Chapter Twenty-Three

** WARNING: This post contains a section that discusses suicide and depression. It could possibly be triggering. If you are struggling with these issues I would suggest either skipping this post and reading others or skipping to the end of this post. I promise there is a happy ending. **

 

Today I am twenty-three.

For some, birthdays are no more than a regular day, maybe some presents, or good wishes and cake. Nothing ever really changes when you turn another year older. It’s not like you wake up and suddenly have matured a year. It’s a gradual process, and your birthday is just a marker along that path.

My family has made a big deal out of birthdays for as long as I can remember. We (the whole family) would wake up and open presents before we all went our separate ways to work or school. We would pick out a special birthday dinner – whatever we wanted – and probably have a party (or two…or three) at some point.

This year I have a different outlook on my birthday than I ever have. I have never been more thankful to be alive.

I’ve never been happy to be alive.

I mean, I probably did when I was younger, but at that age you don’t understand the whole “life” thing yet.

As a child, I remember that I had this vague idea in my head that I wouldn’t live to be 18. I had a small voice in my mind that said by the time I reached 18 I would have gathered the courage to end my life.

I had a twisted sense of hope that came from knowing my life would end soon enough, ending the consuming fears and misery. I thought it was just a feeling or maybe my fragile, mental state saying that it was “Gods will,” however, I can now recognize it as depression. On some level, I must have known that it wasn’t completely normal, because otherwise I’m not sure why I never said anything.

I woke up on my 18th birthday. I felt shocked, relieved, hopeful and distraught, all at once. I pulled myself together enough for the next year and a half to make the world believe I was OK, to make me believe I was OK. That’s when things started to unravel. I began spiraling downwards, convincing myself this time I wouldn’t live to see 20.

I was 19 when I first attempted suicide. I cringe thinking to those days. Thinking the words: I am unlovable.

The years that followed my whole family was in continuous crisis mode. They never knew what the next day was going to hold. Heck, I was so far removed from reality that I didn’t even know what the previous days looked like never mind the coming hours.

Somehow [clearly through the grace of God], I made it through countless life or death situations.

I don’t know how many times I have tried to end my life, nor do I know the exact number of streets I’ve crossed, [purposely] without waiting for cars to pass first.

I can’t count the exact number of scars on my skin from each time I carelessly slid a piece of metal through, silently hoping I would bleed to death and never wake up.

I don’t know how many hours I have been lost along train tracks waiting for a train to come and end it all.

I have walked across this train track bridge [the view now terrifies me!]:

*Bridge photos from London Free Press

If a train had come while I was walking across this bridge I would have not survived. I had hoped I would slip through the holes between the pieces of wood I walked over or through the sides.

*But this excruciating, long chapter of my life is closing.*

I’m well on my way to recovery!

Twenty-three is fresh.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have been working towards bible college for as long as I can remember. I am moving into a transitional chapter of online courses and I am already halfway through my first course: Intro to Old Testament Studies. I’m loving the content!

I have said this is a transitional chapter because I’m practicing the coping skills I’ve perfected while living a very simple, low-stress life, now in a more stressful life. It’s proving tough but I’m happy to report that there have been no suicidal thoughts that have come with any intent. The thoughts are more fleeting. They come almost out of habit.

My brain doesn’t work the same as it used to, nor does the rest of my body. I have been out of school for 4 years. Those things themselves throw some consequential challenges into life.

I got a 77% on my first midterm! I’m proud of that. I worked extremely hard and did not think I could manage more than a 60.

Good & amazing things have come from this chapter!

LIST OF GOOD THINGS/ACCOMPLISHMENTS DURING “DISABLED” YEARS:

I had extra time to spend hours reading Gods word and just resting in His presence.  Not everyone gets this wonderful opportunity.

My personal relationship with God is stronger than ever. My desire to experience Him, love Him, and obey Him, is sometimes more than I can handle (In a good way)!

I was diagnosed with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder that had been going on for 11 years before diagnosis. I don’t know when/if I would have been diagnosed had I not started having seizures.

I have overcome treatment-resistant major depressive disorder, after the better part of three years was spent in a psychiatric hospital.

I’ve overcome some intense psychotic episodes.

I have a better ability to empathize with other people’s sorrows. It’s the kind of empathy that you can only gain from going through a dark and difficult time.

I have completely stopped self harming. (Nearly 2 years without cutting!) Just a day ago, an ER nurse even commented on my scars looking old.

*I also now view self harming as a completely ineffective coping mechanism, but because of the addictive nature it is still tempting.

About 4 years after the OCD diagnosis, the disorder is almost managed now!! **HUGE HUGE ACCOMPLISHMENT THAT REQUIRED AN CRAZY AMOUNT OF WORK**

I have my own website/blog that actually gets a large number of views (that is if I actually post…oops…)

I have been doing a lot of painting and drawing **even with a tremor!

I have trained a service dog! (With a lot of help from family, a friend, and a trainer). Now I have an incredible, life-saving dog! I wish I didn’t need her as “medical equipment”, but she keeps me laughing and I constantly talk to her. (I have learned that when you are alone in public, it’s much more fun to pet a dog than to awkwardly pretend you are texting someone…)

I have had time to draw, write, and spend time with my family before I prepare to move away for school.

Now I see that this life I live is actually so wonderful! So long as God continues to use my struggles for His glory (I have no doubt He will), I don’t mind them being there.

For a long time, birthdays acted as a sort of ‘countdown’ of my life, filled with nothing but doom. Now, they serve as a source of hope and strength, reminding me I have – and will continue to – overcome.

I have come a long way in the past few years. Now I’m able to look back and say I survived. Now I’m able to look forward and say I can continue surviving and thriving.

