Friday, October 12, 2012

How I found hope

Tonight, with a panel of five other people who live with mental illnesses, I spoke to the NAMI Pinellas education meeting attendees. We told bits of our stories, how we got sick, how we knew we were sick, when we got diagnosed, what led us to NAMI. We talked about homelessness, state hospitals, other psych hospitals, jail, abuse, hearing voices, cutting ourselves, attempting suicide, getting arrested, hallucinating, isolation, feeling lost. And we talked about hope. We have hope because we are in recovery. NAMI spreads hope.

When I was looking for hope, I would go to bookstores, and try to find answers to my problems. When the internet came about, I would go online and try to find them, try to find people who understood, try to find solutions, try to diagnose myself, try to find reasons to live. When the poems in the books, and the self help sections of entire bookstores, and the internet didn't have the answers, when nobody really seemed to be offering hope, I found hope within myself.

I think that is where it comes from. Nobody can give it to you. I want to give it to others, but the most I can do is tell you it's possible to find it, and that I found bits of it through lots of other people and lots of books and lots of websites and therapy and psychiatry visits and hospital stays. I found it through many ways, but most importantly, I found it. We all need it, but I don't think everyone knows it exists. I'm on Facebook support groups for Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorder, and there are a lot of hopeless people in those groups. A lot of people who think they've tried all the meds, and nothing works, and they might as well be dead.

I used to be one of those people. I wasted a good 2/3 of my life wanting to die. I used to think about death, long for death, contemplate how I would meet death. I used to drive my car to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and think about jumping off the top like so many people do. I used to stare at pills longingly. I would hear the nearby train whistle in my dreams, and wish I could be lying on the track. I cut myself up with razors, and knives. I swallowed pills, and more pills to overdose. I tried to drive over the edge of the bridge. I bought a gun, bought bullets, went to a shooting range, learned how to shoot it, and held it, loaded, in my mouth.

But I didn't pull the trigger. Some part of me didn't want to die. And if you are ever in that dark, lonely cell of isolation feeling like there is no light, no end to the tunnel, no way out and thinking no one cares, I can tell you that I have been there, and there is a way out, and people do care. You have to find them. You have to find the people who can offer you hope. You have to find survivors in recovery who can tell you that it gets better. And you have to search deep within yourself to find a reason to go on living. Sometimes I would write them down. I would put a list of reasons on slips of paper in a box, and take it with me wherever I went.

Heck, when I started this blog I was totally suicidal. The blog was first titled Suicidal Yet Sane, because I didn't think I was mentally ill. I just didn't know. Many people just don't know. Many people do know and never talk about it. The silence that enshrouds mental illness, the deafening stigma that is all around us is so heavy and so strong and so big and so all-encompassing, it threatens our lives. Tens of  thousands of people die by suicide each year becaues of that silence. Because no one is talking about mental illness. No one is talking about it but those of us who have the illnesses ourselves and write blogs, or write books, or speak on panels, or tell our coworkers and our friends, "This is what I lived through". We have to talk about it, because that is the only way to defeat the silence. That is the only way things are ever going to change.

Florida ranks 49th or 50th in mental health services funding throughout the United States, and that is pathetic. A legislator this year wants to cut the budget that we do have, small that it is, in half. Not double it, but cut it in half. The reason people can even talk about doing things like that is because NOBODY IS TALKING ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS.

Well this is Mental Illness Awareness Week. You are now reading my blog about my mental illness. We are talking about it. We are making progress. Please, talk about it some more. Refer people to NAMI or Mind.org, or Bring Change 2 Mind. Refer people to the advocacy organization in your country. Post your blogs where you talk about mental illness. When I was looking for hope, I found people who talked about suicide, and not a lot of people who talked about getting past the urge to die. We exist! Let's talk about it.

I don't want to die anymore. On my worst days, I may think about death fleetingly, but I don't want to die. I've created a life I halfway like. And I don't want it to end right now. I'm not ready to go yet. That's a lot to say, coming from someone who used to agonize over which method of suicide would be most effective. We don't have to die by the tens of thousands every year. We don't have to die in vain. We can live. We can find hope, we can talk about our truths, and we can go on.

