I’m 31. Finally I am diagnosed with bipolar disorder and I go on medication. Medication that stopped the voices I had heard all my life that I thought were just a part of being human and struggling through the day. Medication that, combined with classic disordered eating behaviors learned from having my food restricted over and over, left me twice the size I had been. Medication that saved my life.
I learned, though, that bipolar is an illness that is managed, not cured. That I would always be at risk for the risk-taking of mania, the bleak, suicidal cloud of depression. I learned that I’d have to be vigilant for the rest of my life. I learned that bipolar disorder of the type I have, left untreated, is most often a fatal disease. A terminal illness that ends in death by one’s own hand.
I’m forty-four years old, a successful Unitarian Universalist minister and Wiccan priestess, helping hundreds of people through writing, guidance, classes, worship and ritual leadership.
And on January 20, 2017, Donald Trump is inaugurated.
Despite my best efforts, and those of my family and friends, I go into a tailspin. I am taking my meds, and they are not saving me. Everywhere I look, I see despair, hatred, violence especially against people of color and many trans* people who are going unnamed and unknown. Everywhere I look, I see my own failures, my own lack of political capital. Everywhere I look I see my own inability to put my body on the line, to take to the streets as I did as a college student. Everywhere I look I see disappointment, disappointment, disappointment. Despair.
I become an individual victim of a national disease It was like a giant, societal blow to the head.
I come to believe that those closest to me would be better off without me. I truly believe that I am an albatross around the neck of those who love me. That they cannot truly love someone as broken, as fat, as hopeless as I.
I start pushing metal objects into my arms. I look at the knives in the house and finally, tearfully, miserably ask my wife to hide them from me. Knives, peelers, can openers. I can’t be trusted, I realize.
Thirty-eight years since my first suicidal thoughts, and I am back where I started.
On meds, and I’m back where I started.
Trying to keep routine, and I’m back where I started.
By spring, everything looks like a weapon. I consider how I might be able to get a gun. A gun! But why bother, when I can just break any of the beautifully framed pictures in my living room and use them to cut myself in earnest. My wrists, vertically along my arm, or even….well, you get the idea.
And that’s when I knew I really needed help.
I was desperate.
Everything was a weapon.
Everything. I could hurt myself, punish myself at least, with nearly anything. And glasses, crockery, windows, the glass in front of art, all of it a weapon.
And the idea of getting a gun lurked behind it all. And I knew that if I had a gun and ammunition, I was really and truly done for. There would be no half measures this time. No half measures. It would be over.
Carrie Fisher died.
Carrie Fisher, who had said that every day with bipolar disorder, every day you live and claim the right to that life is a victory, went down.
I finally admitted to my wife that I thought I needed to go to the hospital. Twenty-six years after that horrifying first hospitalization, I knew I couldn’t go on without help. I just wasn’t safe in my own house.
My wife feared to leave me alone in the house, and when I told her about the glasses, the pictures, all of it, we agreed that I needed go where I could get the most help or at least try to.
I wasn’t back where I had been because now I could ask for help and have some sense that I’d get it.
I spent six days at Unity Behavioral Health, with good care and kind people. I met beautiful people, both staff and patients, and am grateful for the help they gave. And I was more grateful to emerge alive and whole and connected to a system of support that would help me in the following months. A group of people surrounding me, helping me to come back out of that particular labyrinth, to return from that particularly harrowing underworld journey. I returned, slowly, so slowly, back to myself.
I am well.
I spent from January to July of this past year in a bleak depression, battling suicide every day, but eventually the fog lifted. Eventually, with the help of, yes, that hospitalization and the staff in that facility, my psychiatrist, dear friends, and my wife—Love in all its forms, most of all…
Eventually, with all that Love and a great deal of structure, rest, renewal, attention to meds and spiritual practice, I scrabbled and scratched and climbed slowly out of the pit I was in. I returned to believing in the loving presence of the Divine for myself, as well as for others.
I returned to self-compassion.
I returned to lifting my face to sun and rain.
I returned to knowing that there is more work left for me to do, and that no matter when I die or how, I will have done my best with the tools I have to hand, and that is all any of us can say.
And I returned, knowing that this scenario may happen, most likely will happen, again. I have a disorder, an illness, something to manage with scrupulous routine and structure, something insidious and terrifying, but something I can push against with an insistence on life every day.
I accept the grace of this Second Day, and every Second Day I will be given. I accept it with my head bowed, my heart bowed in gratitude.
I am grateful, so grateful, for every breath I take today. And here, in this moment, I take a few deep ones, feeling the gravity of what I have written to you. It is a lot. It is long. And if you have made it this far, you are a brave, kind, or desperate person.
And so I ask again:
Are you afraid for yourself? Are you afraid for someone you love? Someone you know?
That link has not only the long-standing national suicide hotline, but the possibility for live chat, if that is more helpful for you.
I am worth saving. I have always been worth saving. And by the grace of Love, I have been saved.
You are worth saving too. Always.