Please note – This post will be discussing depression and suicidal ideation.
Today is September 3rd, 2019. As proud member of the Book Lovers Unite for World Suicide Prevention event as organized by the amazing Eva Pohler, this is the day I’m on the schedule to share with you my story and why this event is so important to me. This is also a day to celebrate – because despite all I’ve gone though, I’m still here. I was going to do this as a video, but the more I thought about it, the more I knew there was no way I’d get through it without becoming a blubbering mess. I already tend to trip over my own tongue when speaking so defaulting to my preferred method of communication is probably best.
Let me first say that we are doing this to raise awareness and money for this misunderstood and stigmatized cause. You can help by ordering a t-shirt and showing your support here: https://www.bonfire.com/world-suicide-prevention-day-2019/
Participating directly here: https://www.iasp.info/wspd2019/
Or even just sharing about our event on your various social media platforms: https://www.facebook.com/events/388388565311132/
On September 10th we will have an all-day event on Facebook complete with giveaways, live videos, and more. I hope you’ll join us!
Now to my story…
Most of the time people see the smiling, laughing, goofy side of me. It’s my public mask, and I’m very good at wearing it. I’m not saying it’s not real. It very much is. I love people, for the most part. Despite being somewhat introverted I love chatting, laughing, and just being with others. My smile is real. My laugh is real. My joy in that moment is real. So, it often surprises people when they learn I struggle with depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideations. I recently had a conversation with a friend who seemed totally blown away by that revelation. She said that my husband, kids, and I all have this brightness that shines from within and lifts people up by just being around us. I pray that is true. It makes the struggle easier at times knowing that there are moments when I might be making things better for someone else, in some way.
But that’s the thing about depression. It’s an invisible monster that has burrowed in your head, waiting to emerge at any given moment. There is no rhyme or reason – no logic to its madness. There doesn’t have to be a trigger to set off a downward spiral. Your life could be absolutely amazing, and depression can make you feel like it isn’t worth living. It’s completely ludicrous. A good example is actor Jared Padaleki. Here’s a talented, successful, handsome actor who seems to have it all. A successful TV show that’s now one of the longest running series in its genre; a beautiful wife; three gorgeous kids; and some side hustle that’s working out well for him. Adoring fans all over the world. (And yes, I’m one.) But during the 3rd season of filming he was fighting emotions he couldn’t understand. After having an emotional breakdown, he was diagnosed with clinical depression. When he bravely made that information public, it was met with support and skepticism. Critics, those who obviously don’t understand how depression works, said there was no way he could be depressed. He had nothing to be depressed about. His life was amazing and only regular people understood the depression battle. Those critics couldn’t be more wrong. If recent years have taught us anything, it’s that what you see on the surface is only one layer of a very complicated issue. Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, Chris Cornell… a small sample of people who, if you only observe the exterior, appeared to have everything a person could want. Depression and anxiety are illnesses that don’t care if you live in a mansion, or a box in the alley. We all have the same basic biological and chemical construction, and that’s where the monster resides.
But let me get back to my personal story.
My second child was born in 1998. I was happy and mostly healthy. I’d put on some weight after having two kids, but nothing to worry too much about. I was a stay-at-home mom with two beautiful children and a loving husband. We had our issues, like all young families. Money was tight at times. The kids exhausted me some days. But we pushed through and at the end of the day were thankful for what we had together.
Somewhere between 1999 and 2000 my moods started to change. It was subtle at first. I thought it was just exhaustion and some stress. I have no doubt that contributed. But it began to be overwhelming. The constant racing thoughts and worry. Weird little moods swings that I’d struggled with off and on as a teen were becoming intensified and magnified. There were times when panic over the tiniest things would send me into full blown hyperventilation. Other times I’d be so sad that I saw no point to even getting out of bed. And I didn’t know WHY I was sad. I didn’t understand it and I was ashamed. I berated myself for being so emotional. I had children to care for. A house to maintain. A husband to love. I needed to pull up my big girl panties and do what I had to do. I’d try to shoulder through, but the more I pushed back, the worse it often got. It all came to a head one horrible day. I’d been having these odd pains in my wrist. I couldn’t even wash my own hair because moving my wrist hurt so bad. I hadn’t recalled injuring it, but surely, I must have. I needed to have it looked at, but without insurance we really couldn’t afford the doctor visit and any possible tests that might go along with it. I was already very low. I’d been spiraling emotionally for a while. I started to panic thinking about the bills and the pain. Before I knew it, I had shoved my face into a pillow on my bed and started screaming and crying uncontrollably. I’d thankfully had the forethought to use the pillow so I wouldn’t scare my napping children. But I couldn’t stop. The more I screamed, the more I felt I needed to scream. I was becoming manic. It terrified me. The thoughts running through my head were horrifying. I wanted to die. I didn’t want to feel like this anymore. I didn’t want to try anymore.
I’m crying as I type this, because thinking back, it still hurts so much. Remembering how that felt and how scared I was. I can’t adequately describe that kind of terror – to be afraid of yourself. While my kids were perfectly safe, I was a danger to myself. The flashes of ways I could end my own life were coming faster than I could comprehend them. I managed to calm my breathing enough to call my husband at work. I more or less told him I needed him to come home now. That I was scared of myself and I didn’t understand what was happening. He heard that panic and fear in my voice and left work immediately.
