I don't normally talk about my background at all because, well, it's personal. But in the last few years lots of things have happened thanks to said background.
I am a survivor of repeated exposure to abuse. Mostly emotional and mental abuse (by my parents) but also sexual abuse (former babysitter's husband, an ex-brother-in-law, and classmates) and a bit of physical abuse (again by my mother)... which caused me to develop a condition that is called complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's different from the usual PTSD because the symptoms can be vastly different. In fact only a few are common to both. In fact it's most often misdiagnosed and therefore mis-treated and can cause further problems for patients. That can be a big problem, depending on the quality of doctor who's treating you and what pills they decide to pump into you. Did you know that some anti-depressants used for treating bi-polar can make a person with PTSD psychotic? Yeah. Not useful. So like with physical health, getting a proper diagnosis is extremely important.
There's a tome of mental health definitions called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) that's in it's 5th iteration. It's an interesting thing because one would think that such a work would be definitive, but it's not. Science is still learning about the brain and how it works.. and how it breaks. So unless a patient happens to find a psychiatrist that hasn't stopped reading new publications, they might just get stuck with someone who is a believer in only what the DSM-5 says. In fact my condition isn't even recognized by said tome, according to my symptoms. But I am lucky that my doctor keeps current with new research. He was able to tell the difference between my complex-PTSD and something that I don't have: bipolar disorder.
If I'd been misdiagnosed, I have no clue where I'd be right now. None. The various drugs used to treat the bipolar spectrum (yes, it's really a spectrum) can be bad for patients like me. Not all of them, but definitely some of them. Again the importance of having a knowledgeable doctor is key.
Then if you add in the societal stigmas surrounding mental health, the lack of understanding that the majority of people have about various mental illnesses, and a lack of availability for treatment you get a perfect storm of effluvia that can make a person feel like they're drowning.
So here's where I'm lucky:
- - I have health insurance that covers mental health. It's not great, but it's better than nothing. Nevermind that we went from paying $40 a month for me to stay alive (more on that in a bit) to $145 a month. I don't pay a thing for therapy and doctor's visits.
- I have a doctor that uses the gray matter in his skull for more than calculating his golf handicap. The man listens and will key in on any small detail. He's very thorough and if any patient needs him, his staff will work them in.
- I have a therapist that specializes in working with PTSD patients. He's fantastic. I am able to see him weekly, or more, as needed.
- I have a husband who truly sees my condition as an illness (which it is) and sees me fighting to keep it under control on a daily basis. He respects me for the effort I put in and supports me when I need it.
- I have friends who accept and understand me because of their own experiences with various illnesses, physical and mental. Knowing that I'm not alone helps so much.
Here's where I'm not lucky:
- I have this bedamned condition in the first place, and with it: night terrors, depression with suicidal ideations, anxiety (at time crippling), agoraphobia, sometime uncontrollable anger, and hypervigilance.
- I've had to eliminate relationships with people who did more harm to my condition than good. Because of my background, I've cut out all but one member of my surviving immediate family and a couple of aunts and cousins.
- Forming relationships with other people is hard when they are supposed to fit into "family slots," as I call them. It's difficult to relate to my perfectly sane, kind, and wonderful in-laws because they don't have any kind of abuse in their backgrounds. Also "family" leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
All in all it's way better than some people have it with their conditions. But that's what bothers me. Everyone deserves to have their ills treated. Just like a cancer patient has no choice in their condition, a person with anxiety or depression didn't choose to live that way. But the person with cancer gets sympathy. The other people are called "crazy."
We're told to: "just smile more," "just snap out of it," "stop being dramatic," "just pray about it," and worse... like my personal favorite, "you can't have PTSD unless you were a combat veteran." Bollocks to that. A person can have PTSD from being mugged, being in a car crash, being raped, having a traumatic birth experience, loosing a loved one, and more.
Nobody says anything like that to diabetics (unless they happen to be fat diabetics... don't get me started on my hatred of body size shaming), cancer patients, folks with broken limbs... Nope. Not to any of them. That would be cruel and rude. Well it's cruel and rude to speak to people with mental health diseases that way too. In fact it can damage us further, undoing the hard work that we do with our therapists and doctors. That kind of talk reinforces the dark parts of our brains that whisper to us that we're not worth peoples' time. That we are horrible drains on society. That we should be denied love. That we don't deserve to live.
When I was younger (think elementary school age) there were times I wanted to crawl away, fall asleep, and never wake up. When asked if I wanted to hurt myself, I'd truthfully say no. Why would I want to hurt myself? Other people hurt me enough already. Those feelings never went away. As I got older, I always called it "bunny under a bush," because that's what happens when rabbits are sick. They crawl away to die alone.
