Hello dear friend, I hope you are doing well.
Whew, okay. Today’s post is going to be…yeah. I’m hoping cathartic for me and somehow useful for you. Note that I will be discussing the onset and persistence of suicidal thoughts in this post, so if that is a trigger for you, please skip this one or proceed with caution. As always, if you or someone you love needs help, please reach out for help – https://psychcentral.com/lib/common-hotline-phone-numbers/.
Stepping back a bit – so yes, after being shattered, Susie and I kept doing whatever we could to keep moving forward. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, there were things and people that helped, that were lights along our path, that tried to help us heal. The problem, though, was that I, at least, never really took the time to process what had happened. I didn’t have it in me to sit with those emotions and acknowledge them. I always had a ready excuse to avoid doing so – overtime at work, taking care of a new puppy, additional family health issues, too tired to deal with it today…you know how it goes, right? By the time I actually had a moment to step back, and to breathe in what felt like the first deep breath in nearly a year, well, on the surface, things weren’t so bad. Family health issues had improved. Work was still “feast or famine” as my then-manager liked to say – either very little to do or so much work I would be pulling 10 to 14-hour days most every day of the week for at least two weeks, if not months at a go. I had friends and family to turn to, darling dogs that never failed to make me smile, a new hobby (crochet), and we were heading to Disney World in a month, planned for January 2014.
Things seemed fine…but there was a veil of gray that seemed to seep in over everything I viewed. Colors were never quite as bright as I knew them to be. For the first time ever, I wasn’t entirely excited about going to Disney. Me, not excited about Disney?! Sure, it made sense, I knew I was still mostly shattered and the pieces I had taped together were liable to fall apart again at the slightest provocation, but me, not absolutely over-the-moon-excited about Disney? That was the first BIG RED FLAG that I ignored. It was hard to find the excitement I was used to feeling. It was like there was a blockage, a fog, a veil over the part of my mind that acknowledges and enjoys and is grateful for good things. I knew that part was there, but I had so much trouble accessing it – as though every time I tried, I simply didn’t have enough energy to follow through with it.
There were other flags – I wasn’t excited to decorate for the holidays – and Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. I couldn’t seem to stop my mind from going over and over and over the list of good and bad that occurred that year. That was the start – I should have noticed it, I should have recognized it – I had battled it before – but the me that isn’t me, the voice of the depression and anxiety that I call Nox, is clever. It creeps in slowly, hidden under stress and other sadness, other worry. It starts by saying things that make total sense – gosh, I’m so worried about Grandma. I’m so worried about Dad. Oh God, my uncle has been told he only has five years left to live – God, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t handle this right now. I’m sad – well, it is coming up on one year for each of the grief anniversaries from December 2012-January 2013. These thoughts made sense…they sounded like my own voice – and maybe at the time, they were. But every time I would push those thoughts away, would shove them behind the large door in my mind marked “CAN’T DEAL WITH THIS RIGHT NOW” – that pervasive, persuasive fog grew thicker. The voice of my worries grew louder. I was struck time and again with a sense that something horrible was going to happen. I found myself dreading every phone call. But I told myself that was okay, that was expected even, given how many times the family health updates came via phone call rather than text or speaking in person. I found myself thinking in circles. I couldn’t remember the last time I hadn’t had trouble falling asleep.
When we got back from Disney – the trip went well and I did have fun – I found myself hearing those worries more and more and more. By summer, they had been joined by other thoughts, thoughts I started to recognize weren’t really my voice, thoughts I told to go away…
I’m worthless. They don’t really care about me. This is too hard. No one would really miss me. I don’t see a way out. I don’t see a way out. I can’t afford to quit. I can’t afford to break. I don’t have time to deal with this. I’m letting everyone down. I need to be stronger. God, I’m so pathetic. Maybe I deserve all the bad that has happened. Maybe it is somehow my fault. Why do I hurt everyone around me? God, stop being so oversensitive all the time, Katie, you make everything about you. Stop it – you need to be a better friend, a better sister, a better daughter, a better worker. You’re a failure. You can’t get these videos right in the first draft? The second? The third? God, you are on the fifth draft for these? Pathetic. Useless. You are letting everyone down. So what – the client keeps changing the requirements – so what. You have always been able to provide exactly what they want and need before – what the hell is wrong with you that you can’t do the same now? Incompetent. Ugly inside and out. It’s no wonder you haven’t made friends nearby – who would want to hang out with you, anyway? God, poor Susie – you are such a burden to her. Why aren’t you a better help around the house? Why can’t you stay out of debt? Why is it so goddamn hard for you to do the simplest things – you are an adult, stop making excuses.
These thoughts went through my mind over and over again, getting louder and gaining strength with each repetition. I kept trying to shove them away, kept telling myself those thoughts were lying, kept telling myself I was strong enough to get through this. As the thoughts got worse and worse, I sought to distract myself – starting back on Weight Watchers, starting a fitness blog on Tumblr, and in early 2015, working with Mom and Susie to train to do the Princess Half Marathon in 2017 – giving ourselves a solid two years to go from no exercise to being able to run/walk the distance within the time requirement. Things were okay, at least for a little while. Walking long distance was fun. The voice of Nox got quieter…until summer hit and I found myself facing another project that required massive amounts of overtime. I kept thinking I should have been able to handle it, I had always been able to handle it before, but I also kept thinking I just can’t do this. I can’t. I don’t have it in me. This is too much, I don’t have any more to give. I can’t do this. I have to do this. I don’t know how I am going to get this all done. I have to. I can’t. Oh God, I can’t handle this. Too much. Too much. Too much. Too much.
That’s when the suicidal thoughts started to come in – I can’t afford to quit. I have too much debt. If I just…stopped, at least Susie could use the money from my retirement account and insurance to pay off our debt and the house. Oh God, what am I thinking?! No, no, no, NO that’s not an option. Stop it. Go away. I just have to keep going. Somehow. By November, I was thinking about suicide nearly all day, every single day. I had tried fighting it on my own, knowing I had battled my way through previous depression episodes with the love and support of my family alone, but I couldn’t shake the thoughts, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being a burden to all around me, of being worthless, of taking up space I shouldn’t – of being a waste of space. I finally made an appointment with my doctor – and was quickly placed on SSRI medication that was increased to the highest level a month later.
Things got better. The thoughts stopped…well, for the most part. I still had suicidal thoughts for three days every single month, like clockwork. I told my doctor that – and she didn’t seem concerned. Apparently that was somehow normal…? So I went back to shoving things behind the “CAN’T DEAL WITH THIS RIGHT NOW” door in my mind – you can see where this is heading, right? Because I still wasn’t dealing with the underlying problem. 2016 came quickly, along with our annual trip – but so did a massive snow storm. Our usual 5- to 7-day trip got cut to 3 days – and don’t get me wrong, we had a great time – but I really needed that full trip that year, especially while still adjusting to the medication. When we returned home, Susie, Mom, and I started planning to go back in November of the same year, with the intention of seeing all the holiday decorations and experiencing the Very Merry Christmas Party for the first time. I was excited, truly and fully excited, for the first time since 2012. Things started to get better.
By April 2016, I was thinking about asking my doctor about dropping back down to the lower dose of the medication, with the intention of going off it completely thereafter…but within days of having that thought, the suicidal thoughts returned to occurring multiple times a day, nearly every day. I contacted my doctor in a panic – this wasn’t right, I didn’t understand why this was happening, I couldn’t handle going back to that mindset – so she doubled the highest dose for 20 days – and it worked. The suicidal thoughts went back to only showing up three days a month, every single month. I was coasting along, knowing that the voice of Nox was locked behind a thick door in my mind labeled “DANGER! DO NOT OPEN!!! DANGER!”, a door that was held firmly shut with the help of the medication – but I wasn’t doing anything else to deal with the underlying cause and I felt, more often than I would like, that the monster in my brain was scrabbling and scraping at the door over and over and over again, without tiring. I convinced myself everything was fine. I ignored the bits of dense smoke that would slip from the door every month.
November rolled around and the trip was awesome…until I got sick. Apparently I’m allergic to poinsettias? Like, highly, highly allergic?! And they were EVERYWHERE. We already knew I have an allergy to most detergents and some soaps, so I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that I was feeling worse by the day – what with all the “snow” added to various shows in the parks. By the time we reached the day of the Christmas Party event, I was already feeling run down and yucky, but I was DETERMINED to spend the whole day at Magic Kingdom, enjoy our dinner at Be Our Guest, and enjoy every second of the party…
That was, quite obviously, not a smart plan. By noon, I could barely breathe and was going through napkins-turned-tissues at an alarming rate. I ended up going to First Aid and getting some Benedryl and Halls cough drops – they helped a little, I guess. By the time the party rolled around, I just wanted to lay down – my body felt so heavy, my nose and throat felt clogged, my eyes and tongue felt swollen – but gosh darn it, I really wanted to see Belle in her Christmas dress…We managed to meet Rapunzel and Flynn, which was fun and made Susie and me so happy, and got in line to meet Aurora and Philip (since Sleeping Beauty is Susie’s favorite), but I ended up leaving the line so I could sit down and rest – I just didn’t feel up to continuing to wait. I watched from a distance as Mom and Susie enjoyed the meet and greet – I was really happy for Susie, but oh my goodness I felt so, so sick. As soon as they were out of line, we started making our way toward the front of the park to catch the stage show and fireworks – we managed to catch a glimpse of the parade as we paused near Liberty Square and I got to see Belle in her red dress – I remember being as happy as I possibly could while feeling as sick as I did. When we made it to the front of the park, we found a place to watch the show and I ended up just sitting down and leaning against the wall/fence we are nearby. I missed seeing the show because I literally did not have the energy to stand up and watch it – but I did enjoy all the music. I was able to see the fireworks from where I sat, for the most part. Once that was done, Mom and Susie helped me to exit the park and make it to the bus – it is honestly still a bit of a blur of Ugggggh I feel like death warmed over and wondering why my entire body felt filled with lead and Just one foot in front of the other, okay? Okay, one step, two step, one step two step. Yeah, cool, I’ve got this *gigglesnort* I’m totally fiiiiiine. I ended up spending most of the rest of the trip resting in the hotel, where I felt mostly human as long as I continued to take Benedryl. With already feeling rundown, I wasn’t at all surprised that I ended up actually sick within a few days of getting home (it wasn’t the first time I had caught something while coming home from Disney) – double ear infection and a sinus infection. Fun times…heh. I was at least feeling a bit better by Christmas, which was good.
January 2017 rolled around and I found myself regretting that we didn’t have a trip planned – even though we had just come back from one in November. I kept telling myself I was being silly and we would be going back the following January. I started planning the next trip. Things were okay. Susie and I were back to walking long distance most weekends. I was still having suicidal thoughts three days a month, but otherwise, things were okay…until they weren’t.
In May, Susie tripped over the gate we use downstairs to keep Gunny on the main floor while we are at work – it was 2AM, the night light downstairs was out, and Susie had gone downstairs with Gunny in the middle of the night since he threw up on her bed and she was worried since he was still acting sick. She closed the gate to prevent him from going back up to bed, since she had thrown all the sheets in the wash. When her alarm went off, she jumped up to go turn it off, forgot about the gate in the dark, and tripped over it. We have one of the long gates with multiple folds, since the opening to our living room is wide. When she tripped, she fell flat on the single stair that connects the foyer to the living room and the remainder of the gate swung behind her and smacked the back of her head. I heard the crash from my room on the third floor of our condo and checked my phone to see “Help” from Susie – I raced down the stairs where I found her convulsing on the couch, having a seizure. I did my best to help her through it – I always seem to be able to stay calm during a health crisis with someone else, which is a blessing – and once she seemed to recognize me and where we were, which took about an hour, I took her to the emergency room. It was her fifth concussion and the side effects lingered for months. Around the same time, Mom was diagnosed with diabetes and decided she wanted to manage it through diet and exercise. She was complaining about leg pains every day. We kept telling her to speak to her doctor about it, but she didn’t listen.
Fast forward to July – Mom had seen her doctor again and been told she was doing well managing her diabetes through diet and exercise, which was good. One Saturday, she came down to visit us, like she usually does at least one day per weekend, but as soon as she arrived, she took her inhaler and sat down, complaining her chest hurt. She looked so pale and she didn’t feel any relief from her inhaler, even though she had taken it before she left her house and as soon as she got to ours. Susie and I began to suspect she was having a heart attack. We begged and begged and begged her to let us take her to the hospital or to let us call 911 but she kept saying no. She eventually laid down on the couch, as her breathing got more and more ragged. Susie excused herself and went upstairs, where she called Dad, telling him our suspicions. He told Susie not to be silly and that it was more likely Mom was bit by a spider or something. Susie came back downstairs and Mom sat up, clutching her chest, saying she felt like she was going to throw up. Susie ran and grabbed a bucket. We finally managed to convince Mom to let us take her to the hospital nearby. I have never, EVER been so thankful that the hospital is only 15 minutes away – I drove as quickly and safely as I could, telling Mom to keep breathing, to try to cough to keep her heart pumping. I am so grateful to all that is good and holy that we managed to get green lights or lights that quickly changed to green throughout that entire drive. I kept glancing at Susie – she was pale and her eyes were wide and I had only seen her look that concerned and panicked once before, when Mom had her gallbladder removed and they told us she almost died on the table and that if they had waited another hour to operate (after pushing it back for three days while keeping Mom as an inpatient), she wouldn’t still be with us – and I tried to keep Susie calm, too. We pulled straight up to the emergency entrance and Susie ran out of the car and to the front desk faster than I have ever seen her run. She came right back out, followed by two nurses with a wheelchair. Things moved fast after that – they raced Mom straight back to emergency where it was confirmed she was having a heart attack. We called Dad – he said he would be down as soon as the mobile bathing station people were done bathing Sam, since Sam was still covered in soap and Dad couldn’t leave without taking Sam back inside. Mom was taken to the cardiac wing and Susie and I were taken to a waiting room. I remember the hospital chaplain coming to sit and pray with us – that was really nice of her. Dad came about an hour and a half later. I don’t remember how long we sat there, but I do remember the heart surgeon coming out and telling us Mom would be fine. She had a widow-maker heart attack. Two of her arteries where completely clogged. I remember him telling Susie and me that we were the ones who saved her life. If she had gotten to the hospital ten minutes later, he said her odds of survival would have fallen by 98%. Mom was kept at the hospital for a few days. I saw Dad cry for the third time in my life. Susie broke down whenever we were on our way home and several times at home. I found that I couldn’t cry. I was oddly calm.
Summer continued. Other family health issues sprang up – our uncle had cancer and was in and out of the hospital for treatment. Our Ivy, our remaining paternal grandparent, was suffering – she lost her brother and her mother within a year of each other.
I found myself struggling to breathe. I made an appointment with my doctor, explaining my asthma medication doesn’t seem to be working. I was changed to a different medication, which turned out not to be covered by my insurance. I went back to the doctor and was changed to another medication. I still found it hard to breathe. I felt the voice of Nox growing more persistent, but chalked it up to all the family health issues and feeling rundown. I went back to the doctor several times in July and August – she couldn’t find what’s wrong and recommended I go for a sleep study. I was unable to get in for an appointment until October.
Fall arrived and Susie was still dealing with concussion symptoms. I started to have panic attacks at work – not often, but when they occurred, I would hyperventilate, my muscles would lock, it hurt to be touched, and once the attack was over, I felt so exhausted I had to take the rest of the day as leave. The sleep study uncovered that I have sleep apnea, but I wasn’t able to start treatment until November since I had to have a second study to determine if the CPAP would help, and after that they had to order the CPAP supplies for me. Around the time of the sleep study, given the fact that the panic attacks and suicidal thoughts kept increasing, I reached out to another manager I worked with on a frequent basis to ask if I could be switched to her team. I explained my situation and what I had discussed with my then-manager in the past and how often we had discussed what I needed – a backup, help, not to be the “hero” all the time when training projects came in – and how he was aware of my depression diagnosis, as was company security since I was required to report it, and how my then-manager was aware of everything else going on outside of work, and how I had been promised time and again that I would be given a backup, that things would get better, that I wouldn’t have to be the “hero” – only to be disappointed as things stayed the same. She went to her manager and came back within a few days to tell me the team switch was approved, and she was happy to take me on to her team provided I was willing to continue building training when needed and to train someone else to assist. I was told the switch would occur in November.
November rolled around and I started the daily sleep apnea treatment. The month crept by and I found it was still hard to breathe. Nox was getting louder and stronger every single day. I kept telling myself it would be okay – things would improve once the team switch went through. November was drawing to a close and the team switch hadn’t occurred – I reached out to the other manager again and was told she was so sorry, but it would have to wait until December due to contract issues. Okay. Okay, I can handle that somehow. December came and I felt raw and vulnerable and broken as the grief anniversaries approached. I knew things weren’t right, but kept telling myself it would be okay. I just had to wait for the team switch to occur. Things would get better. As December drew to a close, the other manager informed me the switch was now on hold until the contract she managed was renewed – probably in February. I tried not to panic and managed to wait until the drive home before the panic attack hit. But again, I told myself I would be okay somehow. I would make it through. I just had to survive until the team switch….
Have you guessed what was happening? It took me until January 2018 to realize it – my medication was failing. It was no longer capable of helping me. That realization was the start of what I consider to be, arguably, the hardest year of my entire life to date. On the flip side, though, 2018 was also the year when I finally started to find myself again, when I survived my worst battle with depression, when I realized I would definitely be all right. I’m going to stop here for today because I feel like 2018 deserves a post all its own.
If this post was difficult to read, I apologize. I hope you somehow gain something from reading it, I hope it helps somebody in some way, if only by showing that ignoring and avoiding a problem doesn’t fix it. I hope you will join me for tomorrow’s post – I know it is important somehow. Wishing you well now and always.
Until next time, and with love always,