*This post contains triggering content including drugs, alcohol and suicidal tendencies.
Mental health problems run in my family and I don’t know the numbers but I’ll bet they run in a lot of families. My father’s side has a few suicides and he was discharged from the army after evaluation in the mental hospital. My mother’s side has confirmed anxiety and bipolar disorder.
I first had suicidal thoughts when I was around eight years old. I remember I was upset at my family and I thought, I would rather just die and then they would miss me. Perhaps, I was feeling unloved. The second time I was suicidal I was sixteen just coming out of a breakup. I really wanted to die. Not because of the break up but because I had no purpose, no meaning, no plan. I felt hopeless, unloved, worthless. I cried and cried because I wanted to leave this Earth. I wanted to go to my grandma’s, get the gun she always kept in her kitchen drawer and shoot myself right in the temple. I cried so hard because I wanted to do it so bad. But I thought about my aunt Janet who loved me very much and she had just lost her mom and I didn’t think I could do that to her. That is what went through my head.
At this point, I had done an ungodly amount of methamphetamine and I always wondered if that played a part in what I believe was a psychotic break. I had only used a handful of times in the previous few years leading up to it but I wonder what kind of damage it did when I was younger, doing it daily, not eating or sleeping for days at a time. There is no question in my mind that substance abuse and mental health issues go hand in hand. It’s common for people to try and self medicate with drugs and alcohol and then it’s also common for people to feel that their substance abuse makes them worthless, causing depression.
Mental health is not just about genetics. It’s about what you experience and how you do or don’t deal with it. My teenage years were tumultuous, my parents were addicts, my mom went to prison and I was separated from my sister who I loved like a mother. Time marches on and after a break up with my now husband, the only constant in my life, something in my brain snapped. One day, when I was 21, out of nowhere, I had my first panic attack after sitting down a hair client in my chair. I didn’t know what was happening. I thought I was going to throw up. I just felt the need to flee and vomit but once I got in the bathroom the nausea went away. From that point on there was a constant dizziness. I thought I had a stomach bug or something but three days passed and the dizziness remained. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I remember laying on my mom’s couch all day. I watched the World Trade Center go down from that couch. After talking with a friend who suggested it was anxiety or depression I went into an urgent care clinic to see if they could help. “It sounds like you think it’s anxiety.” I will never forget her saying that. I didn’t know if it was a virus or what but I was dizzy all the time, like my brain wasn’t getting enough oxygen. She gave me some Paxil to taper up over a two week time span. The side effects were pretty severe. At first, it took away my appetite and I was never hungry. However, going without it for 24 hours produced a withdrawal that felt exactly like the dizziness I originally suffered from.
I’ve been taking Paxil every day since then, 20 years, except when I was pregnant with my third child. At that time, the doctor said it wasn’t safe for pregnancy even though my previous obstetrician said it was okay. I did fine without it until I had my daughter and then I started to feel anxious again. The doctor suggested I try another drug that he thought was more appropriate. I gradually began to feel like I wasn’t in control of my own body. I would be carrying my baby and have the urge and fear that my arms would just fly open and I would drop her. Then I began to have the urge to cut myself in the shower. It was the weirdest thing. I was happy and not depressed but I had this overwhelming urge to pick up my razor and cut my wrists. Suicidal ideation is a common side effect of these drugs and I recognized this but had never experienced it. It was the scariest thing, to feel not in control. My husband took me to urgent care and they immediately put me back on Paxil.
Then I proceeded with my life, always climbing, going to college, working full time, raising three kids and becoming a severe alcoholic. You’re not supposed to drink on these antidepressants but I always did. Every day. Substance abuse was a learned behavior for me, my parents were both substance abusers, and even though I knew it was a problem I couldn’t stop. This became the reason I was again suicidal, when I was thirty-five. Despite putting my children’s lives at risk, ruining my marriage and being physically ill every day, I could not quit drinking. I remember one day deciding they would be better off without me and planned to go outside in the snow to shoot myself, where it wouldn’t make a mess and the snow would just melt away. It is such a lonely and desperate place to be.
I’m so grateful that I made it through that. I’m grateful for my husband for saying, “You HAVE to get help.” I now know that there is no shame in asking for help. Sometimes help is the only way. I’ve been five years without drinking now and I will never drink again. But I still struggle. I still feel like something is wrong with me. I’ve learned new coping skills that I use regularly and I can love myself now that I’m not a slave to substances. I still have anxiety and my last panic attack was last year during the pandemic while sitting at a stop light for no apparent reason except the state of the world.
I hope that by sharing my experience you will know that it’s okay to talk about mental health. I hope you know that you are not alone and I hope you will get help if you need it. I still take medication every day and see a therapist once a month but I also have to exercise, pray and redirect my negative thoughts regularly to stay healthy.
My prayer is that you do the same.