No, this isn’t a post about commitment in the way you think. No, this is a post about the darkest day of my life.
It goes without saying this post will be hard to read, and believe me, I’m struggling and wavering about whether to write and publish it.
In October of 1999 I was in my second year of university. I had a boyfriend who loved me; friends to stay up with all night in the dorms; and I was happy with my decision to apply to a concurrent education program to become a French teacher.
One day, my French grammar professor pulled me aside, asked me what I wanted to do and when I told her, she informed me I had no business being in her class let alone teaching French to others. Having spent my entire life overachieving in school, being a goody-goody, teacher’s pet, to say those words burst my bubble would be an understatement.
Now in retrospect, I realise that I’ve suffered from depression at least since my parents separated when I was 6.
That professor, she precipitated what would become my first major depressive episode. Halloween that year saw my one and only true binge drinking experience – I put the guys under the table. This was totally out of character for me but I was slipping and I didn’t know it yet.
Bouts of moodiness, crying, overeating & loss of appetite (yes, you can have both), loss of interest in everything and finally the loss of my sex drive. All of these changes and I just didn’t know or understand what was happening and because at first it all seemed random and disjointed it never dawned on me what was happening.
I was at my parents’ house for reading week when I saw a commercial about depression – it was the epiphany of my life really. I had all the symptoms – it fit. How did I not see it?
I made an appointment and was seen the next day by both my doctor and a therapist. They confirmed my diagnosis. Now it had a name: major depression.
Starting then I was placed on an antidepressant and weekly therapy.
A few months later things hadn’t improved. The medication wasn’t working, talking wasn’t feeling productive and the darkness was swallowing every inch of my soul. I lost the will to fight any more. The suicidal thoughts were almost constant and I was visualizing it is graphic detail. I had written letters to my father and step-mother, my mother and to the Gay BF (who was my BF at that time). I don’t remember when I finally made up my mind but I knew I just wanted to let go because it just didn’t feel like there was anything worth the anguish and torment I was going through.
People say suicide is selfish and it is – I needed my pain to stop. I needed the constant negative, dark, terrifying, hurt to end. And for me, I could not see when that would come if I didn’t end it myself.
The night before the Gay BF picked me up and we drove down to the lake. We walked and talked and I told him I loved him more than he could ever know. He took me home and I thought that was the last time I would see him.
Once everyone left the house I decide to enact my plan. I couldn’t. All I could see were the tears that had streamed down the Gay BF’s face the night before and as I sat there poised to end my life I couldn’t. I called him at work and told him he needed to come get me immediately. While I waited the 25 minutes for him to get there I was in a constant battle with myself not to go back to my plan. Not to follow through…
Our first stop was my doctor’s office where I had to say it out loud, “I planned to kill myself today. I was going to use a knife and slit my wrists”. The words barely left my lips. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t stop crying. I was terrified of my own mind of what it might cause me to do.
They called ahead to the hospital to let them know to expect me.
That night, May 16, 2000, I was committed. I voluntarily submitted to a 72 hour hold because I couldn’t be trusted to be alone. I spent that night in a “safe” room in the emergency ward until a bed opened up for me in the morning. They made me hand over all my clothes. The only things they allowed me were a stuffed Winnie the Pooh and tampons. I was scared and alone. Next to me in another safe room was a girl who screamed out all night; she ranted and raved and it only multiplied my fear of the situation. I don’t remember if I slept – I think they might have given me something to put me out for a while. The next morning, I rode in an ambulance to another hospital with a free bed on the psych ward.
I was really and truly a committed psychiatric patient.
It is and it isn’t what you think or see in movies. There were people suffering from various mental illnesses – schizophrenia, depression, eating disorders, bipolar disorder – you name it, there was probably someone with it in there. All ages, the youngest was a 17 year boy the oldest was in their 60s. Yes, there really was a man who put tin foil on his head. There were people who talked to themselves. There were those that never left their rooms. Those who received electroconvulsive therapy…those things really do happen. But unlike the movies, these are real people’s lives and they are truly sick and in need of love, care, and support.
As horrible as this sounds since I was first diagnosed I’ve often thought, I wish I had cancer. Why? Well it’s acceptable to have cancer. When you tell someone, “I have breast cancer”, they have the appropriate response. They will hug you, visit you in the hospital, send flowers or a card, check in on you, etc. Tell someone, “I’m in the psych ward” and you may never hear from them again. Or worse, they look at you like you’re some kind of deranged maniac they should fear. I lost a lot of friends over this period in my life. No one knew how to approach me so they disappeared.
I spent four long weeks in that ward. Going to therapy, learning techniques to cope, getting my medication sorted out and trying to put myself back together. Being there was my respite from the world, from the stigma, from the fear and loneliness depression breeds. My only concern was to focus on me and getting better. I was surrounded by people who understood. They understood what it’s like to be swallowed by the darkness of one’s own mind. That was a relief.
The Gay BF showed up for me every day I was there except one. He even lent me his favourite sweatshirt that I’d been trying to steal from him for about a year by then so I wore it everyday.
11 years later and for some reason this year’s anniversary hit me hard. I’ve been out of sorts for a bunch of reasons but this has been foremost in my mind lately. I wish I could write that I’ve overcome my depression and it’s all behind me but since then the struggle has continued. I am medicated and have been for about 10 of the last 11 years. I go see a therapist as needed. I try to avoid things that are bad for my mental health. I don’t hesitate to get rid of people who are bad for me. I try to insulate myself as much as possible from things that will cause another episode. You see, depression for me is just a fact of life these days.
I know that I should feel happy or proud that I’ve survived all of this. Made it through the various episodes, through the dark nights, through the pain and despair but most of the time I still feel to ashamed to even admit that I have depression. It still feels like my weakness. I know that’s irrational and ridiculous because if I had cancer those things wouldn’t be an issue. But it’s my mind. There’s something “wrong” with my brain and it doesn’t work the way it should.
So I keep pushing through until the next episode…hoping that it never comes but certain that it will.