Anyone reading my blog for the past several months knows that I’ve had a rough time, dealing with my father’s cancer and death, and everything that came in the aftermath of that. I haven’t been very public, though, about how bad things really have gotten.
Close friends know that blogging is often my therapy. And September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. So here goes: a few weeks ago, I sat on my kitchen floor with a giant bottle of Jack Daniels and a giant blue kitchen knife and came very close to killing myself.
I don’t want to dwell on that night in this post… I’d rather focus on the journey I’ve had since then. I realized CLEARLY that night, when my husband came home and I frantically tossed the knife into the sink so he wouldn’t see it, that I was ashamed of what I had been contemplating, and that I wanted to get my life back. So I’ve been focusing on doing that.
It started with my husband, who has been such an amazing source of support, encouragement, and motivation. And I had a couple of close friends who I forced myself to confide in, so that I couldn’t pretend it hadn’t happened and so that I’d have people holding me accountable to get healthy again.
It wasn’t just that one single incident. My daily life has been full of an emotional whirlwind that I’ve been too ashamed to share with most people. It’s been bad, folks. Most of you haven’t seen it, but it’s time that I be honest about just how much I’ve been struggling.
I’ve been battling random anxiety over the most ridiculous things. The other day, I burst into tears on the street because I walked a half-block in the wrong direction coming out of the subway. I’ve been living in perpetual panic over what I’m going to mess up next, how I’m going to fail to live up to my responsibilities, what my next failure will be… I’ve been one slightly-less-than-perfect incident away from a breakdown for months.
And I’ve been fighting against agitation and rage over simple things. Here’s a ridiculous example: I came very close to hurling a drinking glass at a loud dinner table next to mine at a restaurant. I seriously couldn’t think of anything else for a solid half-hour at dinner other than how furious I was at these total strangers, who were making a loud and drunken spectacle of themselves when I was trying to enjoy a nice meal. Fortunately my husband and our friend saw me literally shaking and helped me find a way to laugh about it instead of freak out.
Obviously this is all a difficult psychological state to be in, particularly while trying to balance work with a home life and handling a complicated estate. I’m pretty sure that I was one phone call or email away from throwing my monitor out the window, screaming at someone over the phone, or sobbing hysterically in my cubicle… None of which bode well for career opportunities.
So I took a short term leave of absence at work, to take some time to get the counseling that I clearly desperately needed. It wasn’t an easy decision, as I can only imagine what people at work have been saying about me. I’m attributing all sorts of judgment, about how I couldn’t keep my shit together and man up, rub some dirt on it, walk it off, and get back on the horse. (Lots of metaphors there, I know.)
Ultimately, though, I had to come to the realization that it didn’t matter what people at work thought. I may very well have just ended all hope of a long-term career at my current employer — indeed, I’ve had to come to terms with that possibility or even probability. But frankly, I’ll take career suicide over actual suicide any day.
I’ve been seeing a therapist, who was recommended by a friend, and it’s been remarkably helpful. I’m still struggling, but I’m realizing just how much my father’s death had really affected me. It’s bringing up a lot of buried emotional stuff that I’ve never really dealt with… And the ramifications for my life and family and career are very meaningful.
I have a lot more — so much more — to say on the subject of my psychological and emotional journey over the past month. Expect more painfully vulnerable and confessional posts in the coming weeks.
Which brings me to the big question: why on Earth would I share all of this so publicly?!
Because, quite frankly, it’s bullshit that we’ve conditioned ourselves to be ashamed of mental health issues. This isn’t some failing or lack of toughness. It’s not a reflection on my ability or my commitment or my professionalism.
I am not myself. I’m not responding to things the way that I normally do. I’m dealing with traumatic situations, and a bunch of people pulling at me with their own wants and needs and demands, and I haven’t been able to balance things the way I normally can… To say nothing of the fact that I haven’t really been able to grieve for my father’s death.
Bottom line: I have a health issue that has required the intervention of medical professionals, to get me back to normal before I’m at a crisis point that I can’t recover from.
If I had a heart attack, I wouldn’t be embarrassed to admit it. If I had diabetes, or a broken leg, or a seizure disorder, I’d feel perfectly comfortable telling people that I had a medical issue I was dealing with. So why have I shied away from being honest and open about a mental health issue?
As a culture, we value toughness and perseverance to an unhealthy extreme. We pride ourselves on getting over things and moving on. And we feel pity and sometimes mock those who have such a severe mental health issue that they need medical intervention to get back to their normal selves.
Well, I for one refuse to perpetuate that shame cycle any longer. Sometimes life can profoundly screw you over, and your brain and your biochemistry simply cannot handle everything that’s being thrown at you. Sometimes you need medical help getting back to normal. It’s nothing to be ashamed of; no more than a broken leg.
So here I am. Getting the medical treatment that I need to be back to my normal self. Telling my story.