I don’t want to write this

Because I don’t want it to have happened and need to be written about.

I work at an agency that deals with many organizations and other agencies and people. One of the reasons I was picked for my position is because I am a person who lives with a mental illness. I have experience of mental health from inside the system.

There is an organization in town that used to have a lot of contracts with my agency, but all those contracts were canceled during the recession of 2008/09 and have not yet been reinstated. The leader of that organization has been nursing a deep grudge against my agency ever since. He picked an individual to focus his vitriol on who had to take steps to protect himself. Since I started this job almost four years ago, that organization’s leader has switched his focus to me. He even physically assaulted me in public once.

Yesterday, I opened my email to find an angry message from him and a message from his number two that attacked me as a human being.

The first thing that happened was that old behavior took over, and I shut down emotionally. I became numb. A colleague who was copied on the emails asked me if I was OK, and I truthfully stated that I was not. Becoming numb was a coping mechanism I learned as a child and adolescent in the face of relentless bullying from family, church, and others.

The second thing that happened was the return of old voices telling me I’m worthless. I’m happy to say those voices didn’t have a lot of weight behind them. It makes me angry that those old voices were triggered at all. They’ve been quiet for a long time, and I didn’t need the experience of them popping in ever again.

I took immediate action by forwarding the abusive emails to my supervisor and her boss. My supervisor was unavailable, but I met with her boss. I was able to tell her about the past assault and continued abuse. Her immediate answer was that she will contact the organization’s leader and have all his messages sent directly to her. This gave me great relief, and it was a good solution. I will not have to be on the brunt end of that man’s abuse any more.

The real danger of an event like this for me is it can trigger a mood episode. I’m just coming off a seasonal mood episode that was heightened by all the turmoil happening at work. I’m really frightened this will cause me to plummet into major depression. I’m taking steps to see that doesn’t happen, and I will know in a few days to a week if I’ve dodged the bullet.

Luckily, I had therapy last night, and that helped enormously. I was able to really talk about what I was feeling.

This morning, I feel OK. There’s one thing that puzzles me: I don’t really feel anything about the event yesterday. I’m blank. I’m not empty. I’m just blank in regards to that man and his number two. I really don’t understand it. I guess it’s a good thing. I could be furious. I could be really sad. I’m not. I’m blank. Maybe I worked it all out in therapy last night.

I’m not ready to say I’m in the clear, but for today, I’m OK.

Struggling

I’m struggling today. I want to go home and crawl in bed.

Not going home is the first thing I’m doing to help myself feel better.

The second thing is I meditated early this morning.

Then I walked for exercise.

I’ve also visited the cathedral. I wasn’t able to meditate, but I made myself say a positive thing to myself.

Finally, I got an extra session with my therapist late this afternoon after work.

In between now and then, I will eat a healthy lunch.

I’m using the tools to feel better. I’m not taking this feeling down as permanent. I’m actively working to feel better.

Emotions aren’t permanent

I was sad this morning. Very sad. I was in the middle of it, and it seemed endless.

My best friend said, “Remembering that this too shall pass doesn’t make the pain any less.” In that second, I realized I’d forgotten that this would pass. Sitting in the middle of it, it felt permanent. That reminder helped ease my sadness slightly.

Then I hung out the laundry, and that action helped me feel much better, so I went for a speed walk and got some exercise. I feel much better now.

I am really grateful for the reminder that feelings aren’t permanent.

There’s More To It

I am glad there’s a lot of attention being paid to suicide right now. It’s a topic I understand intimately.

Here’s what I know.

Getting to a place where suicide seems like a reasonable option is a complex process. It’s not simple like breathing in a virus and catching a cold. It takes time and a series of events that overwhelm an individual’s ability to cope. The individual struggles through somehow. He/She manages to just make it from one day to the next.

Then one day, something happens that seems insurmountable to the individual. It just seems like too much. The pain is too great.

Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds the resources for coping with pain.

I did not write those words, but I understand them. In 2003, I was in great pain. Life hurt. Each day brought new pain. I struggled through, until an event added that extra pain that made the whole pile of pain too much to bear. I was in a black pit. The pit’s walls were made of slick mud. There was nothing to grasp to pull myself up and out. All was blackness. There was no light. I made a plan, and I was on the verge of carrying it out when the phone rang.

Miraculously, I answered the phone, and I sobbed to the person on the other end of the line what was going on. Like the majority of suicidal people, I did not want to die. I wanted help. I wanted the pain to end. My sobbing words to the other person opened the possibility of getting help. I called my sister who came and took me to the hospital. I got help there.

Slowly, over a period of years, I healed. That bears repeating: I healed. Today, I do not have suicidal thoughts. Today, I live in recovery from mental illness. I practice a regimen to maintain my stability. I take medicine, I talk to a therapist regularly, I exercise, I eat healthy food, and I try to get good sleep. It takes discipline. I am not perfect, but I’m damn good at making sure I do what’s necessary to stay stable.

I’ll continue to take the necessary steps to be well. I like being well. That’s a good indicator of recovery: I like being well.

If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, I want you to know that I understand.

Here are some resources for getting help with suicidal thoughts.

Here are more resources for mental illness.

I wish you well.

Rule of One

I only have to do one thing.

I don’t have to feel completely better all at once.

I don’t have to completely heal all at once.

I can take just one small step toward feeling better and healing.

I don’t have to be cheerful and bubbly if I don’t feel like it.

I can choose to smile for just one second. I can choose to feel that smile on my face for just one second.

This morning I get to take one step forward.

Just one. That’s all I have to do right now. Just one.

Celebrate Every Victory

Healing takes courage. It’s hard work to face our challenges no matter where they come from and turn them into opportunities.

We are brave when we call a doctor or case manager or a friend who supports us just to report on how we feel.

We are brave when we make an appointment with a caregiver.

We are brave when we leave the house to go to that appointment. We are brave when we ride the bus or drive our car or ride our bicycle or walk to that appointment.

We are brave as we sit and wait our turn to see the caregiver.

We are brave when we speak honestly to the caregiver about how we feel. Being honest takes the most courage.

We are brave as we follow through on the things we know will help our recovery.

To be blunt, people who live with mental illness are brave when they breathe. Life is not simple.

If you are a person who lives with a mental illness, be kind to yourself and pat yourself on the back just for getting out of bed. You deserve it. You’re doing a good job just living.

Try

Few clichés make me angrier than Yoda’s “Do or do not. There is no try.” I sit here in my imperfection, and I want the world to know that sometimes simply trying is heroic.

I remember one bout of depression that was so profound the only effort I could make was to lie on the sofa and sing “la la la” over and over. I barely had enough energy to brush my teeth. Singing “la la la” to myself while I was prostrate and immobile was all the effort I could muster.

I will not apologize for not being a superhero.

If you try to do one simple thing to take care of yourself today, you’re my hero! If you sit up on the side of the bed and stand up and walk to the sink to brush your teeth, you’re my hero! If you put on clean clothes despite the voices in your head telling you it’s not important, you’re my hero! If you wash one dish from your pile of dirty ones so you can look at a pretty plate under your cheese sandwich, you’re my hero!

All you have to do today is try! Don’t let Hollywood tell you that if you’re not a super-model or superhero, then you’re worthless. Don’t listen to the news. Don’t listen to the internet.

Don’t listen to Yoda!

If you’re breathing despite all the anxiety or depression or mania or voices, you’re a hero!