My child self never thought I would make it to 18, but here I am, almost five years after 18, with a desire to keep living as long as God allows, so I can do and accomplish all that he has planned for me.

Today I begin chapter twenty-three.

Question That Makes Us Fake

How are you?

The most common greeting-so common that it just springs out of peoples mouthes without them even thinking. Although, most people feel genuinely interested in the other persons life when asking the question.

People aren’t built to expect bad things or bad days, so when asking ‘how are you’ they are usually just ready to hear all the good and wonderful things that have been happening in that persons life.

Unfortunately, not everyones lives are all sunshine and daisies. That leaves pressure for those of us who have been struggling. We feel we need to respond with positive answers-regardless of how we are actually feeling. We feel we we need to pretend everything is going how we hoped it would be.

Why do we do this? It’s so fake and routine!

At church I often I find myself frantic for the ‘right‘ answers when asked, “How are you?” For simplicity sake and so I didn’t need to break out into a big honest spiel, I reply, “Good!” or “Alright!” And to my close friends, whom I fear may see right through me, I shrug my shoulders and make ‘that distressed face.’ That’s when you know things are very bad.

Really, I’m fine…except for I am totally not. I’m completely falling apart inside. My mind is a raging hurricane! My thoughts are a disgusting junkyard full of twisted metal!

I am beyond upset and disappointed in myself for slipping so far from where I was just a few short weeks ago. It scares me that all it takes is one wee trigger to set my mind off, to shake me to my core and to completely disrupt my life.

But then, I’m also upset at myself for being upset with myself (totally makes sense, right?) because this is not my fault. Again, I remind myself that recovery comes with setbacks, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t escape them.

“This is just a setback. This is just a setback. This is just a setback.
3…6…9…12…15…18…21…24…27…30…33…”
(Repeat. Repeat. Repeat…)

Imagine being so consumed by something that you literally could not think of anything else until you felt certain of the outcome you needed…so caught up in the thoughts and worries that you could not go to work, concentrate in conversations, do simple math (like counting out money), or perhaps even stand to be around people because your brain is essentially on overdrive.

The result: a heavy, crushing, debilitating, long-lasting, wave of anxiety.

It was so much that I tried to end my life…again. It pains me to say that. I so badly want to keep it a secret because I am so ashamed of myself. Ashamed that I didn’t tell anybody. Ashamed that thoughts that appear SO trivial could drive me to such extremes.

This is the harsh reality of mental illness.image

It brings people to the place they said they would never go. That dark, scary, place. The place I thought I was so far from. It sneaks up on you when you least expect it and it changes your thinking. You think no one really cares. You think death is the only option. You think this is the safest way.

For me, the distress comes from harm OCD.

My mind races 123876562431078465 miles a minute. I’m scared of my mind. I’m scared about these intrusive thoughts. I’m (irrationally) scared for my loved ones, and even strangers’, safety. Even though I know I would never act on these thoughts. Ever. I’m so scared of acting on the thoughts though. I’m terrified that there is half an ounce of longing to the thoughts; as if that part of me wants and enjoys the thoughts. They feel so real.

My greatest fear is people around me getting physically hurt-especially the people I love the most…and what if that came from me…what if I was the one that hurt them!? I couldn’t live with that happening, so I do everything in my power to prevent it.

The media does not help. Many tv series show people killing left and right. They make it look “normal.” Often the killer doesn’t even have a motive! So then, I sit there and think “What if that’s me one day!? What if I just went crazy and attacked someone!?”

That is why this week, I thought the only way to keep other people safe (from myself) was to hurt myself. It doesn’t make sense and it’s not true but that’s what I thought. It’s what my OCD made me believe was true.

What I did not think about was ANYTHING else. Not about other people, my dog, my dreams, Gods plan/timing… I could only think about all the horrible things that I could do. I didn’t think of anything real; just what I felt was real.

It is a miracle that I escaped unharmed…I mean NO liver damage when my liver should be in liver failure. If that’s not a divine sign from God that He is not finished with you yet, I don’t know what is!

I’m fighting my brain constantly (literally constantly). I was drained from this never-ending battle.

OCD had a firm grip on me last week even though I am doing everything I possibly can to get past this. I’ve tried telling myself, “Summer, you would never do that. Thoughts are just thoughts. They don’t mean anything.” I’ve tried to ignore the thoughts; I’ve tried not to ignore the thoughts. The best thing I can do is to just ‘let the thoughts come and go as they please.’ ‘Don’t give the thoughts meaning.’ ‘Do not try to fight the thoughts.’

Simple right?

NO!! Its so ridiculously hard to let go of revolting thoughts and images that literally make me vomit at times. My coping strategies that helped me out of this mess before seem completely useless right now. Regardless, I will continue to do everything I can to manage until something changes.

So, next time you go to ask someone how they have been, try some of these alternatives:

How has your day been so far?

Have you had a nice morning so far?

Recall and ask about the little things in their life. It means the world to people when you ask about the little details of their life.

Ask about an area of life that they care about. (Writing, drawing, music, tattoos, school, work, sports, exercise, pets/animals, relationships, travel, ect.)

Just simply tell them that you have been thinking or praying for them. There is something fantastic about the feeling of someone thinking about you. You feel cared for, loved on, and not forgotten.

Or hit them with a compliment instead of a vague question! Don’t you look extra lovely today!

Or, the best thing people can do for me when they know I’ve been struggling is say, “Hey, can I pray for you right now?” BEFORE you leave me and I’m left wondering if any people care enough to go home and actually pray for me.

If you don’t know the person well enough to say anything personal, just say, “Wow! It’s so nice to see you! I pray for you often. Hope to see you again soon!”

Don’t assume that because I look well, I am doing well. There is a very real battle going on inside my head that no one else sees.

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