It’s insane to think about all that can happen in one year. It’s so amazing to me that you can actually become an entirely new person in just twelve short months. The whole world can transform into a completely different place. Maybe a year ago you were stressing about GPAs and SATs and other ominous acronyms and now you’re sitting back enjoying your summer before you go off to your dream school for the next four years. Maybe you were going through a vicious breakup and swearing you wouldn’t survive and now you’re going on a date with that cute guy you met at the bank (or let’s be real, on Tinder).
A year ago I was smack in the middle of the worst year of my life. Just 8 months earlier I was in a horrible five car pileup in the center lane on 275. My car was totaled. I had nightmares of car crashes for weeks and had to start taking the 2-hour bus ride to and from work. The next month I was missing Christmas with my family and fighting to raise enough money to save my best friend’s life. I was bedridden, calling out of work and drowning in anxiety and fear that I would never get to see my baby again. Then it was January of 2016. I was nursing a broken cat back to life, knowing very well that the doctors said she probably wouldn’t recover, and sitting on $5000 in vet bills. When we finally made it out of the risk period and it looked like she was going to be okay, I went to Walmart to buy her a new collar to celebrate. I was standing in line at the self-checkout with my groceries and Cat’s new present when I got a text.
“I’m so sorry to be the one to tell you this, but Meg’s gone.”
I dropped the eggs. I closed my eyes and took a long breath. I finished scanning my items, called a cab home, and brought my groceries inside. The door hadn’t even closed before I dropped to the floor in agonizing sobs.
The next few months were a blur of razor blades, blackouts and benzos. Nothing prepares you for losing a friend to suicide. I didn’t leave my bed for weeks. I dropped out of school and quit my job. I ignored all my friends and began despising the people I once loved. I ate too many white sticks and blacked out for days at a time. I was the farthest from okay that I have ever been, so deep in the darkness, no speck of light could reach me. I self-destructed.
Around this time last year, the dark storm clouds in my head were starting to fade. I slowly started to come back to the real world. I was nowhere near okay yet; I still had another car crash, mono, a heartbreak and a suicide attempt ahead of me, but I came up for air for a little while. That little break was enough to restore some bit of hope deep inside of me. Something in me anchored onto that light and though I dove back down into the darkness and lost it for a while, I eventually found it again and started to climb. Now here I am, in 2017, alive. I just got home from a job that I love and I’m sitting in the bedroom that I’m in the process of remodeling, texting my (human) best friend and petting my two healthy cats. I have real friends who genuinely care about me and a blade hasn’t touched my skin in months. It’s an entirely new world and I’m an entirely new person. I’m happy.
I know that this has been long, but I hope that you read it and that you see that no matter how dark your life gets, it’s always possible to come back to the light. You might be ready to end your life today, but think about how much can change in a year. A year from now your life will be in a different place than it is today, and don’t you want to stick around to see what that’s going to be like? Don’t you want to give yourself a chance to be happy? I’m living proof that it’s possible. I always say cliches are cliches for a reason, and this is the perfect example: It gets better.
Dedicated to everyone who lost someone this past year, and to anyone who may be hurting.
Two weeks after my eighteenth birthday I received a call at work. An old friend, in hysterics. I could barely make out what she was trying to tell me, but I did hear one thing clear as day.
I hung up the phone and, in shock, went back to work. I didn’t feel it right away, and I thought I’d be okay to stay but my manager insisted I go home. I told my friend I’d meet her, but on the way I guess it must have hit me. I pulled over to the side of 495 and just cried and cried. I remember not being able to breathe and starting to hyperventilate. I think I blacked out for a second.
Noah was dead.
And it was his drugs that killed him.
I remember thinking that I didn’t understand death. It wasn’t fair. People shouldn’t die from the things that make them happy. Noah was sad and his drugs made him smile again. He needed to smile again. He deserved to smile again. But now I see that it was only artificial happiness, and he didn’t deserve that. He deserved so much more. A better life, people to love him, a world away from drugs. He deserved true happiness.
Heroin terrifies me. I stay awake at night crying over the people that I’ve lost to such an awful poison. And I don’t just mean the people that have lost their lives, I mean the people I’ve lost to the drug itself. Some of the most important people in my life have chosen that path and they’ve become something that I can’t even recognize anymore. They’ve chosen their needles over me and I don’t know how to cope with that. I don’t know how to be okay with that. Addiction truly changes you into the worst possible version of yourself and that version doesn’t care who gets hurt as long as you get your fix.
It’s really painful for me to write about this. I apologize for the lack of structure and overall messiness of this post but it’s hard for me to put into words how I feel about this particular subject. It scares me. It hurts me. It absolutely shatters my heart. I recently told a friend I’d given up on her, and as much as it tortures me, I have to stick to that. It’s too painful for me to sit by idly and watch my friends tear their own lives to shreds.
Let me tell you a little bit about what it’s like to be the friend of an addict. It’s constant fear. It’s the feeling of dread you get every time your phone goes off because you’re always just waiting for that call telling you that they’re gone. It’s watching the pain of a mother just wishing her child would come back to her. It’s sticking by somebody when they steal money from you because you trust them to get better and then still seeing them deteriorate. It’s constantly hoping for them to find help and consistently being disappointed when it, once again, takes a turn for the worse. It’s endless false hope and disappointment.
That said, I still hold out some shred of hope that things can turn around. I still fully believe that if they really make the decision to get better, they can. With the right programs, the right will power, and the right support system, I firmly believe that things can get better, and when they do I’ll be right here waiting with open arms. You too deserve true happiness, not the artificial highs your needles bring you. And happiness is possible if you allow it, and I will help you find it. But for now, unfortunately, all I can do is wait and hope you find your way back to the light.
One day, out in the woods by the high school, I made a plan to write a romance novel about two of my great friends. One of you may be gone, but to the other: Please don’t let this be the end of your story.
Please find your way back to the light.
Dedicated to an old friend
An essay on mental illness
When things go wrong it’s human nature to look for someone to blame. Often people look for others to blame but for a lot of us with mental illness, it’s more likely that we’d choose the easier victim – ourselves. It makes sense. We’re the one common variable in everything bad that has ever happened to us. We’re the one thing that doesn’t change. Something I hear people say a lot is “I hate myself.” I say it too, often when I’ve done something embarrassing, but for a lot of people and even for me sometimes, it has a deeper meaning. We’re not saying it out of embarrassment but out of pure, true self-loathing. It’s because we blame ourselves for the bad things that have happened to us, and in some cases it’s true. It is our fault. We’re the idiots that got drunk and lost our wallets. We’re the hotheads who got into a fight at the bar and landed an assault charge. We’re the cowards that picked up a needle for the first time.
But it seems we often forget about another common variable, and that is our mental illness. It is never without us and we are never without it. Something so so important is the ability to recognize when it’s coming into play. It’s important to be able to recognize when it is to blame. It’s not always really us having a panic attack over a boy that didn’t text us back, but our anxiety. It’s not always us jumping from one wild decision to the next, but our bipolar. It’s not always us making the decision to pull out a blade or swallow a bottle of pills, but our depression. In order to stay sane, it’s crucial that you learn to recognize this. You’ll drive yourself mad blaming yourself for everything bad that has ever happened in your life. Sometimes it really truly just was not your fault. Your mental illness is never your fault.
I wrote before about how I’d never felt more suicidal than the day after I attempted suicide. A lot of that was due to the regret and embarrassment I felt both from failing but also for ever trying in the first place. I was embarrassed that my friends had to be practically stripped down in order to visit me in the hospital. Mainly though, I felt a bitter, almost cruel sense of guilt. I felt so guilty that my roommate had to drive me to the hospital on her first night back from vacation. I felt so guilty that my best friend was being attacked for not getting to me first. I felt so guilty that everyone had to change their everyday pattern in order to cater to me, the suicidal psychopath sitting in bed next to someone who “really deserved to be there.” What I’ve come to realize about that night is that it wasn’t me who picked up that bottle. It wasn’t me shoving pills down my throat. It was my depression, and it was trying to kill me.
This is not to say we should blame all our faults on our mental illness. As I said, sometimes it really is just our fault! Sometimes we really did mess up and in those times we should accept blame and deal with any repercussions that follow. However, sometimes our mental illness makes decisions for us that are beyond our control, and during those times we should cut ourselves some slack. It’s not our fault that we self-destruct. It’s not our fault that we’re sick.
Dedicated to a friend who needs to give herself a break.
I remember being so in love with my disease. I wrote her a million love letters in a little pink diary bookmarked with a red ribbon. I specifically remember one day in late March, standing in line at the snack bar in the school cafeteria, blurting out “I wish I could have the eating disorder without the depression” to my best friend. I don’t remember how she reacted. She probably just laughed it off, but I was serious.
I remember depression always being the devil on my shoulder and the eating disorder being the angel. “Don’t eat” she cooed. You could hardly even tell where her throat had been scratched from her pointy white nails. “No! Eat! Eat yourself to death then punish yourself!” depression boomed. I suppose when you’re caught in between the barrel of two guns, it’s easy to rationalize that one bullet might hurt a little less than than the other. Love causes people to be blind to all the faults of a person. Maybe it does the same with sickness.
When I was younger I’d spend hours online reading blogs and forums where the skinniest girls taught other skinny girls how to get even skinnier. I had hidden food stashes around my room where I stored all the candy my mom gave me on Holidays that I’d sooner die than so much as smell. I hid a little glass scale under my old stuffed animals in my bedroom closet which I only pulled out late at night, once everyone had drifted off to happier worlds. I put my journal inside my textbooks and during class would read and reread the notes I’d taken every day for weeks: Current weight. Highest weight. Lowest weight. Goal weight. Anorexia was my dirty little secret, and I cherished her like a child. I loved finding sneaky ways to drop my weight into conversation and hear the worries and pleas of my friends. I loved the satisfaction of seeing everyone around me grow up while I just got smaller. Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels: A common phrase in the world of eating disorders that I truly took to heart.
Throughout the years of my illness I’ve had several people come to me for “advice.” They’d ask me how I did it, knowing very well that I was sick. They’d ask me for tips and tricks to avoid eating around family and friends. They’d ask me my opinion on throwing up, or laxatives, versus simply not eating. They’d ask me how to curb their cravings and how many calories I thought were in the chicken parm and green beans their moms had made for dinner. On my bad days I’d give them the information they were looking for. On my even worse days I’d stay silent, not because I cared for their health but because I didn’t want to give up my secret. I wanted to be the skinniest girl in the world.
What I’d say to those people now is this: I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I helped you in your unhealthy quests to lose weight, but I’m even more sorry that you got to a point where you felt that you needed to ask someone who was dying for advice on how to get the illness that was killing them. I’m sorry that you, too, thought you could get the eating disorder without the depression and I’m sorry that I didn’t know enough to stop you. I’m sorry that I loved being sick more than I loved you.
I think, to a certain degree, I’m still in love with my disease. I see the faults and I know that it’s wrong but I still find myself praying to hear her sweet whispers in my ear. I still find myself wondering if the (exactly) 210 calories in those California rolls were worth it. Like really, truly worth it. I find myself begging the universe for the strength to practice again what I once thought was self control. The thing about eating disorders is they don’t exist without the depression. You don’t get the weight loss without the self hatred. You don’t get the body you always wanted without the hair loss, the mood swings, the lack of focus, the organ damage… You don’t get to just get skinny and have your world turn back into sunshine. Mental illness doesn’t just turn off when you’re done with it. Once you’ve accepted a life of sickness, there’s no turning back.
National Eating Disorder Awareness Week takes place between February 26 – March 4 in 2017.
Take action against eating disorders
Take the first step to recovery with this free online screening tool
Find a support group in your area
Toolkits for parents, educators, and coaches/athletic trainers
Information for parents, family, and friends
Information for those in recovery
NEDA Telephone Helpline: (800) 931-2237
NEDA Crisis Text Helpline: text “NEDA” to 741741
(Huge Trigger Warning)
On November 29th, 2016, I drank a little too much after weeks of darkness and swallowed all of my mood stabilizers – That’s what they give you when you’re so crazy you sometimes forget your own name. I don’t remember that night very well. All the events are out of order and jumbled. I don’t know if that’s from the pills or the wine or if I dissociated again. I’m swallowing all my pills with a glass of wine. I’m on the phone with my roommate. I called her? She called me? I’m falling asleep in the car; My roommate yells at me to stay awake. Everything is spinning and my eyes are tired. Some girl has my phone. She’s texting my best friend? She’s texting my mom? My roommate has my phone. Where is my purse? My roommate offers me a Xanax; her friend yells at her because “more pills? Are you sure that’s a good idea?” The nurse tells me to drink up. My mouth is filled with a chalky, thick, black liquid. I wake up in a chair. Nausea overwhelms me. I throw up all the darkness. They tell me I have a phone call… It’s already 7 AM? They offer me breakfast, and I give my bacon to the woman next to me. She’s crying. I’m watching Law & Order on the small TV behind the glass. I remember thinking, is it a good idea to be playing a show about murder and rape in a psych ward? Is this even a psych ward? Where am I? I wonder if the nurses know that this show always makes me feel sick. Finally the bus with the metal bars pulls up and I’m brought out in a wheelchair. I remember it felt like I was in a prison van, on my way to a life of orange jumpsuits. I remember thinking I was being punished.
