39 Things To Do Today Instead of Committing Suicide

I am not a professional. If you or someone you know experience(s) suicidal thoughts, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.

Now.

You cannot afford to wait.

 

I thought up this blog after my most recent post, “The Suicide Squad,” which talks about a group of us psychiatric patients joking about our suicidal tendencies. The list below may seem lighthearted, and possibly completely inappropriate, given the severity of the topic, but I mean it quite literally. Some of these seemingly small tasks have helped me rev up, calm down, yell, cry, breathe, and think rationally in the face of very irrational thoughts. In fact, after a long day of wrangling small children, I am in the middle of a nice long #17.

Surprise of the century: suicide is not a joke. In her memoir “Madness,” Marya Hornbacher states that, “about half of all suicides in the US can be attributed to bipolar.” Scary, right? I sure as hell think so. Bipolar disorder has “the highest suicide rate of any psychiatric disorder,” with 25% of bipolar patients attempting suicide in their lifetime. How comforting.

That needs to change. I don’t ever want to go through what the professionals call “suicidal ideations” ever again. This cover photo for me represents triumph, even though it was taken during the very short time I had between inpatient psych facilities. I was able to survive, to live, happily, during the darkest time in my life, even though I seldom remembered it. Suicide wasn’t fake for me, and it isn’t fake for anyone else. This is not The Boy Who Cried Suicide. This is real. It is happening all around you, if not deep within you.

So here you go, a nice conversation starter, 39 things to do today instead of committing suicide:

  1. Sit outside
  2. Listen to your favorite song on repeat
  3. Try yoga, rock climbing or hiking
  4. Clean your room
  5. Talk to a therapist
  6. Buy a journal and write or doodle in it
  7. Run as fast as you can for as long as you can
  8. Scream
  9. Watch Bill Nye the Science Guy on Netflix
  10. Visit your nearest animal shelter and snuggle all of the loving puppers and kittens
  11. Fill out 25 Buzzfeed quizzes
  12. Write an email to your favorite teacher
  13. Remember that your memories cannot hurt you
  14. Read Harry Potter
  15. Watch Harry Potter
  16. Buy something (online shopping counts)
  17. Take a bubble bath
  18. Be with someone
  19. Drink hot chocolate (marshmallows optional)
  20. Take a nap
  21. Color in a coloring book
  22. Call someone you haven’t talked to in years
  23. Go kickboxing (good anger management)
  24. Shave
  25. Write a letter for you to open in 6 months
  26. Eat some ice cream
  27. Put on bright lipstick
  28. Meditate (Headspace and Stop, Breathe & Think are my favorite apps)
  29. Play video games all day
  30. Open the curtains
  31. Get up before the sun (bonus points for watching it rise)
  32. Print out some of your favorite photos
  33. Stare yourself down in the mirror until you think of something nice to say (smiling helps)
  34. Cuddle up in your favorite blanket
  35. Apologize for something you regret (and then let it go)
  36. Buy yourself a present, wrap it up and leave it in your closet to open on your birthday
  37. Think about your spiritual preferences
  38. Say, “I love you”

 

If you resonate with the title of this article, you have a story that needs to be heard. If you feel no one else is listening, I am. Please do share, to someone, somewhere, somehow. It takes the edge off; it really does. Thank you for reading.

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Mental Illness: Guest Post

Hello my loves! Though I’m incredibly happy with the love and support I have received this past month since I started publicly sharing my story, I find myself in a stagnant postion with my blog. I believe my next logical mode of attack will be to swap guest posts with other bloggers, which I’m so so excited about!! I’m looking for someone who writes about mental illness (does not specifically have to be bipolar disorder), who has about as many followers as me (probably around 100-170 since I currently have 136 followers…though if you want to be gracious and let me write for a bigger audience, of course I will accept!), and who writes decently often (at least once every two weeks perhaps). You may use any of the blogs I’ve posted on highrisk1, or I have a series of “flashback” blogs not open to any audiences yet that I can show you. Or I can write about anything you’d like! I do not have specifications for your blog that I will post on highrisk1, except for a decently well written piece of work that catches peoples’ eyes. It can be an excerpt of a blog or an entire blog you’ve already posted on your site, or it can be something new! Along with sharing your blog on highrisk1, I am also willing share it on my Facebook (165 followers), Instagram (514 followers), and Twitter (532 followers) blog accounts! I cannot wait to (hopefully) hear from y’all, and of course I’m willing to “negotiate.” Thank you for reading! xoxo Cat

 

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My First Psychiatric Institution: The Suicide Squad

December 2016

I search through the kitchen, scrounging for something edible for lunch, when the girl who stared at me in group, the under eye circles one, creeps up behind me and asks, “So what are you here for?”

I am startled by her sudden appearance and taken aback by her bluntness. She notices and quickly adds, “If you want to talk about it.”

I put on a tight-lipped smile and respond, “I don’t mind at all. I am here for depression and anxiety. What are you here for?”

“Bipolar disorder.” She’s actually crazy, I mentally note. Bipolar is a real life, medicated for life, institutionalized for life disorder. I pity her.

“What’s your name?” She stares at me with these big, beautiful brown eyes that I didn’t notice until now, because, you know, the under eye circles threw me off.

“Cat.”

“Hi Cat.”

“Hi.”

Staring Girl’s BIF—best institution friend—wears bright leggings and carries around a droopy, rainbow-colored bag at all times. We know when she is on the move because she shuffles her slippers up and down the halls, pacing with stress. We find it quite endearing.

 

We. I’ve started subconsciously grouping myself with everyone else. I think, ponder, contemplate, and realize that I don’t mind it.

 

Shuffler tries to convince me to do the yoga meditation thing.

I decline.

Like most of the practices taught at the institution, I shamelessly do not believe in yoga or meditation. My thoughts race too much for either to have a calming effect on me. And that’s the point: to be silent, to be calm, right? Just doesn’t work for me.

And honestly, I really don’t think smart people meditate.

The more time I spend with Staring Girl, the less intimidated by her I become. She is smart and driven, and I appreciate that, because I am too, and I like having someone who understands me, who is the same type of crazy as me, even if her crazy is still more crazy than mine.

We drown our sorrows with over-exaggerated laughter and late nights of games and gossip, as if we’re in a college dorm, just now moving in and meeting our hall mates. We pull the other patients into our shenanigans, and, suddenly, we are a family. Just like that. I don’t see it coming; I certainly didn’t plan for it to happen. But here we are, and for the first time in months, maybe years, I feel calm. Comfortable. Accepted. Enough.

Eventually my roommate appears out of the deep depths of her slumber. I know she’s been crying, but she’s plastered an almost-convincing grin on her swollen, pink face. She clearly enjoys taking care of others. She makes her way around the room, just checking in with everyone, as if nothing’s wrong, as if she didn’t sleep the past few days away, as if her soul didn’t break and she didn’t end up here.

 

*****

 

The therapists convince me to attempt meditation for the first time. I have a panic attack. Only 30-seconds into the silence, and I’ve already ruined it. My eyes jerk open, and I hold myself tight in my chair, legs curled up, arm hairs standing on edge, heart racing out of my chest.

The therapist says it will get easier.

They say everything will get easier.

Maybe tomorrow.

 

*****

 

A doctor, who also happens to be a patient, and I sit on opposite couches. We think of absolutely nothing to talk about. He’s 55; I’m 19. He’s accomplished so much in his life: gotten through medical school, started his own practice, helped alcoholics cross over into recovery, retired early. I am ditching my university finals in favor of crazy prison. But then again, he’s ditching his golden age in favor of crazy prison. We do have that in common.

Patient Doctor and I hope we will be called into group soon, to avoid the awkward silence, but the therapist must be running late, so we continue avoiding each other’s gaze and pretending that we don’t exist.

I suppose he doesn’t want to be rude any longer; he’s the adult here, so he breaks the silence.

“So, um, what are you in school for?”

“I want to be a doctor.” I give him my closed lipped smile. Oh right, we have that in common too. If I ever graduate. If I ever get out of here.

“Oh really?” He closed-lipped smiles back. “Do you know what kind?”

“I love working with kids with special needs, so I think some sort of rehabilitation. But I also work with kids with medical illnesses, like cancer and kidney failure, so maybe I will specialize in something like that. I know I want to do long term care, so I really get to know my patients.”

He tells me about his life from college to today. What amazes me is how similar his story sounds to mine, or what I expect mine will be, if I don’t get my brain completely un-fucked.

He was accepted into a reputable medical school, and he worked his ass off, staying up all night most nights to study, wanting to not just be good, but be the best. And he was unhappy. But he just had to make it through school, and then everything would fall into place. And he earned the residency of his dreams, and he learned so much more, and felt he had finally found his niche. And he was unhappy. And he had quite the successful career, by anyone’s standards. And he was unhappy. And he retired early. And he is perhaps the unhappiest he has ever been. He feels he’s finished what he was brought on Earth to do, and now there is no more.

I perhaps resonate with that last part the most.

He assures me that I will be fine; this will not happen to me; he didn’t get help; he didn’t take his illness seriously enough. I’m “ahead of the game.” But I’m convinced I will end up exactly like him, and how bad is that really? Successful, high achieving, with more than a comfortable life.

What are the luxuries of life really worth, when your mind lives in the slums, under a makeshift house of cardboard and sticks, with frostbite consuming your appendages, one by one, in the freezing month of December?

 

*****

 

Patients come and go under the voluntary leave policy, but the new guys sense our strong companionship and quickly join in. It fascinates me to watch each patient undergo the same transition I did. Silence for the first day—perhaps a few tears, perhaps a waterfall—and despite the veterans’ attempts at conversation, the words exchanged with the newbies are limited and highly generalizable.

“I’m just depressed.”

“I want to leave.”

“I don’t want to take my meds.”

“Nothing can make my life better.”

Somehow the first night of sleep brings about a new sense of hope, an electrified charge, a sudden stabilization. We soon know everything about everyone. Openness by one opens the door to openness by all.

Except for the things I don’t want to talk about.

We joke around, calling ourselves the “Suicide Squad” after the movie that just came out. The therapists do not find this title nearly as amusing as we do. We are just trying our hardest to forget all of the hopeless reasons we are here. To keep the laughter, the joy, the hope alive, for just one more second. Today I feel on top of the world. So many friends, so much encouragement, just so many and so much, what a future I have in store. I talk loudly and often, without actually saying much, and I’m thankful I just needed a few days here to save me.

A new issue arises: I don’t want to ever leave. I can’t. Outside of these walls, past the locked doors, lies the life I escaped from, and I can’t go back. I want the protection of solidarity, of hiding from everyone who doesn’t understand, forever.

