Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape. William Burroughs
So we've talked alot the past couple of weeks about stigma. We've discussed the fact that many of us feel isolated.
Let's continue exploring these issues by sharing what we know of others, who are famous, and have admitted their mental illness issues.
Just in case you ever wondered if your depression or mental illness would subside if only.. If only you were smart enough, if only you were attractive enough , if only you were admired enough, if only you'd won an oscar... I mean seriously - there is no "if only."
Mental illness can and does affect us all. In example:
Halle Berry attempted suicide with carbon monoxide poisoning, as she told Parade, after her marriage to baseball star David Justice crumbled and depression set in.
Berry will soon star in Frankie and Alice, an indie movie she’s also producing, as a woman with multiple personality disorder.
I originally posted this a couple years ago, on my http://Chelise.Typepad.com blog.
Time has passed, but so much stays the same.
The open letter, remains:
I love the fact that when I start a new entry in this blog, I click on a link that says:" "Begin a new post." That is like the story of my life, this month.
I am literally consumed lately with all the apologies I have to make.
In the meantime, I've written an open letter for all of you who have been following my blog:
An open letter to those who understand mental illness, and those who don’t:
I am starting to feel better. I know this, because I am not so anxious. I still owe 100 apologies and things are backed up and back logged and confused and overdrawn, but I can begin to tackle the mountain of “I am behind” without the crippling anxiety I was experiencing.
I am starting to feel better. I know this because I am awake and lucid and can remember yesterday and know too that school starts for my children next week and I don’t need meds to get through the day without contemplating death or how worthless I am.
I am starting to feel better. I know this, because when I type “contemplating death or how worthless I am”—I cringe inside, because I know that these thoughts do not belong to me, they belong to my illness, and I wish, oh how I wish, my illness would go away, and stay away.
For those of you who understand, you know this already. For those of you don’t understand, all I can do is hope that my words have an impact, and that you will consider them with new eyes:
My illness does have physical ramifications, it is primarily mental and emotional in nature. This disease is hereditary. My mother died from mental illness and that intermingled with the undeniable fact that I am similarly afflicted breaks my heart for myself, my family, and my children, a thousand times over. My mother’s disease went untreated, but mine does not. This brings me some comfort. Treatment, especially now (unlike when my mother was my age) offers an amazing amount of hope.
My particular illness is severe. It is chronic, but not constant. I have months and sometimes (more recently) years of relief in between episodes. Treatment has given me and my family these gifts of lengthy interludes between flare ups. When I am in the middle of a depression, however, it nearly always starts out the same - in this sense: I don't want to admit it. I don't want to accept it. A combination of pride and denial conflict with responsible actions such admitting that there are commitments I will not be able to keep.
I don't care whether you have a cold, a broken bone, or are severely depressed - most of us do not want it to be happening, and then - we don't want to admit that the situation will impact our productivity or reliability. Certainly, I am that way.
Here, in the aforementioned area - I need a great deal of growth, and will aspire to get there. The only way I can think to start is admit right now, that it is true. Many things have fallen through the cracks, and my responsibility was to admit my incapacity before it affected others, and I did not handle that well. I am particularly saddened by the way that my actions have impacted Altered Art Obsession, and Paper Whimsy. Two incredible art groups that have graciously allowed me to participate in art swaps and round robins with other incredible artists, and whose members have had to pick up the pieces I dropped, because I didn't head off the issue at the pass.
My disease requires physical and emotional therapy. I am not required to walk a certain number of steps a day or squeeze an exercise ball., but instead my job is to issue explanations, and apologies, and to figure out how to take responsibility and be forgiving of myself, in equal measure. There is pain and frustration involved in my physical therapy, and I often want to give up. My pain does not resemble that of a muscle or bone coming slowly back to life, the ache and burn of torn ligaments encouraged to act anew. My pain is identical to the gut wrenching, self defeating place we call shame. My job, in physical therapy, is to walk through the shame, communicate and fix what I can—and put enough faith in myself and others to believe that I can back to where I was or even find a better place.
The largest misconception about mental illness, is this: That the person suffering can change it, turn it around, or banish the illness—through strong moral character or a shift in thinking. The only shift in thinking that has ever had a significant impact on my illness was the endless journey (which I still walk) towards ~ “I deserve to be alive.” Those of us born with this disease begin to feel that we are born with and at—a deficit. For over twenty years I believed I had to work harder, be a better person, look prettier, give more, do more, and—in general—be a different person—in order to deserve love, and happiness.
As many decades of therapy, fervant prayer, recovery programs, and few crisis oriented hospitalizations, a medication merryground that finally proved effective, and here I sit. Deep breath in, deep breath out. Still breathing.
