I have a deep appreciation for life. I'm thankful for the ability to wake up every day and enjoy the little things. I love rainy days (not too many) and warm summer nights and even some snow days (though, I’d be happy to live in place with no snow). I am grateful for my ability to live an active life as I know all too well, in my own family, that this ability can be taken from you suddenly. I care deeply and feel blessed for the friends and family I'm surrounded by and know even if it's a handful of people who I can truly depend on 100%, that is more than enough. I sit by the ocean and feel small, humbled, looking out into horizon, knowing there is so much more out there greater than me and yet, I'm connected to it all. I find peace near the water, in a walk through the woods, in silence alone or by someone’s side. I appreciate it all. Now. It was not always the case and three distinct times, I wasn’t sure I even wanted my life to go on.
I lived in my grandmother’s house and she had Alzheimer’s. By 2003, she had declined to a point that made life very difficult. She didn’t know what time of day it was and I would be sleeping in the living room to make sure she didn’t leave the house at midnight. I had to remove all of the knobs on the oven so she wouldn’t turn them on and leave the gas running. I watched this woman get worse every day. She was one of the most important people in my life. She always dressed nice and sat and curled her hair every morning, smoking a butt at the kitchen table. She cared about appearance. But, as of 2003, she didn’t shower much, would wear the same clothes over and over unless I was able to get her to do otherwise. She would go out on an 80’ day with a winter jacket and an umbrella. It broke my heart every single day to watch what had become of her.
At first, I didn’t realize. My grandmother was a ball buster like all people in our family. So, when I couldn’t find my keys in the morning, I’d think she was just messing with me, not that she had picked them up and placed them somewhere simply because her brain was not functioning right. I was 18 when I moved in and she had already started to show signs, signs that I wouldn’t realize until much later.
In April of 2003, I had just turned 23. I had spent years watching my grandmother deteriorate, a woman who was always vibrant and cared for me immensely. I was depressed and felt I didn’t know what to do with my life or what to do without her. I felt useless and hopeless. My life was consumed by it and I let go of many friends, things I enjoyed and even quit school for the time being. I had a boyfriend who I had been with since the same week I moved in with her. Our first 3.5 years were great. The last, as I fell into a pit of depression and felt more and more overwhelmed, was bad. Understandably, he couldn’t deal with it. We broke up just after my 23rd birthday and that was the one thing to push me over the edge. I remember sitting in my car that day feeling like I couldn’t breathe well (my first experience with anxiety-nothing like what I would experience the last two years). I was crying uncontrollably and realizing I was not okay and needed help. I called to make an appointment with a therapist and I told my family I could no longer stay in my grandmother’s house.
I actually think the medications made things worse for me. It was helpful at first but when paired with the large amount of alcohol, I found it made me feel worse. That’s the thing about alcohol and meds (at least when it's alcohol to excess which I was doing). They suppress feelings you should be feeling (or if the wrong meds, they make them more intense) and then when you do feel, it is that much more intense. I would discover that again last year while suffering from debilitating anxiety attacks. I found that when I drank, I’d be having fun and forgetting about what was going on in my head and body. But, at the end of the night or sometimes the next morning, my anxiety and/or deep sadness would hit really hard. It would feel so much more intense. Once I realized it, I started to limit my drinking. I didn’t stop because I wanted to join my friends for a night out but just took more control of it, pacing myself and paying attention to how I felt. (You can read what I was able to do to finally put an end to those debilitation attacks..without medication here: The week the shaking stopped)
Back to 2003. Seven months after I’d left my grandmother’s house, I was going to be moving back in. She was going to be put into a private nursing home just after the new year. I would move back to the house, help fix it up and make it ready to get roommates. We needed to keep the house and get some income to pay for her care. For New Year’s, I went to a three day party in Vermont. For three days, I drank a LOT, smoked pot and smoked cigarettes. I wanted to escape. I was still on my meds as well. It then took me 3 full days to be able to get out of bed. I was hungover and my depression was hitting hard. On that third day, I woke up and suddenly realized I needed a change. I needed to take control of my life, my emotions and stop my downward spiral. I decided to eliminate alcohol and to stop my meds. I weaned off of them and didn’t put an ounce of alcohol in my mouth for 4 months. I moved back to the city, found a new job and started to focus on myself, something I hadn’t done in years. I didn’t talk to many people about it all. I didn’t really have many people to count on, or at least that I felt I could. And so, I did it on my own.
I was lucky. I was able to realize what was happening. I was able to see that I was being horribly self destructive and that I needed to figure out how to pull myself out of it. Many people can’t do that. They are struggling so bad, they don't even realize they are that far gone and/or they do see it but can’t see any glimmer of hope even if it’s staring them in the face.
On Sunday evening, when I was still in the midst of it, I remember texting two friends telling them that I couldn’t handle it anymore, that I was done. I called another friend who was the one there for me 100% every day. I said those words to her and her response was “what do you mean by that?” I immediately said, “it’s fine. I just mean it’s hard and I don’t know what to do.” She tried to urge me to go get meds and I refused. I never wanted meds. I wanted to learn how to get through this and deal with them without meds. I felt meds would just be a band aid and that I would never fully get rid of them if I did that. I now firmly believe that I was right. I assured her I was okay and got off the phone. But, I wasn’t. I was thinking about it all being over. I wanted it to stop. At that point, I thought I would never be okay again, that I would continue having these attacks. I thought I had felt better and now, I was in the depths of it again. I had no hope in those moments and I wanted to give up. I’ve never told anyone about this until last week when I told someone I know who is struggling. I was thinking about how in the world I would hurt myself otherwise and realized I didn’t know that I could do it. For me, I think I just hit the end of my rope, I wanted the pain and fear to end but didn't really want to end everything. And like that time before, I received a few texts and messages from friends. They reminded me that this whole thing was a process, that I had to focus on the good moments and that I was strong. The person I mentioned above who had called me, the one who I feel so unbelievably grateful for every single day, reminded me that I had lived that day, that she almost lost me and how all she could think in the moments when she couldn't reach me that day was that she didn't want to lose me. She reminded me that I would be okay and that I was loved. She reminded me to be patient and that even if it seemed like it would never get better, that it would. Those words made me stop and think. Yet again, I remembered that others would be deeply affected if I took those actions. I also remembered that I always held onto hope, that I had met people who had struggled with PTS and had gotten better and were happy. These people have no idea what they did for me, until now. I never wanted to admit I’d reached that point not only once, but three times. But, now, they deserve to know. I honestly had the thoughts again a few times, just wanting to give up and feeling utterly hopeless, but never to the point I had that night. I continued to pul myself back to a place of hope. I got sick of hearing people say, “Well, at least you’re alive and weren’t injured”. This sentence killed me because I wanted to appreciate that I was physically okay, but the mental anguish I was going through felt so unbearable, I couldn’t fully feel it. So, I wanted to end things a few times, but I know that deep down, I knew it wasn’t the answer. I knew I had people who cared, I knew on some level, that things would improve even if I couldn’t see it in those moments. I knew I had to continue living.