One month ago, I attempted suicide. Even as I type the words, they look unreal to me. One month ago, I looked at my life and decided there was no reason to continue. Today, I can look at my life and list reasons to continue and revel in each breath – my daughters, my grandsons, the beauty outside my window, the chance that things will be better tomorrow. The list goes on. In many ways, the circumstances I face haven’t changed. The difference lies in my brain chemistry and the way I relate to the world around me.
I have bipolar disorder. In these days of people lightly tossing around that term to describe a multitude of behaviors (I’ve actually heard it used as an adjective, “Why is she so bipolar about everything?”), I have what my new therapist terms a PMI (persistent mental illness). For descriptive purposes, I prefer the old term, manic depression. In my case, it’s particularly apt. Although I sometimes experience euphoric highs, my manic spells are usually riddled with depression. My doctor would say I have mixed episodes. I would say I live through hell whenever they hit. I become a frenzy of impulses, all of them bad. Money flows through my hands without attention to bills and expenses. Suicidal thoughts haunt me from dawn to dusk; nightmares lead me to believe they haunt my sleep as well. Nothing feels good for long if at all. The only overriding frame of mind is that I should die, I deserve to die, everyone in my life would be better off if I wasn’t around, and I most certainly would be better off not living. It’s like being caught in a trap. Each thought feeds the next, and they only ever move me in one direction.
My suicide attempt was the third to land me in a hospital at the brink of death. I suppose three times in twenty years is better than three times in quick succession, but despite knowing my disorder drove me to that space, I still feel shame. It’s a terrible thing to throw away your life for no reason. With the help of some gifted professionals, I try to remind myself that there are too states of being for me – well me and sick me. Well me would never consider suicide as an option. Sick me considers little else. This time, the blow is worse than in the past. I have been regularly taking my medication for years. It’s painful to realize even a positive change in my behavior isn’t always enough. According to my new doctor, my old meds were at such low dosages as to have no effect. I’m trying not to hold my previous doctor responsible for the situation. I had a couple of years without any major episodes. Maybe they thought the low dosages were working. Maybe they did for a while and stopped. All I know is that I have new meds that are doing the job for the time being.
The fallout of this episode will be with me for a long time. In the lead up to my attempt, I mismanaged my funds to the point that I will soon have to move. I’m not quite sure where or how, but as in the past, something will come up. The first hospital bills have come, but you won’t hear me complaining about them. The underlying truth in those slips of paper is that my life was saved by dedicated medical staff. Luckily for me, I have insurance that brought the financial cost to me down considerably.
What insurance is this? Medicare. Did I mention that I’m unable to work due to my illness and the associated conditions that I’m working on in therapy? If you’re wondering how I survive, the answer is simple. Social Security Disability. The apartment that I’ll soon have to leave? Government subsidized housing. Other programs I’ve utilized in the past when necessary include food stamps (SNAP as it’s now called) and Medicaid. And let me tell you, I am grateful for every single one of them. I may not live a life that people at higher incomes would understand or desire, but I am able to survive. You see, I have no family to speak of beyond my children. One of them is a teenager still living at home who is grateful to still have her mother (we’re working with her counselor at a community mental health center to help her understand the situation, in case you’re wondering). The other two are adults with families and financial struggles of their own. They cannot afford to support me, a thing for which both have expressed frustration. They would, but between student loans and a host of other bills, they simply don’t have the means. They are worried about the short-term future for their sister and me, but they know, as I do, that life has a way of working out when you least expect it.
The reason I am posting this is to underline one more time that, yes, elections do have consequences. For me and so many others like me, the difference between life and death can be as simple as protecting and promoting social programs. The Romneys of the world may not understand how much I would like to never have the problems I face again and how much I wish I could think clearly at all times, but I feel confident that progressives can and do make that distinction. Not everyone has family members that can or will help them. Not everyone understands that a mental illness isn’t due to demon possession (thanks, Mom) or some sort of willful behavior.
On this Thanksgiving Day, I will be thankful for every remaining moment I have. What I can tell you from a medicated perspective is that the mentally ill don’t want pity. We want the chance at more balanced, productive lives. As part of my therapy once things are more settled, I hope to go back to school. My tentative plan is to get a degree in social work. In a few years, my last child will leave home for college. Part of me yearns for something meaningful in my life that isn’t related to being Mom. Having received help from so many good people, I want a more concrete way to give back. I hope it doesn’t sound too sappy to say I’ve been inspired in part by the president’s background as a community organizer and by the general ethos of the Democratic Party and a good portion of the posters on this site. If I could some day support myself while helping others, it would balance the time I’ve spent in hell. Maybe some day I can sit down with someone else and say the words that more than one person has said to me lately. I know this is a hard time for you, but I promise, it gets better.