Thursday, December 31, 2015
The first third
A muddy blur
Exploded into existence
It was an error to ignore all the tremors
Psychedelic love met resistance
For emotional surgery
Paper dreams went up in smoke
A summer in vain spent fanning the flames
But he took and she took and they took
Feeling foolish because deep down I knew
Finally believing there’s no need to stay hidden
Though others left, my circle grew
What would it have cost to be kind?
Mending and grieving via drawing and weaving
Cocooning with the butterflies
Goodbye and goodbye
With head held high
What a twisted end to this game
Cold shoulders and dark hours
I was bracing for a winter that never truly came
Wednesday, December 30, 2015
When a doctor led me into an interview room to assess my mental state, I told her what I thought she needed to hear in order to set me free. It’d been two days. I said I felt better. That no, I didn’t feel like killing myself anymore. That I was just really sad over the breakup. That I could continue recovering at home. That I would be safe.
She didn’t believe me.
She said that my intense reactions, overwhelming emotions, and tendency to self-harm in various ways could be indicative of a more serious underlying issue. I hugged my knees as she told me that I would not be going home that night either. What would it take?? Eventually, a little flicker started to go off in my brain as I wondered if this could be what I’d been needing all along. If I couldn’t go back, then maybe there was something to find moving forward. No one knew how awful I’d felt most of my life. When my father was interviewed about my past behavior, he easily answered that I was mild-mannered and successful, focused and quiet, yes, but never violent. Only A. knew the extent of my suffering because he had to live through it with me. And I so wished he were there to comfort me as I sought my way through this mess, but he was gone. God knows where he was at that time.
Upon hearing that I would not be discharged, I decided there was no use hiding anymore. As I began unraveling before her, a voice told me I was only digging myself in a deeper hole; they’d never let me go now. Another told me this was my chance to finally get the help I needed. Years of going to therapy had done nothing for me; I still felt severely depressed. When I was hurt emotionally, I’d let myself "bleed out" until I’d finally grow empty and numb, absolutely exasperated with myself; I’d feel that deeply. I’d hold things in until they burst out in flames. I was constantly fighting against the mean voices in my head. Even in my happy days, the joy was short-lived. This dull ache was always lying underneath and I truly believed that a consistent happiness was just not in the cards for me. I will always sink back to sad.
I believed that if I just talked to someone long enough, an answer would suddenly appear and make things all better. This doctor, who I remember as being sweet and kind and beautiful, said there was never a plan with my methods. That was true, I wanted to figure it out all by myself and felt that therapy could unlock something for me. But I didn’t know that wasn’t enough. It was never going to be enough, and here I was finally facing that idea.
It was the first time anyone had ever mentioned the words “mood disorder” as a reason for my behavior. Which? She couldn’t say, but she suggested the possibility of taking medication to help me cope with the surges in the meantime. After just a few months of being on antidepressants in my mid-20s, I had sworn I would never go on medication again; it was that awful of an experience. In a letter to A. describing this moment, I wrote:
“All this time I’ve wanted to tackle my issues without chemical assistance, but it’s been an exhausting uphill battle. Every single day I’m gritting my teeth, hoping I don’t fuck up. I am so tired. I just wanted to be free of this endless suffering. I was terrified, regretful, so many emotions. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I can’t do this anymore. I’m so scared, but while I talked to the doctor, I felt some hope that things could get better. That there’s an answer in all this.”
She also wanted to transfer me to an inpatient clinic within the hospital facilities where I could be monitored and have access to resources that would help me address my issues. I asked the important questions first.
“Will there be access to Internet?”
“Yes, and you can write from there or do art and other activities.”
Cut to me envisioning a mini staycation of sorts. I could have my laptop and keep working from my room or wherever there was a WiFi connection. There’d be a window with a view. I could paint and continue my ongoing art projects. And if I was struggling through anything, I’d have doctors available to get me through the hurdle. It sounded like mental health sleepaway camp! I never got to go to sleepaway camp!
I signed the agreement hoping that there would be a slot available for me soon, and took my first dose of mood stabilizers that evening. It was the first time in days that I’d been able to sleep soundly through the night - save for those wretched vital checks, of course.
