What diagnosis?


cartoon+blue+landscape

I have been working with a couple of doctors, seeking a diagnosis to address my anxiety, depression and other issues that I’ve discussed in previous posts. One doctor (we’ll call her Dr. P) said something that I had a rather bad reaction to – “You definitely have PTSD, but I’m not ruling out the possibility of bipolar disorder.”

When I was a college undergraduate, a campus counselor had also suggested that I was bipolar. At first I accepted it, but the more I analyzed myself in relation to the diagnosis, the more I rejected it. For over ten years, I have disregarded this possibility. Until the Dr. P said those words.

As she said those words, tears started to fill my eyes. The tightness in my chest signaled that deep down, I really didn’t want this diagnosis. Not just because I don’t agree with it. It also seems that I have fallen into the stigmatization of bipolar mood disorders. In part I think this is because of the celebrity association I have with the diagnosis. When I think bipolar disorder, one of the first images that comes to mind is Axl Rose. Surely I’m not like that.

As a teenager, I remember reading any article about Axl Rose and bipolar disorder. Friends of Axl commented that you could be talking to him and he’s fine one moment, then the next he has you up against a wall, beating you. Explosive temper to say the least. Like it or not, I can identify with this. I do have a rather short, fiery temper, but as I told my other doctor (we’ll call her Dr. F), my temper is not something that just randomly explodes. Something is said or done that triggers it in me. And quite frankly, I don’t think my unwillingness to put up with bullsh*t means that I’m bipolar.

Dr. P did say that how bipolar is defined now is broader than it used to be. I researched the common definitions of bipolar disorder I, bipolar disorder II, cyclothymia and bipolar spectrum. If one looks at the bipolar I definition which states that you only have to have ONE manic episode in your life, then yeah, I could be considered bipolar. The episode that I had in grad school where my mind basically shut down, and I even had hallucinations…sure, you could consider that a manic episode. 

Still, whether I’m just scared of the diagnosis or overly-self-analytical, I’m still not convinced that bipolar disorder is the issue. In my perspective, I do suffer from PTSD where certain things do trigger certain reactions related to previous trauma. This is something that Dr. P, Dr. F and I all agree on. Chronic depression has been a serious issue since I was a teenager. Even on “normal” days, I struggle with the side of depression that affects motivation and energy levels. Some days it just seems like too much effort to leave my home. On the worst days, it’s too much effort to leave my bed, even to take a shower. When you regularly have to force yourself to do these things, you become quite exhausted. I never have episodes of extreme happiness, activity, rapid speech/thoughts, etc. What I DO sometimes experience is extreme avoidance…specifically with situations that cause me great anxiety. For me, that’s related to an anxiety disorder. 

Stress is something that we all experience. For some of us who have a chemical imbalance, increased stress can completely disable us. In some ways it’s like the depression, but instead of not wanting to leave your home because it’s too much effort, you don’t want to leave your home because of fear. THIS is what I deal with in my life. Even looking at the episode I had over ten years ago that some could categorize as a manic episode, my stress levels during that time were off the charts. I was working more than sixty hours a week and going to grad school full time. If that weren’t stress enough, Andrew passed, which completely devastated me. It was too much to deal with for any one person. Although I was living with someone at the time, she was no real help to me in dealing with these things. So, since I couldn’t deal with it adequately myself, my subconscious mind forced me to take somewhat of a mental vacation by shutting down normal production, tuning out from a reality that my conscious mind could not deal with. Is that bipolar disorder? I’m not sure. What I do know is that at that time, it was the circumstances that were abnormal, and my body saw fit to deal with them in the best way it knew how.

Dr. P hasn’t given an official diagnosis. She wants to talk to me one more time. What this tells me is that even she is not confident that bipolar disorder is the right diagnosis. In processing the possibility, I have come to terms with it. Whatever label you want to give it, I just want to be able to wake up in the morning without fear and happily shower and get dressed for a day that may be stressful, but is nothing that I can’t handle in a healthy way. Is that too much to ask?

