My first suicidal plan occurred in college when I was a freshman. I’d had a break up, self-medicated with alcohol for 1 ½ semesters, done poorly in my classes, and felt like a complete failure. I wanted to jump out the window of my dorm room. At least by ending my life, my roommate would get an automatic 4.0 for the semester, and that was the least I could do for her. She was my best friend.
But something in me steered my actions to do otherwise. I called a random minister I picked in the phone book from the dorm lobby payphone. I told him what I was contemplating, and he prayed for me. This was before caller ID, so he had no personal information about me. I hung up when he asked me for my name.
I succeeded academically and emotionally for the remainder of college. Sometimes, I couldn’t get out of bed. I blamed those times on exhaustion. I met my boyfriend (now husband). We were engaged during our junior year, graduated together, and got married. I got a job in a school district 12 hours from our hometown.
So we moved.
We had a baby.
Then we moved.
We moved again.
We had another baby.
We moved again.
We moved again.
We moved again.
In four years we moved six times and had two babies.
I lost it.
In August 1998, I was teaching in a great elementary school. My commute to work included dropping the two kids off at day care. One way took an hour. I became obsessed with doing everything “my way.” Packing the diaper bags, preparing kids lunches, matching their outfits daily, fixing my hair, wearing perfect makeup, getting to work early, and lesson plans written way ahead. Looking back, this is how I managed my anxiety.
In mid-September I got chest pains. The doctor ordered the heart monitor. All was physically fine with my heart. In late September, an overwhelming itch started on my hands and went up my arms. No allergy medicine touched it. I scratched them red-raw. It was a symptom of anxiety. My PCP gave me a month of Paxil to treat the anxiety.
In early October, depression kicked in with big plans. I started to believe I was a terrible mom and wife. Depression convinced me to drive my car into a telephone pole to end it all. Fortunately, my mind insisted on a certain stretch of road, while the kids were in the car, and I reasoned that I couldn’t hurt my kids.
By mid-October, I was admitted to the psych unit in the hospital. My medications were changed and I started Electro-Convulsive Therapy. ECTs are used to jump-start the areas of the brain that need to make the “happy chemicals.” They are not barbaric in our modern times. I remained in-hospital through much of December.
According to my therapist and doctor, I’d had postpartum depression with both of my children, but I’d gone untreated for three years. The result was a diagnosis of bipolar II with a side of anxiety. I was either depressed or more depressed. To my husband, I was a monster as the hypomania manifested as OUT-OF-NOWHERE irritability, anger, and rage.
My life was not the same. My marriage ended in July 1999. They teach you in the hospital that depression is contagious between spouses. A person can hold up the one they love for only so long before they also crash and burn. We were a textbook case.
I rented a house near my parents, and they helped me with the kids. I cried. I kept working to support myself, but it sucked. I was admitted for my severe bouts of depression repeatedly; almost annually in the fall. My sister moved in with the kids and me for a while. I needed the help. I just couldn’t do it.
It was like treading water around the clock. While I kept my head above the darkness, I was depressed, but surviving. Yet, constantly kicking in a bottomless sea gets exhausting, and I’d sink. That’s bipolar II.
We remained divorced for three years. In 2003 we went to a therapist for a year to reconcile our marriage. We remarried in 2004. It is a fairytale ending for that era. Now, he’s my number one supporter.
I’m still bipolar. I received my diagnosis about 15 years ago. I’m not embarrassed anymore. I’m maintaining my mental health through regular therapy and consistently taking my medication. I have been hospital-free for 3 ½ years. I am a stay at home mom now to three kids. My youngest has high-functioning autism and ADHD. Average life stressors still affect my brain in ways that aren’t average. I need more physical rest than an average mom my age. Yes, we all get exhausted. Just add 2 hours to your sleep needs. At times, normal activities overwhelm my brain. I had an anxiety attack at my daughter’s crowded grand march this month. It wasn’t fun.
Currently, my hypomania shows up as over-the-top feelings of confidence. I feel like I can take on tasks outside of my norm. I volunteer for them. Then, despite feeling so strong, when it’s crunch time, I freeze up. Keep in mind; these are average jobs like chaperoning a field trip or being a class mom for a holiday party, not planning an end-of-year-festival.
Fortunately, I’ve found that with writing and blogging, I can socialize. I’ve found other people who are like me. I can make a commitment and not feel anxious. And I can fight the stigma associated with mental illnesses with my words.
Laura blogs at Welcome To Grand Central where she writes to belong to a community of folks who share life on the ‘net: Life with families, special needs, mental illness, pets, humor, and love. (Love of coffee and wine preferably!)
Laura Jo, thank you for sharing more of your brave story with us – I’m absolutely in awe of what you’ve conquered and continue to conquer every day! xoxo
Ashley, I 100% appreciate all of your support and encouragement. It does mean the world to me.
Lovely. You definitely helped someone feel less alone with this post. So, thank you for that–whomever it may be.
Kim, thank you for your encouragement. I hope others struggling can connect.
Thank you for being so candid about your experience! After suffering two miscarriages in 6 months time, I spiraled into the worst depression I’ve ever experienced; with many of the same symptoms you describe (even made it to the ER because my anxiety was causing the very same heart palpitations). Thankfully, Zoloft has worked for me, and is helping me in ways I’d never imagined.
I’m so sorry for your losses. I am so glad that you have found help with an effective medication. Please contact me if you ever feel alone.
I have a few friends I am going to share this personally with. Thank you for putting your story and your brave words out there.
NJ, thank you so much for sharing and for your encouragement.