I am participating in Diane DeBella’s #iamsubject
Here is my #iamsubject story.
It was a time in my life when I felt like everything was slowly starting to become unhinged. I had a tumultuous relationship with an on again/off again boyfriend. At this particular time he was “on”. I had mostly distant friendships maintained on social sites online or fair-weather friends who stayed in touch only if I did. I had few close friends. I can only recall two who knew what I was dealing with at the time.
The boyfriend was considerably younger than me by about six years. He was fresh out of college with a nice degree, looked great in a uniform…my weakness, I admit. I knew there were others. I just wasn’t prepared for the number or what stories I had the displeasure to hear, even from his own mouth. I was in shock. The first real time after a particularly ugly divorce, I had opened up and made myself vulnerable, investing my trust and love. I know he loved me as much as he knew how, but he also loved attention – a lot.
I had already gone through one complete mental break down, being diagnosed as having Schizo-affective Disorder. In smaller terms, I have a unique mix of bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia. The best way I can describe it is like hearing voices through the wall of an adjoining room. I can only catch every five or six words, but it’s always negative and they are always talking about me. Occasionally I have paranoid psychotic episodes, in which I lose time. I black out and something else takes over. I have some memories of what has happened, but for the most part, I get to hear what I said and did by the people closest to me. Leaving socks in the freezer (I’m pretty sure I just felt warm, but who knows). Actually getting into a car and going only heaven knows where. Sometimes, when the stress factor is high, I tend to lose some control of what I hear, or what I think I hear and the voices take over. And they are all I hear. Sometimes it’s my voice I hear. Most times the voices take on personalities of friends and family and it’s this huge conspiracy to truly make me crazy. Crazy. Not a word I take lightly. Not anymore.
And while the terminology was scary, the endless testing of various medications to control the various symptoms that came along with the disorder was torture. Finding a cocktail that worked took years. Anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, anti-anxiety medications, anti-seizure medications, medications to fight the side affects of the medications treating the other symptoms of a serious mental disorder. And they say I’m crazy?! Sometimes I think the laugh is on us in the world of pharmaceuticals. Actually, I’m pretty sure of it.
The medications varied in strength and I could usually handle most of the day, but those nasty side effects creep up and I end up looking like a zombie or worse. Sometimes I was unable to stay conscious for more than a few hours at a time, being on a regimen of medications three or four times a day. I slept more than I was awake. Then it went into sudden reverse and I was no longer sleeping, day or night. Medications would be substituted for other medications and as such, what I like to refer to as “the crazy cycle”, went around and around.
Usually, I’m not a harm to others, not intentionally. At this point however, I was unable to even convince myself that I was not a harm to myself. But I was. It started to show. I’m smart enough to have seen it coming, but was starting to lose control. It felt like a morbid version of Torretts Syndrome, my ticks and triggers got stronger. An average conversation always turned dark (at least in my mind) and words like “death” and “oblivion” peppered my thoughts constantly.
Inevitably, one thought crossed my mind. “It would be so much easier if I were just gone.” I started to obsess.
I remember being at work on a slow, dark day in early January and scrolling through posts on psychology sites online when I saw the advertisement for the event. It was the beginning of a new move in the world of psychology – The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
“Out of the Darkness” was approximately a 20-mile walk through the night streets winding through the highlights of the nightly beauty of San Francisco – the first of its kind. I KNEW I had to be a part of the event and immediately went to register. There I paused because, as a participating registered walker in the event, I had to raise no less than $1,000. In 2006, that was a lot of money for people to just hand over and I took that into great account. I did it, anyway. I hit up co-workers, friends, family, strangers online. I was no stranger to asking for money, having a telemarketing background. My deadline to raise this was the day of the event in June, so I had time, but it took until the last week to find the sum total of one thousand dollars. But I did it.
The day after I registered, my boyfriend helped me pick out a good pair of walking shoes. The day after that I started training. Anywhere I could walk to reasonably, I would, but I had a favorite park and reservoirs with a three-mile lap that I travelled several miles on every week. Every week I pushed myself further and by the beginning of the event I was proud of walking a full 15 miles in one stretch.
The down side to this was I was doing it alone. By alone, I mean physically no one was prepared or wanted to walk with me in the event. My boyfriend had to be at work, my best friend had a family function and her fiancée was at home close by in the city, though they all rooted me on via text message. After the opening ceremony, my boyfriend left and I was just one individual in a sea of people all with their own stories for why they were there. I innocently struck up a conversation with the young lady next to me and in minutes we decided to do this thing together. And we did. Every mile. Every rest stop. Talking non-stop about the whys of life and how we were drawn to this gathering. Loss, love, isolation, depression, desperation…and hope.
We reached the finish line together and in the top 7% of participants to finish first. Along the finish line, each walker was persuaded to write something meaningful to them on the outside of a paper bag, which would then be filled with sand and a tea candle lit, making the bag, and the message, glow. For every other walker who made it toward the finish line, they walked by those lit bags of emotion, lighting the way to the end of the walk.
On my bag I had written a message that I had once said to someone else. This time I was saying it for me. I was saying it for every one of those who walked past towards the finish line. I was saying it for hope.
“You are my heart. Keep it safe.”