 

The Evolution of a Character


cartoon+crows+and+moon

I almost threw “Mining the Dark” in the garbage. 

As you may recall from one of my previous posts, I realized that the character of Emma is highly influenced by my own trials and tribulations. Once I realized that, I somehow thought that the characterization was “fake,” which is odd given that we’re talking about a fiction book. I guess “fake” in the sense that it was too real, too me.

I discussed this with a friend, specifically in talking about how art impacts life and life impacts art. For those of us who are creative, not having an outlet for expression can just about drive you crazy. It should be no surprise that some of the greatest artists struggled with some type of emotional/mental challenges. My favorite example is Edgar Allan Poe. Poe is one of my favorite authors of all time. He, quite naturally, struggled with depression due to the untimely death of his wife, which many have said suggested influenced much of his writing. Another favored author is Emily Dickinson, who was widely known to be deeply troubled by thoughts of death, as many around her died when she was young. Her depression was so significant that as an adult, she became more and more reclusive. And then there is the ultimate example of Sylvia Plath, an acclaimed poet and novelist who committed suicide not long after being prescribed anti-depressants.

Extraordinary artists are all a bit…askew. Given their challenges, they are able to see life through a lens that some find shocking, while others shout, “Yes! I’m not the only one!” They always make an impression, a very emotional one. This type of response is the reason why I always said that I appreciated it when someone hated Emma, because I marvel at the fact that a character I created could evoke such strong feelings in another person. That is, until I accepted that Emma is somewhat an aspect of my own personality. When you hate her, you hate that part of me. Although I may not know you, the thought of that terrifies me. 

I’m embracing the fear. When I was a teenager, writing poetry was a great way to release the pent-up thoughts and feelings that would’ve otherwise consumed me. It’s foolish for me to think that I cannot use my own writing to do the same thing now…and maybe help another person along the way.

Love her or hate her, Emma is here to stay. I’m not throwing out “Mining the Dark.” If anything, I’m more committed than ever in completing the manuscript as soon as possible. 63,000 words and counting….

Great prices! What about the workers?


When a company grows, it’s usually a good thing. However, there is the real possibility of too much of a good thing being bad.

I’ve seen people run companies like a Wall Street portfolio. Diversification is key. When you diversify, you’re not investing all of your money in one thing…one thing that could ultimately fail. Creating different sides of the business, and even acquiring subsidiaries, not only ensures that you will strengthen your main business, but you will also have reach into many other businesses as well. You can do this by breaking off parts of the company under different names, and as long as you don’t focus too much on one side of the business, you don’t risk the hackles of anti-trust lawsuits.

Add to this an intense focus on retail growth by worshipping your customer base, and you have the recipe for building an empire.

But to what human cost?

When you live in a consumer culture, investing in customers is a no-brainer. It’s simple when the average individual has been socialized from birth that buying random products that in no way fit any real world need, all in the name of proclaiming a socially constructed status that says, “Hey! Look at me! I’m cool, and important, because I have all of this STUFF.” Well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that loyal customers will continue to pay to buy their fictional happiness and the fat-cats at the top will continue to get fatter.

How are customers impacted? Well, they have it good for a while. With a focus on low prices, customers can buy even MORE of what they don’t really need. But think of this, as the company grows, becomes better at its various business interests, what will this do to the market in the long run? What a lot of people don’t realize is that the tendency of capitalism is toward monopoly. You may ask, how so? Think of completely free, open market competition – no holds barred. In any competition there are winners and there are losers. Our government has recognized this, and this is why we have anti-monopoly laws. But even when it doesn’t come down to just “one company,” the consumer choice will become fewer and fewer.

So what of the company that has diversified its business? Surely it couldn’t corner the market in every side of its business dealings. However, when one side of the business does well, that spendable income can be used to boost the competitiveness of other businesses. And when all of the businesses focus on having the lowest prices…well, we’ve already talked about the tendency of capitalism and competition. 

