I’ve started and erased this post more than what feels like a gazillion times now. I don’t really know how to start it. Actually, to be totally transparent, I’m not even sure what all I want to say. I don’t know what details are important. I don’t know what part of this story is filler. I don’t know how to get the words buzzing around in my head like flies into a coherent message. Thinking about all of the old feelings. All of the old thoughts. It’s making me nauseas. I’ve been putting off writing this post because of it. This isn’t just me about to get vulnerable. This is me about to tell the world everything…here we go I guess.
It’s been a year today that I was taken to Western Psych on suicide watch. So much has happened in the year since. In ways, I feel like an entirely new person. There are days where I wonder how I used to be the girl I’ve been writing about. Because now, I’m happy. I’m always totally honest about how I’m feeling. I’m communicating. I smile a lot. My heart is capable of swelling with joy. Then there are other days where I still think I AM the girl I’ve been writing about, that I haven’t actually made that much progress. There are days that are still pretty bad. Nights where I cry myself to sleep. Days I still think that I’m a loser. That the monsters in my head were right all along. That I’m an idiot for even trying to help people like me. Because who TF is actually going to read what I have to say? Who even cares?
The day I went to Western was probably the best and worst day of my life. Obviously things in my life and my head were so bad that it had to be the worst day. But thinking about it, if that night didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I could be dead. I could still be in denial. I could just be re-starting my recovery. I could be relapsing. Who knows. There are so many could be's – it ‘s making me anxious even thinking about it. But luckily. Those are just “could be’s.” They aren’t the reality I’m living. While this is scarier than even starting this blog in the first place, I know this is just another post I need to write. Heck, maybe I HAVE to write this. I just wrote that post about it being okay to feel your negativity. That not everything is perfect all the time. I can’t talk about being recovered and not share the nitty, gritty details of my past. I can’t want to help other people or be an example if I don’t go first and share EVERYTHING. So I’m going to. Buckle up kids…this is gonna be a fun one…
Firstly, I think it’s pretty darn important to give a mini-biopsy of my depression. It started in 4th grade after being really badly bullied by my peers. I went to a small Catholic school. There were like 30 girls in my class total. I had maybe three friends. A lot of the kids in my grade hated me. Or they at least acted like they hated me. I also had a real fear of death. I thought about not existing almost every day, but not in a depressed I want to be gone way, but in a what happens when we die, what comes after, way. I cried a lot, and as you can guess, kids hated me even more because of that. 5th-7th grade stayed like that. Now that I’m older and I teach kids on a regular basis, I think the relationships I was having with the other girls in my class was semi-normal. Even the best young friends go through their tiffs. Best friends one day, hating each other the next. Obviously, severe bullying part wasn’t super normal, but girls changing their mind about liking you or if you’re cool or not is. At the time though, I HATED going to school. It’s why I started cutting. It’s why I didn’t really talk to anyone. It’s why I spent recess sitting on the hill reading trying to be invisible. In 8th grade the girls who hated me decided I wasn’t that bad after all. I had friends. It was okay. 9th grade I changed schools and it was a pretty easy transition. 10th grade started all the drama with that boy and the girl who hated me (see “An Open Letter to the High School Girl Who Tried to Ruin My Life if you need a refresher). That carried on into 11th and some of 12th grade. Those years, I was pretty miserable. At least miserable enough that when people ask, I tell them I hated high school. Then I went off to college. Broke up with my “high school sweetheart” for lack of a better term. I moved away from home. I got into my troubles and issues with food. I was still cutting. I was trying to reinvent myself but I couldn’t really do it. I found my niches and where I fit in and all of that, but the depression was still there. Always haunting me. My ED thoughts made me think I was worthless and everyone hated me. I still wasn’t fully happy, as much as I tried to seem.
I was always up and down on the surface. Some weeks I was moodier than others. Some weeks I was super peppy and hyper and my creative work seemed to excel. Some weeks I was stable and just kind of there. Other weeks I crashed from fatigue and mental exhaustion. On the inside though, I was just always sad. So sad. I always felt like I was dragging, my body always felt extremely heavy. I was always just barely trucking along. Barely awake. Barely living. I never felt like I was contributing anything to the world. I never thought I was critical to anyone’s life. I felt worthless. I felt I didn’t belong. As much as I wanted to succeed in life, I was convinced I wasn’t going to be able to. As much as I tried to make my parents and coaches proud, there was always something I could have done better. A test I could have done better on, a competition I should’ve placed higher at. My room could always be cleaner. My makeup could always look better. I could always look better. I could always act more appropriately. More. More. More. There was always more. And I never, no matter how much I tried, could reach those standards.
So that’s part one of my mental break down equation. Part two and what most people think actually caused my breakdown but didn’t, was my dating life. I’m the girl who was always either always in a relationship or at least always talking to someone. The last time I was single-single was before I started dating in high school. The thing about me and relationships until that breakdown point was that I can’t say I was actually fully invested in any of them. And I know how that sounds and how it probably seems like a lie. If you’ve known me for a few years, I’ve put my relationships onto social media and made them seem like perfection. I Instagramed the flowers and gifts I’d receive. I wrote mushy posts about how great the guy I was seeing was. I shared pictures of us all happy and smiling and in “love.” I created relationships I wanted people to be jealous of. Looking back, while I had good intentions, and wanted to be in love, I just wasn’t. That’s why every break up I’ve ever had, while still stung and hurt and tears were shed, I’ve been able to get over them pretty easily. Out of sight, out of mind. I forget most of the relationships I’ve been in even happened. Which is sad. I feel like a bitch for even thinking that, let alone typing it. But it’s the truth. I cared more about being in a relationship than the person I was in a relationship with. And that’s where I put my happiness. As long as my relationships were flourishing, I was happy or happy as I could have been at the time. As soon as there was some kind of confrontation, that’s when my depression reared it’s head the most. It's when my self-image got worse. It didn’t matter that I was actually unhappy in all of these relationships. As long as he was happy, that’s all that mattered to me.
**Now to be fair, I do need to make the note that I was broken up with about 2-3 weeks before my breakdown. However, while that contributed to the worthlessness factor, I was never suicidal BECAUSE of that particular boy. Yes that breakup in particular stung because for the first time I was the one being blindsided and broken up with, but that break up was not the end of the world for me. He was just another boy. It was what that failed relationship and friendship did to my psyche that pushed me overboard. It wasn’t him, it was me.
The third and most important part of the mental breakdown calculation is that I felt so unnecessary as a human. I never felt wanted. I felt like no one cared about me. I mean, again, I know I have some of the most amazing friends and family and I don’t want them to feel slighted by me saying this. But when you’re trying to adult and life gets busy and you don’t live in the same city let alone same state, keeping in touch and keeping those friendships just as strong is really freaking hard. It just is. It’s never done on purpose. It’s just one of those things that kind of happens, intentional or not. And I know that a lot of my sadness was mainly my depressed brain talking, but that depressed, sad, stupid brain can make a person think a lot of untrue things. Graduating college made me feel more alone than I ever have in my entire life. More than my depression prior could ever make me feel. Yes I lived at home, with my grandpa and my parents, whom I love more than anything. But when you feel like you can’t make anyone understand you, you begin to retract from your own life.
