There is something so liberating about sharing my experience with mental illness on such a public platform. It is a deliberate choice that one makes. Now, if you Google my name, this blogging platform comes up. You have to be ready for it, and sometimes it takes years of practice on a more anonymous blog before you can be ready. This choice, this path, is not for everyone.
What Courage Is
You might say that it is courageous for an individual to go public about their mental health challenges in this stigmatised society and world. Trust me, it’s not courage. At least not for me. It’s readiness. May I tell you what is courageous? Every single person alive today who is living with, suffering from and trying to overcome a mental illness. What is courageous are the lives of our literary and artistic heroes of the past who suffered from mental illness. Courage also applies to all of those who are anonymous and to those who suffer in silence. But rather than sufferers, I shall name us overcomers. Because we fight to overcome the obstacles we face in our daily living.
Not every day is a fight. On some days the illness can get the best of you, leaving you utterly exhausted and broken. But there are other days when the light at the end of the tunnel is shining. This is called hope. And when you are finally in the recovery stage, standing in full sunlight with the warmth shining down upon you with grace, that is when true living can begin.
Being in Limbo
If you are suicidal and wanting to die every day, that is not living. It is also not death. It is a foggy haze of confusion somewhere in between. You believe you are thinking clearly and you believe that the only way out of your pain is to die. I know that when I have felt suicidal in the past, I have actually said something to this effect: “I know this may not sound rational to you, but it completely makes sense to me and I am thinking clearly. I have to die. I need to drive to the Coronado bridge right now. I am going to kill myself.”
What It’s Like to Feel Suicidal
When you are feeling suicidal there is a sense of desperation and urgency in your voice. You may have sudden relief from your depressive symptoms because you have figured out a solution. That solution is that you are going to die. You feel a surreal sense of calm and relaxation, while at the same time being completely fixated on your plan to carry out your suicide. You almost feel proud of yourself for the creativity of the plan. There’s no reason to make a list now of all of the ways I have thought of completing suicide because suicidal people are always very creative. We also try to be resourceful.
The Suicide Hotline
Before you get in your car to drive off to initiate the sequence of events in your plan, if you are not already there, this is when you call the U.S. suicide hotline (800-273-8255) which routes you to a local centre staffed with professional counsellors. You want to give it one last chance for your pain to be heard. There is a nagging feeling buried deep below the hurt which is whispering “I want to live.” When the therapist at the crisis centre comes onto the phone line your voice crackles as you begin, and then you break down in tears and start to sob. The other end of the line is silent because the therapist is holding space for your tears and for your pain. And then you timidly start talking about your plan and it goes from there.
If you are lucky, the therapist will manage to gently talk you out of moving forward with your suicide plan. Another day goes by without you killing yourself. You have to promise that you are safe before they will let you hang up the phone. You have been saved from your possibly imminent death only to have to live another day with your immense pain. You contact your therapist immediately and schedule a session as soon as possible, even if that means missing a few hours of work.
PERT Never Comes
There are other times when you cannot keep yourself safe and you reluctantly give the therapist your location so that help will be on the way. You hope and pray for PERT (Psychiatric Emergency Response Team) to come along, which never happens because that department of your local police organization seems to be poorly staffed and underfunded. If you are lucky, you end up with a cop who is not downright mean. You either get taken away in handcuffs or in an ambulance because your call to the crisis line was almost too late and you had already partially completed your plan.
What It’s Really Like
Both of these scenarios have happened to me, although I am leaving out the details of having been thrown to the concrete ground, ending up with scrapes and bruises, because I had a sharp object in my hand. Or the time I was visiting my parents and had the house raided by a SWAT team of four police officers with guns drawn because I told the lady on the hotline that I was holding a knife, which I had been secretly using on myself. Even though the knife was dull. I found out later that they call these “hesitation marks.”
Feelings Come and Go But You Remain
If you are reading this paragraph right now, whether you feel suicidal or not, it means that you are still alive and that’s great! You may not agree that it’s great, but it is. Feelings are always temporary, even if they seem to be so darn persistent. They come and then they go. Theoretically, we all know that we don’t have to act on our feelings. But it’s the practice of that theory which is difficult. Tolerating emotions and regulating them takes just that: a lot of practice. Eventually, you become sort of an expert at it, even if it takes years to get there. When you are out of the foggy limbo between life and death, that’s when living can go on. You may not be able to change your life circumstances, but you can eventually change your mindset and your perspective, and thus, your experience. What a relief it is when that day comes!