A Miracle

I’m recovering from a break up that is causing me a lot of anguish. Admittedly, the grief is fading. Of course, I would like it to fade faster.

Yesterday, I had a sudden realization. Through it all, through all the turmoil, I have not once had a suicidal thought. I have had an unfortunate return of negative self-talk, but I have never once thought I would be better off dead.

The absence of this type of thought is honestly remarkable. Just a few years ago, I thought of death multiple times throughout every day. I’m in the midst of pain, but I’m not thinking about wanting the ultimate escape.

I can personally attest that recovery is real. Recovery works.

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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.

Celebrities and Suicide

This morning, it was reported that Anthony Bourdain died by suicide. Earlier this week, Kate Spade also died by suicide. Yesterday, there was a new report that suicide rates in the US have risen more than 30%. It’s a national health crisis.

All this weighs on me.

I came very close to attempting suicide many years ago. I am so grateful the phone rang at the right moment, and I chose to answer it. I told the caller what was happening, and I got help.

I have been in the pit where no light shines. I know the interminable blackness. I am not going to sit here in my chair and preach to you.

I am going to tell you the truth.

It got better for me. It was sheer hell at times on the journey, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I kept walking. Some days, I took one single solitary step, but I took that step. Some days, that step was simply breathing. I could not accomplish more.

My recovery took a long time. I don’t know what your recovery is going to be like. Yours might be quicker. There is no right way or wrong way to do this thing called recovery.

For today, I’m walking. These days, I can walk a lot. I recovered.

Please, stay with me on the walk.

Here are some resources for help.

Suicide Prevention Help

In the wake of actor Robin Williams’ suicide, I have added more important suicide prevention help numbers and sites to my page marked “Resources.” Please, feel free to take a look.

Through the statistics page of this blog’s host, I can see the broad categories people use to find me. Since yesterday, many people have searched for suicide prevention. To you, I say I understand. I have been there. I really have. I know that black pit very well.

I do not want to take your decision from you. I would like to say, however, that before you make a final decision you talk to someone anonymously. There are numbers you can call, sites you can use to chat, and other ways to reach out for help.

You are worth it.

I know you may not feel like it at this moment, but it’s true.

You are important.

A Notable Suicide

Robin Williams, the Oscar-winning actor and comedian, died of suicide today. It is a very sad event. In a very brief statement, his grieving wife said he had been battling depression.

I am very sad, because he had a great talent that was wide ranging. He was a brilliant comedian, but his prowess as an actor won him an Oscar in 1998 for a dramatic role in the movie Good Will Hunting. I was a teenager when he made a hit on television in the show Mork and Mindy. He was indeed very funny, and he will be greatly missed.

Whenever I hear about anyone killing themselves, I remember my own story. It’s been a very long time now, but I understand the black pit of depression so deep and dark that no light shines. There is not even the slightest hint that light is shining anywhere. No light. Not an inkling. Not a tiny dot. All oozes blackness.

I was saved from my suicide attempt miraculously by the phone. It rang at just the right moment, and the person on the other end heard my cry for help. I was whisked away to the hospital and received help.

Over the years of living with bipolar disorder, I spent much time contemplating death, wishing for it sometimes and fearing it at others. I no longer think about death. Recovery has taught me many things about living with mental illness. I live with hope today.

I am reminded also of the simple words on the website Metanoia.org. They say

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

Those words are true. People with mental illness like depression think a lot about suicide, and they do not contemplate it from selfish motives. Suicide results from pain that is so great it outweighs a person’s ability to deal with it.

I meditate daily, and in my meditation, I call down light. I believe that light brings hope, and hope brings life.

A Wide-Ranging Session

One client during my internship has grown into a really interesting case. Readers will remember him as the combative one. He has returned several times since that appointment, and his attitude has always been good. He enjoys lively conversation, but he’s never returned to the highly argumentative tone.

Today, he arrived and sat down and informed me he’d almost taken the bus to a town about two hours away. Taking this trip is his way of saying he wants to kill himself. He’s taken the trip many times in the past decade, but he’s thankfully never followed through. His routine there is always the same. He drinks rum on the bus ride and then continues to drink the first day there. He also smokes cigars that first day. He sleeps outdoors and awakens with the intention of killing himself the second day. Instead, he takes the two-hour bus ride back to the care home where he has a bed.

I knew about this habit of his, and I’ve known about his chronic suicidality since I first met him. My response to him this morning was to thank him for telling me about his plans. Then I said that I was glad he hadn’t gone on the trip, because it would have left me without a client and I would have been bored.

He quickly said, “That’s not a good enough reason for me not to go.”

I responded that I completely understood, but that I still didn’t want to be bored. He was really interested in my seemingly nonchalant answer.

