It was the evening of January 3, 2010. I blinked into the glaring fluorescent lights on the emergency room ceiling as I rubbed the stinging handcuff marks on my wrists. Dazed and lethargic from the 24 Nyquil pills still running through my veins, I stuttered my way through an awkward series of questioning from various nurses and doctors who forced their way into my consciousness. Talking was the last thing I wanted to do. Giving them reasons was not only daunting, but seemingly futile at this point.
“Why did you overdose?”
“Were you trying to kill yourself?”
“What’s going on in your life that would make you want to do this?”
All I could do in response was shake my head and say, over and over again, “I don’t know.” I don’t know. I don’t know why I took all those pills. I don’t why I’m so hopeless and depressed. I don’t know why I hate myself so much. I don’t know why I hurt so badly. I don’t know why I just want my life to end. All I know is that I don’t want to feel anything anymore. I’m tired of my life. I’m tired of being me.
The entire scenario – the paramedics, the ambulance, the emergency room, the subsequent seclusion in a psych unit – was all too familiar too me. This was my third suicide attempt in the last two months. My first attempt involved overdosing on liquid Nyquil and slicing my arms, wrists, and neck with a utility knife. During the second episode, I submitted myself to the hospital before I followed through with my plan. And here I was again, in a hospital, choking down charcoal. This time was a bit more dramatic, as I had actually written a suicide note to my parents and, in my medicated state, apparently attacked the paramedics…hence the handcuffs. Even now I can’t say for sure whether or not I truly wanted to die. I figured, whatever happens, happens. If I die, so be it. If I don’t, I guess it wasn’t mean to be. Either way, I didn’t care. Either way, I hoped to somehow escape the overwhelming intensity of the emotions that bombarded me from moment to moment, making life meaningless and unbearable.
Episodes of severe depression and turmoil have become a way of life for me. My first episode occurred at sixteen years old, accompanied by severe anxiety and panic attacks. I have dealt with both depression and anxiety on and off for seven years now. I have also struggled with eating disorders – first anorexia, then bulimia and uncontrollable binges lasting days at a time. Though I have experienced social anxiety, perfectionism, low self-esteem, and excessive shame and guilt for most of my life (largely as a result of childhood sexual trauma), the severe symptoms of depression, as well as other self-destructive behaviors, had become especially prevalent over the last several years.
I could never understand why the very act of living was so difficult for me. Why couldn’t I just be happy and normal? I felt stuck in destructive patterns of behavior that affected my health, my relationships, my schooling, and my work. Over the few months leading up to my first suicide attempt, and continuing on until the third, victimization, binging and purging, drinking, and cutting had become the norm for me. I absolutely hated these things, but I felt as if I had no control over myself. I no longer cared what happened to my body, because I hated it. I no longer cared what happened to my spirit, because I already felt dead inside. Dead to everything but pain, loneliness, and self-loathing. I turned my back on God. I was somehow angry at Him for what my life had become and, at the same time, felt I was a filthy, disgusting creature unworthy of His love. I felt that I had nothing, no one, to turn to. I was in complete darkness.
I have been officially diagnosed with chronic, recurrent depression and borderline personality disorder. Though depression is commonly known, BPD (borderline personality disorder) is not. The symptoms of BPD include frantic effort to avoid abandonment; a pattern of intense and unstable relationships; identity confusion and disturbance; impulsivity in a least two areas that are self-damaging; recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures or threats, or self-mutilating behavior; emotional dysregulation and instability; chronic feelings of emptiness; inappropriate anger or difficulty controlling it; stress-related paranoia or dissociation. I exhibit every single one of these criteria. Believe it or not, I was actually very relieved to hear this. Finally, there was a reason for everything I was feeling and experiencing. I am not a horrible person. I am dealing with an illness that is brought on by a combination of abnormal brain functioning, genetic predisposition, and negative and stressful life events. I have a difficult time dealing with emotions, and I have certain thought patterns and beliefs that are a result of childhood trauma and that lead to unhealthy ways of coping (eating disorders, self-harm, acting out, isolation, etc).
Now that the underlying cause of my distress has been pinpointed, I have hope that I can overcome this illness that has kept me down for so long. Through medication and therapy, I CAN get through the depression, through the BPD, through my eating disorder… and become healthy and whole again. But although meds and therapy sessions are an important part of my recovery, I am fully aware that the strength motivation to achieve full mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health MUST come from somewhere inside ME. And THAT is where my biggest challenge lies.
Something incredible happened as I lay there in the hospital bed on that pivotal Sunday. I heard a voice inside me say, “There is a reason you are still alive. You have a work to do.” I was overcome with a feeling of deep purpose, a feeling that there is something very important I need to do with my life. I don’t know what that purpose is yet, but I am confident that as I recover and move forward in my life, I will discover what it is that God put me here to do.
Make the most of every failure. Fall forward.
I feel that writing this blog is perhaps a small part of that purpose. If nothing else, it will give me a reason to keep on going. By making a commitment to myself to write each day, to tell the story of my recovery, I am giving myself a reason to get up every morning. A reason to push forward no matter what obstacles lie before me. At this point in the process, the smallest thing is a struggle, and this is a huge undertaking for me. However, I have a feeling that writing this blog, even if no one else in the world reads it, is going to be the most important part of my recovery.
Since that last time at the hospital, I have had many ups and downs. I have had some successes. I have also had failures. But I have realized that as many times as I fail, I pick myself back up again, brush myself off, and move on. Failures are my greatest opportunities to learn more about myself. This blog is itself a result of “falling forward,” and it will continue to be a source of motivation and strength to me as I embark on this journey to discover who I am. Day by endless day, step by stumbling step, I will become just a little more unbroken.
July 3, 2010
I am finally making the leap. Turning the page. Starting anew.
The time has come for me to, once and for all, put my past behind me… The pain, the heartache, the hurt, the sadness, the scars.
The lessons, the refinement, the wisdom, the beauty, the growth, the maturity will remain.
To the rest, I will say goodbye.
It is hard to believe that just eight months ago, I truly thought my life was over. That there was nothing left for me to live for. That I was worthless, used up, incapable of ever being happy again. After years of struggling with debilitating depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and what I later found out to be Borderline Personality Disorder, I was tired of trying. I was ready to throw in the towel. I was ready to give up the fight. Over a two month period I attempted suicide three times and overdosed on at least five other occasions. I coped with the pain of past and present abuse, trauma, guilt, and self-loathing with binging, purging, cutting, alcohol, drugs, and victimization. In order to survive, I either disassociated from my surroundings or changed my entire personality depending on where I was and who I was with. I didn’t know who I was from one moment to the next. Most people didn’t even know everything that was going on with me, because I was very good at putting on a mask. Life was chaos. Chaos was life.
I failed therapy after therapy. Medications made me even more suicidal. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder that things started to make sense. However, it still took me a little while to accept my diagnosis and to make the decision to change. It wasn’t until after my third hospitalization that something inside me snapped. I realized that if I didn’t commit to recovery now, I never would, and I would be miserable the rest of my life. It was a decision I had to make on my own. No one… not my family, not my therapist, not anyone… could make it for me. It was a deep, inner choice and true dedication to becoming healthy.
I am convinced that the one deciding factor to my success in recovery was my commitment in that critical and pivotal moment to becoming better.
Without that, nothing would have worked. Not the best therapy in the world, not the most perfect combination of meds, not even the most loving relationship. No…only that commitment that remained even in the most difficult, heart-wrenching moments when those voices screamed at me “Give up! Give up!” …that one small voice of commitment inside that remained, that whispered… “Remember, remember…” That is what made the difference.
My current state of happiness and healing did not happen all at once. It is a result of a lot of hard work, of a long and painful process. Healing, progress, recovery… They are all a result of a series of small, but very important, choices. Really, there is no such thing as a small decision. Every choice you make has vast consequences, no matter how insignificant it may seem at that moment. Remember that when you when you try to get down on yourself when you think you are “failing”… give yourself credit for the tiny successes…. They make more difference than you realize….For it is those seemingly small victories that accumulate and create something magnificent in the end.