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
If you thought going through a breakup from the comfort of your own bed was tough enough, imagine trying to heal that heart from a hospital emergency room at one in the morning alongside a row of patients moaning through their own personal hell. That. Shit. Sucks. There’s no crying in peace when a thin, white bed sheet is all that separates you from the rest of this God forsaken triage.
It wasn’t until I’d recounted my story several times over that I figured I could deaden the pain by focusing on the people around me. One belligerent woman had to be strapped down and sedated after an unsuccessful suicide attempt involving a bunch of pills and a bottle of liquor. Somehow the woman was still very much alive and kicking and fully believing she was fit to walk out the door. “That’s going to be one God awful hangover in the morning,” I thought.
But where the hell was my family? I was sure they would start questioning their decision to bring me in after seeing the lot I was lumped in with here. See? At least I wasn’t that far gone! I wanted to go home, but no one was giving me any answers, just more of the same damn questions.
“Tell me what happened. Why were you brought in?”
“Did he hit you?”
“Have you ever done drugs?”
“Earlier you indicated that you were having suicidal thoughts. Are you still thinking of hurting yourself?”
“How are you feeling now?”
“We’re still waiting to hear back if you’re able to go home.”
I couldn’t tell you how long we waited in the emergency room; there was no clock and my cell phone had been confiscated along with everything else I’d worn in. My father and sister were still out in the waiting room and I’d catch glimpses of them walking by, trying to get answers from anyone. Because I was kept in a small communal area, my family couldn’t stay long with me, but I’d try and catch their attention whenever I saw them pass by the nurses’ station. I just wanted someone to come lie next to me, hug me, and tell me things would be okay. I wanted warmth. If I was going to feel this alone, I would have rather locked myself in my bedroom and curled up under the covers until the numbness took over. There was no sleep here.
At around four in the morning, another nurse came to transfer me to another holding area where I would stay through the rest of the night. I was cranky and not as happy to comply with their demands. Where were they taking me now? How long would I be there? And didn’t they know I had work to get to in the morning? Did they expect me to just suddenly stop my life over this?
Oh, did they.
I asked if they could at least bring me my phone to quickly shoot off a few vague emails along with a handwritten note to my sister on what she should tell my employers. They clearly didn’t want me to have these possessions for a second longer than necessary because as soon as I was done, they grabbed my things, gave them to my sister, and locked the hallway door behind them. Now it was just me and these fools.
I was ushered into a larger communal pen lined with reclining chairs and sleeping bodies. The area was dark save for the lights along the passageway the circled around the holding area. Security guards would check in on us from time to time, entering the pen through one side and exiting through the opposite end. I’d watch them come and go, come and go. I curled up on my chair, wrapping the oversized hospital gown around my cold feet, and then the blanket over every inch of me. Whenever I’d hear a rustle, I’d go on high alert, immediately stopping my sobbing to listen to what was going on in the darkness. At one point in the night, a shadow - one of the male patients - stood a few feet from my chair and just watched over me for a few minutes. I’m sure he just wanted to help somehow because I’d been crying and shaking so much, or at least that’s what I’m going to tell myself, but there was no way in hell I was falling asleep in that place. Days later, a patient I’d grow to befriend said she felt sorry and concerned when they first brought me in; I looked so sad, scared, and alone.
Oh, the snoring, wandering patients, people chatting, my constant vigilance; sleep deprivation was a given. Even if I had managed to doze off, those insufferable nurses would roll on through to check your vitals every three to four hours aaaall night and aaaall day. I didn’t brush my teeth for two days. I don’t remember caring.
I was thrilled to see that the woman with the shrill voice and colorful language from the emergency room had made the transfer over here as well. Absolutely fabulous really. Since I couldn’t run away from these people via reading or writing, I just sat and observed. I wanted to remember everything. Some of us were in there due to suicide attempts while others seemed to be addicted to one thing or another, led into this fine establishment by concerned family members who didn’t know what the hell to do with them anymore. Those struggling through withdrawals would cry out for their methadone doses, more nicotine gum, patches, food, more food! Soon I was one of them, getting my daily cancer medication in a teeny plastic cup at the beginning of each day. I was stuck in an endless reel of mealtimes and getting my vitals checked.
