10.30.2012

The Anniversary of Welcoming Death

A year ago today, I sat alone in my sister and brother-in-law's apartment at ACU in Edwards Hall. They were gone to Nashville for the weekend and I had opted to stay there for the few days instead of my dorm room.

Tears streamed freely down my face and I crouched at my computer by the sofa. In each of my shaking hands, I held a large stainless steel Wolfgang Puck kitchen knife. I didn't want to mess the cutting process up and lengthen my suicide, so I did a quick Google search to find out where and how to cut. I planned to bleed out all over my family's carpet.

That's when my friend Kendall burst through the apartment door and found me, immediately taking the knives from my hands. I had no response, it was all I could do to sink to the floor and commence sobbing. Tucking myself into the fetal position, I cried into the floor as Kendall put a reassurring hand on me, doing everything he could to comfort me.

More friends arrived. Their immediate response was to gather around me on the floor - while I was still weeping uncontrollably - place their hands on me, and start to pray.

I don't remember their words a year later, but they were part of what saved me.

Then commenced the longest single night of my life. October 30th, 2011 was the first time I ever willingly approached death and shook hands with it. What followed during the episode at my sister's apartment were more prayers, frantic attempts to break free of grasping hands to continue to hurt myself, tearful phone conversations with family members, a visit from my counselor, and my absolute inability to look anyone in the eye.

You see, when you mess up your own suicide and inconvenience all of the people you love, you feel rather foolish. You feel a bit slighted and wonder if you even had the courage to go through with the act in the first place. Of course, then I merely looked at it as an inconvenience. Now I saw it as a surrender to hopelessness. To this day, I can't explain what brought it on - this acute desire to cease living. All I know is that it felt inviting and I wanted to heed it.

For hours, my friends crowded around me in that small apartment. Eventually I sat up, opened my eyes, began responding to people, and taking food and water that was offered to me. My sister and her husband showed up, eternally apologetic of leaving that weekend. I told them there was no need; when they had left I was fine and none of us could have predicted what had occurred.

More phone calls, more conversations with the counselor. I had a sharp headache from crying for hours. It was eventually decided that I go to some mental health care facility. But there was a snag - my insurance wouldn't cover it unless the ER authorized it.

I was in the hospital from about 11pm to 5am. The place was busy the day before Halloween. Friends and family were with me all night, never leaving my side. Upon discharge, I was driven across town to Acadia Abilene, which would be my home for the next week.

From the wee hours of October 31st to the afternoon of November 7th, 2011, I experienced a life-changing transformation in Acadia. At first, I was utterly terrified and lost. I remember having a fear of being strangled by my roommate the first night. When I woke up, he was gone. He had been discharged.

That was the way it went in Acadia. Everyday there were newcomers and farewells. I would wake up each morning only to find new faces on the unit floor.

I spoke to no one for the first few days. My sister dropped off some of my belongings, including my Bible. I don't think I ever read that thing as much as I had in those few days. It was all I had and I clung to its words, sitting in corners by myself, saying nothing. Eventually I found out that I would be discharged quicker if I showed progress of recovery. I started sitting with others at meals. Sheets of paper and colored pencils were left out for the patients to use. I sat down at a table and started coloring with a few of them. That was the moment everything became alright and I essentially cruised through the rest of the week. Side note: coloring is oddly therapeutic.

At first, I was dejected and afraid. I felt completely alone. The first few days of visits I would sit across the table from my friends and family, barely able to sustain a conversation without tearing up. By the end of the week I would be regaling them with morbidly humorous tales from the unit.

What had changed?

First of all, I learned to talk to others. Very quickly I found out how small my problems were. I was hospitalized with recovering heroin addicts so lost in withdrawals I could never tell if they were awake whenever they ambled from room to room, like the walking dead. There was a kleptomaniac who spent her time scribbling in books, spontaneously shedding her clothes, and climbing into the beds of unsuspecting male patients. Once, a woman had a panic attack and collapsed under the table, unsure of where she was, shying away from the helping hands of the staff as they reached down to her. There were people in there who I could never see getting out.