All of this culminates in one company being able to corner multiple markets. As a reasonable people, what do we think will happen when said company controls market share and the competition either folds or just cannot keep up anymore? Quite simply, once a business controls the market, they can then control the price of products with little regard to having the lowest price because they have the only price 

Even if prices do not go up because the business wants to maintain consumer loyalty, how can the business continue to remain relevant, particularly if new competitors come on the scene? There are multiple ways that companies cut costs, mainly by controlling overhead. What is one way to control said overhead? Workers. Either by outsourcing the work to cheaper labor or by underpaying the non-union workers that are currently employed. A very easy way to do this is if the workers actually BELIEVE in the cause, so much so that the idea of lower pay or perceived mistreatment does not even enter the collective mind. Corporate enculturation. Enslaving the masses is easy to do when they’re willing to be enslaved, or better yet they don’t even recognize they’re being exploited.

When thinking about big companies that do things such as this, one very simple thing to do is follow the money and ask who benefits. Do consumers benefit? Absolutely. Do the shareholders benefit? Sure. Upper echelons of the corporate structure? Without a doubt. What about the workers? All the way from the front line to upper management (below VP level). If long-time employees struggle to take care of their own families and are urged to be “happy” with minimal increases (if any), is it really worth it? Even more so, what about the conscientious consumer? When thinking customers learn how workers are expected to overwork themselves, put the company before family, manage any illnesses that come about because “customers” come first and be content with this mission when annual take-home income actually decreases…aren’t those the seeds for boycotts? You would think that someone in PR is thinking about these things…and of course directing the company to provide a few more crumbs so that the working masses do not revolt. 

When health care and mental health professionals speak of seeing trends with a particular company in that multiple employees are patients because of stress and anxiety-related illnesses, surely there is something more that needs to be investigated.

As consumers…as employees…as decent individuals, we need to start asking these questions. And for the love of all that is holy, if you find yourself in a situation like this, and there’s no union…start educating yourself quickly. Remember, if it’s bad in “good times,” just think of the outcome when times are rough. It won’t be the company’s elite that has to lower their living standards…it will be the workers.

The Complexity of Simplicity


scary+poltergeists (1)WARNING: Possible triggering material.

Oh, God, I forgot the belts….

That’s the first thought I had when I read the details of Robin Wililams’ suicide. I forgot the belts.

A little over twelve years ago, I was working as a Human Resources Specialist. I became friends with one of the managers there, a young man named Andrew. He was quiet, not very social, timidly nice with a dry, sardonic sense of humor. We were “work friends,” meaning that we interacted as friends at work, but not in our personal lives.

Then one day I got the call. I was sitting in my office, doing my normal duties and Andrew’s manager called me. She had Andrew on the line. She was worried because he hadn’t showed up for work, so she called to check on him. She wanted me to talk to him because he was emotionally distraught and close to the edge. I anxiously accepted the call. In a cautious voice, I said, “Hello, Andrew. What’s going on?” He replied, “I don’t know. I’m thinking of killing myself. I was getting the rope ready when she called.”

In one way I was numb. In another way, I went into crisis mode. Thankfully while I was in college I had done some peer counseling and was even trained in crisis counseling. I continued talking to him, mostly listening. Letting him talk. Giving him the opportunity to let out whatever he felt comfortable releasing. Once I felt that he was in a calmer space, I told him I was coming to his apartment and had him agree to do nothing until I got there. I then transferred the call back to his boss and directed her not to let him hang up, but to keep him talking. 

My boss was unsure as to whether I should go when I explained everything. I told him that I had done peer counseling with depressed people, I had experience (didn’t mention my own failed attempts), and I knew I could help the situation. His boss was adamant, I should stay at the office because it was too dangerous. What if Andrew did something to me? That possibility was the farthest thing from my mind. I was confident that he wouldn’t do anything to hurt me, but my boss’s boss wasn’t sure. My boss, although he was a jerk most of the time, finally agreed with me and told me to go. When his boss asked what he was going to do if something happened to me, his only response was, “Well, then it will be one helluva worker’s comp claim.”

