06 October 2012

The Storms of Life - A Survivor's Anniversary

It's surreal to me that exactly one year ago from right now, I was ready to end my life. I can still vividly picture the bottle of sleeping pills and the Old Whiskey River ready to deliver the pills. I remember clearly playing Chely Wright's "Notes to the Coroner" and Waylon Jennings's "I Think I'm Gonna Kill Myself" repeatedly. I still don't know if I was trying to work up my nerve or get it out of my system. Maybe both.

I remember making myself call Our Lady of Peace to inquire about seeking help. Chatting for a few minutes, answering questions as ambiguously as I could. Having the presence of mind to pop in my Blu-ray of Batman. Did I call it a night, or did I simply collapse from exhaustion? That part's fuzzy.

That evening, packing to check myself into OLOP. I spent several minutes cleaning cat puke off my shoes, only to realize I couldn't wear them anyway because of the shoe laces. No belt, which was a bit problematic because I'd lost weight. I grabbed a few Batman graphic novels: Year One, because the animated movie adaptation was just about to come out and it'd been a while since I had last read the story; The Long Halloween, because it was October; The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told, because I'd owned it for ages and still never gotten around to it. I started with Greatest, though I didn't get very far during my few days in the hospital. I read in my room some, but most of it I finished at home afterwards.

My wife had the radio playing on the drive. "Pray for You" came on at one point somewhere on the Watterson Expressway. I filed away that detail, unaware how prescient it would prove. I began to feel anxious, certain I was walking into a place that would scoff at treating me. I imagined a ward full of rape victims, battered women and war veterans, all wondering just what traumatic threshold I'd crossed that made me one of them. I became embarrassed, judged by phantom patients. I felt very small.

When I was admitted, I demonstrated that my sense of humor was still intact. I made the intake nurse laugh, and I also made her cry as I discussed how important it was to me to again be the husband my wife deserved. I admit: I was reluctant to enter as an in-patient. I had hoped we could start with some kind of out-patient therapy and escalate to in-patient if needed. It was made clear to me that wasn't going to work. I acquiesced. I wasn't resentful. I was relieved. I wasn't going to fight the depression on my own anymore. If there was going to be any breakthrough, it would come from professionals.

It was well after midnight by the time I was finally processed and brought into a room. In the morning, my roommate kindly walked me through the standard operational pattern of the place. He showed me where the laundry machines were. I liked him instantly. I won't divulge anything else about him, though, out of respect for his privacy. I'll only say that I hope he's doing well.

We ventured into the social room sometime between breakfast and lunch. We sat through a group session and then he began to introduce me to some of the other patients. I felt very much like an outsider. Lunch hit me pretty hard and I spent nearly the entire rest of the day lying in bed in pain. A nurse came to check on me at one point. I explained I felt miserable and she asked if she could get me anything. I requested Prednisone, which made her dismissive. "Well, Prednisone won't help with nausea." "It will if you've got Crohn's disease," I countered. She very quickly retrieved Prednisone for me, which thankfully did help.

It was around 10 when I finally clambered out of bed. The social room was pretty much deserted, save one table. My roommate was there, so I joined them. I began writing in a notepad. I didn't get far before I was drawn into conversation with the others. We got to chatting, the handful of us, breaking the ice. Some of us were there for depression, others for substance abuse. A few dealt with both demons. I felt better about being there by the time my roommate and I nodded off in our beds an hour later.

Saturday was the breakthrough day for me. The group from the night before reformed in the social room. We began to assimilate other patients, including several newcomers admitted that morning. By evening, our sociability had become a positive energy in the ward. We discussed picking the last movie we'd ever see, which sparked one of the more interesting side conversations I had during my entire stay there. Even patients who didn't join us could often be seen nodding along with something one of us said or asked. I found myself particularly emboldened by that observation. I began to ask questions and to offer observations during group sessions, knowing that someone else wanted to ask or say - or maybe even to hear - the same thing. I had forgotten that most people aren't as comfortable speaking in groups as I have long been. It felt good to use that aptitude on behalf of others.

By early evening, a few more patients had been admitted. I spotted one woman sitting by herself, scrawling on a notepad and visibly shaken. We had had a very cathartic day on the whole, many of us opening up as much in our social time as we did during sessions. I took a chance and approached the woman. Again, I won't discuss her particular story here but I will say that the next day, she timidly took a seat near our table and joined us. I took to calling it "The Cool Table," happy to be part of the popular clique somewhere for the first time ever. It was all in good fun, of course, and no one took it to be derogatory about anyone who wasn't sitting at our table. In fact, at one point, we had to expand and took over a second table to accommodate all the patients who wanted to get in on the camaraderie!

