It was one of those little paper cups that one can put ketchup or tartar sauce in. A white little bowl of pressed edges and a crimped rim. Almost origami like. Just a shallow condiment cup that, at its bottom, held two impossibly small pills that held too many promises to believe.
Help me sleep.
Help me calm down.
Help me have control.
Help me feel normal.
"Help me," I said to myself as I swallowed them down unquestioningly. This cup was my first introduction to psychiatric care when I was twenty-five years old. All these promises contained in a cup that was the size of a tablespoon. Goals of recovery pressed into the shapes of oddly colored tablets. I numbly took those medications, thinking at least for a few days I could get my bearings within the controlled confines of the hospital psychiatric ward.
I would have one on one interviews with a doctor everyday for the three days I was under evaluation. Group therapy twice on each of those mornings. Arts and crafts for relaxation. After my three days were up, I might be forced to stay longer, or be released back into my world of fucked up living with nothing but referrals I couldn't afford to use. Welcome to the American mental health system. You could always get a diagnosis and medication in an emergency, but unless you're a danger, good luck after your hold was up.
My own visit to the ward had to do with depression, scary thoughts, and an irrational desire to just run away from the world. Literally go back to the streets. For a long time, my rationale had always been survival. I didn't know how to exit that mode of thinking. I didn't really put any roots down and had little problem just moving on to new environs. That wasn't working out for me very well since I would struggle to hold on to jobs thanks to depression leaving me too miserable to even show up for the day's work.
And the thoughts of death were almost hypo manic at times. It was literally driving me crazy. I didn't comprehend why I was experiencing all this, and assumed I must be genetically off balance. Every where in my family there was depression, suicide, violence, and so on. Obviously I must be a chip off the old block.
At this first stay, the doctor did his best to help me sleep. Remeron, Respirdal, and Geodon were what I ended up taking and it barely snowed me under to sleep. Acute bipolar disorder with hypo manic tendencies was the cause explained to me. I lived with, and accepted that diagnosis without question, for nearly six years. Six years of failed medication attempts. Six more years of temporary homeless episodes. Six more years of suicide attempts to avoid feeling useless. Six more years of angry rant filled outbursts at family and friends.
Six years of intense self loathing.
I hardly remember those years. Probably because I barely survived them. What I remember most clearly was my last actual suicide attempt. I've never been able to go the pain route in death. My goal had always been to just not wake up anymore. Pills and alcohol were my usual instruments of self destruction, and in the midst of my family completely imploding after relinquishing my daughters, I tried again.
To be honest, I think I succeeded momentarily. The doctors who examined me later agreed. My heart did stop at some point, and why it fired back up is a mystery. I remember all the bourbon I'd finished off that night. Had to be at least two fifth size bottles. Then I grabbed some Risperdal and Vicodin, and washed them down as I lay on the floor near my computer desk. I was happy in the moments before I blinked out, but only because I thought I was truly free at last.
No more waking up. That was my last thought.
It was about a day later when I woke up, and it was a struggle. My vision was watery black. Reminiscent of looking through a dirty periscope, it was an off center view and appeared tunnel like. My brain seemed to process my surroundings at a three second delay. It was hard to breathe too. That sensation of my chest feeling too heavy to inhale must have kick started adrenaline, and I managed to roll onto my side, barely feeling the rough textured carpet against my face.
But as I lay there, straining to breathe, my eyes seeming to drag slowly back and forth in my eye sockets, I saw a piece of paper across from my face on the floor by my desk chair. It was a picture my oldest daughter, then about eight, had drawn for me. Just a simple drawing of me that she'd given earlier that month, but seeing it there discarded on the floor just hit me so hard. The way it just lay forgotten and taken for granted seemed to crush my spirits even more into dust. I was so ashamed of myself and my selfishness. I don't know how I did it, but I managed to get my phone off the desk and call for help.
This suicide attempt didn't land me in a psychiatric hold. No, they sent me home the same night after that one. For about two more years I continued accepting the bipolar diagnosis, but instead of mostly focusing on the right medication combination, I prioritized self management and self awareness. I did have another hospitalization in that time, but not for being suicidal, just irrational thinking. That stay was more beneficial than any other because I realized my warning signs much sooner.
Eventually I found a great therapist, and we realized I was not dealing with just mania, but PTSD. In fact, the mania was related to it. Three years of behavioral therapy, cleaning out of my emotional closets, and here I am now medication free. I have complete control and pretty much know how to manage in trigger situations. I also eliminated a number of people who would purposely trigger me in order to have control over me.
I removed my mantle of illness. I let it be the definition of who I was for so long, that I had allowed it to relegate me to a non contributor in my own life! I believed I would be hindered forever, and it took a third of my life so far to find out it wasn't true. But that is how mental illness is treated in this country. I hope it changes. Not everyone can make a good recovery, but the lack of quality care and comprehension of mental illness leaves many hopefuls lost in the dark and feeling like there isn't a chance for real living out there.
This has to change. We shouldn't rely on luck . There needs to be better standards of care with more than just medication goals and brief well checks. There needs to be future prognoses that are promising functionality and independence, not a non stop regimen of being treated like an invalid.
***Want to read more? Check out my short compilation with an additional nine new essays not published anywhere else. http://www.amazon.com/Badge-Survival-Amanda-Ashcraft-ebook/dp/B00UY2FOAU/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1426995310&sr=8-3&keywords=the+badge+of+survival ***