I’ve wanted to write down what led to my mental health crisis in 2019. I’d graduated college and was working my second activity director job. I wasn’t meeting the expectations and going to work every day felt like I was reminded of how much of a failure I was. I had to change how I dressed, sat, did my makeup, and generally moved through the world. I wanted badly to be successful and do well at that job. I had moved out of my parent’s house after getting that job and was living with a roommate who had mental health challenges. She had graduated and was now in a career she hated. She kept her litter of foster cats in her bathroom and they were always trying to escape. Living there always felt a bit chaotic. I didn’t feel like an actual adult, just like I was at sleepaway camp or back at college. The consistent and constant negative feedback at work was hard to face every day. Looking back, I have no idea why I chose such an ill-fitting job for my skill set. I’d never been crafty and expecting me to make fabulous centerpieces for a 1950s sock hop or a fake train trip around the world was like asking me to grow fins.
It all came to a crescendo one day. My boss had been under considerable pressure regarding the amount of overtime and the activities budget. The management style of that organization led to a lot of burnout, but that’s another conversation. Anyway, some unexpected expense had popped up, and she was losing it on the way to a marketing event. I don’t understand why they took me to that marketing event. I was socially anxious, and the sales manager was much better at schmoozing than I ever will be. As we were driving over there, she was saying she would have to write me up for the said unexpected expense.
I started freaking out. At the time I got all my worth and esteem from this job. Telling me this before it was supposed to have a big smile on my face and be bubbly as can be wasn’t wise on her part. It was all a shit show from the moment I arrived. She’d brought it up in the car and then refused to finish the conversation because we’d arrived. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s limbo. I remember eating a lot of pizza and thinking, if this is what life is going to be like, I don’t want to be here. I have to say, I was pretty lucky that I wasn’t thinking clearly and that my suicide plan was far from foolproof. A week prior, I’d planned to jump off a bridge into the river near my parent’s house. I’d broken down and called my parents before I went through with it. This day I was going to attempt. I hadn’t thought it through at all. I had my lanyard with my work keys and that was it. I had the brilliant idea to knot the lanyard, hang it on the hook in a bathroom stall, and hang myself.
Upon sticking my neck through the homemade noose, I allowed it to bear my body weight. I remember thinking to myself “ I don’t like the feeling of choking”. I don’t remember how long I tried. It couldn’t have been longer than thirty seconds. I thought “this better be quick” and then “I don’t like choking.” I knew when I exited that bathroom, that nothing was going to be the same. I didn’t want to go back to my apartment and come up with a third plan that might prove fatal. I needed help. I knew that I would never go back to that job after I left that day. My first call was to my dad. He worked close by, and I needed someone quickly. He left work and picked me up from the marketing event. He must’ve called my mom because she made me stay on the phone with her until my dad got there. Looking back, she must’ve been scared I’d attempted. My mom was working about an hour away and had to make her way back home. The three of us met up at the psychiatric hospital my mom had haphazardly found. I knew I needed help, and I was terrified of the hospital. A family member had gone through hospitalization and rehabilitation. I didn’t want the same devastation to be mine.
The intake process took forever. We went to Target and got some supplies since I had nothing but the clothing on my back. I didn’t know what they would provide and what I would need to bring with me. I don’t remember a lot about that hospitalization. I remember the food was horrible, almost no vegetables that resembled their natural form. We watched a lot of Madea and Eddie Murphy films. What stuck with me were the people who were there with me. There was a woman who ended up being discharged without a place to go. There was a man who’d been admitted by his psychiatrist for non-compliance. He was so calm and casual about the whole thing. He told me he’d called his wife and she was going to finish up her work trip before returning. There was a camaraderie among the patients. I remember seeing the female patients who had young children and thinking to myself, “I never want to have to be back here while my child is at home.”
I do remember my psychiatrist there coming to the unit to meet with each of his patients. He had glasses and white hair. He was an older white gentleman. He couldn’t have spent more than five minutes with each person. When he told me he was diagnosing me with Major Depressive Disorder Recurrent, I didn’t find this very insightful or helpful. I knew I was depressed. What I needed was to get better.
What will stay with me forever was the first time my parents visited me at the hospital. I’d visited a family member when they were in treatment, and I never thought I’d be on the other side of the table. Unfortunately, that hospital didn’t give me the tools I needed to heal and recover. I went home and started seeing a different provider who took me off the medication I’d been on for years.
I still remember projectile vomiting because she’d pulled me off cold turkey. What I had needed was a Partial Hospitalization Program. For those of you unfamiliar with the inpatient mental health world and the transition back into “normal life,” let me explain. You go inpatient while they pump you full of meds and or get you stable enough to be discharged and not be a risk to yourself or anyone else. These stays are typically five to seven days. It’s best if after that you do what’s called a partial hospitalization program where you do group therapy five days a week for however many weeks you and your treatment team decide. I didn’t get discharged to one of these. That combined with having my medication snatched away from me cold turkey led to another crisis.
Less than a month after being discharged from my first hosptalization, I was now the most anxious I’d ever been. I was struggling with Harm OCD and convinced the only way to protect those around me was to die. My mom started sleeping in bed with me so I wouldn’t get up in the middle of the night and do anything stupid. This hospitalization gave me the start to healing I’d been needing so desperately. I remember the unit having high ceilings and windows to the outside. We got to do recreation therapy, music therapy where one of the therapists sang a Taylor Swift song for me, and group therapy, and I just remember feeling so supported. We were taken outside for what were smoke breaks but also opportunities to get fresh air. I would spend time with the patient techs because I didn’t know how to interact with the other patients. There was one particularly low moment when I was sobbing on the floor, and one of the nurses held me as I broke down. There was another patient who was close to my age who talked about how much she missed her dog. I missed my cat a lot too. My case manager and group therapist were wonderful people with whom I’m so grateful to have worked. The only less stellar individual was my psychiatrist. I remember him being an older Indian gentleman who wore khakis, loafers, and a striped shirt. He had a small mustache. He always seemed exasperated and in a rush. I remember I’d asked to go home on a Friday and come Monday I wanted to stay longer. He scolded me and said it would make him look bad to the treatment team that I was changing my mind. Perhaps this gentleman needed to be reminded he worked at a psych hospital and that patients don’t always make rational decisions?
After this discharge, I went to a PHP program close to home. I’d drive there every day and “do the work”. It was humbling and healing to know I wasn’t the only one who struggled. What confused me though was why I was struggling so much. Looking around at the other people in my PHP group, I couldn’t understand how I’d ended up here. I hadn’t experienced the trauma of domestic violence or war, and in my entire life, I’d been loved and supported. While I was glad to have found a place to learn new skills, I often felt like I didn’t belong. I would hear what the other participants were dealing with and I felt like a fraud. Why was I suicidal and in such a state when my life was so ideal? It felt like a word problem I couldn’t find a solution to. Not understanding what was happening in my brain and body was confounding. Slowly, everything started to get better. I found a new psychiatrist whom I worked well with. I repeated the PHP program one more time when I was slipping. I found a regular therapist to see weekly. While all of these were steps in the right direction, there was still no answer like I’d been searching for.
It wasn’t until I got my autism spectrum diagnosis that the final puzzle piece fell into place. Everything made sense from the intense emotions of childhood to my hatred of Thanksgiving, and so much more. I know now that from an early age I was consumed with self-loathing for not being like other girls and women I knew. All I wanted was to be included and understood. I thought I was defective and that’s what had led me down such a dark path to begin with. I’d always wanted to feel “happy.” What I didn’t have words for when I was younger was that all I wanted was to feel at peace and calm in my skin. This was my definition of happiness. I found that on the other side of my mental health crisis.
I view my life as before hospitalization and after. I didn’t become a healed and whole person until afterward. I didn’t find myself until years after. While I don’t recommend a crisis as a conduit for healing, there is something wonderful about rebuilding your life. Having everything removed and starting from the ground up felt freeing and terrifying. I now am on a path to a completely different career than I ever imagined. I have hobbies I didn’t think I’d return to and a peace that I had dreamed of since childhood. I wanted to share my story because people misunderstand suicide and mental illness. Women with level one are at a higher risk for suicidality than our neurotypical peers. I also want to encourage family members that if they see a loved one struggling, to sit down with that person and go deeper than what it appears to be. I’d had years of self-loathing, anxiety, and isolation that led to my crisis. If the reason for why these issues persist can be rectified, then a crisis can be avoided. I didn’t understand how someone could sink to such despair until I was there. I believe in removing the stigma around mental illness and surviving suicide is essential. I was terrified of someone accusing me of just wanting attention. What the act really screamed was “Help Me.” See the person suffering and go from there.
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