for me, someone who’s always tried to plan so carefully, someone who always looks at her calendar because she feels like she’s forgetting something, there’s no plan: just a moment.

A pivotal moment: a crisis moment. When the sum of my feelings is greater than the sum of my mental willpower. A moment when there’s action or inaction and I can’t always be sure which is better.

And that’s what scares me the most. Because logically I know that this is not the answer and that life is beautiful and that there are brighter days ahead and so on and so forth and what not, but there’s nothing logical about any of this.

And I’m hurting, even as I sit here writing this, my mind is a million places at once: trying to convince me that I’d be better off dead, planning for my future, working on the next great American novel, wondering what I’m going to have for lunch tomorrow (probably grilled cheese in case you’re wondering). But despite all this distraction, there’s still this dominant feeling inside, a pain so great that’s crying out “DO YOU SEE ME NOW?!?! DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I’M HURTING? HOW MUCH I WANT TO BE DEAD.”

And it’s terrifying and exhausting: I don’t want to be dead. Kaleigh does not want to die. But the part that isn’t me: the part that’s traumatized, and as a result is suicidal, wants to die, and unfortunately, sometimes that part is louder and stronger and harder to fight.

And that’s where I was last night, where I’ve been so many nights in the last six months. I was so sure I wasn’t going to make it.

(And this is the part where I say I’m glad I don’t own a gun. Because on the nights like that, where emotions take over and impulsivity reigns, where the suicidal portion of me takes over, a gun would make everything easier. Because I took pills: I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I survived.)

I survived. And now I have to be.

I am.

I’m learning to just “be.”

Be in the moment: feel what I’m feeling. Validate what I use to invalidate. Identify what I’m feeling but not let it control me. Learn how to survive the crisis moment to get to a better life moment.

Be.

Finding happiness in the little moments; finding hope in the dark ones. Shining light on the darkest parts of myself to create a future tense.

Because as much as I want to be alive, there’s a part of me that doesn’t.

And I can’t silence her because her voice is just as valid as mine.

But I can live with her: and that’s the biggest irony of this whole thing: I have to learn to live with the parts of myself that don’t want to live.

Finding existence in the face of death.

And six months later, that’s all I’m trying to do.

Continue reading: Flight Risk: 20 Hours in the Psych ER

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Just Keep Swimming

Disclaimer: this post is a post I’ve been mulling over for a few weeks now. I’ve been trying to figure out the way to treat this subject with the sensitivity it deserves, because yes, I can be open and candid about it, but for some people it’s just not easy. The wounds are too fresh. I’m showing you my cards here. I’m wiping off my poker face. I’m putting it all on the table. This post, like so many others, is about suicide. And I need, no, I want, you guys to know that before you keep reading. Because I understand that some of your wounds are fresh, but I also know that sometimes talking about can speed up the healing process. I also know that sometimes talking about it can make it worse. So, if the latter is the case, stop reading. I don’t want to make your burden heavier than it already is. Make yourself a cup of tea and go to your happy place. If the former is the case, make yourself a cup of tea and read this post. Either way, I want you all to know that you are loved, and there are people out there who understand your pain, who will be willing to help carry your burden.

 

It’s been 4 years, 1 month, and 1 day since I attempted suicide. I survived. Yet, so many others do not.

I’m not going to give you statistics, because if you want to know, you can look up the numbers on your own. I’m not going to give you statistics, because this isn’t speech class where I need numbers to convince my audience to agree with me. It’s not that I don’t have facts, because I do.

Fact: Suicide is a moment.

Fact: Depression is a race.

Fact: Suicide is a moment. A moment when someone decides they are tired of running.

Fact: Depression is a race, and if you stop running for even a second, it catches you.

Fact: Suicide is a moment. A moment when someone decides they are tired of running. In that moment, it doesn’t matter that there are people who love them.

Fact: Depression is a race, and if you stop running for even a second, it catches you. If you stop and rest, it begins to grow on you.

Fact: Suicide is a moment. A moment when someone decides they are tired of running. In that moment, it doesn’t matter that there are people who love them. Because all of sudden, life hits them in the chest, and they realize this sadness will never go away.

Fact: Depression is a race, and if you stop running for even a second, it catches you. If you stop and rest, it begins to grow on you. It’s like a vine that blocks out the sun, a python strangling the joy out of you, and rust that corrodes the bones.

Fact: Suicide is a moment. A moment when someone decides they are tired of running. In that moment, it doesn’t matter that there are people who love them. Because all of a sudden, life hits them in the chest, and they realize this sadness will never go away. And they dare themselves to do it.

Fact: Depression is a race, and if you stop running for even a second, it catches you. If you stop and rest, it begins to grow on you. It’s like a vine that blocks out the sun, a python strangling the joy out of you, and rust that corrodes the bones. And it’s so easy it sit there and let it consume you, because it whispers to you of an eternal sleep.

