Thursday, January 23rd, 2014 was my 36th birthday.
A year previous, I was just coming off of a nervous breakdown, which is a phrase usually relegated to hyperbole. Except this time, it was true.
In early December 2012, my already fragile enough mid-divorce-living-at-a-friend’s-place, trying-to-write-a-book-about-wedding-planning-on-deadline-while-dying-of-heartbreak, scared-to-death-of-what-comes-next world got rocked when I found out I needed emergency surgery on my eye (bringing the total count to 14 at the time), and also found out that my fertility was questionable, at best. I was collapsing under the stress, so right around Christmas, my psychiatrist suggested changing up my depression medication, to try and help lift me from the deafening numbness that encompassed me, and thus began weaning me off of the Pristiq that was only tenuously holding me together, and introduced Viibryd.
Within a week or so, I felt noticeably different. But… not better. I was painfully exhausted, and was beset with terrible headaches. Even worse than that… rather than numb, I began to feel empty. Desolate. Hopeless. And gradually, day by day, I became increasingly aware of a new feeling: a fear. Unlike I had ever felt before.
I was afraid of myself.
Afraid of what I might do to myself.
If left alone with myself.
And here’s the confusing part: I didn’t want to hurt myself. I didn’t wish I were dead. No. I wanted to live. I wanted desperately to believe that I could, once again, experience happiness and stability. I know that depression lies. I know better than to believe its insidious, manipulative whispers. My logical mind knows this very well.
But, almost as though my self were split in two, like some terrible after-school movie about a girl with split personalities, my emotional mind couldn’t trust myself not to do something stupid. I felt involuntarily pulled toward dangerous behaviors. Like I might inadvertently toss myself off the balcony. Or slice my skin open. Or begin walking into the distance and never stop. Or swallow all the pills in the house. Or drive off a cliff. Like a woman possessed, I felt as though I were being pulled against my own will towards self-harm.
And I couldn’t stop crying.
Luckily, I had enough sense of my logical mind to recognize that no good could come of this feeling. So I immediately alerted my psychiatrist, who agreed it was wise to discontinue the Viibryd, and ease myself back onto the Pristiq. And I mustered the strength to tell the friend I was staying with that, in no uncertain terms, I didn’t feel safe to be left alone. And thank god for him, because he had been in a similar place once, and he held me while I sobbed. He canceled plans to stay in and babysit me. Without judgment, he saved me.
And when he couldn’t be there, I called someone else. Which is no easy feat. Not many people knew how lost I had been to begin with. And finding a way to communicate that I was having terrifying urges, and inviting someone to just come sit on the couch and marathon Law & Order with me so I don’t end up accidentally taking a swan dive off the 2nd-floor balcony was not the easiest call to make. I think Allie of Hyperbole & a Half said it best, in her incredibly spot-on depiction of what depression can be like:
“I discovered that there’s no tactful or comfortable way to inform other people that you might be suicidal. And there’s definitely no way to ask for help casually.
I didn’t want it to be a big deal. However, it’s an alarming subject. Trying to be nonchalant about it just makes it weird for everyone.”
But, surprisingly, my friends were really awesome about it. They came, without question, and sat with me. There was no excessive comforting, no uncomfortable attempts to “lighten the mood” or play therapist… just acceptance and understanding and loving concern. I’m so grateful because if I had no one to call, I absolutely would have committed myself for my own safety.
And in the brief moments that I was left alone, or the periodic moments when, even with my roommate beside me, I felt so inconsolably anxious and bereft that I could no longer bear it… I remembered that Jenny once suggested that squeezing ice cubes in your hands can help quench those feelings a bit. And it did. (Thank you, Jenny.)
After a couple of weeks, the Viibryd eased its way out of my system, and my familiar friend Pristiq oozed back in. I started to feel, bit by bit, more myself again. Less at risk again. There was light at the end of the tunnel. I could see it. And for the first time in a while, I believed that I’d soon reach the end of that dark and lonely tunnel, and feel the sunlight on my face again.
By the time my birthday rolled around, I was almost there. And, as terrifying as those weeks previous had been, I always wanted to remember them, so that I’d always know that no matter how dark and hopeless things get, I can make it through. To remember my past, and look forward to my future – honoring my worst moments as essential parts of the journey leading to my best moments, and recognizing them for their beauty. Serendipitously, I was given the chance to share my story with an anonymous audience through The Listserve, which provided a great outlet, perspective, and support in my healing process. And as a 35th birthday gift to myself, I got this tattoo:
Ad astra per aspera. Latin for “Through struggles to the stars.”