Sometime during Saturday, the decision was made to move me from my original room to another. The new room didn't have a security camera, a sign that they were no longer afraid I was going to try to injure myself while in their care. It was a subtle thing, but it was reassuring all the same. It bolstered my sense of progress. Throughout the weekend, several patients commented on my participation. Some of them thanked me during group sessions for something I'd said. Some waited to discuss things with me privately. A few of them didn't even talk to me, but rather about me. I especially appreciated that, hearing them talk me up as having been helpful.

When I got home on the 10th of October last year, I had already resolved that I was on my second life. I would not allow the things that had nearly driven me to end my life to carry over into my new one. I wasn't sure how to go about this second life, though. It took some time. My friends took me out that Friday. I had a  major anxiety attack, throwing up at least three times and having to step outside for air repeatedly. I drank a ginger ale and ate part of a cookie dessert thing that my friend ordered. I requested an anti-anxiety medication from my doctor at my first follow-up with her the next week. I took it pretty frequently any time I did much of anything for the first couple of months. I've taken it far less regularly, though I have still needed it.

I wasn't sure how to discuss my experience here in this blog, particularly since I do not use a pseudonym and because this wasn't just my story about depression. There was also my marital separation to be considered. Could I keep that out of the blog, particularly if I was going to discuss my experience with managing depression? Was it fair to anyone else if I discussed it here? Was it fair to me if I didn't? Finally, I wrote "Confessions of a Therapy Patient" and came clean about my situation. It was difficult to write, but cathartic. The feedback - both in published comments and in private remarks - was extraordinary. That led to an entire sub-series about depression, and I would encourage you to take a look at those posts.

I still grapple with those questions any time I blog. Even if a given post seems entirely innocuous, I'm always mindful that somehow it might become an issue for someone else later. It's a balancing act. Strangely enough, I never once thought about creating another blog for such content. There's something liberating about knowing that I've put my name to everything I've published here. Maybe at some point in the future, someone will hold it against me that I was once hospitalized for suicidal depression. But I also know from the feedback I've received this past year that there are also people out there who have found something helpful in some of my posts. Arm the critics while helping others? I'll make that trade every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Besides, as Captain Picard once declared, "If we're going to be damned, let's be damned for what we really are." What I really am is someone who has fought depression.

This past year, I've enjoyed my friends and family. I've renewed an old friendship and I've built some new ones. I've been lavished with attention and affection from the cats. I've written a novel. I went to Chicago with a friend, for C2E2. I had a terrific time celebrating my niece's 10th birthday one-on-one in July. I went to my first concert since 2008. I even saw a musical! I almost had a blind date. Just two days ago, I finally got to see Lawrence of Arabia in a theater!

I recently lost a friend, Brenda. I wrote a memorial here in this blog. Last week, my friend's sister messaged me privately to inform me that they read aloud the entirety of my memorial at the funeral service. That has to be the most humbling experience I've had yet with my blogging. Somehow, it's appropriate. My friend was one of my most ardent supporters as far as writing. She encouraged me every step of the way, but particularly about my sub-series on depression. She believed in my ability to help others through my writing. I never imagined that she would one day become the subject of such a piece, of course.

Brenda would have loved to discuss the screening of Lawrence of Arabia, but more importantly, I know she would have expressed her gratitude that I'm still here a year later. She would have encouraged me that things will go onward and upward, that I will enjoy the happiness I deserve and through my writing, I will find a way to help others. I'd much rather hear all that from her, of course, but it's a testament to who she was that I'm able to create the whole conversation in my mind.

I don't know how long this second life will last. None of us knows how much time we'll have here on Earth. I cannot concern myself with that. What I can, and must, concern myself with is what I do here. I endeavor through this blog and in my daily interactions with people to be helpful. To be there for others who need a cheerleader, a shoulder to cry on or a friendly ear. To share my experiences so that they might find something in them that may prove usable somehow.

And on a personal level, I go forward day by day, mindful that I'm okay. That I don't have to be an emotional fugitive.
It's okay to have a good day.
A transcript of my notepad writings can be read here: "Our Lady of Peace Journal, 7-9 October 2011".