I arrived at Andrew’s apartment. When he opened the door, the only word I could think to describe him was hollow. That’s what his eyes were…hollow. Almost like Andrew wasn’t there anymore. He was, but wasn’t. He invited me in and said that his boss was still on the phone and wanted to talk to me. His phone was in the bedroom. I walked through the living room, and the first thing I saw was part of a rope hanging over his bedroom door. The rest of the rope snaked on the floor around his bed. I stopped and just stared at it, a weird, unreal feeling filling me. I had to remind myself that I needed to take care of this, deal with my own baggage later. So I hesitantly, and painfully, stepped over the rope to get to the phone. I let his boss know that I had arrived, things were fine, and I would take over from there.

Andrew and I sat in his living room and talked more. Again, I just let him say whatever he needed to say, keeping my facial expression as neutral as possible. Given my own struggles, it was hard – and rather triggering – to hear some of the things he was saying. But I couldn’t let him see that it was upsetting me. That wouldn’t have helped him and would have likely made things worse. After talking for about thirty-five minutes, I got him to agree to go to hospital. I didn’t want him to be surrounded by strangers at this critical time, so I offered to drive him. He thanked me. It was the first spark of him I saw in his eyes. 

We arrived at the local mental health hospital. After briefly discussing things to the admin, we were escorted to a private room so initial assessment could be done. After taking basic information, the woman told Andrew that she needed to know more about what was going on, and if he felt comfortable, she could talk to him alone. I started to get up, saying that I would wait in the lobby. Andrew looked at me and said, “No, please stay.” In that moment, although we were close to the same age, he reminded me of a lost child, desperately wanting someone…anyone…to take care of him. I sat back down and listened.

I learned more private things about him that day than I ever knew about anyone in my entire life. It was the rawest, realest experience I have ever had. Andrew didn’t just have a case of the blues. He and I actually had some things in common, although I had never told him. As a child he experienced sexual and repeated physical abuse. On two occasions a family member had tried to kill him. Once by stabbing him in the left side above his hip. The second time by hitting him in the head with a baseball bat, an injury that had caused frontal lobe damage. As if this weren’t enough, he had been wrestling with something that he hadn’t been able to control – the voices. He heard voices. Sometimes the voices told him to kill himself. Other times the voices told him to kill other people, just randomly kill people. He said he just wanted it to stop.

After he explained everything as best he could, he was admitted for inpatient treatment. I gave him a hug and promised to visit him the next day.

I couldn’t return to office. I drove back to my apartment and finally let it all wash over me, crying the entire time and even after I got home. I hurt for him. I hurt for myself. I hurt for the number of college students that I had talked to who were also on that ledge. One thing was clear…I was committed to helping Andrew. 

I visited him in the hospital every day. Since he couldn’t leave, I would bring him whatever he wanted, which was usually cigarettes and Mountain Dew. I would spend my evenings just talking to him, letting him know some of my story, and teaching him different ways that I meditated. During this time he told me what the official diagnosis was – schizoaffective disorder. He had been prescribed multiple anti-psychotic medications, in addition to group counseling and individual Christian counseling. He spent his days working on himself, then would spend the evenings with me just trying to relax. 

Unfortunately, his insurance only paid for two weeks of inpatient treatment, so after fourteen days, although he was not much better, the hospital released him under the guidance to continue the medicine and counseling sessions. During that entire time I visited him every single evening. His parents didn’t visit him at all. Along with his childhood experiences, the fact that his parents couldn’t be inconvenienced to visit him in the hospital was a fact that caused a great deal of anger within me. I seriously felt like the abuse was continuing. Even if it was no longer physical abuse, it was emotional abuse…the scars of which can be much worse.

The day he was released, I drove him to his apartment. The first thing I did was gather up all materials in his apartment that could be used to hang himself. Rope. Cords. Neckties. I placed everything in the trunk of my car and told him that once he felt more comfortable and wasn’t tempted to use these things, then I would return them to him. 

But I forgot the belts. 

The weeks following were tumultuous. He continued the treatment and tried to work some. He would come over to my apartment and hang out with me and my friends. Our friendship grew even more. Although we were only friends, our shared experiences created a bond between us that wasn’t necessarily romantic, but it was a type of chemistry that in some ways went beyond anything you would feel in a relationship. We were kindred souls. A memorable time was one evening at my apartment, we had been chatting and drinking with friends. I had drank a little too much and was quite tipsy. Because of his medication Andrew hadn’t drank anything but Coke. When he went to leave, we were standing on my porch. I tried to hug him, but in my slightly drunken state I almost fell the few feet off the porch. Andrew caught me. As he held me in his arms, I looked up into his face, and he whispered, “Don’t worry. I won’t let you fall.” After everything he had been through and was going through, he wouldn’t let me fall. It was one of the most precious moments in my life. That’s how we were. Nothing romantic, nothing sexual, not “normal” friendship, but that closeness that can only be created when people find comfort in each other. 

Not long after this, Andrew was hospitalized again. This time he recognized the warning signs and took himself to the hospital. He called to let me know, and again, I spent almost every evening visiting him (I did miss one evening of visitation with the second hospitalization). This time, his parents finally saw fit to visit him…one time.

As I saw everything that Andrew was going through, I had a bit of a moment of clarity. Up until then, and because of my own experiences, I was adamant that suicide was a great evil. Everyone who has these thoughts should get help, and it will get better. With Andrew, I realized that we had come a long way in science, medicine, and our understanding of mental illness. Unfortunately, we haven’t gone far enough. The bleak reality is that for some people, the only way to truly get the pain to stop is to end it themselves. I’m not saying that I support suicide, as I would never encourage it or suggest that it’s the only way out. I’m just saying that I came to an understanding where the sadness and anger over it melted away. I knew, without a doubt, that regardless of what I did, what medications there are, what therapists said…if a person decides to end it, they’ll end it, and the only thing that I can really do is be a friend.

So for better or worse, I had one of the most difficult conversations that I could with Andrew. We sat on his hospital bed together, facing each other. I told him that I had come to realize that with some people, even him, this is a decision that is made because the pain is just too overwhelming. I said, “I know that regardless of what I say or do, one day, you might make this decision for yourself. I won’t judge you. I won’t think less of you. I just want you to know that for as long as you’re on this Earth…whether it’s a few more days, a few more weeks, or until the age of ninety….there’s at least one person who cares. And if you ever do make that decision, please try to find a way to say good-bye.” He nodded, told me if it happened, he would say good-bye, and that he loved me. It was both the most heart-wrenching and peaceful conversation I have ever had in my entire life. 

He was shortly released. Again, his insurance only paid for two weeks, although again, he wasn’t much better.

Because of all of the missed work and pressure, Andrew resigned his position. We accepted his resignation, and to me, it was in part a blessing. I knew that the stress of work would only aggravate his condition, and it wasn’t healthy for him. The problem was that without income, he made the difficult decision to move back in with his parents. This option scared me. With what I knew and the anger still brewing inside me, I felt like going back to his parents’ home was like going back to the lion’s den. It would be just as dangerous for him as work was. But, I couldn’t afford to take care of him myself, and he felt like he couldn’t “inconvenience” any of his other friends, so he went back to his home, the place with so many dreadful memories. 

He tried his best. He continued treatment and given his situation, he applied for disability benefits. As happens too often, his SSI disability claim was denied. I was shocked. How could any rational person think that he, in his condition, was able to work? Even more, with having a history of hearing voices that told him to kill other people, isn’t there any other implication of having him in the workplace with others? Still, his claim was denied, and he became desperate. He wanted money so that he could move back out from his parents’ house. Yet, without the disability, he did the only thing he knew to do – he got another job. I was convinced that work stress would only land him back in the hospital – or worse – but tried to be as supportive as possible. 

