Thursday, September 10, 2015

TMI, in Honor of World Suicide Prevention Day

While I was pregnant with my fifth, the whole world fell apart. Some nut jobs flew planes into the twin towers and the Pentagon. People started getting envelopes with anthrax. My girl scout co-leader staged a coup. ("Good news! We have enough girls from our school to start our very own troop!") The city came into my home under the guise of a rehab loan to insulate our ceiling and get a safe water heater, and decided that a third of my home had been built illegally and needed to come down. I already was experiencing my usual pregnancy depression, and things went south from there. I couldn't take it. I didn't want to take it. Thoughts of death filled my every spare thought. I wanted to die with every iota of myself.

It was obvious that I needed to get back on anti-depressants. I'd gone off mine because I didn't want the extra risks for the pregnancy, but the truth was that suicide was 100% deadly to a fetus. The benefits clearly outweighed the risks. I happened to have insurance at that point so I called Kaiser to get an appointment with a therapist and/or psychiatrist. They asked basic questions to ascertain whether I was planning on killing myself. I knew that a yes to any of those questions would result in a "5150," an involuntary stay at a psych hospital. My kids were 10, 8, 5, and 3 at the time. Where would they go?  The only possible answer: "No, I am not going to kill myself." The Kaiser employee, having determined that she didn't need to send the police to save me, scheduled me for the next available appointment, four months from then. Four months. Luckily, I got into my primary care physician after only a month for an SSRI. I just "talked back to the crazy" while I waited.

My crazy brain thought of caulking myself and the kids into the kitchen and having a "movie, ice cream and pizza party" while the gas was on, and I told the crazy brain to SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP, I'd ponder snow camping and freezing to death, and I told myself that it wouldn't work and to SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP. Envying people with cancer, wishing for a meteorite to take me and my house out, hoping for a deadly car accident, all were greeted with my standard SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP. Never underestimate the power of telling the horrid thoughts no. It got me through while I waited for help.

Eventually, I got my SSRI and I started meeting with the Kaiser therapist, a kind of crappy therapist actually. It was enough to keep my domino up. Kaiser eventually got me in to see a psychiatrist and she was a delight. I later found a private therapist who was willing to do phone therapy with me and I worked hard to find my joi de vivre again. The meds stopped the death thoughts. The therapy gave me tools to deal with the emotions that come with life's trials. I was out of my house for fifteen months with a young family. It sucked in the biggest possible way, but I stayed alive. And I got better.

My husband later told me that while crazy me and sane me were fighting it out in my brain, I was calmer than usual and easier to get along with. He couldn't tell that I was on the edge of the abyss. I was running girl scout meetings and interviewing contractors and meeting with midwives and homeschooling and wanting to die with every iota of my being. I talked to some of my closest friends about it. I talked to my husband about it. They all knew I was stressed, but they didn't know how tempted I was. How close I was. Even though I was saying it, they weren't seeing it.

One of my closest friends saw it. She was similarly tempted. She and I made a living pact, similar to a suicide pact, with a happier outcome. The image of the line of dominoes falling and standing strong to hold up the dominoes that depended on me came from this pact of ours.  If I were to kill myself, people would be affected. Period. A lot of people.

I don't say this because I am immensely popular. I say it because when Carla jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, it affected me. We weren't close, but she was my friend. She bought cookies from my girl scouts. She was a Pampered Chef host for me. We'd talked about life, parenting. I say it because when the daughter of one of my best friends from college took her life a few weeks ago, when the sweet girl from my first married ward and sister of my good friend killed herself last week, those deaths affected me. When they died, my domino took a hit, a big hit. Every domino that falls hits so many others. Some we would never suspect. I do not want to knock other people's dominoes over.

I'm not blaming people who kill themselves. Depression is a real illness.When people kill themselves they are not being selfish. They are being sick. Their brain chemicals and their hormones are out of whack. When I started taking the SSRI, my death thoughts stopped. I didn't have to shut them up. They went away because my chemical imbalance was being corrected. It wasn't magic. I had to try several different kinds of SSRIs and fiddle with the dosages with my doctor, but it worked. I'm healthier.

I'm not sharing all this for a big pity party or a love-on-Jami-fest.  I'm sharing it because I know right now there's someone doing all the stuff they are supposed to be doing while envisioning their own death, while googling painless suicide methods, while trying to figure out how to do it with the least amount of harm to those left behind. I'm begging those people to stay, to please get help, even though it all seems insurmountable.

There are happy days ahead even if you can't imagine them now. Believe me. Believe all of the survivors before you. Please seek help. For every time I've thought that life was hopeless and there was no point in going on, I've had a dozen where I experienced peace and joy that I would not have happened if I'd given up. It's not all fields of daisies, but it's do-able with moments of delight.