“No, thanks,” I’d say whenever the cart rolled by. “I’m not hungry.”
Secretly, I was starving.
Visitation hours were in three time blocks throughout the day, so my family was there three times a day without fail. It was comforting to see someone I knew. It helped break up the otherwise nothingness that filled those first couple of days. In my craving for connection, I befriended a distraught woman who was placed in the chair beside me. I so wanted a friend in there and we were…for about a day until she was transferred to a psychiatric institution somewhere north of the city. I made it a point to find her before she was wheeled off to the ambulance and hugged her goodbye.
I still think about her. I hope she also made it through.
By the time my sister arrived an hour later, I’d started murmuring that I wanted to stop. I wanted to stop feeling. Feeling was taking too much out of me and I was so, so tired. She’d stroke my hair as I rested my head on her lap and ask what I meant by it. “I want it to end,” I said, dazed and numb from expending so much energy. “I don’t feel well…”
When she asked directly, “Dorkys, are you thinking of hurting yourself?” I couldn’t bring myself to say yes or no. This was my little sister. I couldn’t tell her, “Yes, you’re so close to losing me. I’m sorry. I just can’t care anymore.” I wasn’t ready for what an affirmative answer would bring, but I also knew better than to lie and say no. Answering, “I don’t feel well,” was my compromise. It was all she needed to hear.
What I wouldn’t give now to not have put her in that position. To not have yelled at her from the bathroom, “No! No! Please don’t!” while Dad hugged me so she could step out to call 911. "What are you doing?!" I kept crying out.
I absolutely hated them. I simultaneously wanted them to hug me and leave me alone. Why couldn’t they see that I was suffering through a heartbreak? I just needed more time to let it out. But even though I didn’t want to go to the hospital, something inside me kept me from saying I’d be okay. I did not think I’d be okay. I could not trust myself to be okay, which is why I didn’t run or lock myself in my room until this ride came to a screeching halt. I knew I was beyond their help.
This wasn’t the first time I’d struggled with suicidal thoughts. While I’ve never attempted to end my life, I’ve swirled the idea around in my head since I was a teenager. Suicide stories fascinated me and I can rattle off the pros and cons for various option. How did they do it? How much pain did they feel? What drove them to see death as the better option? And, did they succeed? The answer to that final question is one of the factors that have kept me from ever trying (along with the fact that I love my siblings too much to scar them in that way). As someone who’s terrified of even a needle prick, the idea of attempting and failing sounds like a fate worse than death. What if I end up trapped in my own body, my mind churning in a vessel that refuses to respond? What if I jump in front of an oncoming train only to have my limbs severed? Or what if I suffered the slow and painful decline that comes from renal failure caused by an overdose of painkillers? While I’m in the fog, it does seem enticing, just ending everything. No more pain, no more struggles, no more stressing over the bills, or deadlines and an overflowing inbox. Once it’s done, you’ll feel nothing. You won’t feel sadness, pain, or regret. It’s just *poof* over.
But I know that, for me, it’d be a cry for attention, for help, and the same is true for some others who’ve attempted suicide. They want someone to show up, to care, to save them from themselves, to remind them that this feeling won’t last forever. You forget, you know, that you will eventually return to better, and thinking of those who’ve regretted their decision soon after beginning a successful attempt hurts my heart.
I hated my family for sending me to the hospital, but could I blame them? I left them no choice. Here they were responding to my cry for help before I yelled out any louder. So when a small army of police and EMTs came to escort me outside (“We take suicide attempts very seriously,” one said.), I slowly got dressed, still wiping my face with my sleeves, and looked at my feet as I made my way down the stairs, confused, ashamed, and devastated that I didn’t know how to properly handle a breakup.
Monday, December 28, 2015
It’s taken me a while to return to this space after dusting things off because writing about fun and festive happenings seemed frivolous in comparison to what I really wanted to say. It’s all that’s been on my mind as the year comes to a close, but I wasn’t ready to offer it up. Or rather, I wanted so badly to release it, but the right words and the energy hadn’t arrive yet.