During this time I took a different job. I was just getting settled into my position when my sister called my office. Thankfully I was able to take the call when the phone rang. She said, “I wanted to call and tell you because I didn’t want you to hear from someone else. Andrew is dead.” I just nodded and took it all in, saying, “okay…okay…okay…okay….” When I hung up the phone, I couldn’t keep myself from sobbing loudly and uncontrollably. Thankfully a dear friend took me outside and walked with me, just being with me, until I was calm enough to drive home. 

When I got home, I turned the TV on to a random station, just to have the background noise. I then called his parents. I had never met his parents because quite frankly, I didn’t trust what I might say to them if we were face-to-face – they lived over an hour away, so there wasn’t even the possibility of a chance meeting, for which I was thankful. But given the circumstances, it felt like the right thing to do. His dad answered the phone. When I identified myself, he gave the phone to Andrew’s mother. They had already had the funeral. The arrangements were made very quickly. They found him in his bedroom. It happened November 27th, the day after my birthday. She said, “I know we’ve never met, but Andrew talked about you all of the time. He really thought the world of you.” 

After I hung up, I became very angry. I was angry that he didn’t find a way to say good-bye. Logically I knew that in that moment, most people are not going to notify anyone, once they have made that final decision. Doing so means that someone might try to stop things. Still, I was angry. I paced back and forth in my apartment, crying, screaming in frustration. Music from the TV caught my attention. It was a song I had never heard before, and it had a very somber melody. I started listening to the words, which made me cry even more. In that moment it was as if he was giving me my good-bye:

In the gloaming, oh my darling
When the lights are soft and low
And the quiet shadows, falling 
Softly come and softly go
When the trees are sobbing faintly
With a gentle unknown woe
Will you think of me and love me
As you did, once long ago?
In the gloaming, oh my darling
Think not bitterly of me
Though I passed away in silence
Left you lonely, set you free
For my heart was tossed with longing
What could have been could never be
It was best to leave you thus, dear
Best for you, and best for me
In the gloaming, oh my darling
When the lights are soft and low
Will you think of me and love me
As you did, once long ago?

I don’t think bitterly of Andrew. I think fondly of him. I’m honored that he shared some of his life with me. I take peace in the fact that his pain has ended. 

And that’s what it comes down to. When talking about mental illness and suicide, though circumstances are complex, your response should be quite simple. We don’t need your approval or disdain…your support or encouragement….your judgment or understanding. All we need, quite simply, is your compassion

Sometimes the Sweetest Dreams are the Scariest


**WARNING: Possibly triggering material.

tree+moon+purple+sky
I’m a published writer. I’m a successful Learning & Development professional. I’m a loving and protective mother. I’m a caring wife and partner. I suffer from depression and anxiety. And I’m a survivor of attempted suicide.

For those of you who have known me in school, work and social activities, you have often described me as independent, sometimes domineering, and often a bitch. One thing many have said to me is that I glow, I have a confidence that is sometimes intimidating, and above all, I work to accomplish my goals with success that exceeds expectations. This is the person that I want you to see. This is the person I aspire to be. But ultimately, it is very much a performance for me. A social act based on the hope that you will accept me, because something inside has always told me that if you knew the real me, you would walk away without looking back.

This is the burden of depression. Where it began, I can’t honestly tell you. It’s a darkness that seems to have always enveloped me. There was a time when I was seduced by that darkness, truly believing in my heart that the only entity in this world that would accept me unconditionally was death. And so I walked down that road, yearning for death’s arms, but failing miserably even in that.

Let’s start at what might be the beginning. Like many, I didn’t have a happy childhood. It’s not something that I ever told anyone because in the hills of Appalachia, you don’t talk about such things. Family business stays within the family, even when constant gossip pervades the neighborhoods. Still, no one would have guessed what pain I felt in my house.