Those of you who are supporting someone who is tempted by suicide, I need to tell you that if they decide they are going to kill themselves no amount of following them around and trying to fix it will stop them. This is their battle. BUT you can help. You can be there. You can not judge. You can not make it worse by making it about you. You can not give up on them. There are many resources (some conflicting) that you can explore, including seeking therapy on your own. Here's a nice starting point.

For those of you who are on the edge, have been on the edge or might be on the edge in the future,  I give you one of the best self care lists I've ever run into.  Seriously, click on it and try a few of the things. I also give you the number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255. Also I remind you that no one can be you. Not to your kids or your friends. Not to your mom or dad. Not to your mail carrier. You are the only you that is ever going to be and you are precious. Please stay with us. Stay to experience those bright moments of joy that will surely come. Stay to someday hold the hand of someone else who wants to die. Don't buy the lie that it won't get better. It will. Don't buy the lie that we'd be better off without you. We won't be. Stay. Please.


Julia said...

"Envying people with cancer" ... Yes, I know what that feels like. And I imagine many people could read that statement and take offense. How can I say this "nice"ly? I know and love many people who have "succumbed" to cancer and those who are "survivors." I don't want to diminish their pain and suffering, but rather to emphasize the real pain and suffering of those of us with major depression. Would someone with cancer have to wait 4 months for an initial appointment for treatment? That's unthinkable! Do we say someone "succumbed to depression"? No. Do we say someone is a "depression survivor"? No. Who's posting pictures of me doing simple everyday tasks with captions of how wonderful and loved I am today? No one. Who is hosting rallies to raise awareness of my condition? No one I know. Who is offering to drive me to treatments? Who is cooking my meals to make sure I get proper nutrition during my "episodes"? Who is telling me they are so happy to be with me and that I am beautiful when I look and feel like death warmed over? Aren't I strong? Aren't I courageous? I am a fighter. Everyday. I fight for my life every day. And I do it without any one cheering me on or celebrating my superhuman efforts. This is what makes living with major depression feel even more painful and isolating than it needs to be. It took years, but I finally had to say something because I was so tired of living in a constant state of suffering. I could no longer pretend I felt fine. I took the energy I was putting into pretending and instead I used that little bit of energy to get the right treatment for me. I fought to get the right doctor, therapist, medication, and help from family and friends. When I am hurting, I say so. I did not choose to have this illness. I deserve to get treatment and medication so that I can live a good life and feel good. I have chosen to live. Because I am worth it. You are worth the effort!

Jami said...


I certainly didn't mean to offend anyone by saying I envied people with cancer. I did. It was that sick thought (and talking back to it) that reminded me that it was time to start the medicine again.

Invisible diseases like depression and fibromyalgia are always hard to support. The sick person looks fine and perfectly capable of doing all that needs doing. And it's hard to muster the energy as a sick person to ask for the help we need, or even know what that help would be sometimes.

I enjoyed the insights on your blog, btw.

Heidi said...

This is brilliant. I don't mean to sound cold--you and I both know that this isn't shocking news to me. You said it wasn't meant to be a love fest so I will focus on how brilliantly this is written and how you should write a full length article and get paid and spare some dominoes in the process. I am so glad you are still here and that you asked to read my book and came to meet me (trying not to make it about me--that was such good advice, btw) and that we are friends (glad I read this over because this came out as "ate fiends" the first time around--can you imagine if we really had?) Love you! (oops--I couldn't hold it in after all. I have gone through the capchta process five times and failing miserably. I swear there are only three pics of popcorn. How can I get this wrong?

Jami said...

Heidi, thank you. It's funny all I can see when I read it are the mistakes. Every time I've read it I've caught a double word or a comma where it shouldn't be. I swear I proofread. But I can never stop fiddling with my writing. When I was in college, I'd still be changing words and adding commas up until my professor would pry the paper out of my hands.

My captcha is just a check box. I've no idea why mine is nicer than yours.

Amy said...

Julia -- Re: "Envying ppl with cancer." // Loved your post. What a wonderful and accurate portrayal of how major depression is NOT understood and accepted in our society. You absolutely nailed just about every aspect in your comparisons...e/g.: "who's taking pictures of me doing simple, everyday tasks..." Who's cooking me food..." ETC. / I'm in the middle of writing a book: "No one bakes casseroles for bipolar disorder" that pretty much addresses these things spot on.// I would LOVE to use your entire POST in my book with your permission. Could you pls email me the entire graf @ I'd be most appreciative!! Best -- Amy Y.

Amy said...

Julia: PS: Your heading caught my eye b/c a loved one who deals with major depression often says he is "envious" of ppl with cancer... cancer survivors are often upset by this, but as you pointed out, the comparison is apt. Thank you for writing so eloquently on the subject. -- AY.