My real answer was to then launch into continuing to fill out his WRAP folder. We approached the section entitled Crisis Plan, which requires a lot of writing by the client. They have to think thoroughly about how they want their care to be conducted in case they fall into crisis. My client mentioned simply that he didn’t want to do it. I agreed that we should stop since I’ve been trained that WRAP is self-directed. He did say he wasn’t ready to completely give up on the Plan. He wants a hook. He’s looking for something that will give him a lease on life.

I told him again of my own WRAP and how it changed my life. I went from having chronic negative self-talk to none. I talked about the dark times I’d seen, and I called them that: the dark times. I kept it general. Using “I” statements, I mentioned that since writing my WRAP, I had not relapsed into dark times, and I had not required a stay in the hospital. My WRAP has kept them at bay.

His reaction was to announce that dark times are the natural state of mankind, and they shouldn’t be fought. I thank him for telling me his ideas, and then I surprised him. I agreed with him. Dark times may be the natural state for many, but I don’t have to stay stuck there. I was careful to mention that I was speaking for me.

This client has a set of interesting ideas that he regularly says for all to hear. “Man is a primate.” “Man is alienated from life.” “Life is meaningless.” “God is dead.”

I surprised him again today. I agreed with him once more. I told him I thought it was indeed difficult for people to find an ultimate meaning in life. He smiled and said he had nothing to say in response. I continued with my story and how important WRAP was to helping me out of the dark times and into a state of serenity. That piqued his interest. I explained how the Daily Maintenance List kept me on an even keel so I wouldn’t fall back into a crisis.

“The whole meaning of WRAP is to keep us out of crisis,” I said.

He looked at me quizzically and muttered something about the meaninglessness of life.

I answered him by describing the meaning I find in a string of small things. I love my job. I love my family. I enjoy reading and writing for myself and others to read. Finally, I have a passion for theater. While I reserved my speech to “I” statements, I tried to steer the conversation to his enjoyments. He loves classical music and speaks about it with fervor.

Then I mentioned the word “pleasure,” and we started a tangential discussion of how a meaningless life could or couldn’t possibly have any. The talk was fascinating. We spoke about hedonism, and yes, we used that word. He’s a smart man and has read a good deal of philosophy. I threw Epicurus into the mix, and he was impressed when I mentioned that Epicurus was a champion of the middle path rather than what Epicurean philosophy has come to represent, namely hedonism. My client said he preferred a more stoical way.

We ended our time together with a talk about Shakespeare’s sonnets and specifically, the unknown lady mentioned therein. My client called Mozart and Beethoven eternal, and I said the lady of the sonnets was, too. Shakespeare even tells the lady she will be eternal in his words. My client appreciates the beauty of those words. He was surprised at me again that I seemed so enthusiastic about the Bard. For our session next week, I’m going to take a few of the sonnets for us to study, I think.

It was indeed a great session. I am blessed to know this man. He touches me with his candor. He honestly appears to be searching for something that he can’t or is afraid to grasp. I’m not so presumptuous to imagine I will help him find it, but I truly hope I can demonstrate that reaching out doesn’t have to be painful. A desire can sometimes lead to pleasant surprises.

Working with my Peers

Life is for living. I am devoted to the notion that recovery from mental illness is possible. I have been trained to work with my peers and model recovery. I began my internship about a month ago as a part of my certification process. The clinic I am assigned to has me working one-on-one with clients developing their Wellness Recovery Action Plans. Some are very enthusiastic about the idea of WRAP, and some are not. Many are indifferent.

WRAP changed my life. It rid me of years of negative self-talk. When the negative thoughts return on those rare occasions now, I can let them be, observe them, acknowledge them, and simply let them go. They have no weight like they did in the past. I don’t feel their burden.

I have two clients who desperately want to recover and regain a life resembling what they lost before they were diagnosed with mental illness. It’s a joy to work with them and watch them grow. I encourage clients to decorate their WRAP folders. Using creativity marks them as their own. One man placed stickers on his folder in a careful grid. Most clients draw. One young man used magazine pictures to demonstrate where he hoped to go with his life. Their creativity is limitless.

And then there is the one client who is argumentative. He told me the first time we met he would question everything we discussed. Yesterday, he crossed from argumentative to combative. He began by voicing his displeasure at our starting time. He debated about the posters on the walls. He took issue with the idea of recovery itself.

I thanked him for his ideas, and I tried to steer the conversation to our task of working on his WRAP, which he then proclaimed “lame.”

I thanked him again and confronted him with my own experience with WRAP. He changed the subject.

This client wants something in life to cling to. He has no family. He has no friends. What’s worse is he is almost chronically suicidal. Yesterday, he was like a wounded animal striking back at anything moving near it.

I am a Certified Peer Specialist Intern working with others who have severe and persistent mental illness. I am learning quickly that some of us want to get well, many of us don’t even know that recovery is possible, and a few are stuck.