I always thought the phrase “hitting bottom” carried the implication that, if you could scrape yourself up, things would get better. Or, rather, I thought they would stay better. Maybe this is true for some people. For me, though, I’m learning it can happen again and again, hitting bottom. The effects are cumulative and each time getting up takes longer, requires more work, demands more tears, and leaves me feeling smaller and thin-skinned.
I could not write about this as it was happening, not even to myself. My journal is largely empty for the last four months. I tried to see the incoming crisis, to get ahead, to stop it. It wasn’t enough. I tried to get help, taking the pills and seeing a therapist and doing my homework. It wasn’t enough. I almost checked myself into the hospital, which would have been terrible. I did not, which was almost worse.
I had a vacation planned in July, an unofficial high school reunion with friends I’ve known and loved for more than twenty years. I came very close to cancelling at the last minute, but convinced myself to go. I didn’t say it out loud, but in my heart I thought it would be to say goodbye.
That week, those friends, saved my life. I don’t think they even realized they were doing it. It’s not like there was a dramatic scene with an intervention or the horror of bleeding veins and an empty bottle. It was just days full of long talks and new adventures and yummy food and so much laughter and the pure joy of being together. I felt safe and happy and loved.
When I got home I realized: if I can still have those feelings, I am not ready to die. I decided to take some time –a few weeks, a month– to really take care of myself. I concentrated on healing using any (safe, legal) means necessary. I was completely short-sighted and selfish. I ignored the practical details of life and temporarily even ignored the guilt that comes with that great privilege. I looked at it as an experiment: if it didn’t work, if complete dedication to my health couldn’t convince me that life was worth living, then I really wouldn’t lose anything because the end result would be the same. If it did work, I would find the desire to live and the strength to figure out how to do it.
It’s been three weeks and the suicidal thoughts have largely subsided. I feel like I can make plans for tomorrow, next week, next month. I’ve recognized deeply held pain and resentment and am beginning the work of healing a long-festering wound. I move through feeling anxious and feeling calm instead of living in constant fear.
Now I need to figure out how to pick up the pieces of my life and heart, again. I need to find a new job, again. I need to ask forgiveness for being a bad friend, daughter, partner, again. As difficult as it is to fight my own brain and body chemistry, this is the part I hate the most.
I feel embarrassed that I quit my job because I couldn’t handle the pressure of working, driving, talking, and, on my worst days, even getting out of bed. I don’t know how to answer the inevitable interview question of why I left in a way that is both true and likely to get me hired again.
I feel guilty for shutting out friends and family who would be happy to help, to listen, to care, but I couldn’t let them. I do not have enough talent as a writer to describe this properly, but when I am deeply depressed, hearing compliments and encouragement feels… wrong. Depression lies, but when the lies are coming from your own mind, outside words are the ones that feel false. I tell others to reach out, encourage them to call me at any time, offer up advice and love and hugs, but I cannot admit I need the same. That I deserve the same.
I feel scared because I needed to focus so intensely in order to be well. What happens when I am lucky enough to get a job and I need to be ready for that commitment? How can I avoid panic attacks if I need to drive during rush hour? When will I exercise and meditate and practice guitar, all three crucial elements in my recovery? Facing these fears is my next step. Part of me is terrified. Part of me can’t believe I’m still here to take it.