We went to the doctor the next day. The kids stayed with John’s parents so we could take time with all the issues I was dealing with. I was surprised to be diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and possible Fibromyalgia. The latter diagnosis turned out to be false and the pain in my wrist ended up being a physical manifestation of the pain in my head. We started trying various anti-depressants (none at that time were particularly helpful thanks to awful side-effects), along with my personal decision to change to a sugar-free, grain-free diet (what some now call keto/low-carb) to help curb external factors that cause mood swings and insulin spikes.
For a while the diet helped more than the medications. I was taking good care of myself physically, which helped me better deal with the mental aspects of my health. But I still had very rough days. Even with meds, lifestyle changes, coping mechanisms, and therapy there will be hard days. These aren’t cures, they are survival methods. And when you struggle with depression in this way, it is all about survival.
I would love to tell you that since then I’ve never had a mental breakdown or never had thoughts of ending my existence, but that would be a lie. My last big breakdown was about 3 years ago and I almost checked myself into a hospital because it was becoming more than I could take. I went to my doctor and discussed things with her first and we changed up my medications. That went a long way to helping me get where I am now.
I want to make this perfectly clear.
NEVER BE ASHAMED OF TAKING MEDICATION TO MANAGE YOUR MENTAL ILLNESS. NEVER.
I didn’t want to need it. I still don’t. But my meds help me stay on an even keel. They are currently necessary, and there is no shame in that. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Don't let anyone use lack of faith, a need for more nature, or perceived character flaws as a way to berate you for using medication. None of those things apply. They wouldn't dump on a diabetic needing insulin, so why dump on a person with a brain chemical imbalance? This type of thinking and shaming infuriates me.
I still struggle. And it’s sometimes harder now because sadly my children have also been diagnosed with MDD, Anxiety, and Bi-Polar. They’ve both utilized medications, therapists, and hospital stays to learn their own survival techniques. My heart breaks when I think of the nights spent we've spent in the ER with them, knowing they resorted to cutting to release the pain, or that they no longer saw any hope or a reason to live. Depression is a lonely disease, no matter how many people love you and want to help. The mind is our worst enemy at times, and it lies to us often about our worth. It tells us we are a burden to those we love, and that they would be better off without us. When my kids were babies, the idea of them finding mommy dead was the only thing that kept me from following through some days. I didn’t want to scar them. But I truly believed I was a terrible mother because of my illness and they and John deserved better. Honestly, some days I still do. It’s a hard thought to swallow. But I know it’s part of the mind game that is depression. And I fight back every damn day.
My kids are doing well, by the way. They are both in their 20’s and life is confusing and rocky as all young adults that age learn. They have their rough spots, but we have plans in place for those spots. I won’t get into details, because their stories are not mine to tell. But I will say I have brave, amazing, wonderful kids who I’m very proud of. They are warriors and they kick ass.
My husband is also a warrior. He has his own battles with depression at times. But after living with us 3, it may have been inevitable. He is so strong. He is my rock and my foundation when everything else is falling apart around me. And I love him more than words can say.
I'd heard of the Project Semicolon and immediately fell in love. If you’ve never heard of it, you can learn more here. But essentially, it's a movement to remind us that our story isn't over. It means that the author chose to use a semicolon instead of a period. We chose to pause, when we could have chosen to end it. Sadly, the founder of this amazing charity organization, Amy Bleuel, lost her own battle with depression in March of 2017. Despite helping over 5 million of people, depression still took her from us. It's such a cruel disease. Anyway, variations of the semicolon tattoos began to crop up everywhere. I decided I wanted one too. No, I NEEDED one. I had to have that reminder. I finally found one I loved. And while I didn’t know what the original designer had in mind, I knew what each element meant for me. Here’s the what I did:
The semicolon means my story isn’t over. The EKG blip says that as long as my heart beats, there is hope. And the heart reminds me that I am loved.
My husband later surprised me with a matching tattoo in support of my struggle. But his had a minor modification. He had my name put in the EKG blip.
I love this man so much. I don’t know what I’d do without him.
Side by side of our matching tats.
I feel like I’ve babbled quite a bit here, but I hope I’ve conveyed my story in a way that has touched your heart and opened your eyes to the struggle so many face. We generally look normal on the outside, but on the inside there is a battle for life and death raging on a daily basis.
Reach out to those you love. Check in on them and listen. You can’t fix it, but you can love them. You can show them that you are there for them, regardless of what their mind tells them. Support their treatment options and coping mechanisms. Encourage them to seek help if they are trying to handle it on their own.
If you are battling this yourself, please know you are not alone. We are legion and we can band together to beat this. Reach out to someone you trust. Call one of the many hotlines available. (numbers below) You are loved, and your story is far from over. You have so much value to add to this world. We need you.
As a general message, we don’t know what other people are going through. Depression, chronic pain, fatal diagnosis for themselves or a loved one, financial crisis, heartbreak… everyone has a story. Please be compassionate. You don’t know what others are going through and you don’t want to be the part of their story that breaks the dam. Especially in this age of social media and instant mob mentality, please take a moment to ask yourself if you’d want the benefit of the doubt if that specific shoe was on your foot.
I don’t know who said it, but it’s my favorite quote – “If you can be anything, be kind.”
Much love to you all.
Resources and charities for those in need:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
If you are in crisis call the Native Youth Crisis Hotline at 1-877-209-1266.
If you are in crisis or considering suicide, please click the Chat Now button to talk with one of our volunteers.
To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.
Within the belief that suicide is generally preventable, the mission of Project Semicolon is to help reduce the incidents of suicide in the world through connected community and greater access to information and resources. We believe that suicide prevention is the collective responsibility of each and every person on the planet.