I saw and experienced many things as a child. Fights in our home would sometimes turn violent. On one such occasion, I was taken by the police and put in a children’s home. I’m sure it seemed like the right thing to do at the time, to protect a child from the horrors of the home – a safe place to be while the adults worked out their issues. I was scared to be there because I didn’t know anyone. I just remember staring up at the ceiling from my cot, praying that it would all go away. The next day, most of the kids went to school, except me and a few others. In the struggle, confusion and fear, a teenage boy sexually assaulted me in this alleged home of safety. I was five years old at the time. It’s one of my earliest childhood memories.

Once I was returned to the home, I was happy to be back with the family I knew and loved. Unfortunately the fighting continued. My father had a sickness that affected those closest to him. Although many viewed him as one of the nicest men in the community, behind closed doors he could be the most cruel and emotionally abusive person I have ever met. In my staggered attempts to find my way, I never felt that he wanted me, and his self-medication was more important than his children. He always chose that over us.

Through the fighting and feeling of being all alone, even with people around, I began to think…and later believe…that no one could ever want me. Something about me was obviously defective if my own dad didn’t want me. And with what happened in the children’s home, I must only be good for one thing….

Adding to my mixed emotions, my dad would do things and finally realize the hurt, he would often say he was sorry by giving me ice cream or candy, because food makes it all right. I know now that this is one of many things that contributed to my binging to deal with emotions. It never works, and the guilt you often feel afterwards only contributes to the cycle of anxiety and depression.

I guess by the age of nine years old I started trying to emulate what I thought people wanted to see. I became a walking rendition of Cooley’s looking glass self, creating myself in the image that I thought others wanted, of their perceptions, or just to get their acceptance. And as children can be just as cruel, it didn’t stop the teasing and hurtful behaviors that kids can be so very good at displaying. At this point in life I was already overweight, and some kids would make sure I was reminded of that fact, as if I could forget. One schoolmate even gave me the nickname Shamu. I did the only thing I could think to do – I smiled and pretended that it was funny, even when I was dying a little on the inside.

This barrage of darkness that surrounded me and the hurricane of hormones that accompanies puberty made for a potentially deadly concoction of self-loathing and hopelessness. I began spending more time in my room. Sometimes I would write poetry and short stories. In an area where you don’t discuss family business, and talking about it with the offenders and survivors that surround you was not an option – writing about my feelings helped. My writing became very bleak, as if I were obsessed with death. From the teenage boy, to violent fights, to being made fun of because of my looks, I romanticized any figure that would accept me. And I intuitively knew that death would accept me, with open arms, without condition. To be wanted in that way…it’s all I could hope for myself.

The writing melded with fantasies. I would often lie in bed and think about dying, or think about an alternate reality where everyone loved me just the way I am, without pretense. I started sleeping more and more for the simple fact that being unconscious was better than being awake in a world that didn’t want me. When my thoughts almost continuously edged toward shrouding myself in death’s arms, I began thinking of how I would die, specifically, how I would kill myself. Overdose seemed like the most sensible, taking so many pain pills so that they would kill the pain and take me with it. But I also began liking the sight of my own blood, from a scrape or a self-inflicted wound. Seeing it made me feel alive, it stopped me from feeling like a walking shell, a puppet performing for everyone so that they would think everything was happiness and light, because no one wants to be around that darkness. It’s too inconvenient. And for some, it’s too scary because it’s like looking into a mirror. All of it was exhausting, and I just wanted it to stop.

I began sneaking around the house, gathering up as many pills as I could find. Usually this was limited to a bottle of Tylenol, but I would take whatever I could get. I would sit in my room with the door closed, listening for any footsteps coming down the hall, methodically counting the pills…twenty…thirty….more. Sometimes I didn’t even count, just chugged the bottle like a shot. More often than not, I just fell asleep for hours, as many as sixteen hours at a time. My mom did take me to the doctor trying to figure out why I was sleeping so much, doctors even suggesting that I had a sleeping disorder. I just nodded, knowing that I could never admit to them that I was in a dance with death, praying for that final dip where I would drop off the face of existence. The shame associated with it, and more importantly, having to explain why, was oppressive enough that I kept all of it locked inside, managing the weight of things as best I could.