 

My First Psychiatric Institution

December 2016

This institution looks nothing like the movies. It’s set up like a little home, comfy cozy, except everything is confined to one huge room, so they can watch us. There’s a receptionist desk, where the lady who checked me in now sits. She switches between scrolling on her computer and scanning us crazies.

Straight past the desk is a faux living room, with couches and chairs and tables and rugs and coloring books strewn about. Past the living room is a small kitchen, and get this: we’re allowed to check out knives at the front desk! Bread knives and cheese knives and steak knives and butcher knives, oh my! So they think I’m crazy enough to be placed behind locked doors indefinitely, but not too crazy to be denied sharp objects? This seems a little contradictory. Maybe part of receptionist job training involves seeing how fast they can run to the kitchen if one of us crazies starts slicing up something other than food.

My roommate spends most of the morning in bed, facing towards the wall and, more importantly, away from me.

*****

“Time for group,” a therapist chirps down the hallway. I’m sitting alone in a corner and take my sweet time getting up. Nothingness is my persona here: talk to no one, listen to no one, avoid my exams, get fixed, go home. I don’t have time for friends; there is nothing these crazies can give me anyways. I don’t want to be one of them. I am not one of them. I’m “just going through a tough time.” That’s what everyone says to me. “Just a tough time.”

My new patient-mates look surprisingly normal, though I’m not sure what normal is anymore. They’re mostly blue collar, mostly Caucasian, mostly in their pajamas. They’re mostly forlorn, but, despite our current housing situation, decently normal. I question one guy who sports a faded green Mohawk, but I’ve seen much, much stranger things before.

No, no. I chastise myself. They can’t be normal. As long as I continue thinking they’re crazies, I won’t become one.

I am in a black sweater, black leggings, and black boots, which pretty much describes my current mentality.

I stare at them. I squirm in my seat as I feel them staring back at me. I’m the new kid on the block, the most interesting thing that’s happened to this place, at least today. What’s wrong with her, they all think. Why is she here? I am an outsider. I’d like to keep it that way.

We file into the “group room,” heads down, carrying an eerie silence. We are a depressing group. I guess that’s the point.

One girl walks in late, and she inspects me the longest, the hardest, the most intensely, and I can’t help it, I find myself inspecting her back. She can’t be much older than me, but her under eye circles age her otherwise flawless face. She wears three-day-old makeup and a permanent frown. I want to know what happened to her, probably as much as she wants to know what happened to me.

My first group therapy session ever. I confidently dismissed the idea of group therapy until now. I know that no one has the same problems as me, and I definitely don’t want to be clumped together and suffocated along with other freaks.

But here I am, because I have no other option.

This first, uh, teacher isn’t exactly soothing my mind either. He is boring: thin, mid-height, gray haired, your classic forty something, probably-going-through-a-mid-life-crisis year old. But don’t worry; he’s still got the obnoxiously optimistic thing going on. I reminisce on my days with Cookie Cutter, when I was only sort-of crazy and not lock-her-up-and-throw-away-the-key crazy.

“Hello! What’s your name?” No one answers. I absentmindedly turn my head towards the center of the room and realize he is looking at me with the dumbest grin I’ve ever seen.

“Oh. I’m, um, Cat.”

“Well hello Cat. Are you from around here?”

“No. I mean…I go to school here. But I’m from Arkansas.”

“No kidding. Me too!” No. No way. We already have something in common. That means the conversation is supposed to keep going. He overeagerly waits for me to respond, one, two, three, but I don’t feel like talking anymore. So he gives up and turns his goofy smile towards a whiteboard on the wall.

“Today we are going to start exploring Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. This therapy takes a long time to perfect, much longer than the weeks we have together, but once you leave, we offer a free DBT group every week, open to the public.” And he drawls on and on, with his indistinguishable and easily ignorable baritone voice, about this psychological voodoo. I feel my eyelids flutter up and down. I lean back in my chair and scowl, impatiently waiting for class to end. I thought I was dropping out of school, not enrolling in CRAZY 101.

The therapist opens the floor up for conversation.

And the wild rumpus starts.

I am startled awake. The crazies do speak after all! And not only do they speak, but they tell their innermost secrets, their deepest demons, with ease, as if conversing with an acquaintance over morning coffee and donuts. Group therapy converts from a psychology lesson into a compilation of every crime show ever. Abuse, assault, incest, robbery, murder, jail time, custody battles, foster homes. I’ve never heard a person talk about food stamps before now. I didn’t know real people live in trailer homes. I try not to react to their stories, some of which are utterly horrifying, but I don’t fool anyone. I am ashamed of showing my ignorance.

Even our therapist has issues. He admits to his alcohol dependency and explains that, no matter how many years he has remained sober; each day still tests him.

I didn’t expect that.

Before hearing his story, I assumed there were two types of alcoholics: the ones who can stop drinking, and the ones who can’t. I thought that once you left the liquor stores and attended a decent number of AA meetings, you’d be done. Finished. Fixed. On the other side. Not a problem. Never again.

Our therapist refutes my assumptions. He says that any alcoholic can stop drinking, but every alcoholic will most likely live with cravings for the rest of his life. Not so black and white after all.