Despite knowing my background and being excellent at what they do, the plan my doctor, my therapist, and myself made for my treatment went awry. Like any battle plan it is only good until the first encounter with the enemy. In this case the enemy was a combination of dealing with my mother and depression.
If you're squeamish, having a bad day, or easily upset please skip the next part. I'll tell you when it's safe to read again.
In the back of my mind I decided I was done. Just done. Many of my friends were dying (screw you, cancer), I'd lost pieces of my heart when Confetti, Castor, and Pollux died, I didn't have much of a family anymore, and I felt so worthless and that I was a burden on FH. So I started making arrangements like figuring out where my surviving pets would go, ways for FH to dispose of my crafting stash, getting rid of things that he didn't need to be bothered with, making lists of bills that need paid and when.... Thanks to my mother's pettiness (sister wanted one thing of our granddad's and mother wouldn't give it to her because, well mom's just a tantrumming 3-year old in an old woman's body) I had access to a large caliber handgun that would leave little chance in removing a good chunk of my chest. And because of the age of our home: a cast iron bathtub. Perfect for containing fluids, making clean up an easier task for the coroner and FH.
Yep. I had it all figured out. Because I didn't want any kind of margin for error. I meant business. No messing around with pills or blades. Too messy and unpredictable. So I had a plan. I just needed to figure out when was the right time to leave.
It's safe now, except for a possible swear word or two.
And then, somehow, I had a brief moment of clarity. I'm really not sure how or why, but the rational part of my brain finally got through by mentally screaming "what the actual fuck do you think you're doing!?!" I remember I was standing in the kitchen talking to FH when it happened. It was a Sunday. I know because I had a therapy appointment the next day. I think I interrupted him, but I'm not sure. I told him that I needed to tell him something important and everything came spilling out.
Here's what's really important. If I didn't have that solid trust and respect with FuzzyHusband, I don't think I'd have told him. Even in that moment of clarity. If I didn't have a good therapist (who saw me twice that week) and a good doctor (who worked me in right after the therapy appointment the next day), I am quite certain the feelings of mentally drowning would've taken over yet again and I'd not be sitting here typing up my story. Because that's how it feels. Like you're drowning. And that's WITH the advantages of good medical care and a support network. I cannot begin to think what it's like for someone feeling the same way without what I have.
Now I'm fairly stable. Meaning I'm not actively planning on killing myself and I'm mostly mentally strong enough to tell the dark parts of my brain to pee up a rope when they come calling. There are still changes I've had to make to try and help myself recover. Dropping the blog to weekly was one of them. Having a weekly record of what I've working on is helpful because memory lapses are part of my new normal. Plus it allows me to stay connected to people I care about. Both of those are positive things. Walking away from toxic people, no matter their relation, is another thing. And man is that difficult to do. Particularly when you were groomed to behave a certain way towards people.
I remind myself every day that I'm worth the air I breathe. That there are people who love me and cherish me. Because there are and they do. Some days are easier than others. Some days it's all I can do to put on a clean pair of underwear. I really loathe those days...
A while back a friend of mine ran a live-streamed fundraiser for the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention. I donated in the named of a friend who'd taken his own life. What bothered be about that situation was: he never asked for help because of the stigma and when our mutual friend wrote the obituary, she wrote that he'd died of heart problems. We read the letter and in fact we found his body.... a day I'll never forget. And she covered up his pain because of stigma. If we as a society refuse to educate ourselves regarding mental illness, how many more people we take their own lives?
Anyways, when I made that donation, I was entered into a drawing for a giveaway. Many artists from all over had donated items for my friend to use as incentives to donate. As it happens, another dear friend was one of those artists. And suddenly I found myself the proud owner of a paracord bracelet woven in teal and purple, the colors of the suicide awareness and prevention ribbon. I started wearing that thing daily after it arrived because it served as a physical reminder of my worth to someone. I told FH that I was afraid of what would happen if I ever lost it or if it broke.
Then my brain remembered something I'd read about a few years ago. Project Semicolon.
And then the idea for this was born.
My chosen artist used a photo of my bracelet to create the design. Now I will always have that reminder that my story isn't over. No matter what my brain tries to whisper in the dark moments. Incidentally, my friend who made the bracelet cried when he saw the photo.
So. If you or someone you care about is struggling, please encourage them to ask for help. Make them understand that there's no shame in being sick and no shame in asking for help. We aren't weak for asking for help. We ask for help because we've been strong for too long and need to rest. But that rest does not have to be permanent.
American Foundation of Suicide Prevention
National Alliance on Mental Illness
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Suicide Prevention Resource Center