One evening I took too many of whatever pills I had. I got to the point where I became so drowsy that I was fighting to keep my eyes open. Yes, fighting. A part of me was scared to die, wanted to survive, and I began panicking to take it all back. I stilled for a moment. It was the path I had chosen because I couldn’t deal with my life. I erroneously thought I needed to accept my choice because I would not have gone in that direction if there weren’t reasons. I lay in bed, covered myself and tried to accept the fact that I would never wake up again.

I did wake up. My face and shirt were covered in vomit. As I cleaned myself up as best as I could, I began wondering why I was still alive. I was so close to the end, yet something kept me here. Maybe it was a mistake, an act of God or the workings of simple biology, I was still alive. That had to mean something, right?

Although I had this new view to ponder, I could not escape the shadows of the past. I continued my daily performance, but struggled to keep it going. I began to withdraw from school activities, preferring my bedroom to being around other people. In hindsight, it’s interesting to me that no one noticed. The warning signs were there, but no one picked up on them. Maybe because they were too busy with their own lives, or maybe the truth was too ugly to comprehend, or maybe I was just that good of an actress. Still, I continued to try to make sense out of all of it on my own.

My high school boyfriend was one of the first people I told about these things, specifically the suicide attempts. I had told a school friend before, even after a botched attempt to cut my wrists. Her reaction was to scoff at me, accuse me of seeking attention, and distancing herself from me from that point on. My high school boyfriend was different. He accepted it, was genuinely concerned and even more so, made me promise – on my honor, with what little I had – that I would never try it again.

For whatever reason, that clicked with me. I’ll be honest, thoughts of death do still raise their ravenous heads to this day, but I always remind myself of the promise I made to him. There was at least one person who didn’t want me to die, and I believed him. It has been like an anchor for me.

Still, I go on. The darkness still surrounds me. To this day, even when I have reasons to celebrate accomplishments, a voice inside me says, “Don’t they even realize you’re faking it? What will happen when they wake up and realize you’re not who you say you are? That you really are unattractive and worthless, no use beyond a few minutes of physical gratification. What will they think of you then?”

Although thirty-three years have passed since that day in the children’s home, and multiple years since other traumatic events, I still deal with the fallout today. Even recently I had a panic attack in my office which was directly related to being triggered with a past event, the fleeing response had me scrambling to put distance between me and everyone else, for my own protection. This is the reality of anxiety – I went to the ER on this occasion to rule out a heart attack, and the ER doctor said it all: “You’re heart rate is elevated, your blood pressure is elevated and you have lowered oxygen levels in your heart…but there’s no medical reason for any of this.” That is the reality of anxiety. And worse, the feelings of worthlessness because of these events brings depression back to the forefront to the point where you can’t even get out of bed or leave your home because it’s just too much effort, and nothing seems to be worth it. Your bedroom is safer, although for me, when I was younger, the bedroom was just another way to embrace the darkness.

Part of the pain, like many people struggling with these issues, I logically know there is no reason for any of these reactions, feelings or thoughts. But yet they still come, and I have to wrestle with them in the best ways I know how, always reminding myself of the promise I made.

So, I continue the performance. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Remember this when dealing with others because we never know the struggles that others are shielding from the world.

I’m exhausted with all of this. Be gentle. And for those of you who have read my book, I realize now that the main character of Emma was highly influenced by the thoughts I have about myself that I dare not speak for fear of what you would say. Her internal dialogue that has repelled some of you? That’s what I deal with on a daily basis, keeping it inside, protecting everyone from that discomfort, all out of fear. Not anymore.

No more shame.