TRIGGER WARNING: passages about suicide, cutting, depression, and psych wards/mental hospital
“Fealtman,” calls the nurse. She is older, her brown hair tied back in a bun. With her white uniform and “take no shit” attitude, she is perfect for this job. She holds a tray with one hand and gestures to a stack of papers and pencils with the other. She calls a bit louder, “Fealtman!” She is a bit more resolute. I approach her to be handed a small plastic cup of pills. It’s just like the movies. You take them, and they ensure you swallowed. I take one of the papers off the stack and a pencil.
The paper reads like a pop quiz of “mental health.” It asks if I want to kill myself, if I hear voices, or if I feel like I’m being punished. Each question is answered on a scale of 1 to 5. I fill it out, with answers similar to yesterday’s but slightly less negative. I know that if I was truthful with this questionnaire, I wouldn’t be getting out of here for a long time, so I decide to slowly increase the mental health of my lie. If done slowly enough, I figure it would seem as if I was taking to therapy and meds. I hand the paper and pencil back in and go to the rec room. I stare out the barred window. I’m crushed, disillusioned, heartbroken, and utterly destroyed. And as much as I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to go home. I just want to be somewhere familiar. I came looking for help, and I would leave with the understanding that help doesn’t exist.
Let me back up. I was 15 with fresh cuts along both arms. I didn’t try to hard to conceal it. I was cutting in the morning, in class, and at night. When I was finally confronted by my parents and the school guidance counselor, I had been cutting in the very class they pulled me out of. When they asked me to roll up my sleeves, it tugged out the clots. I was immediately sent to a psychologist. During his preliminary questions, he asked if I thought I was a danger to myself or others. I rolled up my sleeves and held my arms in the air. The black-red stripes across my arms were my character witnesses. I asked with all the attitude of a 15 year old, “What do you think?” I was in the psych ward of the “old” Carlisle Hospital that night.
I wanted help. I always did. When I was 36 and slipping back into depression, feeling the pull to get a knife, wanting to feel it drag across my skin one more time, I reached out for help. As I began contemplating suicide, I asked my family doctor for antidepressants. My arms ached for the burn of cold steel again, a therapy for my pain. My thoughts gravitated for cuts much deeper and at an angle that would grant finality. I knew my depression was worsening. I knew it was affecting my wife and my daughters. There was a way out, release their burden, free them of their pain, and end my suffering all at once. Every time I took a bath, it was a struggle to leave the knife behind. “Next time,” I would always tell myself, “not today.” Like an echoed whisper from well so deep as to be immeasurable, my heart’s purest voice kept saying, “I have a family, a home, a community. I don’t want to die.”
I finally received and took the antidepressants with surprising results. My thoughts raced so quickly, I split from reality. Walking to the beach to calm myself, I found myself in a fit. I could only rock back and forth and ramble to the ocean words that made no sense even to myself as I said them. When I came down, I thought of an old friend with schizophrenia. Fears regarding my brain seized my soul. The doctor then told me this reaction is typical of bipolar. Thinking on my past and realizing the cycles, I contacted my neurologist. We increased the dosage of two of my epilepsy meds. One is used as an anti-psychotic and mood-stabilizer. The other is used for depression and anxiety. Two birds, I thought. Within days, I was clearheaded again. A week later, I was normal person crazy instead of psych ward crazy.
I always found it easier to be crazy than to ask for help. I suppose that goes without saying, but insanity comes with company whereas reality is often very lonely. Released from the hospital at 15, I was on meds that did virtually nothing and was off of them within a year. But I was punished for seeking help. I was labeled “crazy” and “psycho” by my peers and ostracized. In my next manic episode, I would lash out and sear a path of self destruction. With it came instant popularity as people loved the show. This pattern was paralleled as an adult. When I told my priest I was going to take antidepressants, I was told with a huff, “you do what you believe you have to.” When informed I was bipolar and back on meds, I was told that it was fine for now until I got evened out, implying he wanted me off of them at some point. Many new age organizations have a “better without meds” philosophy. Even if it is only implied, “nature, herbs, and meditation” is the prescribed cure for everything now. It’s one of two reasons I left the church and new age scene. As it turns out, some of us actually need pills. It’s not just a ploy by “big pharma” and greedy doctors.
Having alarms on my phone to remind me to take my meds, Nurse Siri is always here to call my name and ensure I don’t go off the deep end again. Some days, I feel like I’ve never left. But I don’t have to lie any more. Strangely, many of my friends consider me boring. I enjoy being able to pay bills and repair things at home. Keeping up with responsibilities means I am able to keep up with them. I’m ok with being boring. My friends haven’t seen a psych ward, been on the verge of suicide, and tried to self destruct via alcohol, drugs, fights, and sex all at once. If the rest of my life is quietly housewifing and vacationing with my family, I’m good. I’ve got plenty of stories to tell.
Stay crazy. Ask for help. And never judge another’s mental illness.
Love and blessings,
If you’re considering suicide, please stick around a bit longer. You never know when something interesting might happen.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline