Four years ago this week I planned to kill myself. The plan was to drive out into the country on a back road so my children wouldn’t have to find me, take two bottles of prescribed sleeping pills and quietly drift away from this world. I didn’t want to be in pain anymore – didn’t want to have to face another day feeling absolutely alone. I remember putting the pill bottles in my purse along with a bottle of water and stepping outside for one last cigarette. I was crying. Paix came out to talk to me and asked me what was wrong. I couldn’t answer her. How could I tell her I didn’t want to be here anymore? Apparently, she instinctively understood the severity of the situation, called my therapist, and forced me to talk to her. What happened next is kind of a blur. I remember being at my therapist’s office and my therapist calling Eric. He came to pick me up and drove me to the hospital. I had stopped crying by then. I remember grudgingly talking to someone there about the plan then staring at the wall from a hospital bed with a soldier just outside the door to keep an eye on me. I remember being in the back of a police car riding to the treatment facility. I remember at the treatment facility being asked a bunch of questions and then having my picture taken before I was escorted to private room where I stared at the ceiling until I finally drifted off to sleep. I was completely numb.
Over the next week I went to different group therapy sessions and a few private ones. There were others there like me with the same blank stare. To pass the time we did word searches with crayons as we weren’t allowed to have any other kind of writing instrument. I read a book – The Secret Life of Bees. I stared at the walls a lot, trying to figure out what exactly had happened and how I ended up there. It was a surreal time. Eric came to visit every other night and there were phone calls with the kids on the nights he wasn’t there. I was put on a heavy medication and began feeling a little better by the time the mandatory week was over. I was still in a fog but the realization of what I had been about to do finally became real and fear washed over me.
The black hole had won for the second time in my life but this time it nearly ended me. Until then, I had always been stronger than the black hole somehow – had managed to keep it at bay. How had I gotten to such a low point as that? In the facility, the counselor had told me, “Cheryl, you have done all the right things. You’ve been using all the right coping skills. If this doesn’t show you that you need medication, I don’t know what will.” I had always resisted the meds. The meds meant you were weak. I wasn’t weak! But her words hit me like a brick. I had reached my breaking point and had to accept that medication would have to be a part of my life from then on.
Looking back on that time now I can say that I learned a lot from the experience. The biggest lesson, of course, is that medication is sometimes required for stable mental health. I had been sucked into the stigma of thinking that medication is a crutch – something to be shunned at all cost. Growing up I had learned to adopt the ‘mind over matter’ philosophy where you can basically will away what ails you. While I am still a believer in this as a positive way of thinking, sometimes it really isn’t enough. God gave us the world of medicine for a reason. Which also sharply reminded me that physical and mental health go hand in hand. Part of the problem was that my thyroid was out of whack – another medication that I had let lapse. I had let the chaos of regular life take over my need to take care of myself physically.
The biggest thing I took away from that time is the realization of my own strength. It seems counterintuitive but it’s true. I had beaten the black hole for nearly twenty years completely on my own. That takes some serious fortitude! Everyone breaks at some point, but I had bested my arch nemesis for years. I had nothing to be ashamed of. There is no way I can relay how absolutely freeing those words are for me – I have nothing to be ashamed of! There had been such embarrassment before in admitting that I suffered from depression. Guilt even. Since the suicide scare though, I have realized that hiding it, being ashamed of it only fed it more. Breaking the stigma of depression and medication means talking about it – sharing your story so others don’t have to be ashamed either.
While in the treatment facility I remember thinking about high school health class and the section we covered about suicide. The teacher drilled into our heads that “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary situation!” I guess in high school that may be true for most but it’s not altogether accurate. Major depression is not a ‘temporary situation.’ Major depression is something you live with every day. It’s something that can beat the tar out of you and leave you for dead – literally. So the more people talk about it, the more people stand up and say, “I struggle with depression, but I won’t let it beat me!” the better off we’ll be.
As for life now four years later, it is good! The black hole is still there but I take care of myself like I should with regular doctor, psychiatric, and therapy visits. I laugh every chance I get. I thank God for every single day I have on this earth – even on the bad days – and for my wonderful family’s love and support. I wouldn’t be here today without them. Yes, I struggle with depression, but it will not beat me!