It was a Thursday that everything “went down.” I was having a really bad week. I wasn’t eating. I was still crying a lot from the shock of losing the person I had been talking to the most. I still didn’t understand how a person can say they love you and you’re the most amazing human they’ve ever met, yet still be able to cut you out of their lives in an instant. It severely messed with my sense of self. Work that day was rough. I had messed up a design proof and sent the wrong file to the client. Luckily it was caught and fixed before any damage had been done. But I rarely make mistakes like that, so I took it pretty hard and literally thought my boss was going to come fire me every single time he came to my desk space. My commute back then was an hour, so on my drive home, instead of crying the whole way, I tried to call my friends. Ring to voicemail. Ring to voicemail. Ring to voicemail. Dead phone straight to voicemail. Finally after half my drive was over, I got in contact with one of my friends. I had accidentally woken her up from a nap. She was getting over a cold and asked if this was urgent and if she could call me back when she felt better…
Now. Please remember that I hated asking for help. That I was still in denial. That I didn’t want to be a burden to ANYONE. I told her of course that was fine and I’d talk to her later. I hung up the phone and bawled the entire rest of my drive. I had never felt so unloved. I see how this can be seen as selfish to someone with a “normal” brain. “No one paid attention to you that day. Boo hoo for you Kelly.” But I’m urging you to try and read this from the perspective of someone with anxiety and depression. That is the exact reason we DON’T ask for help. Because of the ridicule and misunderstanding. People think all we do is throw ourselves pity parties. But that’s not it. We are so conditioned to think that no one gives a shit about us. That we have no purpose on this earth. That no matter how hard we try and get out of bed in the morning, it ultimately doesn’t matter because we make the lives of everyone else around us more miserable than they need to be. And that’s in the mental place I was at on that day. That my problems, thoughts, and emotions were becoming overbearing. That no one cared I was suffering. That no one NOTICED I was suffering. No one no longer saw the scars on my wrists. They no longer noticed the missing laxatives and Ibuprofen. In this downward tornado of thought the best idea I could come up with was to either try OD or cut myself badly enough I’d need serious medical attention…In that moment, I had the most clarity I had had in years. I instantly stopped crying. I had a plan. I had a direction. I had a purpose. Relief was only a 10-minute drive away. I was almost there. I was almost done with this. The bullying, the hurt, the despair, the thoughts, the anxiety, the burden, the pressure. They were going to end. This was all going to end…
I got home. Barely said a word to my family. I was in a zone. I numb, desperate zone. I almost ran upstairs that’s how quickly I was ready. I went to the medicine cabinet and took a look at what meds we actually had. During the turmoil of high school, I had actually calculated what it would take for me to OD on basic household items and meds. But, I had gained so much weight since then and I knew those calculations were no longer accurate. The idea of self-poisoning didn’t sit well with me because of all the interferences – like vomiting or diarrhea or however else my body would try to get the amount of drugs out of me. So I went back into my room and grabbed my box cutter. The one that came with our art supplies my freshman year of college. The one I had been delicately slicing my wrist with all these years. It was like a friend. A cold, sharp, evil, and twisted friend. It represented control. But more importantly, it represented relief. I started crying again, suddenly filled with guilt about how this was going to affect my parents. My mom especially. I didn’t want her to find my body. I didn’t want them to have to see me, finally at peace, trapped in this tortured body, surrounded by my own blood…
My parents must have heard my internal struggle and sobs because all of a sudden, there was a knock on my bedroom door. I wiped my eyes and shoved the knife away and said, “Come in.” My mom looked at me, eyes wide, and asked if I was okay. This was it. This was my choice. Either say yes and let her leave and continue to execute my plan. Or just say I wasn’t fine already and let this be done, drag the woman I loved most into the mess that was me. I tried to lie. I really did. But I just couldn’t do it. I looked at her as my eyes swelled with tears. I couldn’t even get out the word no, as I shriveled into a ball onto the floor. She knelt down next to me, holding me as I shook. She kept trying to ask me what was wrong, but I couldn’t get out the words. People talk about having crippling anxiety. The adjective crippling is accurate. I was so stressed and anxious and hurt and full of emotion that I was paralyzed. I couldn’t get out any words. I couldn’t do anything but sit there in my stormy sea of thought.
I don’t remember much of what happened next to be honest. It’s all a blur. There was so much going on – so much emotion and thought between the three of us (my dad was there too, but he was pacing and more so, just confused). I eventually ended up on my bed, still bawling, still in the fetal position. At some point I know all I could do was point to my knife that was sitting in it’s cubby on my desk and say “I can’t do this anymore.” That’s how my parents found out I was cutting, that the habit had started in 4th grade. That’s when it hit them how much I was actually suffering. That’s when it hit them that I would rather die, rather cut an artery, than continue to do this. Rather than continue to live. There was a lot of sadness in that room, but mainly there was a lot of confusion masked by anger. Their voices were really loud, desperate to understand my brain. Desperate to understand me. All I could do was whisper, “I’m sorry” and “I'm trying” on loop. But again, that’s really all I can remember. Other than regretting bringing them into this. Just wanting to disappear and drift away. My mom wouldn’t let go of my hands, I think she was afraid I’d make a break for it and stab myself Romeo style. They got me into the car, my dad on the phone with whoever he could contact, figuring out where to take me. What to do with me.
