“Get help or we’re through. You’re not the woman I married,” my husband, Jim, said to me.
Quite a mouthful of medicine, those words. That’s what it took to get me into therapy, though.
I was 28, the mother of a three-year-old and a six-month-old. I was unemployed. My former employer, who didn’t renew my teaching contract, had screwed up my pay and I was without our mortgage payment for two months. Unemployment had not yet kicked in. Several interviews had gone south, leaving me feeling horrible, especially the one where I overheard the principal saying she’d never hire someone so fat.
I began feeling like the Queen of All Failures. I began living in my pajamas for days, each morning struggling just to get out of bed. My kids were given exactly what they needed and little else. There were days that they ate lunch while I fought to keep my head aloft and not firmly planted on the table. On the chance that I had the energy to shower, I’d sit in the tub, arms wrapped around my legs, rocking and crying, as water poured down on me.
The worst part of all that were the thoughts racing through my head.
You are such a loser.
Everything you touch fails.
You don’t deserve your husband or your kids.
They don’t deserve to have to put up with you.
They’d be better off if you were dead.
The life insurance money would be enough for Jim to take care of the kids.
They’d be fine.
Your dad was right. You’ll never amount to anything.
Your mom was right. None of her kids turned out any good.
Think of all the bills that would just disappear if you no longer existed.
I had known for months that I was spiraling out of control, but I dealt with it the way I always did. I threw myself into my work. When the job dried up, my safe place to run was no more. Suddenly, I was made to face my demons instead of swallow them and deal with them later. Years of suppressed depression bubbled to the surface and threatened to devour me.
I began planning. How could I kill myself? Where could I do it, so my kids and husband wouldn’t be the ones to find me? Was everything in order so they could easily bury me and move on? Would there be a babysitter for the kids that would be close to Jim’s work?
So, when Jim finally sat me down and muttered the hardest sentences he’s ever had to say, I got help.
It was the most difficult step toward wellness. I learned things about myself that were hard to swallow. Things like: I will probably always have to take medication to keep from spiraling into that black hole of self-loathing again; I will struggle to stave off the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder that I’ve had since early childhood; I’ve been depressed my entire life; I’m not a bad daughter and I’m not a bad mother; I’ve been suicidal before and the blackouts were my brain’s way of keeping that pain away from me; painful recovered memories that, even now, I don’t want to deal with. These are all mountainous things to accept.
Accept them I did, though, and I can say now that I am way more informed about the darkness that lingers in my brain. When the self-loathing begins, I don’t ignore it. I tell Jim and get myself to the doctor because my medication needs to be monkeyed with. When I feel that overwhelming weight of hypervigilance wrap itself around me, I find a safe place–even if that means abandoning my grocery cart in the middle of the store and running out of the building–and breathe, talking myself out of the impending panic attack. I constantly weigh my behavior as a mother and a wife and, if I find it lacking, I have a support system of people in place that I can run to for help.
Imagine, if you will, what would have become of me had my husband not drawn that line in the sand.
I doubt I’d be here today, with the strength to carry on.
I count myself lucky that I have people who love me enough to draw that line, people who care enough to pay attention and notice that something is off.
Not everyone has that in place.
Some of us hide it better than others, behind masks made of humor and goodwill that suck the energy out of us so badly that there’s little left for us when the sun goes down and the house quiets for the night.
Some of us are drowning under the stigma that breeds so rapidly where mental illness is concerned, frightened that people will know we’re ill and stop trusting us and begin questioning our every move.
When I hear about people who commit suicide because of illnesses like depression, it breaks my heart. I know exactly how they feel. I know about the devil on their shoulders, whispering vile thoughts into their ears. They aren’t weak, cowardly or selfish. They are sick and in search of mercy. They find it in the worst place possible.
If you or someone you love suffers from mental illness, reach out. Don’t let the devil on your shoulder have the last word.