A thousand apologies to go - and for those of you who "get it" and to those of you don't, but are willing to give the disease of mental illness your consideration - thank you for reading this, and thank you - for your understanding.
xo - Chel
PS - Here are some places you can learn more:
The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering. - Ben Okri
Ok, before I go on with my story or post anyone else's, I think it is important to stop here for a moment and provide some resources.
Someone, somewhere, or more than one person - known to me or unknown - may have landed on this blog because they were looking up suicide on google, and/or, because they are suicidal.
So, this information is for you, Dear Child of the Universe. You who are suffering, who feel that you are alone, that you are worthless, or that you simply can not bear to feel the pain anymore.
I won't argue with you. I won't patronize your pain. Those paths never did any good for me, I imagine they don't sit well with others who are suicidal.
I will suggest you start here - this is a wonderful page full of wonderful resources. Read, consider, think, and perhaps dream. I give you permission to continue to be miserable. Really, I've been there, I understand. But read this page, and consider the information a tiny seed, and consider that you may be a flower, folded up, tucked away and afraid. I give you permission to be miserable, but I also give you permission to bloom.
Next, if you are heartbroken, beaten down, desperate, or just sad beyond any measure you had ever conceived of - call someoe. It does not have to be someone you know. You don't have to believe they care about you. All you have to do is dial the telephone. Here are some numbers:
Suicide & Crisis Hotlines
Crisis Counselors are
waiting for your call.
In other parts of the country:
USA National Suicide Hotlines
Toll-Free / 24 hours / 7 days a week
TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889)
If you are in Europe, or Canada, or any other country, you will have suicide hotlines available for YOU too. Look for the numbers online, get out a phonebook, or call directory assistance.
Dear Child, Grow, Grow. Begin Today.
To regret one's own experiences is to arrest one's own development. To deny one's own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one's life. It is no less than a denial of the soul. - Oscar Wilde
In the mid 1980s, when my first depression occurred - I literally had no idea what was going on. Because of my mother's errant behavior, I believed she was strange, weird, embarrassing, all of the above - but no one had ever uttered the words nor explained to me what mental illness was.
In fact, the amount of pro-active and positive growth the field of mental health has undergone in the past 20 plus years is extraordinary.
My mother opted to live in her depression, to live in her dark world, to accept unhappiness as opposed to fighting it.
I on the other hand was very impatient with this new-found misery. In what may seem like a strange irony, I am an optimistic person. I believe in life, in love, in the light that surrounds us all. If I didn't believe in these things, I don't suppose I could go on. Honestly.
It is when the light in my life is compromised - because I am worn out and worn down, or because of particularly painful external circumstances, or just because that chemical battle in my brain takes a turn for the worse - it feels to me as if all light has been extinguished. I can put it into words now, but when it happens - I am speechless. It is a gruesome stumbling block, living without the hope of light.
So, let me share briefly - what my experience was, the first time that I was completely enveloped in the dark. To understand, we must remember that I have an anxiety disorder. Severe depression, for me, kicks my anxiety into high gear. I am not the depressed person who sleeps and eats all day. I am exactly the opposite. I stop tasting my food, lose my appetite, and stop eating all together. And sleeping is near impossible. Instead, I pace, I cry, I curl into a ball of exhaustion but no slumber waits around the corner to relieve me.
Herein, is my downfall. The eating is one thing, but it is the sleep that gets to me first. After a second or third day, I am stumbling around, unreasonable and incoherent. I am just, you know, really sad, and really f**cking exhausted.
I have been delusional in this state. It is not a far leap from sheer exhaustion to delusional thinking. When I was 17, my mother had remarried and moved away. (A story for a different post on a different day). I had latched on to my boyfriend's family for dear life. My boyfriend was nice enough, though young and obsessed with his muscle car. Typical teenage boy stuff. But his mother was this zaftig big beautiful bundle of warmth. Every time I walked into her house she was cooking something fragrant and warm. She lectured me lovingly on why I wasn't wearing warmer shoes or why I didn't have a good winter coat (because I had no adult in my life to notice that I needed these things). I cared about my boyfriend, about as much as a 17 year old can muster (not like my first love at 14. Nothing would compare to that, my heart simply could not expand in that way any more), but my real love in this relationship was with his mother.
I wanted her for my own. I wanted someone to notice that I was cold, and remedy that situation, simply because they cared for me. I wanted someone to be cooking at the stove because they were planning on nourishing a family. I wanted to be a part of that family. My boyfriend, he could come or go. I nearly didn't care - it was his home, his mother, that I so desperately wanted.
Relationships between teens rarely go well. His muscle car was more important to him that I was. I never wanted to go out, I wanted to hang out in his kitchen and watch his mother pour her love into whatever it was she was doing, in hopes that the love would spill over and land on me.
So we broke up. Ugly words and terrible behavior presented itself on both sides. Call it the Learning Curve. Let us hope, twenty years later, I would never even consider behaving in the manner he and I behaved toward each other so many years ago.
