This is a long and personal story, but one I feel compelled to share in case I can help someone else...
Today I am celebrating. And I'm not hiding why, and find that I'm not supposed to. I've met someone who went through a similar experience, and another, who, after I told her, said they love when people are honest about their feelings and struggles.
And then she gave me the wifi password and said, "Here you go so you can get that story out there."
So here it goes.
Six months ago, I really didn't want to live anymore.
My depression had been getting worse since early fall, and I tried hard to keep my head above water. I could feel the crushing weight on my shoulders and through my lungs as I gasped for breath. I became more and more isolated - from friends and art and family. I wore my pajamas for days at a time.
Every so often I'd have a good day, and think things were finally getting better.
And then, in November, life began to crash off the wheels.
When I made a joke about the suicidal thoughts I was having to a cop, I was taken seriously (thank you!).
Instead of jumping in front of a train that day, I went to the city's emergency room for mental health and spent the night.
I promised I'd be back, but there was always a reason why I couldn't. Thanksgiving was in a few days. We were moving. My family needed me around for the holidays. Mom wasn't well.
I stopped doing art.
I remember lots of errands run through horrible pain. I remember nights when I cried myself to sleep and mornings when I'd throw on dirty clothes so I could get stuff done.
I remember Mom making comments that sounded eerily close to mine and called for help.
She was in for three days before my Dad, brother, and I were in a major car accident and rushed to the nearest ER.
We tried to get back into daily life. My shoulder hurt so bad, the pain traveled down my arm, and I couldn't hold a pencil. The three of us had terrible headaches from whiplash (I later learned my entire neck was messed up and I had Severe whiplash).
And then I ran out of oxy.
I was started on Tylenol #3 when I was eighteen years old.
Fibromyalgia is a tricky kind of disease. It doesn't present the same way twice. There are criteria, sure, but our bodies fight against themselves in wholly unique ways - what works for one won't necessarily work for others (unlike the world in Lyrica commercials).
But one thing doctors throw at Fibromyalgia patients is painkillers.
There are a whole host of other diseases going on in this body of mine, co-morbid conditions that present at the same time. Illnesses such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and arthritis. Our bodies are sensitive to the world and, some nights, the gust of air from when the AC kicks in at night makes every nerve light up in pain, engulfing me in a fire that is rarely put out.
The important facts are this: my entire body hurts 24/7. In fact, I don't have a memory of how it feels to NOT be in pain. It's what I know. My system is easily overstimulated, so I wear headphones a lot to block out the sounds of life. The arthritis in my hip is bad enough that I limp on occasion, and my shoulder is a hotbed of agony that is only getting worse - this is the shoulder hurt in the car accident.
When there's so much going on in your body, it's hard to concentrate or do even the simplest tasks. You spend a lot of time in bed or on the couch, and even then, you know the pain is there. It never goes away, only lessens.
And after 15 years of this, I've learned to filter a lot out, smile through it all, and take my meds.
When you're a chronic pain patient, you become aware of a lot of conditions put upon getting your medications. And when I was in that car accident, the doctor gave me a few day's worth of painkillers and then told me to take my regular prescription.
Except the pain from the accident was worse, and so I asked my doctor what I should do.
He told me the same thing.
I've been on these medications for 15 years. I'm careful. I take exactly what I'm prescribed and only take extra when the circumstances call for it. Which is included on the bottle.
I'd only been on oxy for six months and never ran out. I had previously been on Vicodin, and never experienced withdrawn symptoms when I went a couple days without it (oh those wonderful days of less pain!). So I thought this will be fine.
It was not fine. Not even remotely. Oxy is purified Heroin and I just decided to detox at home with no help.
God help me, that was the most pain and deepest misery I've ever experienced. And I pray I never have to go through that again.
Halfway through, the pain, which is a magnification of the fibromyalgia pain, got so bad I wanted to die. I could do nothing but listen to music, curl up in bed, and cry. There's an edge to pain, to human experience, when you realize there is nothing you can do. There is absolutely nothing to be done; this pain is going to happen and you just suffer through it.
You have a moment of clarity when you realize I wish I could die but know this won't kill me.
I wanted it to. I craved an escape from the misery.
I also knew I never wanted to go through this ever again. And in order to do that, I had to never start taking the painkillers again.
That was my first good decision - to live a life free of these toxic drugs.
Tangie is the one who convinced me I needed to go to the ER to get help.
In a conversation I'll never forget, she laid down the hard truths and was willing to sacrifice our friendship to help save me. I was so far down, both in the depression and withdrawal, that I didn't know how messed up I'd been.
I've lost so many friendships to all this, put people through difficult conversations, and posted way too many needy & depressed posts to Facebook.
