One year ago, I experienced severe depression and anxiety, and at some point decided I no longer wanted to live. I could not get up in the morning. I could not get through a day without crying – crying until my ribs felt like splitting and my mind felt like imploding. There were days where I just wanted to disappear. It became so bad that I stopped working for most of the year. Somehow, I survived, and from there, it has been nothing but an up-and-down journey to find peace and attempt to bring myself back to a better place.
If I thought back really hard, the last year where I felt completely, honestly happy was in 2013. I had just graduated from my Masters program, travelled to Brazil with my best friends in the world, and subsequently married my university sweetheart. In 2013, I was on a high, and I thought I could accomplish and achieve anything. The world was in my hands, and I felt unstoppable.
But, in 2014 to 2016, I suffered a series of setbacks and disappointments. I humiliated myself on a national television reality show. I walked away from a job opportunity overseas that I had wanted for myself for as long as I could remember – something completely for me. I ended a 30-year relationship with my mother because of ‘abandonment issues’. Finally, in April 2016, I quit a toxic job where going to work every day made me either cry or feel absolutely completely dead and worthless. [This, among a pile of things I would later remember and discover about myself growing up through my conversations with my psychiatrist.]
The day I quit that job, I bought a one-way ticket to Vietnam, not knowing when I would come back. Saying goodbye to my husband at the airport was excruciating, but I had to leave Toronto. Everything about Toronto was toxic to me. For one month, with a heavy heart and mind, I roamed streets alone and found solace in different cultures, beautiful scenery and the kindness of strangers. I grew an infatuation with water, but in the darkest of ways. I would stand on bridges for hours and think nothing but dark thoughts.
I never felt more alone in my life.
After about a month of travelling I went home. I still could not find my purpose. I continued to cry heavily every day, but at this point, I wanted to stop running away. I was willing to seek help. The first time I tried an anti-depressant, I became hysterical. I sobbed and screamed, and I felt like my mind was being taken over. Needless to say, I changed medicines immediately after. In fact, I went through many medicine changes. The trial-and-error seemed endless. Some medicines made me feel too high, while others just made me feel dead, numb, and want to sleep all day. Some medicines made me want to feel pain, so I would on occasion hurt myself just to feel emotion. The incessant crying did not stop, and as the days went on back at home, I felt myself building more and more dark thoughts. I felt worthless without a path. I honestly could not see the light in the people around me, and all the things I should be grateful for. As each day passed, I just did not want to live anymore.
On one occasion, the thoughts were so severe that my husband brought me to the hospital. May 27th, 2016 would be my first interaction with St. Michael’s Hospital. I had suicidal ideations for a long time before. But that day, I remember spots and pieces of everything that went wrong. I took a shower. I felt claustrophobic in the shower. I had fast, recurring images of myself drowning. I couldn’t breathe. I cried and screamed. Something took over. Something took over my mind and my body. The ideations didn’t line up – I didn’t try to drown myself, I tried haphazardly to damage my wrist. My husband knew I had been feeling suicidal. He didn’t hear from me for a few hours. He came home, and found me crawled up in a ball on the kitchen floor clutching my wrist and something that I should not have been clutching. All the moments in between and thereafter leading up to the ‘interviews’ with doctors was a blur. Maybe it was a little bit of PTSD.
May 27th was the first time I had ever seen or experienced a critical stabilization unit (CSU). In subsequent attempts I would stay for much longer in what felt like the safer, quieter in-patient unit seventeen floors up – the ‘mental wing’. The CSU was this small, enclosed room. It was even more claustrophobic than the shower. There’s a door where you can leave to go to the bathroom, but if I could describe it in any way, it reminded me of the small mental asylum rooms in movies where they lock you up in a strait jacket. The door has a small peep-hole of a window looking out to the common room, and is otherwise shut off to anything. The room becomes scarier when they dim the lights – red and purple tones. Emergency is nearby so you hear noises all night. You don’t sleep because you can’t. You bang your head over and over just waiting for morning to come, hoping for the end. Your mind swirls, and tears just naturally fall from your eyes in panic and anxiety all night. Think of whatever nightmare you had last – and times that by two.
The day I was admitted, my husband and girlfriend stayed with me until visiting hours were over that night. When I had calmed down and was visibly aware of everything around me again, we worked on a puzzle together in the ‘common area’ just outside the room. Despite how scary the situation was, they gave me hopeful smiles, quietly grasped my hand every once in a while and worked on the puzzle with me. They both commented that the room looked ‘comfortable’. When they had to go, the puzzle was only 75 percent done. For a few minutes I felt kind of hopeless without them. But I kept on working and working at the puzzle until I finished it because I didn’t want to have to go back to the room. But at some point I had to go back to that room when the nurse said I needed to take my meds. I felt like the loneliest person in the world. I think I slept for 20 minutes that night. I hoped I would never have to go back there again in my life. This time however was not so severe. I was released after one day. My brush with dark thoughts took a turn for the worse in June of 2016.
On June 25, 2016, I woke up feeling excitable. In conversations with my doctors, there were some thoughts that I could have been manic this day. I was throwing a bridal shower for one of my best friends. I woke up at 4AM, and pretty much had the party ready hours before it was supposed to be ready. When people started to arrive I felt over-confident about everything I had done. I was loud and hyper. I buzzed around serving champagne. My friend did not even like alcohol. I feel in some ways I turned her shower into a bit of a spectacle to overcompensate for myself. For days and days, I was feeling so worthless that I needed to show off that I could do something. I needed to feel good about myself again.
