Thirty-three years ago today (well, the Monday before Thanksgiving) I woke up in the nut house, aka Milledgeville. The day before, I had attended a Rod Stewart concert. Pumped up on Quaaludes and who remembers what else, I drove to an ER because my friend who accompanied me (and joined in the partying) was having an epileptic seizure. I was in my own emotional distress and once there, picked up the phone to call a couple of people (letting them know I would see them burn in hell) and calling my Mother to tell her where I was. Mom showed up at the hospital and the only memory I have of her visit is the two of us in the hospital chapel; me laying on the floor screaming vile obscenities about her, my family, my life, and my suffering – a scene straight out of The Exorcist. Fortunately, I don’t have much of a visual left in my memory but I do have a shortness of breath and blockage in my solar plexus when I allow the memory to enter my consciousness. [Writing this makes me realize it is not completely healed if my memory allows me to continue to feel the pain.]
At some point that (Sunday) night I was back home with my roommate safely in her bed; having managed to leave the ER. I was 24 years old and already married and divorced. I had no direction; no vision for my life. I had recently taken on a lover who brought deep guilt and shame, and visited my ex-husband who brought on venereal disease that brought more shame and guilt from the medical institution where I sought penicillin. I saw no point to my life. I felt no joy. And mostly, I saw no joy in others. All families are dysfunctional and I’m not going to publicly share my family’s experiences but I will share my own experience within the family. To me, it was as if no one could get along. There was a lot of arguing, blaming, shaming, lying, and non-speaking (truths or even niceties). There was a HUGE cloud of passive-agression, a term at the time I did not understand. And somewhere in my drugged stupor came the idea that if I killed myself, it would change everything for everyone.
I began to think it out… I visualized my body lowered into the ground and my family standing around crying. I thought about how terrible everyone would think it was, given that I was the baby of the family. I saw in my mind’s eye, my family coming together as one…in love…through deep suffering. I thought I could manifest as the suffering we were all experiencing and in so doing, bring relief from their suffering. I’ve never really been afraid of dying or death, so these thoughts were not out of the realm of possibility as they might be for some people, no matter how deep their own suffering.
I lit candles, turned off the lights, swallowed a bottle of valium given to me by my gynecologist, (I told Dr. C. W. Long I needed someone to talk to; he told me I needed pills) and picked up my Bible. I wasn’t a religious person. I’d grown up Episcopalian but by this time I was much more aligned with Eastern Spirituality – although I wasn’t devout or even practicing any specific belief system.
It’s hard to explain to those who can’t conceive killing themselves or to anyone who hasn’t experienced an out-of-body experience, but that’s what I felt like. I saw things…visions of the future…and then I was visited by Father Walker, a priest whom I dearly loved and who died when I was young. (That same night, his wife who was also deceased, visited someone in a dream and told them I was in trouble.) He sat next to me on the bed and explained that it wasn’t my time to go….that I mustn’t go through with my plan because I had not completed my life’s purpose. He told me to call someone and tell them what I’d done. He was specific about who I should call and the next memory I have, I was in the ER throwing up, with her by my side. I agreed to commit myself to help, and fell asleep in the back of a police car as we drove toward Milledgeville.
It’s interesting what memories I have (and maybe don’t have) of that night and fascinating how that night and every action I took – every decision I made – has influenced my life over the past 33 years.
When I reflect on this experience there’s a great deal to share – too much for now. I’ve often considered sharing my experience and today I’m moved to do so. You see, I’m feeling a bit melancholy….not depressed and not ungrateful for my many blessings. I say melancholy rather than sad because I can’t really explain why I feel this way….and I’m okay with just sitting in it – really! In fact, the feeling has passed since I began typing. When I sat down to type I thought of all the things people have said to me or I’ve heard others say about people who try to commit suicide.
At the time, I was accused of making yet another attempt to get attention (because you know, babies of the family are always accused of being attention getters!). Years of working through my own issues, I understand that I was drawing attention to myself, in order to bring attention to a problem. Not the best problem-solving solution but clearly an intention that was different from just wanting all eyes on me.
Many years later a friend told me that she didn’t believe I was ever serious about killing myself because I didn’t leave a note – and it’s proven that if you don’t leave a note, you aren’t serious. I really have no idea how that theory could ever be proven!
And over the years I’ve heard people try to understand why and how anyone could ever do such a thing. They layer mounds of psychological theory on the dead because the dead DON’T tell us why, even when they leave notes. I think most people believe what they need to believe about suicide – whatever allows them to accept – judgingly or not judgingly – their loved one’s action.
So here we are at the beginning of the holidays. I’ve never attributed my attempt to the holidays as it was more a culmination of painful choices I had made; especially during that year. But the holidays are known as a time that can bring sadness and loneliness. And many people will consider, some will follow through, and others will succeed at taking their own lives. There are reasons too numerous and obviously I believe unknown to anyone as to why someone might think about taking their own life. For some of those people we will say s/he was so depressed for so long, and for others we’ll share our shock because we thought s/he had such a happy wonderful life. My point is we don’t know who might entertain those thoughts. We don’t know what might trigger the thoughts and it is absolutely not necessary for us to know. What is necessary is that we show one another – everyone we know and love – that we really do love them and they do not have to carry their suffering alone.
Severely depressed people can’t just snap out it. They can’t just focus on the positive. And people who live in a constant state of overwhelmed might find that ending it all is much easier than the alternative of continuing to TRY getting better – not really for themselves but for everyone who loves them. It’s hard to understand….those of us who are able to pull ourselves up from the pit of hell are easily irritated with those who can’t. We observe they are victims to their own demons and nothing else and find ourselves tired of helping when our help appears unwanted. But help we must.
I’m tempted to state all the conditions we might consider to help someone but instead I’m just going to say call your loved ones…or send an email or text. Let them know they are loved and their presence on this earth makes your presence sweeter. Invite them over and if they don’t come, go visit them. If you think someone is seriously depressed and might have suicidal thoughts, DO SOMETHING. Don’t be afraid to do the wrong thing…wouldn’t you rather be wrong about helping them, than wrong about NOT helping them? And this goes for co-workers or neighbors whom you might not consider a loved one but who might need your love…
And if you are suffering with feelings of guilt, shame, or fear and feel that the only way out is to end this life, please reconsider. Remember, you are not the only one who has or who has had these feelings! You are not in that boat alone! Many of us have sailed that ship and made it through the treacherous storm to see bright, sunny, and JOY FULL days! The short ending to my story is I’m not ashamed at all of what I’ve shared. And thankfully, my Mother and Father stood by my side and saw me grow into a happy, healthy woman. While I was judged by many and the process of healing was at times very painful, we – I – made it through when I stopped focusing on everyone else and realized that I am the important person in my life. And what a life I’ve had! I know I’ve touched lives; many by sharing this story one on one. And I know I have many, many more lives to touch….many more stories to share. Let me assure you, you are so much more beautiful and fascinating than you might think right now! It may be hard to believe but you really can get to the other side of darkness. The first step is to acknowledge what you feel and ask for help. For me it took a visit from a ghost and a phone call to a loved one to take the first step. It doesn’t matter to me what anyone thinks about that – or what they think of me! Take whatever step you need.
When I began typing this post I really had no idea where it was going to go. I’m sure I ended in this direction because there are people in my own life who are suffering right now and I struggle with how to help. I’m also living my dream in retirement in Asheville, and looking back at the last 33 years I see that it wasn’t just luck or blessings that brought me here but hard work. And frankly, every painful step was absolutely worth it. I’ve got a long way to go on this journey of life and today I am humble and grateful for every past, present, and future step!