Don't give in to the urge to feel sorry for yourself and say, "fuck it all". Don't give in to the urge to isolate and make yourself more lonely than you already are. Don't give in to the urge to be ashamed because society told you that you were never supposed to talk about your close escapes. Talk about it. Join NAMI, or some other organization. Become a public speaker. Write a book. Write a blog. Create a website. Volunteer. Tell your story to your friends. Tell your family. If you find the right people to tell, they will listen to you and they will not look down on you because you are a survivor. You, my friend, made it to the other side. You did not die. You are reading this blog because you want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Pat yourself on the back and smile at that. We are all suicidal no more. Put that urge to give up and die back on the shelf beneath your ancient encyclopedias, and get out your journal, or your blog, and start writing. Write for hope. Write hope. Give yourself hope. Cultivate hope. We must. For there is no other option.

So that is what I want to do with my life, to somehow, in some way, give hope to others who have suffered or are suffering now. Because I know about the dark side, and I've been there, and even now I'm somewhat still in it, but I also know that there is survival and there is hope. A woman named Chris who was on the panel with me tonight, looked at me after I finished talking and she said, "You are a survivor." And I looked at her and said, "We are both survivors, because you are too."

Be a survivor, not a statistic.

It's Mental Illness Awareness Week. Let's create some awareness now.

I found hope in NAMI. NAMI gives me hope. The National Alliance on Mental Illness quite frankly saves lives. And I would not have the life I have today with the meaning that it has to me, without that organization. My family really didn't give me hope. My friends didn't either. But NAMI did. And I urge you to support NAMI, and to find your local NAMI if you live in the U.S. or the group that exists in your country, if you live outside the U.S. because we need to band together and create a ribbon of hope.

There is an AIDS quilt, and there are Breast Cancer Walks, and there are telethons for Muscular Dystrophy. What is being done on a national level or an international level to raise awareness about ALL MENTAL ILLNESSES?? Not enough. So it starts with us. We must find hope for ourselves and we must spread that hope to others, and create awareness, and educate, and support each other. Today.

4 comments:

bipolarmoms said...

This is such a powerful post. It brought back vivid memories of that sense of hopelessness and the obsession with wanting to die. You have an incredible message. Only someone who's been there can understand what it feels like, and really give the next desperate person hope. Keep blogging and keep advocating. You don't know how big a difference you're making.

beetrootsoup said...

Fantastic post Jen. You are so passionate for the cause. A few months ago I began frequenting a site called The Suicide Project because, after a grinding 16 month long depression (I'm bipolar with episodes of psychosis)I was thinking obsessively about how to do myself in.

I came out of the depression, finding it cheered me up in some way to know I was not alone, but stuck around there for awhile, trying to pass on some of my newly-acquired hope and offer support to those who were still desperate and despairing.

I felt burnt-out with all the despair fairly quickly though, and after a few months I just didn't want to go on there at all. I discovered your site after you left a comment on my blog, and the title and what you wrote about just resonated with me really deeply. I too was 'suicidal no more'.

You are definitely a role model Jen. Thank you for raising your voice to speak up for those of us who struggle to live with mental illness. I have always thought that the more open we can be about it, the better for everyone.

Zoe x

Kate Kiernan said...

I'm with you all the way Jen. Talking and writing about our experience with mental illness is a very powerful way to detach from the stigma that exists while educating others and giving support to and learning from fellow sufferers. It's the way we can each do our part to prevent so many suicides. It just takes someone to give enough to stop and listen or read what others have to say. And what we have to say is that we can survive and we can find happiness, no matter how far down we've gone, we can get up by working at our recovery. We've had a dim prognosis for severe mental illness for so very long. It's past time to change that. Thanks for writing an inspiring post Jen!

Terri Evan said...

Im here for you too. thanks.

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