I remember my own breakdown. It was triggered by medication changes beyond my control due to a lack of insurance following a job loss. The reason is irrelevant though, the reality is that it broke me. Into thousands of little pieces I am still picking up. What I didn’t realize was what my severe depressive episode did to the people around me. I still don’t I suppose but now I have a much deeper understanding than I have ever had before. A journey that has been heartbreaking for me as I’ve had to learn what it’s like to watch someone I care for go to (and so far – thankfully – through) that dark place.
What I have learned is that depression and suicide are far more complex than any black and white approach can encompass and that to those on the outside looking in it really may not feel that way. I’ve now been on both sides and as someone on the outside all I could think was how terrified I was. How all I wanted was for my friend to be okay. I just wanted help to arrive and to know they would survive the night. I prayed. I cried. I sobbed. I relied on friends to get me through my absolute terror. I waited on pins and needles for the latest information to be reassured they would be okay.
When I considered suicide though it was much different. I didn’t see it from the outside at all. I didn’t think it through to the conclusion. I did actually, but not in the way you might think one would do in those circumstances. To me it felt like I would have been doing my friends and family a favor. That leaving them in a world without me was a better way for them to live. To be relieved of the burden I felt I (and my disorder) was to them. Almost as if I was giving them a gift. I was so blinded by my bipolar brain that I actually thought I would be making life better for them were I gone.
For years (and I am talking 20+) I have been stable but amazingly it only took one small med change to take me to that ugly place. Remove Abilify ($1100/mo) and pop in Risperdal ($40/mo) and things were supposed to work, right? Well they didn’t. I spiraled. Uncontrollably. I couldn’t stop it and I knew it. I fought it as hard as I have battled anything. My rational mind was fighting to stay alive while my bipolar brain just wanted to die. It wanted to go away and feel the relief of nothingness (the selfish part) and it wanted my family to be relieved of the burden I brought into their lives (the selfless part). See? It’s not so black and white when viewed from that lens, is it?
I know my breakdown came at great cost to my wife and mother, their trust in my safety has been irrevocably damaged. There is nothing I can do that will prevent them from ever being afraid of what might happen. There can be no undoing the damage of knowing your loved one has been to the bitter edge of life and through grace (and friends and family) has been pulled back from the brink.
For me and my story, I eventually recovered after being effectively “hospitalized” by my family for a month. My mom flew into town and stayed with me the entire time to make sure I was solidly on my feet before leaving. I was not left alone for long enough to do much more than use the restroom for at least the first week while the new meds took effect. We drank more tea and honey in that month than I have in the years before. We read books and surfed Netflix. We did mindless tasks because they take up time, and lord knows I had plenty of that. We were waiting until I was recovered enough for her to go home.
At some point I wondered, what is recovered? Once people are able to walk out of the hospital? When they can go back home? When they can return to work? What is the earmark of “success” for someone who has been through a breakdown like that? Is there one? Who determines what “okay” is? I’m not sure I can do that even for myself much less anyone else. When do I get to say I’m okay and believe it? How many months have to pass? What tests are there? None. It is a conclusion each of us must come to on our own and I’m not sure where I am on my own trajectory.Some days I feel okay and others I feel as fragile as a fraying thread hanging desperately between a weighted anchor and heaven’s own hand. Recovery is a journey and it doesn’t necessarily have a clean ending, sometimes it’s just continuing to put one foot in front of the other and remembering that each of us truly is fighting battles others may know nothing about.
If you or someone you know are considering suicide please call the national hotline for your region: