998 Healthy Days! (CW: Depression, Anxiety, Suicidal Thoughts)
Today as a warning I am going to talk about the two years of turmoil spent in my depressive episode. There were severe bouts
of anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and general negative behaviors. It's important to talk about, because many people experience this. Remember, this all leads up to my healthy day number one!
In later blog posts I will talk about some of my friends' reactions to my state after the episode. Here I will talk about what little I remember about that troubling time.
I had been sedated so many times it felt like that was all I'd ever feel. The medications I was on were mostly aimed at preventing the manic state, without as much concentration on the negative side effects. I was warned that eventually I would fall into a depressive state, because that is the path that Bipolar 1 Disorder takes.
I had been depressed as a child, and possibly even manic, but I was always able to be functional and outwardly happy. So much so that I might have convinced myself at times I was happy, or that it was only a night time thing to be feeling that way. My friends had no idea in high school.
This time around it was debilitating. I couldn't wake up for many classes. After the Manic Episode I avoided drinking, but that slow state, a dragging even, was present always. I couldn't wake up for my morning classes, and my teachers were expressing concern. I think the worst part about depression for me was that the activities and classes that used to bring me so much joy did nothing for me anymore. It was as if my fun and joy receptors were turned off.
While I expected the depression to come, I wasn't ready or prepared for the level of anxiety that the episode left me. It became clear that panic attacks were not out of the question, even in relatively simple situations. For instance, once I was having an allergic reaction, and my immediate thought was that I was going to die. I was terrified, there was no hot water in my dorm to rinse off my body in the middle of winter, and I couldn't bring myself to do anything to bring myself down. I was standing in the closet of my room, with a window next to me, and I wanted to get out of the situation so badly that I, without thought, broke the window next to me. It shattered and I was simply dumbfounded with myself. It brought the world to a screeching halt. I finally got undressed and took that cold shower that was painful, but needed.
I started to become afraid at night. I was worried I would get jumped by any sort of passerby. I needed my friends with me in order to walk anywhere. My pledge son, and soon to be one of my best men, Sean was there for me along with so many other Acacia Brothers.
It was the little things that became almost impossible: going to the grocery store, picking up my medicine, concentrating on big projects, listening intently while being given instructions... I just couldn't seem to manage it.
I was paired up with a Psychiatrist and therapist right off the bat and we worked hard together to find a combination that worked. We tried almost everything it seemed like. We would get me on an anxiety medicine that would work, but it would stay in my system for too long and I couldn't wake up the next day because of the sedative's effect. Once I even was on a medication that had me going too high again and I had to be taken off of it. It was a struggle to find a baseline that was comfortable, safe, and manageable.
Eventually things took a turn for the worst. I started sleeping in my afternoon classes, I could barely concentrate when I was awake, and there seemed to be no end in sight. This is where it will get dark for a minute...
Then my mind would start projecting messages of an end. These horrible thoughts would pop into my head like, you could just end it, just step in front of that car, or drink until you pass out. It was scaring the hell out of me and I reached out for help. I called my dad and I thought I needed to go to the hospital. There was three days until my next Psychiatrist appointment so he thought I should buckle down and wait. I called my case manager, the wonderful Karla, and I asked her for help. She said that I know my own self best and if I needed to be hospitalized that can happen. She told me to not worry about my classes, and that my health came first.
She asked if I needed someone to take me, and I said yes, I was afraid of being behind the wheel in this state, but I knew who to call. So I called my Fraternity's Chapter Advisor. I had talked with him many times about my struggles and he had always been there for me. This time he didn't pick up. So I called a second time... He said when his phone rang a second time that I really must need him and he picked it up immediately. He left his family dinner and sat with me for three hours in the waiting room, an hour in a holding room, and then returned to his family. By that time my dad had arrived, with tears in his eyes, as I answered the nurses questions that yes I wanted to kill myself, yes I had a plan, and yes I want help.
Reaching out for that level of help, especially after my negative experiences in New Hampshire, was probably the bravest thing I have ever done. To anyone out there who is struggling: know that there is help, and people like me that want to see you healthy and happy.
So they admitted me to the hospital, and one of the nurses made a joke, "judging by your silence and expression you must be one of them depressed ones". While that didn't make me laugh then, I look back on that moment and laugh now. I was checked in and given my own room. I was told the doctor would be in tomorrow and that everything would be okay.
And everything was okay. A week later, I was feeling more like myself than I ever had. I had started new medicines, got on a better schedule, and I was finally, after almost two years, feeling happy.
And so I walked out of the hospital with my head held high ready to keep improving on this feeling. I still had work to do, heck, I think everyone has some work to do. But I could finally say that for the first time in a while it was my first healthy day.
Aaron Harris Woodstein