Eleven years ago on September 29th, 2003, I tried to kill myself by swallowing fifteen Excedrin migraine. I was transported via ambulance from my dorm room to the local hospital where they gave me active charcoal, and luckily the effects of such allowed my liver to NOT suffer any ill effects. I begged the psychiatrist on staff that night to allow me to be discharged, with the stipulation that I’d follow up with my personal psychiatrist.
I was unable to follow up, because the next day I was informed via letter from the dean of students that I was expelled from the university for violating their code of conduct (which included not harming others, or myself). Four days later I packed my things and moved home. Thus began my trudge up the ‘mountain of wellness’.
I went through about three years of half-hearted attempts at counseling, where I’d lie to doctors and tell them what they wanted to hear because prior to all of this, no one ever really gave my ‘episodes’ much thought. I was a theatre major, so obviously I was just being “over dramatic” when I’d self harm or lock myself in my room for hours, crying non-stop.
Around 2006, I met my husband and shortly thereafter started making a genuine attempt at trying to figure out exactly what was wrong with me. I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder, and began medication. Over the next years, I continued on my journey up the mountain. I had relapses and setbacks, but also great accomplishments. My husband was by my side through all of this – he never wanted to fix me, just wanted me to be as well as I could – not just for us, but for myself. He’s my inspiration most days when I feel like the walls are closing in. He reminds me that everything is manageable – even my disease.
We married on Dec. 1, 2012, and I promptly got pregnant. It was a surprise, as I didn’t intend for it to stick as quickly as it did, but for some reason I didn’t feel joy. I felt dread. Antepartum depression hit me, hard. I had previously been able to manage my issues without medication, but was quickly put back on an anti anxiety med, and re-started therapy with a practice that specialized in women who were suffering from postpartum and antenatal depression.
The therapy, along with medication – got me through my rocky pregnancy. I had irritable uterus and was generally feeling miserable, but finally was able to connect with my growing baby and enjoy the fact that I was creating a life that was made from love.
Why do I start with that back story?
Well, I do it because on September 29th 2012, ten years to the day that I tried to kill myself, I went into spontaneous labor and delivered my beautiful daughter, Magnolia Rebecca; at 33 weeks. She was incredibly healthy and only had a ten day NICU stay, and over the past year has showed me a tenacity for life that is unmatched by anyone else I’ve ever met.
If you would have asked me on that day ten (now almost eleven) years ago, if I could have imagined myself not only as a wife to an amazingly supportive and fantastic man, but a MOTHER to a child of my own – I would have called you insane. I would have told you that I wasn’t worth it; that I didn’t deserve that kind of love or happiness….that there was no way someone could love me that much.
But there I was. Giving birth to the product of that love.
My daughter is a constant reminder that, even when I have set backs, that this climb is worth it. Trying is worth it. Existing is worth it – she reminds me every day with her smile. She’s living proof that no matter how low you get, you can rise up out of the darkness long enough to feel the sun, and try to heal.
I don’t claim to be “cured”; I still have hard days, sometimes hard weeks – but I do have a constant reminder of my strength, which is a huge help.
So, that’s my story. I want to share it for moms or even just women who think there’s no way they will ever climb out of that all-encompassing black hole called mental illness. It can get better. Maybe never perfect, but better – and better is about as close to perfect as I could ever get.
Thank you for listening.
Jennifer is a soon to be mother of two who lives in Philadelphia. She lives day by day, in a home full of rescue animals, her husband, her child(ren), and a lot of patience and love.
The night before my trip, I woke up at the magic hour—3:30AM. The hour depression informs me it is dropping in for a visit. A few hours later I landed in a the middle of America dazed and confused—convinced that Delta had lied about their coffee being caffeinated, and determined to take it up with customer service. Cranky. I was done.
Time zones and depression don’t mix well. I have learned that exercise is really helpful to combat jet lag. I checked-in and headed out for a run. Took my phone so I wouldn’t get lost (which tends to happen when I travel). The shock of pavement on my middle-aged knees brought me back to life. I could barely see straight from sleep deprivation but the fresh air felt good.
