It took a lot of deliberating before I decided to follow through with this post.
Today, as many of you know, is World Suicide Prevention Day, which is just as sobering as it sounds. My dear friend Jessica Fortunato has an excellent post on the matter on her weblog, and I will leave that link for any of you who need to hear her message. I do not quite have any eloquent words of wisdom to offer, so I will do what I do best. I will tell you a story.
I have suffered from depression and anxiety for some time now. As a teenager, I saw a therapist as I struggled with the classic parent/child issues one has coming from a broken home. My grand solution to my problems was to run off and wed someone nine years my senior at the ripe old age of eighteen. Remarkably enough, my problems still followed me to Minnesota, where I fled.
My eldest son was born when I was just shy of nineteen. His younger brother followed only fourteen months later. I split my time between parenting and working with no college education and fell into a funk, at the age of twenty, which reminded me I had once been a bright student with a promising future. That was when the panic attacks started. The world seemed to implode around me, as my younger son was not developing properly and our financial situation was an erratic mess of hills and valleys. We moved twice along the way, first to Arizona, then to my home state of Pennsylvania, before landing in South Carolina and staying there. After a successful round of medication therapy, the panic attacks went away.
Or, at least, for a little while they did.
My girls were born when I was later into my twenties. By that time, my marriage had sustained a small revival after a few shaky years in-between. I became embroiled in religious studies in some effort to understand more about this world, mortality, and morality and it helped for a long time. But while my spiritual convinctions hold true to this day, losing myself in years of theological study did nothing more than disillusion me further and my mental health began to deteriorate once again. My younger daughter developed spinal issues. My marriage sustained several fatal wounds. My ex became secretive about her private life and at the apex of all of this, just as I found some comfort in picking up an old hobby and starting to write the Vampire Flynn books…
I had a nervous breakdown.
I have recited the story ad nauseum to the people who know me best. Flynn was not exactly a hit with my conservative Baptist church. A witch hunt commenced fueled by an internet stalker who sent copies of my rough novels to any religious person of authority in my life, informing them they had a wolf among their sheep. It is difficult to explain to someone who has never been entrenched in a very strict, close community, but ostracization on the basis of ignorance will cause you to lose all sense of your own identity. This time, when the panic attacks returned, it spiraled me into a pit from which I have still been crawling out of, nearly five years later.
My marriage shattered. I returned home to Pennsylvania. I wound up with my children after a halfhearted custody dispute (my ex preferred freedom in the end) and was forced to live with my mother. One night, as I spoke with my now ex-girlfriend, sitting in my mother’s dining room, I fell apart. My children asleep, the room pitch black, the glow of my laptop the only light on in the room. I sank into gut twisting sobs and wanted it all to end.
She yelled at me, unable to believe she was hearing what I was saying, but I only continued to cry my heart out. What use had my life been to me thus far? What had it yielded? I was a loser. Nearly thirty at the time. Four children to whom I had to explain the apathy of one parent, and the mental stead of the other… and two of them are disabled. No job. No future. Nearly all my friends gone. Mired in depression. Hopeless. Worthless. If she had not been on the phone with me, having her own dramatic episode over my unraveling, I am almost certain I would have rifled through my mother’s medicine cabinet and let God decide my fate.
But I fell asleep. I woke in the morning. I helped my children get ready for school.
And I took a deep breath.
While my ex-girlfriend and I were on shaky ground which would lead to a break up a few weeks later, I had met an incredible friend. A fellow writer. He spoke to me just as much as my ex-girlfriend and while her emotions were often a tumult, he was a calming sanctuary. He lived nearby, in New Jersey at the time, and was planning a move into Philadelphia while I was stuck up in Bethlehem, Pa. I found myself leaning on him a lot in those days and twice he drove almost two hours to visit me. I never wanted him to leave. We had drinks with a few mutual online friends during one of these meetings. He stayed with me until the wee small hours of the morning and spoke to me and my brother before sheepishly departing for home. I was able to finally move my children into our own place and he visited again, in August of 2009.
He spent the entire weekend with me.
And by the end of it, we kissed.
I still remember lying with him, reflecting on the surreal twists and turns which brought the two of us together. Both of us laughing, holding each other, and finally putting words to the emotions we had been experiencing since starting to write together. He held my hand through the next year, traveling as often as possible to steal weekends together with me, and finally helped me move down into Philadelphia with him. Two disabled children, four children total. A partner who is often three steps shy of a collapse into the mental ward, and he still holds my hand and patiently helps me take one step forward at a time. My children are much calmer and well-adjusted than they were two years ago. And I have made slow, but steady, strides in the quest to reclaim my identity.
I still have debilitating panic attacks. And the panic disorder has blossomed into full scale hypochondria. I spend at least an hour each day convincing myself the aches and pains of every day life (and, admittedly, a lingering cold as of late) are not bent on killing me and it is a nightmare, having to battle the mental monsters, and emerge victorious at the end of it all. But there are four small (and sadly, not-so-small any longer) beings who continue to look to me for support. They bring a smile to my face with every embrace and every “I Love You” they give me.
And when I lie down beside my partner, and rest my head on his chest, there is an arm draped around me which keeps me safe, at times even from myself. Life is not easy. It is not tame and takes no prisoners. It is a daily fight, but in the end, it is a fight worth waging. Every night, I fall asleep. I wake in the morning. I tend to my children and I take a deep breath. I thank God for my partner. For my children. For my friends.
I am loved.
And I am not ready to give up yet.