And, after a few days of this - it hit me. I was 17, living without parents, and the warmth of that kitchen, the present of this mother who I wanted so much for my own, was gone.
And the blackness descended. I drove around in my car (at the time, a huge rambling 1977 Chevy Malibu) at speeds far to fast. I wept and screamed while I drove. One day turned into two. I stopped only for gas, but had no direction. I drove in circles, mirroring the cyclical pain and fear within my head.
And then I decided that I personally was the Devil. I thought of everyone I had ever hurt, in any way. I was simply an evil person. Destined for pain, destined to cause pain.
Lest I be too forgiving of myself, I'll dare say this is where the delusion set in. I might also add that it was a bit narcissistic, this form of self delusion. As if the world revolved around me and the pain I felt, the pain I caused. But depression can be like that. It is not the most altruistic of diseases. Sigh.
Everything in me hurt. Every cell, every thought. I was hoarse from crying, and beyond desperately tired. Desperately. I was desperately desperate.
I wanted out.
And here's the thing - the method had already been modeled for me. My mother had jagged white lines cris-crossing her wrists, because, when my brother and I were two and three, she'd slit her wrists open with razor blades.
I can still remember walking into the drug store and asking for a package of straight razor blades. The clerk wanted to know something about what kind of razor they were for, and I was completely stymied. "Um, just plain razors." I managed to croak. With my matted hair and red eyes, he must have figured me for a coke fiend. A foreshadowing, yet to come. Somehow, he managed to produce a pack of razors, and I managed to pay for them with quarters and pennies scrounged from the floor of my car.
Let me take a break now, because the telling becomes hard, and painful.
I will read ashes for you if you ask me.
I will look in the fire and tell you from the gray lashes,
and out of the red and black tongues
I will tell how the fire comes,
and how fire runs as far as the sea.
- Carl Sandburg
Now, on four days without sleep, and an empty stomach, and a heart ripped to shreds, I had decisions to make. How, was already handled. My mother handed me that knowledge even before I could barely walk.
Where? This was of great concern. I didn't want anyone to find me. In minor, so that they couldn't stop me. In major, because I figured it would be disturbing, and I my soul was so tired of disturbing the universe, I couldn't even put it into words.
I drove to a desolate part of town. An industrial area in West Berkeley where old and many deserted warehouses were far from the sidewalk. I parked. I turned on the radio, as loud as I could. I don't remember the song. It was inconsequential. Some sort of pulsating house music, meant for a rave. No lyrics. There were no lyrics in the world to match my plan.
I opened the razor blade pack. There were ten of them perhaps. Shiny and new. I used 5, held together as one thick blade, and I cut. I cut again and and again. The blood meant nothing at first, and I felt, disturbingly, nothing. No pain. I cut and I cut.
And then, I hit a vein.
Miracles happen in the most miraculous of ways. A cliche, but true.
When I hit the vein, a pulse of blood began to push and pour down my hand, my fingers, blood squirting onto my shirt and pants.
It shocked me. And something deep inside recognized a correlation. The pulsing, the liquid. It was like the ocean, the pull of the tides.
I was like the ocean. I was both bigger and smaller than I had ever imagined.
Pulse Pulse Pulse. The ocean meant that the universe waited, and the pulse meant that I was alive.
I was alive.
And I was in trouble.
I started my car again, and managed to drive the half mile or so - running stop signs, daring someone, anyone, to pull me over - and found myself at the department store where I had been working for the past few months.
I parked my car in an illegal red spot next to the entrance. When I walked in I tossed my keys to a security guard stationed near the front registers. "My car is outside. Park it for me."
"What? I can't do that! I can't leave my post, park your own damn car!"
But I kept walking, pushed by the ocean, so near and yet so far. And then I began to feel faint. I walked into the closest department in the store. The maternity ward, a cosmic joke almost, and a fuzzy dizziness assaulted my senses. I thought -
Oh my God. I am dying.
"Help me." I mouthed to the nearest store clerk. And then I went down. My knees buckled, my head cracked against the cement floor, and the blood kept coming.
We know the end of this particular story, because here I am writing it. But I'll fill in the details on another day.
Without doing so now - if I could give one suggestion (not advice, I hate advice) to anyone out there reading this who has or will consider suicide - let it be this:
You are both greater and smaller than you can imagine, both at the same time. You are the universe and the ocean, and you are integral to both. Your gift will never leave you, until it is truly your time. So long as you recognize how extraordinary of a gift that it is- it is three simple words that encapsulate the complexity of everything. The greatest gift there is. You are alive.
Twenty years later, the scars are barely noticeable. But when I turn my wrist so and catch a glimpse, sometimes I catch my breat at the same time. My own personal scarlett letters, carved in there for all eternity. This child has tried to run.
A million stories and lives and loves will run through my head when this happens. This child has tried to run, but - a miracle once more - every time, she manages to find her way back home, yet again.