He stopped to look at himself in the window and I noticed a cigarette dangling. Mid-30, African American. He must have been three times my size. Mammoth. Cigarette in mouth he sat back on his heels and slowly pivoted to the right and began to strut down the street. One step, stomp. The other, stomp. There was style to it. His back angled behind vertical. The force of strength in the stomp. Strut. Swagger. Right there in the middle of downtown wherever I was. I admired it.
His arms suddenly spread out nearly spanning the width of the sidewalk. He was striking the air. Slicing the space. His movements scared me. I ran down a side street.
As happens to me, to those of us drawn together by an ineffable magnet that is mental illness— I turned another corner and there he was. We got to the stop light together. My mind was running.
I had run nearly four miles on four hours of sleep. We stood within inches of one another.
I wanted to tell him I was sorry that I was afraid. I wanted to tell him I too knew that strut and ask if I could join in for a few blocks. I wanted to ignore my reflex to not get too close. How close do I get to the white woman guilt to apologize for the history between us. The long history between White and Black in the middles of America—Mason Dixon, Mississippi, Montgomery. I selfishly wanted us to have some magical moment of humanity so perfect that I would remember it forever, and feel better about myself as a white woman who “gets it”. Memphis. Militarism. Materialism. Malcolm. Dr. Martin Luther King.
An amazing man of color held my heart in his hands for the better part of my twenties. Pulled over by LAPD and asked “Why are you with a black man driving a nice car?” while they put his face on the ground and my heart in my throat. We were together the night Los Angeles exploded into riots. Running to the roof of our apartment to watch the fires blaze. Florence. Normandie.
Cross light: Blinking. Blinking.
“Can you spare some change?” he asked.
“Sorry,” I said. “I don’t have any with me—just my phone”.
“Bitch”, he said.
Right there at the intersection of Black and Bitch I winced at the sting of stereotypes.
There. My depression reached up and turned off the sun.
I am a teacher. I teach middle school. I’ve written a book about my alcoholism and bipolar disorder, called My Last Rock Bottom. We played an icebreaker game on the first day or in the first week of school; I don’t remember. It was that game where you say two truths and a lie. Without really thinking of possible repercussions, one of my “truths” was that I published a book. I didn’t say what it is about, which I’m not ashamed of, by the way. And I’m proud of the fact that I wrote a book, and I don’t want to feel like I have to hide this very monumental event in my life. It’s not like I’ve been broadcasting this in my class, but if I’m asked about it (it’s the first thing that comes up if you Google me) I tell the truth. It’s all over the Internet. It’s not a secret.
So, apparently a student’s mother brought this up to the principal in front of everyone at some meeting recently. She said she’d heard I’d said I’ve written a book, I said it was about why I quit drinking, and I told the kids they couldn’t read it. I honestly don’t remember what I said. But she said kids were Googling it, and that she wants this “resolved right away.”
I feel sick to my stomach.
I explained to the principal how my book came up in class, and she seemed very understanding. I guess I’m just confused. I’ve written about these aspects of my life for every publication I write for, newspapers, blogs, Facebook notes, everything. So this is public knowledge. It’s not like I told these kids a deep, dark, inappropriate secret. Yet I now feel like I’m supposed to hide and be ashamed of my book, of my past. Of who I am. I’m angry. I don’t understand why there are still so many people out there who judge this. Judge addiction. Judge mental illness. Judge the truth.
It honestly makes me want to cry. I don’t like this feeling. This feeling of being looked down upon, judged, made to feel bad about myself. Bad about something I get e-mails about almost daily, from people who have read my book, thanking me for helping them. It just makes me so sad, sad because the only crime I’ve committed is being honest. I haven’t divulged anything inappropriate to anyone; I’ve simply been honest about who I am. Yet those of us struggling with addiction and mental illness are punished for being honest, punished for being who we are.
Well, I’m not sorry.
It sickens me to think of everyone who is suffering in silence, out of fear of what every judgmental person will think. There are so many people who experience what I’ve experienced. And if it weren’t for the help and inspiration from others who have been there, I might not be here now. I don’t understand what is so wrong and frowned upon about being real. Being silent about your struggles does not make you a better person. It does not grant you the power to judge others for their sins just because you sin differently. I am tragically flawed. We all are.