In late January I dumped an entire bottle of ambien into my mouth, followed by half a glass of vodka. I looked in the mirror and cried, knowing that I would never see myself again. I walked down the hall to the room which had become my prison, and thought about my mom, and how I would be the second of her children that she would have to bury due to mental illness. My thoughts then went to my wife and 3 children, who were in another state at this point, and tried to convince myself that they would be better off without me. I believed that I didn’t have any fight left in me…because the monster speaks to you through your own voice.
I ended up in the psychiatric unit for over a week, perhaps one of the most critical weeks of my life. I remember my first night vividly. It was hard to concentrate on the paperwork because of a patient down the hall. He was screaming about the Mormon church plotting to ruin his life (the hospital is located in Provo, Utah). I kept thinking that I didn’t belong in the same vicinity as such psychotic people. I wasn’t crazy, I just didn’t want to live anymore.
Eventually I had to take all of my clothes off so they could search for anything that I could potentially harm myself, or others with. This was both humiliating, and dehumanizing. They even made me take out the draw string in the sweat pants I was wearing. My roommate was a strange guy who spoke about how happy he was that his wife was dead (apparently he wasn’t a fan), and he wouldn’t shut up about how terrible the “service” was in the psych ward, like we were in some kind of resort.
I woke up the next morning wishing I was dead more than ever. The medication they gave me knocked me out so badly that I urinated in my bed. I didn’t care at all though, and I didn’t change for 3 days. What was the point?
I just couldn’t believe that this was where life had taken me. Everything I had worked so hard for, everything I had dreamed of…and now this. It’s a strange sensation to be locked inside of a room and have your freedom taken from you. I had committed no crime. I never to chose to be alive, so shouldn’t I have the choice to die?
Rewind to May of 2014, not even a year before. My wife and I were listening to an audio book, Stephen King’s ‘The Gunslinger,’ in our minivan, with our 3 children fighting over whose turn it was to play with one of their many electronic devices. We were headed to graduate school to explore an exciting new chapter in our lives. I had worked so hard to attain something that I could be proud of. Years of sacrifice finally paid off, and my family couldn’t have been happier.
For my entire life I was about as “normal” and affable as they come. I had plenty of friends, loved sports (among other hobbies), and was considered funny and likeable by most people who knew me. But by November of 2014 I had become a completely different person. I was unrecognizable in every way imaginable. Without question, the worst part about everything was that my wife and children were a thousand miles away (we had separated in June of that year).
Things took a turn when I was transferred to the other side of the psychiatric unit, where I met some of the most incredible people – all of whom I still keep in touch with through Facebook. I immediately connected with my new roommate, Mike, who shared the same love of sports and film as I do. We watched the Patriots beat the Ravens in the Divisional playoff game, and when Flacco’s pass was intercepted to end the game we both jumped off the couch and hugged. At night we’d lay in our beds trying to stump one another with movie trivia (he was a worthy opponent); and when that was through we’d talk about our lives, and everything that had happened to land us in our respective predicaments. We both felt hopeful during those long hours in the night. This may seem pretty unimportant, but to me it proved that I could have those feelings again – something I thought was lost forever.
Honestly, everyone in the psychiatric unit had the most incredible story. You could make a movie out of everything that happened during that week. One old timer, Wayne, told all kinds of tall tales about working with Chuck Norris on Walker Texas Ranger, and playing keyboards for Crosby, Stills, and Nash. When the first of our group was discharged, she called us immediately to tell us that she had googled Wayne, and he was telling the truth about everything! You have no idea how good it felt to laugh the way that we did upon hearing this. I hadn’t laughed like that in months. That night we were in such good spirits that we decided to watch ‘What About Bob.’ The following night we chose another Bill Murray classic and threw in ‘Groundhog Day,’ because everyday in the psych unit felt exactly the same. There was even the quintessential “cool nurse,” who broke the rules by letting us have an extra can of soda for our movie. We were elated.
