TRIGGER WARNING: SUICIDAL IDEATION
There are many doors in life. There are doors we open with much joy and anticipation. Doors for love, marriage, a new job, the birth of a child, the start of spring after a long winter. We walk through those doors with hope and a willingness to grab hold of all the richness with confidence in the fact that the journey through that door will be a good one. We will be happy, content, hopeful, and better when we walk through to the other side.
The doors of Life can deceive us however. In our entering mindset, it can blind us to the fact in life good and bad exist behind every door. An examination of the traditional Christian wedding vow reads: "I, ___, take thee, ___, to be my wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part..." We say these words with optimism and great anticipation of the connection with one's soulmate as the ultimate consummation of bliss. The confidence of a newlywed couple would disappear at the altar if the testing of those vows taken played out before them, like a motion picture of what was to come.
There are doors that many choose or are perhaps unwilling to go through. During life, many find themselves pushed through those doors. Those that volunteer to go through the doors of human suffering, rejection, discrimination, war, just to name a few… we label as brave. They are doctors, nurses, lawyers, politicians, missionaries, police officers, soldiers, psychiatrists, therapists, social workers… the list is vast of those who believe they can be a change agent for the human condition. They believe in themselves and have the capacity to move through a challenging door of life.
We thank God for these people. There are many who would refuse to walk through such a door that would require so much of them. It would include sacrifice, time, energy, and focus. Certain aspects of their lives would be diminished or left behind in their pursuits. There are those who walk through the door believing the fallacy that “they can HAVE IT ALL”, whatever ALL means to them. They quickly come to the realization that we cannot HAVE IT ALL in this lifetime. In pursuit of that fallacy, things will suffer and go away. Things like health, relationships, marriages, things that we thought we could maintain under the duress and toll when we walked through that door originally.
Life has a way of unfolding on its own often, in ways we did not anticipate. As we age, we walk through things we encounter that change us in our journey. There are doors of debilitating sickness, like cancer. Doors of injustice and inequality that cause us to lose hope or pigeonhole ourselves into complacency. Doors of divorce, which leave us with disillusionment and lack trust. Doors of trauma and abuse that take us to dark places physically and emotionally. The door of the death of a loved one that leaves us with unbearable pain.
The mother and father who cuddled and cared for the infant in their arms with joy and anticipation never would consider that child would grow to be a serial killer or rapist. In the continuum of the stages of life, we are blind to the future and what it holds. I believe, in God's design. If we knew the future, how could we proceed with the present. If we could change the past, chaos would ensue. It is a perfect design for eternity, not so for our individual life journey. God's design encapsulates the total Big Picture. There are moments in retrospection where the human mind can see glimpses of the puzzle. A look at the past provides us knowledge that the present and future don't hold. We try our best to learn from experience, understanding that nothing under the sun that has already transpired can be undone. If only.
The door in my life, that I never asked for or to go through is mental illness. A disorder of the mind that is not curable. I entered the door genetically, at birth. It has led me in my lifetime through doors labeled trauma, abuse, neglect, pain and suffering, stigma, harm of others emotionally, unwise decisions, an incapability to be consistent, an aborting of opportunities, fractured relationships, afflictions and chronic health conditions, turmoil, disruptions on a daily basis, suicidal thoughts, self harm, use of drugs and alcohol that led to addiction, withdrawals from substances that have racked my body, disharmony in my marriage, with my only child and extended family and friends, being misunderstood as to my motives and intentions the majority of my life, having to hide my symptoms behind a self-inflicted mask so as not to disturb others, loss of hope, an incapacity to see a viable future, loss of integrity and trust, an unwillingness to participate in certain aspects of life in acceptance of my limitations, unspeakable fear and darkness, tears that have burned my eyes raw, fighting, raging, indescribable mental torment, self hatred and loathing, the feeling and compulsion to explain and apologize for my existence on a regular basis, doubting the existence of a Good God, major debilitating phobias, visits to doctors, hospitals, psychiatrists, therapists, insurmountable bills and money amassed in the pursuit of wellness, sleepless nights, extended periods of time in bed incapable of functioning, the incapacity to explain my symptoms and how they display in my life, compulsive behavior specifically shopping that has led our family to financial crisis on a continual basis, an incapacity to self soothe, inability to feel peace and solace, having to take the blame and ownership of my actions for symptoms that are often out of my control, a mind that races constantly, which I feel I cannot escape, a daily internal fight to exist in a world that does not accept or understand me. Yes, I would not have chosen to enter this door.
In pursuit of conquering what that door held, I have tried many things. Medical doctors, psychiatric doctors and therapists, unknown amounts of psychiatric medication, holistic therapy to include changes in diet, acupuncture, cupping, meditation, yoga, exercise, group therapy, chiropractic treatment, add in alcohol, recreational drugs, pain medication, no medication, the extensive reading of books, articles and blogs to acquire knowledge of my condition, I have done and pursued endless avenues in the hope of finding “the cure”. What I found, is the cure does not exist. Instead, it is a journey of radical acceptance in living with my condition.
Unfortunately, when that door opened in my life, it opened to all I encountered. To all my relationships, jobs held, pursuits, education, every aspect of my life has been funneled through that door.
In spite of it, I have fought, I have given everything I have inside of me that is capable of functioning in any capacity of normalcy to create an existence that is worthy of my being here on this earth. In many areas of my life, I have failed miserably to do this. In certain areas, I have exceeded expectation. I live with the guilt, pain and shame of knowledge as to how I have hurt others, abused them, taken advantage of situations and people, exhausted resources and human beings, caused pain and turmoil in the lives of those I love.
There is a mindset; a perception held that those of us who live with mental illness should be capable of conquering our symptoms. We should have an innate cognizance of our symptoms and an ability to control them. As our affliction is invisible to the naked eye, people often do not believe in our disability. We are told we need to get over it, fix it, get it right, conquer it, and specifically…heal from it.
To those lacking in knowledge and education or exposure to the world of mental illness, it would make sense to imagine those things are possible. To those who live with the condition, those who love us, work with us, know us and are aware as to our plight, there is an understanding as to the limitations we live with. Yet even still, those who live with us every day hold hope that we will one day present as “fixed”. Often in the situation of a marriage, when one partner has a mental disability and the other does not, when the realization comes that the “fix” does not exist, the marriage ends. I have seen children with mental illness discarded by those who have given up hope. Abandoned, living alone, or homeless...selling their bodies for food to eat and drugs to take the pain away.
Then there is the plague of suicide. There is a curiosity and an unwillingness to comprehend why we would take our lives. It is to others seen as a cop out, an easy way out from our suffering, a selfish endeavor. I am opposed and horrified by the increase of suicidal deaths. Yet I must speak with frankness as to the ACT. In its true essence, suicide is the ultimate of sacrifice. If a mentally ill person chooses to take their life, I believe it is because we realize the toll we take on others. We don’t have a capacity to rectify the bad things we have done. We realize we are capable of doing more bad things. When one takes their life, it is an admission of knowing from a gut-level, that our existence is difficult for everyone we encounter. It is the acknowledgement of what we bring to the table of life. It is a selfless act in that it is an expression of love and acceptance of our incapacity to live up to or be capable of performing at a level of expectancy those around us hold. If a person takes their life, I guarantee you they are not selfish. They are accepting radically their limitations and inability to be what YOU want. The pain of that truth is unspeakable, unbearable and many cannot live with it. We with mental illness face it each day and make a decision in accordance to what is echoed back to us from those we live with. If we feel we are such a burden that we are causing those we love to have an inability to live life to its fullest capacity, we will opt to remove ourselves as the blockage.
I have often considered suicide for the sake of those I love. I have been blamed for ruining the lives of those I love. I have been called horrific names and had words attached to me such as manipulative, selfish, untrustworthy, fake, bitch, I could go on. There are those I live with in my circle of life that have little to no knowledge of my symptoms or disorder to the point where there is a complete lack of empathy or understanding as to my existence. My husband of 32 years has had folks tell him to divorce me, leave me, to get out, countless times during our marriage even to date. People question him ad infinitum as to his wisdom and judgment to remain in a relationship with a person such as me. People label him a caregiver, whereas they label me a helpless victim. He finds himself tormented and confused on a regular basis by voices that tell him to walk away and feelings of loyalty that tell him to stay. He has literally sacrificed his life so that I can exist.
It may sound as though I am advocating suicide as an acceptable and noble option for the mentally ill. Nothing could be further from the truth. I advocate for speaking out on behalf of those who cannot. For providing assistance and medication and therapy for those who can't afford it. For places of shelter for those who are abandoned by their own families. For education and awareness of symptoms of the different afflictions, instead of lumping all of us into a banner under the name of psychos. For hiring us for a job, so that we don't have to become dependent on the government or do illegal acts in order to survive.
The fact remains and is glaringly obvious. We, the mentally ill, have found ourselves shoved under society’s carpet. We are maligned, mocked, misunderstood, and managed at best. At worst, ignored, despised, cast aside, and abused. What type of life does a mentally ill person deserve? Do they deserve marriage? Children? A job? How about acknowledgement? Praise when they conquer living another 24 hours? Encouragement when they go several weeks without self-harming? When they get sober, do we applaud them for not medicating their minds, therefore having to live with the raw symptoms of their disorder? If your child wishes to marry a person inflicted with mental illness, would you embrace their decision?
There are no parades held yearly on behalf of the mentally ill to raise awareness. The fundraisers are few and far between, drowned out by other socially acceptable causes embraced and championed, funded abundantly such as breast cancer or diabetes. So opposite is the lack of funding for NAMI (National Alliance for Mentally Illness) or Mental Health America. There are no cans at the checkout counter asking for donations for the young man in the neighborhood just diagnosed with schizophrenia. There are no neighborhood meals or gatherings for the couple down the street whose son hung himself, where they are ashamed to share the details. They were unaware he suffered from Bipolar. He died undiagnosed.
My point in all this? The disdain and wonder I hold at the audacity of those who have not walked through certain doors, to judge the doors of others. The doors of terminal illness, racism, death of a child or spouse, divorce, serving in wartime, homosexuality, there are many. There are those who feel they can speak judgement, point the finger of stigma and conviction to those of us on the other side of that door.
My message to those of you who have never stepped foot through a door that you feel you have the right to speak to is … if you are not speaking words of help, edification, acceptance, acknowledgement, and empathy, then please, DON'T SPEAK.
With you on the journey, Alice