I'd been bracing for the holidays and the sadness that I knew would come with it. I spent Christmas Eve with my family and once the night ended fairly early, I retreated to my couch and spent the next two days cocooning. I was to give myself whatever I wanted in the coming days, my therapist said. If I wanted a cookie, I would eat a cookie. I do not like cookies. I hate cookies, but I didn't object to her suggestion. Turns out I didn't need too much to feel soothed, just the feeling of coziness and something important to hold all my attention. I'd never written about the night of my breakup with A. or the things that followed save for a letter I wrote to him while I was away and now I found myself ready to process it the best way I knew how.
This year, I celebrated Christmas Day with my laptop, thoughts, and a steady stream of hot cocoa; the bag of marshmallows stayed by my side all weekend. I wrote and I wrote so many strings of letters. It seems all I needed was to start and out they came. The temperature was uncharacteristically warm for this time of year, so no snow, but we got days of rain instead. And save for a brief walk around my neighborhood on Christmas night, I just sat here in the quiet to allow my story to pour out.
And then I got sick.
In the days leading up to my breakup with A., I was stressing over my upcoming debut at the National Stationery Show. After years of working towards this goal, I wanted Porcupine Hugs to be as successful as possible at this popular New York City trade show. It was all I could think about and I was needing extra care, love, and attention as the show was just a month away.
There were other factors that played into my mounting anger and impatience towards A. in those days, but I’ll get into that another time. Just know that a refusal to help me the night before things ended between us was enough to cast yet another net of passive aggressiveness his way. After several minutes of standing in front of him in silence trying to fix our dinner salad while being reprimanded for being so selfish and inconsiderate about his time and that perhaps I'd bitten off more than I could chew, I held it in, held it in, held it in…and then I just reacted. I didn’t think or see, I just felt and that fury immediately translated into action.
"STOP IT!!" I yelled as I launched the two forks in his direction, not with the intention of hurting him, but because I was over his endless tirade. One found his neck, and just as quickly, I was pinned up against the wall. It’s been eight months since that night and I still feel guilt and shame over it. It’s a damned spot I can’t ever wash off.
I don’t know why I didn’t figure out that something else was wrong with this picture, with him and with me. Before he left for work the following morning, we were still arguing and his refusal to consider my position only made me spin even more out of control. God, it hurt. Everything was surging. One moment I was pleading that he stay for a little longer so we could talk things through and the next I’m punching the wall at rapid fire speed with no intention of stopping until he pulled me away. I hurt, I needed attention, I wanted help, but I didn't know why. I just wanted to keep releasing the inner explosions until I finally turned to lean against the wall and slid to the floor while grabbing at my hair and losing my grip. I was hemorrhaging via emotion with no idea I had a wound that needed to be plugged.
Perhaps it was sheer delusion or the fact that we’d been close to the edge before without ever tipping over, but I believed we could fix things when he returned home from work that evening. Except this time was different; it had gone too far. I won’t go into the details of that loud, awful night, but I won’t ever forget how dead and black his eyes looked when he screamed that he was leaving me over and over and over as he packed up his bags and I begged for a conversation. I refused to accept it until he finally managed to yank his backpack from my clutch and stormed out the door.
I didn’t chase after him this time. I might have if I didn’t feel so paralyzed. All I could do was crumple to the floor and reach out to someone for help. I called my sister. I called my dad. I called my best friend who lived out of town because I needed someone’s voice to hold me together until someone arrived. My father found me on the bathroom floor when he walked in, a sobbing incoherent mess, hugging my knees so tight to keep my chest from exploding. Then I’d switch and lash out at him for trying to soothe me into feeling better. He couldn’t possibly understand how much I hurt with his gentle voice and open arms. What the hell could he do for me now? So I’d take it out on the roll of toilet paper hanging in front of me, spinning and spinning and shredding it until I’d collapse onto his lap again, flying back and forth between crying and pure hatred. There was no end to this feeling.
When you’re in the state I was in, there is no concept of transiency. This hole is all you know, all you’ve ever known, and it’s where you will live forever. There is nothing that exists after this. The human mind is an amazing deceiver and I was in too vulnerable of a state to ever consider that what I was thinking and feeling wasn’t permanent. I was sure I was going to die this way. It was just a matter of time.