I’d like to welcome Bobbi today (of I am Resplendent blog) for the continuation of suicide prevention week. Her story is one of depression, suicidal ideation and a suicide attempt. But through her experiences she learned a very important lesson that I’m happy to have her share. As she says, “it (the attempt) brought me to a place of learning one of the most valuable lessons of my life: to not settle for subpar mental health care but to advocate for the best available.” Advocating for our own mental health is one of the most important lessons we can share with you, something I also had to learn.
Trigger warning: Childhood abuse, suicidal ideation and a suicide attempt. If you find yourself triggered or are otherwise struggling, please call 800-273-TALK (8255)
I called my psychiatrist as soon as I could get to my feet at the bottom. He started me on the anti-depressant that had worked best for me in the past. But it was too late. The depression was not just fast acting, but it was virulent. Within a few weeks my mind began singing its haunting death song. At first I had enough hope to resist it. But the darkness wore on my resolve. Every day of depression chipped away at my hope that I would escape with my life from this latest visit into the pit. The death song grew louder and I began to sing along with it, thinking suicide might be a viable way to escape the emotional pain of the depression.
I kept in contact with my psychiatrist. I was open with him about my increasing thoughts of suicide. Two weeks after my first appointment with him for this depressive episode he hospitalized me for my safety and to treat my suicidal ideation.
I had been in the hospital twice before, once each time during my second and third depressive episodes. Both of those times had been relatively helpful. This time, though, was not only unhelpful but frustrating and traumatizing. The staff was jaded and lacking in any form of compassion. Patients quickly learned to keep their distance from staff, and the staff was more than happy to experience the distance.
There was very little therapeutic help available to patients. Instead we played Scrabble for long periods of time each day. I was one of the lucky few, because I had good insurance, to be assigned a Psychology Intern who met with me once a day for his version of therapy. I wanted to talk about the deep pain I felt from my childhood abuse, which the depression was exacerbating. My anguish from those events was intense and I wanted his help learning to cope so I’d feel more hopeful about my future.
But he refused to talk about my childhood or anything related to my abuse. His plan was to teach me affirmations and “positive thinking” so I’d be a happy, happy girl and skip home blowing bubbles full of glitter. Can you tell I neither appreciated his approach nor found it effective? Yeah.
After being in the hospital for eight days the night shift nurse approached me and asked if I felt good enough to go home. I told her no, that I still felt as depressed and suicidal as I did when I arrived. She informed me that if I didn’t “feel better” by tomorrow they’d send me to a locked hospital 20 miles away that was one step beneath involuntary commitment to the State Mental Hospital. As depressed as I was, I was no fool. I told her I “felt better”. She said “Good. We’re discharging you tomorrow”.
The day after I got home I went to visit my fiance, the death song continuing to swirl through my mind on constant repeat. When I arrived at his home I instantly knew something was wrong. He wouldn’t touch me or make eye contact. He told me he had met someone while I was in the hospital and didn’t want to see me anymore.
In that very instant my remaining resistance to my suicidal ideation shattered into a million tiny pieces. I was done. The death song stopped being the depression’s song. I adopted it as my own. It was my song now and I sang it loud and proud. I was no longer anguished or depressed. Instead, my mind and body had been taken over by a calm resolution. I had decided. This pain was going to end. A sweet wave of relief washed over me and I embraced it for all it was worth.
I stopped at the liquor store on the way home to acquire a half gallon of vodka. Arriving home I found my stash of medication I had built up “just in case” over the years I’d battled depression. I had over 270 pills of different types and dosages. Sitting on my sofa I took all of the pills, washing them down with the vodka and watching television. My Mother even called while I was in the process of taking all of the drugs. I spoke with her calmly, saying nothing of what I was doing or reaching out to her for help. I was resolute. We chatted for about 15 minutes and after we hung up I continued downing the pills with the vodka.
After I finished taking all the pills I went to lay down on my bed. At that moment, in a manner that still surprises me, my will to live woke up with startling strength. I dialed 911. Help arrived in time to save my life. Barely.
After 24 hours in ICU and another few days in the Cardiac Care Unit, I was transferred to yet another psychiatric ward. This stay was as traumatic and as fruitless as the one I had completed immediately prior to my suicide attempt. I wrote about it on my blog in The Day Charades Healed Everyone…Except Me.
During that hospitalization I realized that if I was going to get better I had to have better care. I couldn’t leave the responsibility for directing my treatment in the hands of whatever psychiatrist my insurance assigned me. I couldn’t tolerate bad therapy. And I couldn’t allow myself to be warehoused in subpar psychiatric hospital’s simply because my doctor wanted to meet his obligation to keep me safe.
While still in the hospital I started calling local therapists. Sitting in the corner of the day room with a phone book (pre-Internet days here, people) I made lists of possibilities. When “Phone Time” was allowed you’d find me in line, waiting and taking my turn. Repeatedly. Once I found someone I felt I connected with I told the staff I was better. Those seemed to be the magic words at this hospital, too, because they discharged me the next day.
I started therapy that week with the most incredible therapist. She was compassionate, understanding and knowledgeable about childhood abuse, PTSD and depression. I felt an unconditional acceptance with her, something I had never felt before in my life. With her help I learned how to love myself, for the very first time. Once I felt like I was worth fighting for, she taught me how to advocate for myself for quality psychological and psychiatric help, rather than settling for whatever was handed to me.
She guided me in working with my insurance company to find a new psychiatrist, someone who listened to me rather than lecturing me, passing judgment or declaring me a malingering lump because I wasn’t “healed” after one or two medication adjustments. My new doctor gave me even greater hope for my recovery, dialing down the Death Song’s volume. I knew that she was on my side because she saw me worth fighting for.
Our team of three realized I needed more intensive help than outpatient therapy could provide. After researching we found an inpatient program a state away that provided treatment specifically for women who had suffered childhood abuse. They had an incredible reputation. But they were expensive. My insurance would cover only part of the costs. From the way the hospital’s team was already working with my therapist and doctor I had faith this was going to be a wise investment. I borrowed the money, drove 400 miles and admitted myself for the ten day program.
It was one of the smartest things I ever did to care for my mental health. The hospital was phenomenal, nothing like what I had experienced in the past. The staff was compassionate, competent and accepting. They recognized me as an expert about my own experience and actually wanted my opinion on what would help me. That was such a new experience for me, one that was immensely empowering.
After a 24 hour assessment period, including many discussions with my therapist and psychiatrist at home, a treatment program tailored to my specific needs was implemented. Those subsequent eight days were filled with the hardest and most intense work I have ever done in my recovery. But it paid off, exponentially.
Before I left, a plan for treatment back home was formulated by me, my team at the hospital and my local team. Under their advice I started seeing my therapist twice a week, working both on my past trauma and coping with current day to day living. I saw my psychiatrist every two weeks. The goal was not only to help me heal from my traumatic past, but to stay on top of my depression and prevent it from getting to the point where I felt suicidal again.
Being suicidal and following through with those thoughts was one of the most frightening moments of my life. Yet, ironically, it brought me to a place of learning one of the most valuable lessons of my life: to not settle for subpar mental health care but to advocate for the best available. Why? Because I’m worth it! I didn’t deserve what happened to me as a child. I didn’t deserve to inherit the depression gene that has facilitated my repeated tumbles into darkness. I do deserve to be treated as a valuable person, worthy of quality care. All of us do. Every day. Without fail.