Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Alizah's story. April 10, 2010.
"You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here." -Max Erhmann
One day a couple of years ago, I drove to work, typed a suicide letter, then left and checked into a Motel 6. There, I swallowed a bottle of anti-nausea medication, followed by a half-bottle each of Valium, Tylenol, Motrin and aspirin, and then I slit my wrists.
I expected to die immediately, since I have always been deathly allergic to painkillers. I waited and waited. A half-hour went by, then an hour, and finally two. Tick-tock, tick-tock. I finally realized that despite my “foolproof” multiple methods, I was not going to die. I called my husband, who drove me to the ER. It was the ending of one journey for me, and the beginning of another.
I had been considering killing myself for a couple of months. I would find out later that I was in an agitated depression (also known as a dysphoric mania or a mixed state) of bipolar disorder. Symptoms include being both depressed (sad, discouraged, angry, hopeless) and uncomfortably manic (insomniac, anxious, obsessional, panicky, paranoid, anorexic) at the same time. (I’ve since read the probability that someone in a mixed state will attempt suicide is an astonishing one in two.)
I'd been diagnosed as bipolar as a teenager, but with therapy and medication the diagnosis had little impact on my life. Then, during a period of stress a couple of months before my attempt, my doctor of many years changed my longtime meds regimen drastically - tapering me off two meds and introducing a new one. He was preparing for retirement, and my next appointment with a physician was five months away. The new med brought me to a nearly catatonic state, and I had to go off it in order to function. I made a phone call to my doctor; he didn't call me back.
At the same time, my field of publishing was going through an upheaval due to the internet and the recession. My employer laid off almost half our staff, and losing my job looked like a strong possibility. There was a death in my family and and some other unwelcome changes. I was ignoring my son and could barely communicate with my husband. The financial, work, and family pressures, along with after-effects of the wrong medication, simply brought me to a breaking point.
I recall having the feeling that I was literally shattering apart from within. I lost about 40 pounds and was averaging three hours of sleep a night. My degree in psychology, years leading a support group for people with depression, training in working with at-risk teens, and even my religious faith were of no use. I believed with all my heart that my family - and the world - would be better off without me.
In the hospital that night, they stitched up my wrists and cleaned me up as I vomited repeatedly. They hooked me up to an N-acetylcysteine drip to protect my liver from the Tylenol overdose. (I never did find out what happened to my allergy.) I finally fell asleep from the Valium – many hours after I’d taken it – but the nurses woke me up every hour. “What is your name?” “Alizah.” “Why are you here?” “I tried to commit suicide.” “Are you going to kill yourself now?” “No.” (I had to read their lips - I would be deaf for 36 hours from the asprin.)
The next day they sent me to the psych ward. I had only one focus – getting out and going back to work, so I wouldn’t lose my job. After two days, I talked the staff into cutting me loose. I lied through my teeth, telling them I would never consider taking my life again. But I was still in the mixed state, and I continued to be obsessed with taking my life – or dying by disease or accident.
The next month I began to see a new doctor; she diagnosed the mixed state and put me back on lithium. She gave me an antipsychotic to quell the panic. She started me on a new SSRI for the depression.
It took a couple of months and several tweaks, first with this med then that one, but I finally began to crawl out of the pit of snakes I’d been in for so long. I stopped wishing for an active or a passive suicide. I don’t know if I wanted to live, but I didn’t want to die – at least not right away. My new journey was beginning.
I still have a long way to go on my journey. I hurt my husband, son, and mother terribly, and I have their trust to rebuild. Due to no fault of my own, my career situation is unstable and will continue to be; this has me frightened. And I worry each day my meds will stop working and I'll go into that hellish "mixed state" again. I can’t say I am optimistic about the future. But as Matthew 6:34 says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
I needed support in my healing process and in looking for resources, could find no help for suicide attempters, only family and friends of loved ones who have died. So I started a Facebook support group, Suicide Attempt Survivors, and began sending out a daily quote and message. Here they are.