He begins his final speech for the morning. “The public largely views alcoholism and drug addictions as severe lapses of judgment or character, but not as disorders. However we now know that dependency affects and changes your brain like a mental illness does. Drugs—whether alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, antidepressants, or lithium—affect neurotransmitters and thus change the signaling of your brain. And just like with alcohol or illegal drugs, suddenly stopping your psychiatric medication leads to similar withdrawal symptoms.

“A recent medical breakthrough changed the way we understand alcoholism. Drug addiction is now often seen as a dual diagnosis. This means that dependency forms due to the existence of another underlying mental illness. Treatment of alcoholism is largely unsuccessful without first uncovering the depression or schizophrenia or PTSD or bipolar or other disorder the dependent person may have. Recovery is a multi-step process, with medications, therapy, AA meetings, and support all working together to decrease relapse and keep addicts accountable.”

People around the room nod their understanding. I will later find out that most of the patients, and a decent number of the therapists, struggle with dependency. The number one thing I hear out of the addicts’ mouths is “don’t take the first drink.” Or swallow or snort or smoke. I worry most about the benzo addictions. Sleeping pills. Like my Oleptro. And before that, my Ativan. And before that, whatever I could find in my medicine cabinet: Melatonin, Benadryl, Nyquil, Unisom. Anything. I don’t sleep without meds. My pills send me crashing into blackness before my body has time to protest. I understand the addiction to sleep. I resonate with it. I just get it. I stay alive for the prospect of disappearing every night, under drugs that make insomnia, dreaming, nightmares impossible. Nonexistence. Nothingness.

*****

A therapist reminds everyone that there is a Narcotics Anonymous meeting tonight, and suggests that even people without an addiction come. Perhaps we will learn something.

I like learning.

The alcoholism lesson intrigued me, and I want to learn more. I’m curious as hell, and I figure, and I hope, that I will never have the opportunity, or need, to attend another meeting.

I listen politely as everyone says their names and admits that they, too, are addicts, except now it is my turn, and what the hell do I say? Should I lie? What if they sense my bluff? Will they feel uncomfortable with me here? Will they think I’m judging them? I don’t have time to think. They are waiting for my response. Just spit something out:

“My name is Cat, and I am not an addict.”

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

A hush falls over the crowd. I look around, hoping someone will welcome me, say it’s okay, but no, no one does. After approximately one million years, the person to my right speaks, relieving me of my misery.

I listen to everyone’s story and watch grown men cry and am enamored by the fact that these are normal people, too.

So if the crazy people aren’t institutionalized, where do they go?

Maybe I am the craziest one, and everyone is afraid of me. Maybe they feel the coldness of my heart and know that I am the future killer, the psychotic disaster, the lunatic, and that the nurses will one day pray for my obliteration. Maybe everyone knows this, except for me. I just don’t realize it yet.

At the end of the meeting, I get an NA bookmark, a participation trophy; let the crowds roar, thank you, thank you.

The NA leader hugs me and tells me that she’s happy I came. I thank her profusely. She lifts the weight of embarrassment off of my shoulders, just like that, and she doesn’t even know it. I just wanted to fit in with the crazies. Just for tonight.

Manic Attack Part 2

December 2016

My mom anxiously sits beside me on one of the faded blue couches.

Today is the first day of final exams, I remember. But here I am, sitting and crying uncontrollably in the waiting room of my school’s counseling services.

I am not the normal college student anymore.

I am going insane.

I cannot help but compare myself to the hysterical student I witnessed during my first visit. I ponder my comparative craziness until Cookie Cutter calls my name and gives me his best sickeningly sympathetic smile. Typical. My mom stays in the lobby, but I wish she would come with me. I don’t remember how to speak.

We go to his office, and I sit in my usual chair. He asks me the usual questions, and I give my usual slight nods.

“Are you thinking about self-harming?”

“Are you having suicidal thoughts?”

“Are you making plans to commit suicide?”

“What are your plans?”

“Do you feel unsafe?”

“Alright,” he exhales after finishing my daily intake. “I am concerned for your safety. I think you are devolving, and you need immediate medical attention.” I give another nod, not really listening, not really sure what he’s saying, or what he means, just watching his mouth change shapes, open, shut, open, shut.

“We can take you to the school’s psychiatric ward, where you will not have much to do besides stare at the ceilings and get your meds adjusted.” Open, shut, open, shut.

“Or there is another inpatient facility funded by the state government. Most of my students highly recommend it. It is a short-term—up to two weeks—institution for crisis stabilization. I can check to see if they have any beds available. What do you think?”

His mouth remains closed. I look up to his eyes. He must be waiting for me to say something. But what are we talking about? Oh yes. Beds. Do I want a bed? A bed sounds nice. Plush, comfortable, a safe place to stay forever and ever. Sure, maybe I do want a bed. Or do I?

As I am carefully considering my response, Cookie Cutter scoots himself towards the telephone. He tries his hardest to remain unbiased, to let me decide if I want my plush comfortable safe bed, forever and ever, but I am acutely aware of his personal preference. I just don’t remember if he’s the good guy or the bad guy. Do I trust him? What if the bed has handcuffs? What if they stick needles in my arms and an oxygen mask on my face and turn my brain into mush? That’s a real psych institution…right?

“I don’t feel comfortable making any decisions right now,” I manage to choke out. “Can my mom come decide for me?” I am silent until he agrees.

Cookie Cutter gets my mom from the waiting room, and she sits down across from me, tears silently falling from her eyes. He reiterates the options, and she agrees that the crisis institution sounds best. Both adults fear that I would inevitably rot away in a psychiatric ward. I guess I probably would. The crisis unit, on the other hand, has group therapy every hour from 8:00am-7:00pm, so I will hardly have time to wallow in my everlasting apathy.

It’s like a vacation, they say.

I just need to go away for a while, they say. To hide out, and let the rest of the universe continue spinning, without me in it. And that’s okay, they say.

My therapist calls the institution, and repeatedly uses the term “SI’s,” which seems to catch the other line’s attention. My mom looks confused at the term, but I assume he means ‘suicidal’ something. Intentions? Ideations? I whisper to my mom, to explain what’s happening. Her eyes widen.

Her tears fall harder and faster, enough to fill a swimming pool, maybe even an ocean, and probably the whole universe. My tears stop, as I go into my nothingness. I stare straight ahead, not meeting her gaze.

“Good news,” my therapist states as his hangs up his phone, even though he’s fully aware that nothing is good in my life. “The crisis unit wants you to come in immediately for an interview. Can you get there in the next 30 minutes?”

My mom replies, “Yes of course,” and the next moment we are out the door, on our way. I am crazier than ever, I drowsily realize. And suddenly so, so tired.

*****

My mom and I arrive at the crisis unit. We are entirely underwhelmed by its appearance. Bleak tan walls encompass room after room of desks and underpaid social workers. After a few tries, we find the correct door and enter yet another a poorly lit building, where we meet my interviewer. She leads us to her office, sits us down on a couch, this one a lovely faded brown, and turns on some sort of white noise machine, so no one can hear all of the terrible things I have to say.

The fear of having nothing wrong with me is as deep and fiery as ever, despite everyone’s rush to get me to this “institution.”

institution [in-sti-too-shuh-n]

noun

  1. A crazy people jail for crazy people like me
    • synonyms: psych ward, insane asylum, padded cell, sanitarium, loony bin, snake pit, madhouse
    • antonyms: college, internship, job, life

Maybe this is, yet again, all a fluke. Maybe they’ll send me home with a half-hearted wave and a shrug of the shoulders. Maybe my diagnoses are wrong. Maybe I should remain in nothingness until I reach my dark, nameless, docile grave. No more grief. No more sadness. Just existence. Cool, bare, existence.

This interview-lady is not very bright. She asks the same droll questions as every other therapist ever. My crying phase is long gone, thank you nothingness. I contemplate falling asleep on the couch.

My mom, on the other hand, is a blubbering mess. She, like I, never imagined anyone we knew could end up here, at this kind of place, and certainly not anyone in our family. Certainly not her own daughter. Certainly not me.

I figure my own shock—concerning my inevitable demise—will eventually set in, but right now I’m just rolling with the less-than-stimulating punches. I’m bored. Period. I’m ready for decisions to be made. I’m ready to receive my prison sentence and don my orange jumpsuit.

The interview-lady leaves to consult with the boss-lady, and my mom and I wait, not looking at each other, not knowing what the hell to say or do. I try to think of any time I have ever heard of anyone going to a crazy people hospital. Except all of my examples are from movies or TV shows, because there’s no such thing as real people in real life getting institutionalized.

  1. “Girl, Interrupted”

A movie with essentially no plotline, but honestly who doesn’t want to see Angelina Jolie submit to her psychopathic tendencies?

  1. “Silver Linings Playbook”

Bradley Cooper. Yum.

  1. Some random episode of “Law and Order: SVU”

A psychopath pleads insanity to opt for a hospital instead of prison. Great.

How much better is an institution from a jail cell, anyways?

I’m about to find out.

My brain decides to switch. It wasn’t working mere moments earlier, but now my thoughts refuse to slow down, and they are dragging me behind them, mutilating my body, pulling me faster and faster until my skin falls off and I bleed out.

I’m scratching my skin and yanking on pieces of my hair, like usual, but I’m doing it subtly, so no one notices. It isn’t even really me doing it. It’s them. The thoughts. They make me do everything. They control me. They control my limbs and my actions and my words and my life, I suddenly realize. My mind has been invaded by a deadly virus that grows larger and larger, with more and more thoughts, and I can’t hold them all in. My head blows up like a balloon, and I watch it float away.

Please don’t ever come back.

Interview-lady is back, and she is explaining the issues, oh the issues, concerning my…case? I half-heartedly listen; all I know for sure is that I am in fact getting locked up. Soon. Asap.

Poor Mary, there is no room for her at the inn, the inn being the crisis unit, and Mary being me. Luckily, there is a barn nearby, in the same building no less. This barn is called the acute unit, and it is low stimulation, sure, but I will only live there until a bed opens at the crisis unit. Jesus shall rest easy soon enough.

Except…except…except interview-lady isn’t ready to shut up yet. And so she starts again, explaining, ”usually this would be a good plan to ensure her (hey that’s me!) safety, but we have some particularly tough cases right now. There are only two patients in the acute unit, but one is going through withdrawal, and we don’t want the, um, chaos to stress Catherine,” the formality practically kills me, “more than she already is.”

Apparently going crazy means giving up your right to an opinion, because the lady stares down my mom, and only my mom, when she asks whether I will stay at the acute unit or at “home” (home still meaning the rat-infested Airbnb).

Acute unit it is.