Another thing that has greatly helped me in this process has been getting outside myself. The more I reach out to others, the happier I am. The more I isolate myself and retreat inside my own little world, the more depressed I feel. It is hard because I struggle with social anxiety, but just like any other skill, the more you practice, the better you get and the easier it becomes each time. One thing I love to do is bake, especially at night when I can’t sleep. But I don’t just do it for myself, I do it for my friends and family… There’s nothing more fun and rewarding than seeing the joy on someone’s face when you show up at their door with a plate of fresh-baked cookies. Talk about endorphin rush! Believe it or not, it’s little things like that that can really lift you up out of a rut. Try it. Experiment. Can’t hurt, right?
I also had to decide, at a point, to let myself be happy. For most of my life, whenever I started to feel happy, I would immediately begin to feel guilty. For me, I never felt I “deserved” to be happy, because only “perfect” people deserved to be happy. And since I was never perfect, I could never be happy. Took me a very long time, well… my entire life!… to realize that: 1) I am never going to be perfect, and no one is; 2) There is no such thing as “deserving” to be happy; and 3) I can (and should) be imperfect and happy simultaneously. Once I could accept that, emotionally as well as logically (and I still have to work on this daily, as a lifelong habit is hard to break) I was able to do things like enjoy the little things, be in a relationship, and get married (tomorrow!)
Something else I’ve had to learn and work on is boundaries, especially when it comes to helping other people at the expense of neglecting myself. I’ve always had a bit of a “savior” complex, partly out of a genuine compassion for others, but also as a result of low self-esteem. I need to love, but also be loved, as much of my self-validation comes from others’ approval. As a result, I tend to give everything I have to others, whether they deserve it or not, and am often left empty. I give others validation instead of encouraging them to validate themselves.
Over just the last couple of months, I have learned (the hard way), that unless I am taking care of myself first, I am not good to anyone else. I had to learn to step away a bit and focus on my own recovery, otherwise I was at risk of breaking down again myself. One day, when things have settled down and I am comfortable and strong in this new chapter in my life, I will return to helping others in their journey – it is part of who I am and always will be. I love helping others – listening to them, comforting them, being a help and support wherever I can. But I always need to be sure I am in a good place myself first, before I can be a strength to someone else.
The best thing I can offer the world and others is myself – healthy and whole, with a voice that is clear, strong, and true.
Remember that you are always writing your story, and every chapter is unique and amazing – the happy chapters, the frightening chapters, the sad chapters, the emotional chapters, the healing chapters. Every moment is another sentence, another word on the page… And it is important, and it is beautiful. Tell your story. I guarantee you it will touch another’s life in some way, and it will help to you realize that nothing you have gone through has been in vain.
Everyone has a history…Lessons they’ve learned and wisdom to share.
Let your voice be heard.
Begin to speak today.
Not only will you change someone else’s life…
You will forever change your own.
…I have learned that when you hold on to your past, you impede your progress.
The greatest thing you can do for yourself is to forgive yourself and to let go so you can move forward. This often the hardest and last step. It was for me.
Ultimately, you make the choice of how you want your life to be. No matter what has happened in your past, you can change your life. Make the decision. Right now. Decide to take responsibility from this moment on for who you become.
Start where you are. This moment. Stop waiting for a miracle.
I realized it wasn’t God that was punishing me. I was punishing myself for things that had happened and things I had no control over. At least not anymore. Living in the past does nothing. So I let it go and chose to begin a new chapter.
I gave myself the power back. I took the power away from my past, from my mistakes, from my abusers, from depression, from BPD, and gave it back to myself. I chose to rise above. When you accept what has happened and relinquish yourself from undeserved blame and guilt, while taking appropriate responsibility for your actions – you become empowered again. You are able to let go of the burdens of the past. You are able to forgive yourself and move forward.
This is what happened for me, after years and years of blaming myself, of striving for unattainable perfection, of feeling guilty for everything I did.
Now I am moving on. Putting my past behind me, only taking what I have learned so that I may use it to bless my life and those around me.
I can allow myself to be happy now. To live, freely.
I can be me.
Day by day, step by step, I’ve become a little more unbroken.
And though sometimes I fall… I’m forever falling forward…
Never forget… the sky is always blue behind the gray… the mountain has another side…the stars are still there in the day…and caterpillars become butterflies.