Before I knew it, I was in the car. What felt like a minute later we were at Resolve Crisis Center – essentially a step down from Western Psych. It’s a facility that helps with all kind of mental illness and rehabilitation. Especially for those less fortunate than others. I had to go through a metal detector and answer all kinds of questions. When I was finally allowed in, it was a half hour of just waiting. Of my parents trying to be strong. Of me not saying a word and looking at my feet. Of feeling scared. Of being angry. This was the last thing I wanted. I kept wondering why I couldn’t have been smarter and taken myself somewhere else to get this all over with? Why wasn't I stronger and just done it. Why did I suck so much? After what felt like an eternity of thinking about regrets and what a burden I am, I was called back to talk to one of the counselors on call. I don’t remember what his name was. I don’t remember what he looked like. I just remember wanting to fake this whole thing. Of putting on my "I'm fine" mask. Of gently smiling. Of saying and doing all the right things to get out of there already. I tried to make eye contact – because eye contact is key when talking to mental health professionals. I looked this guy in the eyes, curled my lips into a smile and began to lie. He stopped me right away and said, "I need you to work with me...I need you to trust me." I immediately looked down. My cover already blown. My thoughts were racing, trying to figure out how I could fix this. How could I get out of this one. But then. I stopped thinking. And I asked myself “why?” I clearly needed help. Why was I doing this to myself? Why not let it all out? Already?
But here’s the thing with all this. I was so emotionally drained. My well was tapped. I had the emotional range of a psychopath. The words I began said bore no meaning. I don’t even remember the words I was saying – like my brain and my mouth were no longer connected by any kind of synapse. I could have been speaking Mandarin for all I know. When I finished telling him the clean version of what was going on in my brain, and finally looked up at the guy, he seemed genuinely concerned and at a loss for words. I think he tried to empathize with me mentally, his eyes saying things his mouth couldn’t. And I sat there in silence. Trying to figure out what I wanted. Trying to figure out what to do. What the right words to say were. The right words to wrap this up. The right words to make literally anything happen so I didn’t have to sit here any more. To make him think I was fine. Or at least functional. I looked down at my hands again. I had been folding and refolding a Kleenex this entire time. Not sure what else to do with myself. The folding was common thing for me. When I get stressed out or have an anxiety attack, I have to be doing something with my hands in order to help calm myself down. Fold paper, feel the ridges of a quarter, play with a kneaded eraser. Once I even just held a smooth rock. What can I say, I like tactile things. As I was thinking about how soft that Kleenex felt in my hand, he asked me, “So you’ve been doing that since you’ve been here", referencing my folded tissue. "Do you wish you could fold your emotions up like that tissue? Do you want the rest of your life to feel as soft as that is?” This observation took me by surprise. I figured he thought I just had some mild form of OCD or ADHD and as long as something was comforting me, he wouldn’t really care. I asked him, well I stuttered out, “How…how did….?” And he pulled ratty piece of paper out of his pocket. A small piece of paper with folds in it. Just like my stupid tissue. And just like that, everything in my mind dissipated. Someone got me. Or at least understood a millimeter of what I was feeling. I sighed. Took the first real breath I had taken all night and said “It’s not that I can’t do this anymore, it’s that I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m done. I need this to be done.”
To make this already long story a little shorter, my admittance of not wanting to do this was all he needed to get me to the next level of care. He asked me if I wanted to say the night at Resolve where they could watch me or he could call Western Psych and tell them it was urgent and I’d be there soon. I was so tired. My mind was spinning. All I could do was look at him, the connection of trust still lingering, and said “honestly, whichever you think will actually help me.” And he took me down the hall to make the call…
Another black out minute and I was at Western Psych, going through metal detectors and proving who I was. By this time it was probably 10:30 pm. And to save time yet again, I wasn’t seen by a doctor until 3:00 am. That time in-between was filled with a few things – tears, more folding of my tissue, and the observation of the other people there (which is important but not something I’m going to comment on right now). The last but most important thing was my mom continually telling me that if I could help it, I didn’t want them to commit me to the hospital. I remember looking at her like “Do you not understand what is going on here!? If anything I want them to take me so I can feel at least somewhat safe!” But I didn’t say anything. I nodded and continued to fold my tissue. Feeling yet another pressure of trying to be perfect and living up to my mothers expectations – well intentioned, I’m not trying to throw her under the bus here. I didn’t want to disappoint and hurt her yet again tonight, so when a counselor finally saw me, I put on my act. I made eye contact. I tried to make light of the situation in a “yes I need help but it’s okay now I guess” kind of way. She asked me all the questions every one else had been asking me all night. How was I? What was wrong? Are there any major events that led up to this? How long have I been feeling this way? Etc. And I answered them truthfully, yet convincingly that I was okay now. That what had happened earlier was just a cry for help and things were going to get better now that “everything” was out in the open. The counselor bought it, or at least acted like she bought it and brought my parents in. We had a group discussion. As we were wrapping up, and it seemed like everything was going to be okay, the counselor asked if I wanted to stay the night at Western Psych.
I froze. The poker face I had kept had dissolved away. In a panic I looked at my mom who without missing a beat said, “no she’s fine.” The counselor looked at her and for the first time I had ever witnessed, cut my mom off and said, “I asked your daughter.” Again I didn’t know what to do. My whole life was about making other people happy. Now I had to choose between my mom or the counselor. (Notice again that my happiness wasn’t in the equation.) I looked at both of them and put my head down and just whispered, “I don’t know.” I felt like such a traitor for ruining my mom’s trust. She had just given me advice on not getting committed but I didn’t know what the best plan of action was for me. I was scared to go home. Scared of my thoughts. Scared of the emotions my parents were feeling. But I was also scared of the thought of being committed to a Psych Floor, where I’d be surrounded by people just like me. Or even more worse off than me.
After another half hour, I got called in to meet with a different doctor. Again I don’t remember his name or really what he looked like. But he was the first person who didn’t act like he felt sorry for me. He was blunt. He told me my options. And he asked me what I wanted to do. I looked at him and again said I didn’t know. He looked at me and said, “Now Kelly, I’ve gotten all the case notes on you, I know your background. You seem like a pretty bright kid. I’m not going to sit here and take this ‘I don’t know' shit. Think about it and when you’re ready tell me what you want. If you want help, I can provide you with that. If you don’t want help you’re either going to end up back here asking for help. Or dead. It’s your choice. Pick one.” Now obviously you don’t expect to be talked to like that at a mental health facility. I immediately respected the man for finally talking to me like I was an adult and not a charity case. But I also resented the fact he had the balls to actually say that. So I immediately sassed back at him “If I really wanted to be dead, I would have done it earlier, so I guess I want help.” And a weight was lifted. It felt like I lost half of me in that moment. Finally, I was being wedged open. Finally, I was being completely honest, my eyes now open to how unhappy I actually was. Finally, I admitted I needed professional help. We decided then and there that the best course of action for me was outpatient therapy three times a week. That I was to call in and check in every day with a Resolve counselor until a spot opened for me in the program. Once placed in a group, I was going to get a coordinator who ran class, a psychiatrist to determine if I needed meds, and a psychologist therapist to talk with me one-on-one.
I think I want to wrap this post up here. I’m going to talk about therapy a lot in future posts. I just wanted to get my breakdown story out there. If you made it this far. Thank you. Thank you for sticking with it. For sticking with me. For continuing to read this blog. It means more than you can possibly imagine. Especially to those of you still commenting and talking to me about what I’m writing. It makes all this worth it. You rock. I love you. And remember, it’s never too late to ask for help.