And even then, there were people like me. Codependent, depressed, suicidal, college-aged youth. Overdose. Asphyxiation. Cutting. No matter the tale, we all had failed and ended up here. I've said this many times since then, but when you're sitting at a table with a bunch of people who have the exact same problems as you, you tend to cut through all the bull and form bonds that are beyond understanding. We became each other's medicine, sitting together at meals, watching old Disney movies, and assembling puzzles. In time, the adults emulated us and began pushing their tables together for meals.

Most importantly, there was the fact that I had nowhere to run and no way to distract myself from my problems. On the second day I was there, a rather disagreeable looking man with a silly bow-tie gave me a stern look, diagnosed me with Major Depressive Disorder, and assigned me medication. It was the first time I had ever been prescribed anything in my life. It was also a glaring reminder that something in me needed fixing.

Because of the nature of the facility, I had much time to think. Too much time. One particular episode, I wandered to my room and shut the door behind me, feeling an onslaught of negative and depressing thoughts coming my way. I remember literally twisting in pain on my bed as I prayed feverishly and desperately, hoping to drown out the thoughts that came at me again and again, like a swarm of hornets.

Then, through the assault I heard a single, small voice deafening the presence of the others.

Keep going, it said.

Unsure if the words were a machination of my desires or a conjuring of my mental instability, I sought to shut them out of my head. I didn't want to be lied to anymore.

But still, they came on. Louder and louder, forcing the other voices back. Keep going, keep going, it repeated.

Desperate not to lose my mind, I injected my brain with other words - any words, to attempt to drown out those three syllables that would not go away. I don't even remember what I tried to think to distract myself.

In the end, I gave up. I yielded to those two words, finally realizing where they came from.

Everything else faded. I opened my eyes, finding myself in a kneeling position on my bed. I had just experienced the closest thing to spiritual warfare I can ever remember. I sat in the results of a campaign that had just been unleashed on my thoughts. The light had driven the darkness out.

Dramatic language aside, that was the penultimate turning point during my stay at Acadia. That was the moment I will forever remember as the one I decided to shut out the lies that fed my depression and anxiety and surrender up to something greater.

Upon discharge the following week, I felt rejuvenated. I was able to go back to my classes after missing two weeks of school, eventually earning As and Bs in what would be my second-to-last semester of college. I wish I could tell you that I have been depression and suicide free since then, but you know that's not true because just a month ago I tried it again.

But that's not the point.

The point is, a year ago I had given up on the idea of living because I believed I had lived my life in a way that had caused irreversible damage. Who would want to be associated with the mess that I was? Again, a month ago I gave up on that idea of a pain-free life.

Here's the thing: there is nothing I or anyone could do to make our lives irreversibly liveable. It's not for us to decide where or how we go. The first few nights in that facility I laid awake, tormented by my demons and depression. The final days were ones of peace and acceptance. Acceptance that I had to live with some scars and sure, a medical disorder, that some people don't have. But there are plenty that do - and they go on living everyday. They keep going, no matter what.

So a year later, after two all-out assaults over the rights to my soul, I am typing this up instead of lying in the ground somewhere. I am sitting in a safe place instead of being trapped in a hospital. I am telling you, it gets easier. You just have to keep going. And when you can't go anymore, go further. You'll get there.

Just keep going, my friends.
JDS

*I will never forget every single one of you who were there that night, who were with me at the hospital, who wrote me letters when I was at Acadia, who visited me while I was there. You are all more than half of the reason I am still alive.
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Right now I'm listening to the Cloud Atlas soundtrack. It helps me think. I purchased an album by the Swedish singer-songwriter Anna Ternheim called The Night Visitor. It's very poignant and stripped-down, well worth a listen.
And of course, I still can't wait to done my creepy Obi-Wan costume tomorrow to have lightsaber duels with little kids for Halloween. Also, I'm getting a haircut Thursday. Obviously I would never mention this because I've been shaving my head like clockwork for years, but no more. This Thursday, I'm getting a mohawk. Enough said.

Cheers everyone.

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