Confession: My greatest fear is that I will lose my life to suicide.
I don’t say that to be melodramatic, I simply state it as a fact. As a person living with bipolar disorder, it is a fear that silently stalks me, always watching for a misstep to expose a weakness it can take advantage of, a crack it can slide itself into. Once inside it starts searching for the gaps serotonin has been unable to fill, settling into each one, and methodically goes to work on eroding my mind’s defenses.
Sometimes the process is slow, my mental erosion, building up to a collapse. Others it is swift and jarring, flinging me from the light of life into a plunging darkness that swallows my soul instantly. And then there are times when it’s an excavation of my insides, a scooping and hollowing out of my personhood designed to leave me as nothing more than an outward shell of a woman.
When I was 13, years of abuse at the hands of my father gave birth to a despair that swiftly engulfed me one Saturday afternoon while my belly was empty from hunger and my father was out on a golf outing. That time it was pills. It was an amateurish and desperate attempt at escaping the hell I lived in that lead me to a drugged sleep but not death.
At 20 it found me after a series of rapid changes over a short amount of time and the hormonal shift that comes with miscarriage. Becoming an airman, being stationed at my first base, the dissolving of a tech school relationship that had left me pregnant and then suddenly not, surrounded by people I did not know, working a job that wasn’t what I had envisioned or hoped for when I swore an oath to protect and serve my country, being estranged from my family…it found me in my dorm room and I went to work at my next shift, telling my supervisor I couldn’t arm up and that instead, I needed to be taken to the mental health clinic on base to be seen.
It started feverishly raking its claws on the walls of my mind daily just shy of Alex’s first birthday. I was constantly triggered by anxiety and depression, guilt over not being the mother I thought my kids deserved, feelings of overwhelm when he would scream inconsolably, and my thoughts dancing with sudden desires to just leave and never come back. I started seeing a therapist who specialized in treated women with postpartum mood disorders like PPD and its grasp on my mind unclenched just enough for light to enter in again.
In July 2011 I woke up on a Monday, found it staring me steadfastly in the eyes and just knew: I wouldn’t make it past the next two weeks alive if I didn’t get help. Even with the help I had been getting, my symptoms had been getting worse. I was dancing with what I know now was hypomania and plummeting into gravity wells of depression hourly. It was constant and unrelenting, its devouring and feasting on my mind. It’s appetite was insatiable and if I wasn’t crying from the burn depression’s cold grip had around my heart, I was screaming from the rage flashing through me…if I wasn’t bounding off the Earth from the energy vibrating through my body and bursting out of my fingertips, I was pressing my sweating, anxious body into the coolness of my bathroom floor, praying each inhalation would quell the panic trying to claw it’s way out of my skin. My mind was too loud, full of thoughts that spun and splintered into chaos at a pace that often left me nauseated. Two days later, I found a sitter for Brennan, put myself on a bus with Alex wrapped to my chest in the Moby, and walked into the VA Behavioral Health Clinic in Philadelphia, with whispers of death roaring in my ears. The intake psych diagnosed me with rapid cycling bipolar disorder type 2 & OCD and put me on a mood stabilizer. Within a week it kicked in and I embarked on a new treatment journey for an illness that I could more accurately name.
Treatment has helped, and while other times it just shows up to flirt, every Fall has become hunting season. Suicide is the predator, my life and sanity the prey. No matter how well I’ve been taking care of myself and compliant in treatment, it hunts me down, licking its chops as it circles me, watching…waiting.
Two years ago I had to go inpatient to stay safe from its advances. I slowly paced the halls of the VA Mental Health psychiatric ward in Waco in my green, floppy, foam sock shoes desperately wanting to go home to my boys and my life but at the same time stay hidden, monitored by those who whose job it was to not let Death have me. “Do you really want to die?” the doctor had asked me. No. I didn’t. I just wanted relief and couldn’t find it in living with a mind designed to self-destruct…fray at the edges…unravel…erode…become my enemy.
It’s found me again as I’m nearing one year postpartum. It’s been a year that’s come with it’s difficulties as I’ve adjusted to mothering three while living with this illness, but joy has found me at various points throughout, grabbing my hand and saying, “dance with me, Addye. Be free.”
This is the freest I’ve ever felt in my almost 32 years of living and yet here I am again staring at the whites of Suicide’s eyes and searching desperately for a gun to shoot it with…
I want to keep dancing in the light.
But my marriage is barely breathing as my husband and I scour the landscape for a path that brings us back to each other. Each of my sons has An Issue that demands every ounce of my mental capacity daily that leaves me exhausted and specialized attention that is straining our finances. Writing here has brought some success this year, but exposure saw my inboxes become inundated with vitriol from those who’d rather the Other stay silent. I look at my baby as he screams and cries like babies do and brace myself against the panic that floods my system. Images I’d rather not see flash through my mind, unwarranted and unwanted. Overwhelm asks me repeatedly throughout the day if I’m done and my breath is labored when I whisper “No.” Worry fills me. Depression courts me. Anxiety ravages my insides, ripping me open, exposing where my heart and resolve are weak.
I want to keep dancing in the light.
So I tighten my grip as my mind cycles from one extreme to the next. I expand my ribs out as far as my bones and skin will allow and I drink in the morning air as I take Alex to school. I concentrate on the laughs bubbling up and spilling out of my infant son and use it to anchor me to the present. I respond when Brennan asks me if I know that lions are the only big cats that live in packs, and beg him to tell me more so I can marvel at how much information his brain clamors to hold. I take their pictures on my phone and use them to dig in and root deeper when the darkness pulls at me. I paint my lips with my favorite shade of purple lipstick because it makes my heart beat a little faster and my hips sway with power and allure when I walk. I text my friends. I use the internet to distract. I read the words of others, press my hands in paint, go away for a weekend retreat to hold onto myself. I call my psychiatrist and resolve to hold on until December 9th when I can sit in her office and say “help me.”
And I come here. Today. To find my way back after struggling to see Why My Words Matter in the hopes that it will help me remember why my life does.
I’m here to dance in the light even in the seasons when it can’t be found.