After the shower was done and everyone had left, I was exhausted. My husband was out of town so I was alone by myself at home. I should not have done this knowing my track record with drinking, and sometimes drinking an entire bottle of wine by myself; but I decided to drink a glass of wine. From there, what ensued were overwhelming dark thoughts. I sobbed and heaved, and all the ‘happiness’ and ‘positive energy’ I had experienced earlier that day went out the window. I was not thinking straight. Every feeling and emotion I had felt for the past year about being worthless consumed me. I was not so sure that I had a purpose in life anymore.
‘One became a pile’. In between my craze, I called my girlfriend. I cried to her hysterically on the phone, telling her I did not want to live anymore. We fought a bit about her coming over. It turns out she was nearby anyhow, and she dropped by. She had no idea that I had done what I had done. I was coherent to her for the few moments she sat with me. I then forced her to leave. I was still feeling hysterical and out-of-body. At this point, I was feeling so overwhelmingly sad that I could not breathe. I took more. With each one I took, I thought I could fight off the sadness. I was no longer thinking logically. I was also starting to black in-and-out.
Then, somehow logic out of nowhere kicked in. Of course it would, as I am nothing but a logical person. I panicked and hit my head incessently. I screamed and cried. I called 911. My friend had tried to call me again when she left, feeling worried. She came back to find me being pulled out of my condo in the stretcher. I blacked out completely in the stretcher. My last thought before blacking out was that I did not want to die.
It turns out that the odds were not stacked against me. I woke up in the emergency ward at St. Michael’s Hospital. I did not recognize anything or anyone around me and I was hooked up to machines. It was the scariest moment in my life. I did what I only knew how at that moment, and it was to sob. I sobbed because, at that moment, I had no idea which hospital I was in. I had no idea where my phone was so I could contact my husband or someone. I needed to see a friendly face. The sounds of the surrounding area were horrifying to me. It turns out that two of my girlfriends had stayed there with me for as long as they could stay awake and had left before I awoke.
A few hours later, they moved me upstairs to the mental health unit on the seventeenth floor. I was put in a private room. Finally, against the silence, I fell asleep. Later that day, my husband and father came. My husband was less confused because he had seen how I was thinking and feeling for the past few months. My dad was absolutely perplexed as to why I would not want to live anymore. I felt it was torturous for him as we sat through the nurse telling me that they could not keep physical objects in the room, and I could not wear civilian clothes because I had literally tried to kill myself.
I spent close to three weeks in the hospital. I trialed different medicines, and I talked to doctors and nurses every day. Talking to people felt rather cathartic. I had kept my dark thoughts in for so long that it felt like a release. I had talked to my husband and friends before about the dark thoughts but it was always hard. It was uncomfortable. Talking to doctors was easier because I knew I was not hurting them by sharing my inner worst thoughts. The doctors encouraged me to go to group sessions but I felt closed off still and afraid of sharing my complete feelings with anyone other than a completely objective doctor or nurse.
Through this all though, my husband, friends and family members were amazingly supportive and encouraging. People visited me every day, and everyone tried to keep the mood light and positive. When I was told that I was going to be released a few weeks later, I felt scared. I felt safe and protected in the hospital. I was afraid of going back to my home – the ‘scene’ of the incident. I was afraid of facing real life, and going back to real life still with underlying feelings of depression and worthlessness. I was afraid of drowning again.
Adjusting to home was a slow, graduated process. I worked with a short-term psychiatrist, who after awhile finally diagnosed me as Bipolar II. Since the incident in June, life has been nothing but a series of adjustments. I finally found a new job and went back to work. I travelled again, and even amidst any periods of depression, tried to embrace life again. I embraced my diagnosis as much as one could, and tried to read and research as much as I could about my condition. That is not to say that everything went uphill after June and July of 2016. In April 2017, I went back to the CSU and subsequently the seventeenth floor of St. Michael’s. My dark thoughts took over again, and while I did not meaningfully actually hurt myself this time around, the dark thoughts were too much. I spent another graceful three weeks in the hospital working with a different set of doctors, but luckily the same kind and familiar nurses. In March 2018, the same.
Since then, dark thoughts and ideations have stayed in the back of my head. They have not left, but I have not willfully wanted to act on any of them, or have felt so helpless since that they would draw themselves out. I see a long-term psychiatrist with St. Michael’s once a month, and a psychologist for talk therapy once a week. I am still depressed on and off. Earlier in the summer, I experienced a period of hypomania. So needless to say, life with this condition is not without challenges. But, in retrospection over the past few years, I can definitely say on some days that I want to live. I want to grow older with the people I love most. I want to continue seeing and experiencing the world. I want to someday, somehow take my negative energy and turn it into something positive. I started volunteering with the Mood Disorder Society of Canada, and am proud to say that I will be chairing an event for them later next year.
I am not confident that I will always feel this way. I know the power of depression, and of having a mental health sickness. It’s surreal how out-of-body-and-mind you can become. It is scary how small you can feel. What I am confident in though is my support structure, whether it’s through my loved ones, my doctors or my own personal resilience. I am not strong sometimes, but yet I feel amazingly strong other days. I am told this may be life long, but as long as I feel stable most of the time, I know I will be okay.
I have to believe I will be okay, otherwise the hopelessness will continue to latch onto me, hurting me. This is my fight, and like with any other fight in life, I have to persevere through it.