Maybe it will be interesting to watch the “particularly tough cases.” I wonder if being locked in the same room as them will make me feel more or less crazy.

A stroke of “luck” awaits me just a few minutes into my mom’s and my silent car ride “home.” A bed will be open in the crisis unit at 9:00am the next morning! I will stay the night at “home” before being admitted! Great. Grand. Amazing. Best-case scenario.

I, of course, hear all of these thoughts loudly, so damn loudly, excruciatingly, painfully, outrageously, frighteningly. But my mom hears nothing. I am silent on the outside.

The silence of a criminal sentenced to a life of her own personal torture—her brain.

I realize we are driving to the airport. Amongst my madness, I forgot that today is the day my father takes over babysitting duty.

*****

That night, my dad and I watch “Deadpool”—if anyone can make me laugh in this time of sorrow, it’s Ryan Reynolds—and soon enough, I hear his snoring next to my ear, trembling through to my brittle bones. As if I planned on sleeping anyways. I lie awake and consider how exactly I will convince him not to go back to the crisis unit.

Daddy, please don’t make me.

I don’t want to do it.

I’m scared.

I work tirelessly to keep morning from arriving—an unwanted guest, a drunk uncle, sloshing vodka all over your clothes—but it ignores me and shows up nonetheless. My dad gets up and gets ready for the day, the day, but he must prompt me to “get out of bed, take a shower, brush your teeth, pack your clothes, grab your jacket: it’s cold outside, alright let’s go; we’re going to have to get there eventually.”

But Dad.

I can’t do this.

I am a decently firm believer in the idea that everything happens for a reason—except for my mental illness, that’s God just trying to spite me—but the fact that our Airbnb resides exactly two minutes from the crisis unit seems absurdly precise. Unfortunately, this also means that we arrive for my death sentence all too soon; we leave at 8:50am and are still 8 minutes early. Probably the timeliest crazy family this place has ever seen.

I judge the woman who lets us into the building and crossly notice that, yes, she does have to manually lock and unlock the front doors. I judge everything about her as we walk to an office to conduct, you guessed it, another interview. I judge her makeup, her clothes, her shoes, her vernacular. This woman is no more insightful or interesting than the rest of them. I sign my name where she tells me to sign, and my dad asks a million questions: “When can I visit?” “When will she see the doctor?” “How does the checkout process work?”

Oh. My ears perk up.

Yes, please tell me when I get to leave; I’d like to start working on that right about now. You see; this is all a practical joke. I am normal, with a normal life, normal friends, normal grades, normal parties, normal drinking, normal kids being kids. Nothing out of the ordinary here, so please move along.

My façade dissipates as she leads me to my room, which has no windows and no locks and no appeal whatsoever, and tells me to say my goodbyes. My dad and I sit on the edge of my bed, and he holds me, and I am silent, but my eyes are filled to the brim, another drowning hurricane ready to destroy me.

And he doesn’t want to be kicked out, so he gets up to leave, but when he looks back at me, with his brief-but-yet-too-long glance, he is ready to grab me and race out of this prison as fast as he can. And I’m ready to go with him.

But I also realize that I have to stay. I need to. I have no more options.

Manic Attack

December 2016

Screaming. Excruciatingly desperate. Dangerously loud. Pain expressed with every sound; helplessness released with every breath.

I sit up in my bed, surrounded by darkness. The sun starts peeking between the curtains of the bedroom. I look around, trying to figure out where the damn screeching is coming from. I was perfectly content pretending I was dead. Sleep is the only thing that relaxes me now. The only thing I crave within my aimless, and honestly pathetic, existence.

But this stupid bawling freak ruined everything.

I feel tears falling freely from my squinting eyes, down my hot cheeks, to the covers of the bed.

Lethal silence.

The screaming resumes. I cover my ears, begging the horrific sound to stop. I feel it piercing through my skin, so I start scratching, my arms and my chest and my back, trying to get it out.

Stop.

Stop.

STOP.

PLEASE. I CAN’T TAKE IT ANY LONGER.

I realize that the sound is coming out of me. And I cannot stop.

I don’t feel like me. I feel like a ghost, completely dissociated from me the human. I imagine myself getting out of bed, but I don’t feel my legs moving. I examine the room, in which I have resided for the past week, but recognize nothing. I suddenly stop screaming. I don’t know why I do, but I do. The pain remains. The kind of pain that rests deep within your soul. The kind of howling pain that, try as you might, you cannot claw out of your broken body. The pain that no one else sees, no one else feels. No one who hasn’t felt it can comprehend it. I truly believe I am alone. Not literally: my mom is in the kitchen, frantically throwing things into her purse. Keys, medication, breakfast, medication, water bottle, medication, medication, medication. All mine.

But though I am not literally by myself, I am alone in my brain. I cannot let anyone else in. My brain is too scary, too messed up for the real world. And try as I might, I can’t get it to just shut the hell up.

SHUT UP.

Ouch. Thinking hurts too much. My eyes widen, and I purse my lips. Now I feel nothing. Nada. Zilch. There it is again, my favorite escape mechanism: sudden nothingness.

My mom picks up her coat, hands me mine, and quietly pleads with me to leave this depressing basement. We’ve rented an Airbnb since my last really big panic attack, so that I can still go to school. The single room apartment is dark and has “just a little rodent problem,” the owner tells us after we’ve put in our deposit. But I cannot stand to be anywhere else. I barely get to class each day, and only because my mom drives me to and from.

I want to be locked away in this basement home indefinitely.

My mom drives us to CVS to pick up my latest medication refill.

Classic teen angst, right?

         The feelings will go away soon, right?

         Just be grateful for all that you have.

         Snap out of it.

         This is your fault.

I cover my ears, but the voices in my head are stubborn. They won’t leave me alone, no matter how hard I try to shush them.

Since my diagnosis, I have swum through a sea of drug and dose changes, but no luck. Yet. They continue to convince me—the therapists and the psychiatrists—that the pills will fix something, somehow, some day. They supposedly fix everyone else. So despite my lack of results, I take my meds religiously. Because I want that something, somehow, some day, so damn badly. I want a taste of normalcy. I want to experience happiness again.

I don’t know if I will experience happiness again.

I don’t know if I can wait for happiness to knock on my door and invite me back into its warm, loving grasp.

I don’t know if I have ever really experienced true happiness before. Ever.

I think I give up.

After glancing at my swollen, pitiful face, my mom decides to run inside CVS herself. She is unable to hide her utter confusion. And fear. She promises to be back “as soon as possible.” She grabs five empty orange bottles, all with perfectly white tops, all of which attempt to fix my brokenness:

 

  • 40mg of Prozac, an SSRI antidepressant, which means it keeps serotonin in my brain longer, and is the main mode of attack for my depression, sans success thus far
  • And 25mg of Oleptro, an SARI antidepressant, which also keeps serotonin in my brain longer, but most importantly is the only reason I sleep at night, and this sleep is vital to my existence, and I understand why this drug is highly addictive, because blacking out at this point is highly addictive
  • And 25mg of Atarax, an antihistamine, which should put me to sleep but does not, and which should calm my anxiety but does not
  • And 50mg of Elavil, a tricyclic antidepressant, which theoretically prevents headaches
  • And 10mg of Rizatriptan, which constricts blood vessels in my brain to relieve migraines, but I am not supposed to take this drug right now, because it is dangerous with my other meds, and can induce serotonin syndrome

 

Serotonin syndrome…what did my psychiatrist say about serotonin syndrome? Oh right. Serotonin syndrome is this very, very bad, not good, bad, toxic range of symptoms that occur due to, somewhat obviously, too much serotonin in the brain. It is a life-threatening condition at its worst, but its warning signs mimic the symptoms I’ve presented for months, so I do not think I have too much serotonin.

I thought I didn’t have enough serotonin.

Because if I had enough, I would be happy.

Right?

The panic attacks prove it, but I still do not know that serotonin syndrome is officially at full force.

I shake and my heart races and my blood pressure skyrockets and my pupils permanently dilate, but this is all just part of my day, everyday. I am just crazy, and I don’t know why, and I don’t know how, but I know I am. Don’t blame the drugs; only blame me.

The night before, I swallowed 4 Atarax, 2 Oleptro, and an Elavil in a desperate attempt to sleep, perhaps forever. I would have taken more, but my mom closely monitors my medication consumption, so that’s that. But despite my drug concoction, I tossed and turned all night and shouted and bawled all morning.

My mom knows that something is terribly wrong, even worse than usual, so after CVS she drives me to my therapist. I feel defeated; even my mom cannot console me. I am a useless daughter, more of a struggle than a light in my parents’ life. My guilt is too powerful.

I repeat my dad’s words like a mantra. “The only thing we have to do is keep you safe.”

But that doesn’t stop my brain from screaming.

Misdiagnosed With Depression: Panic Attacks Part 2

November 2016

I am one month into my antidepressants when my psychiatrist tells me she has not seen any improvement in my “condition.” She doubles my dose of Prozac to 40mg, which, by the way, induces a hell of a lot of serotonin into one little tiny depressed body. I glare at her. I’m pissed that I’m not fixed yet. I’m pissed that she hasn’t fixed me yet. I stomp out of her office, like a little kid, and head to the bar, like a big kid. My friend and I each order a pitcher of hard cider, and I try my best to drink away my anger. My impatience. My frustration. My resentment. And, secretly, my fear. But I would never admit to feeling that feeling. That feeling is weak. That feeling is vulnerable. I am not weak. I am not vulnerable.

We down three glassfuls apiece. Then I leave to celebrate one of my sorority’s sister’s birthdays. By now the up of my intoxication cancels out the low of my not-fixed-yet-ication. I smile widely, feeling as good as ever, getting excited because my sorority sister does not know we are throwing her a surprise party, but here we are, throwing her a surprise party! Surprise! I cannot taste anything that I put into my mouth anymore. I have a cup of flavored liquor that someone keeps refilling. Maybe I’m the someone who keeps refilling. Potāto, Potäto. I cannot see straight, but I don’t care. I am just having some good, clean, college fun. I haven’t felt this good, clean, college in forever.

We hide, red solos in hand, and wait for a knock on the door.

My sorority sister shows up at her apartment, where we are all waiting, if you’ve forgotten, and the festivities begin. I am falling all over the place—wearing heels wasn’t the best idea—but someone always picks me back up. I am swirling and twirling my body, to match the swirling and twirling of my brain.

Until…

Until?

Until I feel my heart speeding up. Until I feel my stomach clenching tighter and tighter. Until I feel the impending doom.

I thought I was safe.

Just for tonight.

But everything hurts.