I hoped, foolishly, that that would be the end of the story, the end of my misery. I was wrong. Instead of choking on my own vomit peacefully in my bed, I was stripped of all my belongings and thrown into a bedroom beside a nineteen year old girl who had kicked a pregnant woman in the stomach. She had a gash in her forehead from where she’d banged her own head into a brick wall. I use the term “bedroom” lightly because it was more like a cell. The beds were made of wood bolted to the floor and a plastic mattress about two and a half inches thick. There were no windows and the lights were dull. The bathrooms had to be unlocked by an attendant so I wouldn’t drown myself in the toilet, which was honestly starting to sound appealing. I wasn’t allowed to have a pencil, so I wrote in the journal provided by the guards in purple crayon. I had to be careful not to write that I wanted to die because the nurses checked. In fact, they checked every hour, slamming doors behind them as they traveled from room to room to make sure no one had strangled themselves with a piece of string. But that would be absurd, we weren’t allowed string.
Never in my life had I been more suicidal than the day after I attempted suicide. Hospitals are meant to be places where you feel safe, where you heal. This place was a black hole filled with the most unsettling demons allowed to walk the Earth. Patients wandered the hall in their hospital gowns, scratching away at their skin and trying to rip the monsters out of their throats. At night, the walls were filled with soul-shattering screams and the hauntings of hourly check-ins. I faded in and out of sleep under a magic spell they called Remeron. Mornings were filled with dry eggs eaten with sporks and apple juice in a plastic bowl. The days were long. I’d never lived in a place where the days were so long. I spent three whole days in that freezing Hell they called a hospital. (They wouldn’t allow sweatshirts because zippers are evil and hoods suffocate). Aside from my homicidal roommate, I was the youngest in the unit, and apparently the only one who didn’t enjoy watching informercials for twelve straight hours. So I sat. For seventy-two hours I sat and stared at the ceiling, thinking never again would I attempt suicide and fail.
That was the root of the problem, the focus on the fact I’d failed rather than the fact I’d tried to kill myself. I thought that going inpatient would mean group therapies, counseling, medication… Instead I was locked away from society and left to rot. In three days I saw a doctor only once, for about fifteen minutes, just for him to give me a diagnosis I’d already been given years ago. It wasn’t until the second day that I was given access to the medication I’d already been prescribed, and there was never even so much as a mention of therapy. That place made me feel worse than I had when I’d decided to take the pills. So I lied. I told them it was an accident. I told them I’d just had a bit too much to drink, and that I promise I’ll watch my drinking! I lied through my teeth and was released back into the real world on the third day.
I would love to tell you where I was and expose them for the truly wretched place they are, but I can’t. I was never even so much as given the name of the hospital. I’m sure if I dug through the stack of paperwork I was left with I could find it, but I left all of that with my charcoal-covered hospital gown in a dumpster a few miles from my apartment. Kids die every day. More kids end up in hospitals from wanting to die every day. I know not every hospital is like this, but enough are, and that’s a huge part of the problem. I was lucky to have an incredible support system after leaving that prison, but not everyone is. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there’s no accurate number for how many people are institutionalized for suicide attempts, but in 2015, 494,169 people visited a hospital for injuries due to self-harm. That’s almost 500,000 people that could have been helped, yet there are still on average 121 suicides per day, and for every suicide it’s assumed that there are twenty-five attempts. That makes over a million suicide attempts per year. Over a million people that need help, and if any of them experience hospital visits like mine then they sure as Hell aren’t getting it. It’s hard for us as individual people to go up against numbers like that, but that’s exactly why we all need to. It can be something like volunteering, donating money for prevention research, or even something as simple as just being there for people. Just be kind, be open, and be here. It’s not that hard.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Inspired by a piece written by a beautiful friend about her time in an institution and dedicated to those we’ve lost in the last year. Rest in peace.