It’s been a while since I’ve written. If you know me, you know it hasn’t been an easy summer, or fall. There have been great things to celebrate, the birth of my new niece Abbigail, Kathryn and I painting our apartment, the beginning of hockey season and finally coming home from the hospital. And interspersed within these moments have been some very painful ones.
November 13th, 2008 was the first time I ever attempted suicide. I haven’t told very many people this. It’s not an easy thing to talk about. But if I want this pattern of emotionally difficult autumns to change, I need to process what happened on that day and what has been happening since.
I had struggled with depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts for most of my teen years and well into university. Growing up, my family expressed strong emotions in response to pain, fear, anger, but also joy, hope and love. I learned to feel my emotions with my whole self. This has both its pros and cons. At times my life has been full of hope and love and peace and nothing can shake my confidence in the goodness of life. I am passionate, fun-loving, adventurous and compassionate towards others.
But when dark clouds roll in, it’s a whole different story. I struggle to hold on to the basic building blocks of my life – my relationship with Kathryn, the love of my family and the meaning I’ve found in the work that I do. I start to question everything I hold to be true and the very meaning of life itself. In 2008, in conversation with a close friend, I decided that I could no longer sit on the fence of indifference. I had to make a choice – to end my life then, or give up this suicidal thinking for good. I swallowed as many pills as I could find and waited, unsure of what would happen. Within a half hour I began to feel dizzy and nauseous and started to panic. I told my friend, and she and another friend came and took me to the hospital. It was my first experience with the medical system’s response to mental illness but certainly wouldn’t be my last.
Autumn has been a difficult time of year since that day and it seems November 13th has become a suicide prompt of its own. Even in years when my mental health has been fairly stable, the approach of this date has stirred up shame, fear and hopelessness. Rehearsing suicidal behaviours and thinking up elaborate plans to end my life becomes normal behaviour and my social world basically collapses. So many daily objects have become part of my unhealthy thinking, and now as I try to change these patterns and build new coping skills, I struggle to change the impact of these “suicidal prompts.” Everything from scarves and belts, to advil tablets and scars on my skin remind me of the struggle I have had to face against suicidal thinking and mental illness.
I quickly discovered that overdosing on medication that causes sedation is a very quick way to lose consciousness – a desired result when feeling hopeless as it reduces the likelihood of becoming scared and calling for help. During my various encounters with the mental health system, I have been given prescriptions for anti-anxiety medication that can have this result when abused. The part of me that is ill and is looking for escape from pain wants to save these medications, to hoard them, to keep them as my backup plan. My first choice is to live and live well but if that doesn’t work, at least I have a plan B.
There are a few problems with this plan and my illness does a good job with helping me cope with most of those problems, but there is one that I have never been able to accept the responsibility for. I have two nieces, Britney who is fourteen and Abbigail who was just born a few months ago. I know that I struggle with suicidality because it was introduced to me as a solution to emotional problems when I was at a young age. I never want these two girls to face the same struggle. Although my entire family would be devastated if I were to complete suicide, I think the pain would be hardest for these young ones.
The reality is that 95% of the time, I don’t want to die. I love my life, I love our cats, I love my family, I love my work and I love my city. Above all, there is Kathryn and she has given me a reason to abandon plan B and commit myself to journeying through whatever life brings us with her by my side. This is no easy task, these learned habits are hard to reverse and new coping skills are so difficult to implement consistently.
I’ve been given an opportunity to work through this process with a therapist while meeting with a group of individuals on similar journeys in a program called Bridge to Recovery. I really do want to use this program as a bridge from my stays in the hospital to the rest of my life. In order to do that, to give up plan B, I must reduce the power that various “suicide prompts” have in my life. I need to be able to face everyday objects like a scarf, and see reminders of my journey like my scars without the emotions of those memories returning and overwhelming me. I need to reduce my vulnerabilities but I also need to strengthen my response to crisis. Part of that must be changing the way November 13th impacts my life.
I met Kathryn on November 17th, 2010. This helps. This day that brought great joy and light into my life helps me to get through the difficult memories of the 13th. I hold on for her, for us, for our future. I hold on because I know that life with her is worth the bumps and hiccups along the way.
So this is my commitment, to remember that the morning’s light always follows the darkness. The love we share gives us strength when we are weary and although we are not perfect for each other, our love makes us whole. I look to the future and I know suicide has no place in my life, it no longer holds any power.