And when I tried to back out, she helped convince me to follow through.
That was the second good decision: I don't want my life to look like this anymore, so I need to get help.
Six months ago today, I decided to live. To walk into the ER and say, "I'm having suicidal ideations and need help."
I told them I needed help to know if the medications I'd been on were necessary. I told them to not give me any benzos (as I'd been on way too much Ambien) and only the painkillers the doctor thought I needed.
Was it hard? Hell yes it was. Some nights, I barely got to sleep before four am. I hit the mattress of the small ward bed with clenched fists when the pain began to swallow me in its all-consuming fire. I found it hard to walk with my aching hip.
But I was alive.
I learned the basics and translated them into real life situations. I made friends and did activities, getting stronger and feeling less pain as the days passed.
And then, on the morning of my mother's 55th birthday, I called home to wish her a happy day when my father told me she'd passed away the night before.
I lost it.
I'm crying as I write this. Nearly six months later and I'm still crying every day. Grief begins to dissipate with time, but can sock you right in the solar plexus at the most random of times.
It can be a song, or s thought, a memory, or a photograph. It can be a movie we loved to watch together. An accomplishment I wish I could share with her.
But I also have this one memory that comes up to the surface the most.
Our dryer had broken and needed to be replaced, but we didn't have the money right then. I decided to wash my clothes at home, throw them in a basket, and take them to the local Laundromat to dry.
One day, she came with me. We put our clothes in dryers next to each other and sat down to wait. Music played on tired, wore speakers; all the songs were older, playing on a classic rock station that had probably been playing in that place for decades.
But when one song came on - and how I wish I remembered what song it was! -- Mom smiled and grabbed my hands, pulling me from my seat so I could dance with her.
Laughing, we danced around that bland, run down laundromat, and didn't give a single fuck what other people thought.
There is so much more to this story. Like how I left home that same week and ended up bouncing from house to house until I found a place of my own to rent (and my odd roommates who I never see). Or the car I got lucky on from Craig's List. There's the new job at Target and the bills all in my name. The laughter and friendships and magic I experience every day.
Through losing her life, Mom saved mine.
I go to therapy twice a month, where I babble to a nice guy named M who has an Adipose on his desk and blinds that can't close.
After my system cleared out, we discovered I have a ton of social anxiety and a fair amount of depression hanging out in my head. It explains a lot of my behaviors and tendencies to make myself look like an idiot and then think about how everyone must agree that I'm an idiot and then OMG my thoughts spiral and never stop and wow no wonder I can't sleep.
By getting the right medications, combined with coping skills & talk therapy, I've been able to live with both of these conditions pretty well. That isn't to say I don't have bad days - I do - but that I'm recognizing what those bad days mean - that my brain chemistry is a little off and depression is a liar. Usually things get better the next day, or after I communicate clearly about what's making me anxious.
I also learned this truth, when I disappeared to the hospital and no one could get ahold of me: if I were to die, or just disappear from the world, there are people who would notice, and do their best to find and help, in whatever way they can.
In two hours, I'm meeting some of them for dinner. So I can tell them thank you.
In fact, the last time I spoke to my mom, it was on Heather's cell phone.
There are so many days when we feel alone in this world, that no one can understand us, or would want to even try. We see the lives of friends and wonder why we can't do that, or be that happy, or even TRY to be happy. There are limitations we put on ourselves because drastic change is fucking scary and makes most people run in the opposite direction.
Those two decisions I made significantly altered my life. And altered it for the better.
The truth of it is, we're not alone. We may isolate ourselves or push others away, but this fight, it isn't just ours alone. There are so many of us out in the world fighting the same battles - battles of life and death, battles that some people lose.
And that sucks. And we miss them. But that doesn't mean we give up the fight. I think it makes us stronger. When your life crumbles under your feet, when you have to build up from nothing, we learn we're capable of so much more than we think. The walls around you CAN crumble and fall and let the sunlight back in. There will be clouds and rain, but there will also be birdsong and the colors of flowers and a dog who wants a hug.
A few months ago, I wrote about how we can make our lives a wonderful adventure.
Consider these converse my safari boots, because I'm ready to make each day beautiful, wonderful, and full of adventure.
Just you watch me.
You are not alone. You can do this. You have already been through so much; your scars are deep and your fear palpable. But don't give up. Don't let fear and sadness keep you from seeing how wonderful life can be.
That is in the past. You're ready for NOW. For today. For every moment of sweet, sweet breath you almost didn't get the chance to take.
If you need a kind ear to talk to, I'm here.
And somewhere up in heaven, I pray Mom's proud of all I've become.
(I'm sure she is.)