Fact: Life is made up of moments.

Fact: Life is a race.

When I am up high, I get scared. Because I’m telling myself, I could really do this. I could. But then, when I think these thoughts, I think of how great it would be to fall in love, how great it would be to travel the world. And I return back to normal. But I hold on to the moment and the thought of what it would be like to travel through the air. And I know I’ll probably never take myself up on the dare again, but the memory gives me a comfort that the day is mine to choose. Because the memory of how I felt in that moment when I swallowed those pills is tucked away in my brain like a sour candy stored in my cheek. I don’t like sour candy.

Some people do.

Some people take themselves up on the dare, because they don’t see how life can get any better. And I can understand why, because sometimes I’m tired of running, which is usually 2.5 minutes after I begin, because I have asthma.

Some people take themselves up on the dare, and they leave their families behind. And their families are left picking up the pieces and are trying to make them fit. But like a jigsaw puzzle with a missing piece, it will never be the same.

And we can’t save everybody, but we should certainly try.

Because I know first-hand how devastating a suicide can be. My mother lost a cousin to it, and my dad did too. And they almost lost a daughter.

And in the last year, my high school has lost two graduates to it, and now the families and friends are wondering why.

I don’t know the reason for other people, but I know mine.

And I think society is talking about it more, which is good, but I think people need to better understand that this is a disease. People like me can’t just snap out of it. Because we can recover for a while, but it will inevitably return, so we live our lives in the moment. The future is scary, and it’s not always guaranteed.

Because it’s all too easy to drown in an ocean of tears, and sometimes we forget we can float in salt water.

 

 

Moving On

The first cut is always the deepest.  The first cut always hurts the most. But then the second and third cuts come, and after a while, you become addicted. You become addicted to the release it brings. For one minute during your day you feel something. You are allowed to feel something.

And then it’s not just days; it’s months, it’s years of this daily release. Then one day, you hit your lowest point. Your skin is not skin anymore. After years of being bloody from fighting daily battles, it’s become a puzzle to be put back together. It’s become a battlefield marked with the gravestones of those lost. It’s become a maze or a timeline; traceable lines mark the path you’ve walked, how far you’ve traveled.

One day you trace the scars that you’re so eager to hide from judging eyes, because you don’t know how to explain to people that you’re not trying to kill yourself; you’re trying to stay alive:

How have I made it this far? I’m stronger than I think I am.

How did I get here? I’m left looking back on things I’d much rather forget.

Where do I go from here? I have no idea.

I have no idea.

But I’m taking it one day at a time. Because when you didn’t think you’d make it this far, planning the future and looking too far ahead is terrifyingly intimidating. Life is stressful. You take it one day at a time so you don’t forget to breathe.

Through all this, you have to learn how to move on with your life. I’m learning how to move on. I’m learning how to make it through the day. I’m learning that God loves me despite it all. I’m learning that even at my worst my friends are there to fall back on.

I’m learning how to love myself again, which is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It’s so easy to compare yourself to everyone else. And this game you play, you lose every time, which destroys your self-image. So you have to undo all the damage done—years of losses has left your Self-image so badly damaged there’s no choice but to tear it down and rebuild it from the bottom.

This rebuilding is a process. It’s looking in the mirror and telling yourself you’re beautiful even when you don’t believe it. It’s telling yourself that you are worth something when you’re entire being is telling you that you’re better off dead. It’s learning how to block out the voices of those who once hurt you (not that the memories won’t hurt, because they will. But that’s ok. You’re alive).

And it’s so much more. It’s learning to ignore the people who judge you. It’s learning to ignore the people looking at you, whispering about you as if you can’t see them. It’s learning how to cope, how to deal with the thoughts that can destroy you. It’s learning how to let the feelings out in healthy ways (even if it’s crying at Youth Group). It’s learning that it’s ok that big groups make you uncomfortable, that you are always on the verge of a mental breakdown. The people who matter won’t love you any less.

It’s learning that this is a Mental Illness; the feelings won’t go away, but they’ll be like waves. It’s learning how to make the most of them.

It’s learning that you are worth being loved. It’s allowing yourself to be loved and valued when the right person comes along.

It’s learning to say look how far I’ve come. Look at what you did to me, but look what I’ve done with my life. Look at me prove you wrong.

You’re Better Off Dead

“If someone hates themself so much they want to die, they are better off dead.”

Those kind words were said in one of my first classes as a college student. Being the type of person that I am, I walked out. I walked out and never looked back.

People are rather ignorant these days when it comes to Depression. They can hear the statistics, they can know someone who is struggling, but they can never truly understand. So many people laugh it off and say, ‘it’s no big deal.’