But my time inside the psych unit wasn’t all fun and games. I watched a tech who we nicknamed ‘The Sheriff’ completely lose it on a girl after she had an outburst, and voluntarily stormed into her room, slamming the door behind her. The Sheriff followed her in and put his finger in her face while threatening her. I later reported his ass to the administrator, with Mike by my side. It felt really nice standing up for her. We were a family, and our pain connected us.
The best thing that could have happened to me while I was in the hospital was being properly diagnosed. A month before grad school, I was prescribed an SSRI for some general anxiety. But the doctor failed to take note of the fact that I had a sister with bipolar disorder who eventually committed suicide when I was 17. This meant the likelihood of me having the same illness was relatively high, even if I wasn’t symptomatic. SSRI’s without a stabalizer such as Lithium can send you into the stratosphere with mania, which can catalyze a cyclical process that may never be stopped. Every health professional that I have spoken with since has indicated that this is precisely what happened in my case. It’s a tough pill for me to swallow (no pun intended) to know that all of this could have been avoided.
You really have to pause and evaluate your life when you’re afraid to leave the psychiatric unit. I hadn’t felt so “normal,” understood, and accepted in months. I was scared of what might happen on the other side. I wasn’t sure how much control I would have. My subconscious was powerful, and I was terrified that I would once again be convinced to end it all.
Before I left the hospital, my therapist told me that I would need to change something dramatically in my life upon entering the real world. My wife, Jennie, realized how serious things were, and I moved to Seattle to be with her and my children; which literally saved my life. She dragged me to my psychiatric and therapy appointments, because i was still doubtful that they would do any good. And that’s when I was prescribed an antidepressant called Wellbutrin. Within two weeks, my life was changed. I felt functional. The heaviness of depression was lifted from my chest, and I could breathe again.
With the help of my amazing wife, Jennie, I started an organization in April called SeaTread Studios (an homage to a published allegory I wrote while in
the thick of my depression called ‘The Water Treader’). We started out with a little 200 dollar sony handycam and some living room lamps, and we have since merged with a professional media company called E-10 media, founded by Bruce and Josh Jakola. How the 3 of us met is a story in and of itself
We have a show on YouTube called ‘A Life and a Story’ which chronicles the experiences of others whose lives have been touched by mental illness. We
made the front page of Reddit a few weeks ago after a young man wrote a submission letter through our website (SeaTreadStudios.com), and explained that he happened to see a link of ours on Reddit upon visiting a forum to say goodbye to everyone (he was going to jump from a radio tower that night). Instead of going through with the suicide, he watched our episodes; which gave him perspective and hope. I still keep in touch with him, and he fortunately he is getting the help that he needs. The last thing he wrote to me was “no matter how dark it gets, because I know it will, please never stop what you are doing.”
Last week I cycled to a depressive state once again. This came after being manic for about 4 glorious, superhuman months. The last time I crashed to the southern end of the pole I had no idea what was happening to me. It took me completely by surprise, sort of like being shot in the spine by an unknown gunman, and trying to crawl away while bleeding out.
The type of bipolar disorder that I have isn’t like the kind you see in movies, and unfortunately there are no days off from either the mania, or suicidal depression (when I am not fully conscious and able to fight, my subconscious haunts my brain with the most horrific images imaginable, all of which result in me dying. This makes sleeping very difficult).
But with the help of my rock of a wife, along with the rest of my family, I’ve been able to patch up my wounds and arm myself with the proper ammunition to take the first shot this time. I’m learning not to run from my thoughts, but instead to manipulate them to my advantage. So if suicide is going to constantly be on my mind, I might as well do something about it…in a positive way.
Training starts today at The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. I once spent an hour on this line while weeping like I’ve never wept before. Now I can be on the other side of the phone, as a volunteer, a survivor, an activist, a humanitarian, and a human. A human who is not defined by my mental illness, but rather by the human who is fighting it.
People like me need to know that they aren’t alone. Suicide rates continue to increase, and in a world with such profound advancements in technology and medicine, this is simply unacceptable. If there is one thing that I have learned in the last 3 months, it’s that people feel very alone in their suffering. We want to change that.
Thank you for your consideration