Everything hurts just as vividly, just as intensely, just as fully and totally as the first time.

I run out the door and try to close it behind me, hoping no one sees me leave. I don’t want to ruin the party. I stare at the walls outside the apartment, feeling dizzy and tired and completely hopeless. My head aches, and I wait for the tears to come, but my face remains dry. I keep staring.

One by one, people come out to check on me. I wave them away, “I’m fine I’m fine,” but a few are persistent. Someone picks me up off the floor and takes me home. I shake in her arms.

I am sat down on my bed. My shoes are removed. My shirt is pulled up over my head. I am put in pajamas and laid down. My covers consume me. Advil and a water bottle are placed on my bedside table. But I cannot stop shaking.

I call my parents over and over again, I need their help, but it is midnight, and their phones are off. My friend rubs my back and plays with my hair and tells me it is all right; they will call me back first thing in the morning. The tears finally fall. Hard. A torrential downpour. The Great Flood.

I cannot breathe.

I cannot see.

I cannot think.

I cannot exist.

I shake and shake until the alcohol consumes me, and I pass away into heavy, inky black oblivion.

The next morning, before I wake up out of my hung-over slumber, my parents call me back, over and over again, but it is 8:00am, and my phone is off. Eventually I wake up, and eventually I answer my mom. After about five minutes of my exhausted, unintelligible moans, she decides that she will come up to school to be with me, no matter how long the trek, no matter how long she needs to stay. She leaves our home, and—tick tock, tick tock—14 hours later she arrives.

We live out of a hotel room, textbooks and moldy cheese and empty water bottles strewn about. I feel like a pig, but I cannot return to my apartment without anxiety taking over my fragile existence. Just the thought of the memories made there induces a death-defying panic attack. I become sick to my stomach, my body preparing myself for my next dreadful thought. I quietly cry and pull at my hair, begging my brain to stop.

I attend most of my classes now, but only to appease my mom. Despite my mental “condition,” I excel in most of my exams and papers, using them as an excuse to hyper-concentrate and forget the rest of my miserable life. But when a panic attack hits in the middle of a test, it’s game over. A’s and F’s and nothing in between. I’m stupid for the first time in my life.

*****

Thanksgiving break comes around, but I only use it to further exhaust my mind. At the beginning of the semester, the crazy part of me decided to take ridiculously difficult classes. And the crazier part of me told me I could succeed in all of them simultaneously. Chemistry, Neurobiology, Research Ethics, and Microeconomics are a deadly combination at my school. I drown.

Throughout my “break”, I ignore most of my extended family members’ politically incorrect comments and questions about my “sickness.” Hesitation, confusion, and discomfort fill the air.

On my last day at home, I decide to see a girl who never fails to make me feel better: my 15-year-old, full of spunk and sass, extra chromosome and extra loving Baby-Girl. She is a short statured African American high schooler with Down syndrome, but, more importantly, she is also the love of my life. We met when I was 17, during my first summer working as a camp counselor for children with a wide variety disabilities and illnesses.

Ironically, for the past four years, I’ve been an avid advocate (say that three times fast) for children with autism, Down syndrome, and other developmental delays. I enjoy explaining to people how much neuroscientists and psychologists are learning about the brains of people with mental differences. “Mental health is an exciting and rapidly growing field!” “Now there are brain scans that prove many disabilities exist!” “We are diminishing the stigma!”

I try to tell myself what I always tell my kids: you are different, not less. Different, not less. Different, not less. Never less.

Except my kids are cute and resilient and I’m just depressed.

I wonder if I’ve always been so interested in brains because deep down I knew something was very wrong with mine.

I take my Baby-Girl out for a late lunch. My phone dies, so we go on an adventure to Wal-Mart to pick me out a colorful car charger.

As we walk to the cash register, hand in hand, I get a text that sends me into a panic. Out of nowhere, but not surprisingly at this point, I choke and reach for my throat. My breathing ceases. I take Baby-Girl back to my car, so I can cry silently, blasting music so she doesn’t notice.

I now have tangible proof that something is very wrong with me. My Baby-Girl always cheers me up. Always. Except not today. She giggles and plays with the radio, and I try to crack a smile and a few laughs, to hide the further jagged fracturing of my shrinking heart. But I keep the lights off, so she doesn’t see the teardrops pouring down my face.

After dropping Baby-Girl off, I drive tens of twenties of miles too fast down the interstate, not caring if I crash, and subconsciously hoping I will. I get home and cannot speak. As my family sits at the dinner table, I do not touch my food. I am trying to go back to nothingness. It is a futile attempt. My parents see me devolving and suggest I go to my room, so my brother doesn’t witness the environmental disaster that I am. But my screams echo down the hall, not fooling anyone, a tornado rapidly destroying everything in its presence.

My dad comes in and holds me. He tells me that the only thing we have to do is keep me safe. I don’t have to go back to school. I don’t have to do anything. I can be nothingness for a while, if I want to, if I need to.

He mentions a psychiatric institution for the first time.

I just cry.

In the morning I do not feel better. My mom resolves to come to the airport and back to school with me again. My dad will fly to me later, to continue babysitting me, so I can finish my final exams and come home.

They tell me that I don’t even have to finish my exams.

They tell me I can stop at any time.

I suck in air, the chill flowing through my mouth, down my throat, to my lungs, waking me up.

This chill is the only reminder that I am still alive.