It is a big deal. People who struggle with depression can become really good at hiding it on the outside, but the smiles, the laughs, the loudness doesn’t quell the battle going on inside.  It’s an exhausting fight: a fight that would be all too easy to end (but that would put us on the losing side, and humans don’t like to lose. But the thought is always still there, lying in wait in the back of our minds).

Depression is more than sadness and tears. Depression is the constant feeling of being numb. People who struggle with Depression don’t feel anything. We feel dead: a human void of emotion is no human at all. We wake up in the morning and dread getting out of bed (on our worst days, we can’t get out of bed). Days aren’t really days as much as they are obstacles that need to be tackled. And so we deal with them through medication, drugs, cutting, starving ourselves—anything that will make us feel something, anything other than nothing (because nobody wants to feel like they’re nothing, like they’re invisible and barely breathing).

That’s what Depression is: the overwhelming sense of numbness, and the desire for anything that can help us make it from one day to the next.

Some days we’re fine; other days, we’re not at all fine. And while the world around us is moving like normal, we are spinning in slow motion or just frozen in time. These are the days when the thoughts come back.

If I just swerved off the road here, if I just took a few extra pills, if I jumped down the stairs, it would all be over. I would be completely whole once again.

And then people tell us that “We shouldn’t be sad, because somebody always has it worse,” which is almost as bad as telling someone they can’t be happy because someone always has it better.

But, it’s not as bad because people enjoy being around happy people more than sad people.  Us sad people need friends too. We need to feel just as loved as the next person (except maybe more because we don’t love ourselves). And it’s not that  we are not capable of love. Because we are. We are capable of so much love, but we don’t know how to love ourselves.

And while everybody else is busy living their lives, we’re just trying to survive.

When I read my poem “Checkmate” at Youth Group, people came up to me afterwards and said, “I had no idea, I’m sorry, etc.” But now you do.

One last thing, if you tell me that everything that’s happened to me in my life is my fault, it’s not my fault that my fist ends up in your face.
I had no control over it; your ignorance was asking for it.

Dear Daddy

Life is fear. And lots of it.

When I was little, I was scared of the monsters under the bed, Santa getting lost and missing my house, and spiders. Now that I’m older, I’m scared of the future and spiders.

I have a rose from my Grandfather’s funeral to remind me that death and sorrow are real. This was the first time I cried at a funeral, which was the same day that I realized that there would be one less hand to hold mine when I needed someone there.

The most painful thing I’ve learned so far is that no matter how much love I wrap my family members in, no matter how many ropes I weave from their hearts to mine, they cannot stay with me forever. The ones that I hold most dear to me are growing older as I am. And it terrifies me. Because one day, the wind will carry them home, and they won’t be here with me to dry my tears, to hug me and tell me it will be ok. Even though a heart can be the home of memories, a home can’t be a heart.

And I’m scared of growing up and moving on.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Daddy, I miss you. And I know break just ended, and I saw you a lot; but I miss you. I miss our talks, your hugs, cuddle sessions on the couch. And even though I’m in college and still live under the same roof, I never see you. And it’s hard, and it’s painful.

I’ve given this whole “growing up” thing a shot, and I’ve decided that it isn’t for me. I want to go back to when I was five. I want to go back to the days of playing airplanes, back scratch wars, sitting in your fort, curling up next to you and falling asleep. I want to go back to the times when putting a Band-Aid on a cut was enough, because now there’s pain that you can’t fix even though you try so hard to do so. I want to go back to the days when you held my hand to cross the street, and to teach me to walk. I want you to hold my hand forever, because I’m scared of tripping and falling. These shoes of adulthood are too big for me.

And I can’t help but think if this is how I feel now, how am I going to feel when I don’t live with you? How am I going to feel when you’re not there every day for a hug?

And while I’m sitting here trying to figure it out, the world keeps spinning. People keep breathing, and while my mind is stuck in a corner, refusing to let go, I’m getting older and closer to moving on.

I know I’m only 18, and I have my whole life ahead of me to ‘figure it out,’ but that’s what scares me the most: not figuring it out.

Because life is a mystery. Life is pain, fear, and love. And when you love someone, pain is involved.

And Daddy, I know I’m growing older, but I’ll always be your little girl.

Right now I’m just confused about why life must hurt so much. Right now I’m just scared about what the future holds.

And I don’t know if I’m ready for it, any of it.

I want to be five again. Then I can say “tay me bit more,” and it might actually work.

 

Continue Reading: A Father’s Response

My Being

My body is a battlefield. Home to the never-ending war between hope and survival; it’s a cemetery containing dashed dreams, lost hopes and broken hearts. My veins are meandering rivers; a crisscrossing map outlining every place I’ve been, illustrating every face that has sunk into the deep recesses of my memory. They carry blood that was formerly red for anger back to the heart. Though the skin around my veins is scarred, they are blue for the ocean, for sorrow, for pain. When it rains, pieces of the sky collect on my skin. No dream is too high. The shedding of my skin is akin to the falling autumn leaves and to the sunset—a fresh start, a new beginning.

