A year ago this month, my psychiatric provider asked me whether I was experiencing thoughts of suicide, and I said yes.
In the months prior, I had been diagnosed with PTSD for the trauma I had experienced regarding health and the destruction of my body years earlier (as well as the ongoing trauma caused by the disease). I had never truly dealt with the emotions from the traumatic experiences, so treatment for PTSD triggered depression.
After studying depression and mental illness for years, I can honestly say that I never truly understood depression or appreciated its grip on a person until I experienced it myself. It wasn’t something I could snap out of; it wasn’t something I could heal with deep breaths or yoga or nature walks; it wasn’t a choice. I felt sluggish, incapable, unworthy, and unable to do anything about it. I felt everything and nothing. I felt heavy all the time. I felt stuck. I spent all of my spare time on the couch. When I begrudgingly went through the motions of my life, it was as if the air was thick and took more effort to travel through. And when I thought of all the things I could do to make myself feel better, I couldn’t do them.
That’s the thing about depression–it’s not a matter of what you will or won’t do to make yourself feel better; it’s a matter of what you can and cannot do. It’s not that I wouldn’t go on walks or meditate, it’s that I couldn’t.
When I started experiencing suicidal ideation, at first it was a little voice in the back of my mind. You have chronic health issues, every flare feels unbearable, it’s put you through hell and will likely do so again…there’s only one way to guarantee you won’t ever be sick again. Over time, it evolved from the quietest voice in my head to the loudest. I went from quietly entertaining it as an option to having frequent moments in which I actively felt like I didn’t want to be alive anymore. I was tired of fighting a losing battle, and I felt ready to wave my white flag of surrender.
During this time, I largely have my education to thank because I knew what to do, and I have my people to thank because they responded and helped protect me. I told all of my closest friends and immediate family about my suicidal thoughts, and I asked each of them to check in with me on a regular basis. I had dear friends around me that I could call or text when I needed, and they would open their doors to me when I couldn’t be alone. I talked to my therapist and psychiatric provider, and we developed a safety plan. I knew where the closest Emergency Room was if I needed it. When I truly felt at my lowest, I removed access to means for myself–I took all of the pills in my home that I could overdose on and dropped them off for a close friend to keep for me. This all sounds quick when it’s summarized up, but they were the most agonizing few months I’ve ever experienced. Expressing to the people who love you most that you don’t want to live and asking them to fight for you is unimaginably painful.
When I moved back home to Oklahoma from Nebraska, I picked up the pills from my friend and gave them to my mom to hide from me, as well as any medicine my parents had at home. Honestly, the only thing that kept me from suicidal attempts was the thought of one of my parents finding me. I could not fathom the pain it would cause them, so I kept most of my painful thoughts to myself and tried to distract myself from them. The problem is, you can’t really distract yourself from the loudest voice in your head, can you? My parents painfully watched while I continued to drag my feet around the house, unsure of my future and unable to build motivation to do anything about it. I was still in so much pain. Many days were filled with crying to friends or family that I didn’t feel worthy of living, that I didn’t see the purpose of continuing. In December, I had another serious surgery, this time on my neck. It was yet another time that the disease had threatened my life. Recovery was (and still is) long and painful. I felt like living a life like this wasn’t worth it.
Last month, I started the autoimmune protocol (AIP). I didn’t force myself to start something to make myself feel better; I waited until I was ready. I waited until I was ABLE. I didn’t realize it at the time, but AIP was my way of taking back control over my life, physically and mentally. I had given myself time to heal, and now I could re-develop my sense of autonomy. I was finally doing something for myself. Through the protocol, I can see a future for myself, a life that isn’t full of suffering. It ignited my forgotten love for cooking, recipe development, connecting with like-minded individuals. It gave me my confidence back. My real confidence, not the confidence mask I put on in public for so long.
I don’t even know when it happened, exactly. But about a week and a half ago, I stumbled upon the pills my mom had hidden from me. And for the first time in a year, I felt nothing. They were just pills. They weren’t a means to achieve peace.
I realized that I was not suicidal anymore.
This is not meant to paint a pretty picture of how I got my life back together. I’m still not back together. But I don’t think I’m falling apart anymore. And I can’t stress enough that I waited until I was ready. I wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it before then. I will have more posts in the future expanding on my experience with depression and suicidal ideation, but when I’m ready to write about them. I felt this post in my heart, and I knew I had to write it.
Do you know someone who you fear may be experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings? Please, don’t ignore the feeling, and don’t be afraid to speak up about it. You can save someone’s life by speaking up to them. The words feel scary and wrong coming out of your mouth, but they need to be said.
Are you experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings? Please reach out to someone, anyone. You are not alone. You can text GO to 741741 to chat with a crisis counselor 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, available 24/7 as well. Alternatively, you can go straight to your nearest Emergency Room.