My heart is a seashell; my heart beat is the waves that kiss the shore. The delicate red flesh is wrapped in the blood of loving too much, knowing too little, being and becoming. The walls are scattered with names; the atriums are filled to the brim with the little pieces of others collected along the way. Each beat is an old memory floating to the surface of my conscious—music, movies, dead pets, dead relatives, laughter, friends, and family. The memories floating through my veins collect in my chest and in my wrists, which is why I give hugs. New memories can be made, and old memories can transfer, proving that I’m alive.

Sewn into the walls of my lungs are the remnants of everything I’ve experienced, everything I’ve breathed, and everything I’ve lived. Scrawled in the leftover spaces are the notes of every breath I took, no matter how high or low its song. My lungs have been witnesses in moments that took my breath away—a flower growing in a garden of weeds, a sunset after a storm, a smile despite the cruel behavior, and by words that were read, spoken, and written.  The soles of my feet have crushed dreams; but they’ve also matched the stride of broken souls, reminding them that they are not alone as they walk this journey.

My shoulders contain the leftover pieces of what once were wings; although sometimes, my arms collect feathers, and for a moment, I believe that I am almost strong enough to fly once again. My fingers contain the touch of creating. Like windshield wipers, my eyelids have protected my eyes. But, they too have broken. My eyes become oceans as they witness the darkness of life. My knees kiss the floor during bed time prayers, they give way when I need them to stay, but they also stay strong when I want to collapse. The mending and unbending of my spine has more courage stringing through its bones than I have strength. Sometimes, that makes all the difference. My tongue has tasted the most beautiful days and the most rotten nights. It has choked on cruel words while it has spat at my own soul. Sometimes, my lips crack as my self-esteem is drawn out of them with the straw of a hurt soul. There are days when the rumbling in my tummy never goes away; there’s fat on my body to prove it.

My soul contains an angel and a devil fighting for my self-respect and worth. Sometimes my self-esteem can be measured out in teaspoons, mixed in the words I write, and still not fill up the need to believe in myself. But that’s life, and that’s me. And I wouldn’t change for anybody.

Immortal

As humans we are blessed with mortality. We are born. We live. We die. If we were to take the span of our lives, and compare it to the age of the universe, our time here would be equivalent to a blink of an eye.

But, let’s just imagine for a moment that we were capable of living forever–of being immortal. What would that mean? What would that do for our value of human life? I mean, would our lives have as much value?

I imagine that if we were to live forever, at some point we would stop taking care of ourselves. If we don’t die, what’s the point? I imagine that we would believe that our lives have no meaning. Why? Because we have all the time in the world (literally) to figure out our calling–to figure out what we want to do with the rest of our lives. If we were immortal, we would care for the earth, or would we squander it as some are doing now? Would there be any need for laws? If we can’t be killed, what’s the use? If the previous premise is correct, would mass chaos then ensue? Would the population of earth be so overcrowded that we’d have to find alternate places to live? Would we keep aging forever, or would we reach a certain age then stop, or is it cyclic?

Would we die, or just simply disappear when we have no more use on this planet?

If I were immortal, I would travel to every corner of the earth. I would learn all there is to learn and know everything there is to know. I would take more risks, step  way out of my comfort zone, and maybe live a little more than I foresee myself living. I would try everything there is to try and do everything there is to do.

The fact of the matter is, that we are not immortal. We are not in control of time (although, I like to imagine that time is like that of time in Slaughterhouse- 5).

As humans, we all are put on this earth for some reason. We all have a calling. And we are not here forever.

As a Senior in High School, every minute of every day is jam-packed with things to do, and when I think about it, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I like to go to bed knowing that I lived that day to the fullest, and that if I were to die tomorrow, that my life has made in impact somewhere. That I lived the fullest life I could.

As humans, that’s all we can do.

“Live each day to the fullest.
Get the most from each hour, each day,
and each age of your life.
Then you can look forward with confidence.
and back without regrets.

Be yourself- but be your best self.

Dare to be different
and to follow your own star.

And don’t be afraid to be happy.
Enjoy what is beautiful.
Love with all your heart and soul.
Believe that those you love, love you.

Forget what you have done for your friends,
and remember what they have done for you.
Disregard what the world owes you, and
concentrate on what you owe the world.

When you are faced with decisions,
make that decision as wisely as possible
then forget it.
The moment of absolute certainty
never arrives.

And above all, remember that
God helps those who help themselves.
Act as if everything depended upon you,
and pray as if everything depended upon God.” “Live Each Day to the Fullest”- S.H Payer