A Near Miss
It is a little bit odd how most of my posts the last few days have been about my struggles, my past, my mental illness and my emotional pain. I don’t necessarily love writing about these things. As a matter of fact, I never talk about these things with anyone because I don’t want people’s focus to be on my weak points. I call it negative attention: when what you become in people’s eyes is someone who is ill, who is struggling. And from that, it follows that they forget your other sides, your talents, what you are good at. Eventually, they will leave you alone, throw empty cans of sympathy at you and your credibility has been diminished. All you become is the “sick person”.
I am a firm believer in that no one is their illness, I just have trouble applying that logic to my own situation. There is always more to someone than their struggles. I personally find people who have been through extreme emotional pain, to be more empathetic (which is not the same as sympathetic, by the way), to be better listeners and to be more interesting. They have stories to tell that don’t entertain, but that make you feel!
Still, writing about my own issues is hard. But if only one person can relate, or if I can make one person reflect upon their own life, then that is enough for me. Maybe they will feel less alone, or more grateful for what they have, or more compassionate towards a loved one struggling. So instead of avoiding the topics that make people uncomfortable, I guess it is good that I choose to talk about them. I mean, this is a sexblog, a taboo breaking thing on many levels, why would I shy away from a topic that makes others uncomfortable? Right! I shouldn’t shy away from it. So here you go. Here is my story involving a near miss in my life. Trigger warning: there will be mention of mental illness, trauma and suicide.
The best years of my life
The years 2008 to 2010 were the best years of my life. It felt like I had finally reached a point where I had managed to turn things around. I had a focus, I was in good health, I was in a loving relationship, I had friends and I was acing my academic endeavors. I had lost 60 kg all on my own, with the help of exercise and healthy eating. I liked myself. I liked my life. There were dark and stressful moments, sure, but they didn’t overshadow the happy moments and the pride that I felt about what I had accomplished. I was happy. I felt like a normal, functioning human being. My past had no effect on me. I didn’t know I had mental illness. I felt absolutely okay. Oh, not even that, I felt like I could conquer the world!
The amount of sleep that I needed got lesser as time went by. In the beginning of 2010 I was maybe down to three to four hours a night. But that didn’t affect my ability to function. I exercised an hour every day. I attended classes at university every day, I studied more than eight hours a day. And still, I found time to meet up with friends, to go clubbing, to indulge in life. A weird restlessness crept up on me though. It was uncomfortable and sometimes made me very snappy. I couldn’t be still. I needed to do, to talk, to fuck, to try things out. I made a few impulsive decisions that almost messed things up for me, I was just very overconfident.
As the summer of that year approached, the restlessness became worse. I felt like constantly on edge. Like there were bees buzzing in my brain 24/7. Before the summerbreak from university, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I could focus that energy on studying, on classes, on putting effort into my academic career. But once that kind of distraction was gone, the buzzing became kind of unsettling and uncomfortable.
I went to visit my family in Germany during that summer and that became triggering. I was on edge now, being around my father, seeing how he treated me sister, my mother, me. We were all adults. still he had that incredible power over us. I spent a lot of time in my old room, in bed, shaking. I didn’t understand why. I just wanted to get away. Weird memories popped up, memories that seemed wrong, or untrue. I didn’t want to be around my family but I was stuck with them for two weeks.
Panic at my disco!
Back in Sweden, I tried to return to enjoying life. I was at my friend Adam’s place one afternoon and we were watching a football game (soccer for you North Americans), drinking beer and having a good time. But all of the sudden, I felt dizzy, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, like I had a huge lump in my throat. I started to cold sweat, I was shaking. But instead of telling my friend how I was feeling, I just quickly excused myself and went to the subway station, and headed home. That train ride was the worst train ride in my whole life. I thought I was dying. I was so scared. The feelings and symptoms eventually subsided. I thought they were just some random thing, maybe I hadn’t eaten enough, maybe the beer didn’t agree with me in the summerheat.
Once university started again, I had another one of those attacks. And another one. And yet another one. I thought I was having a heart attack at one point, so my boyfriend took me to the ER. There, they did a lot of tests but didn’t find anything wrong with me physically. Instead they suggested that I might be suffering from panic attacks. After some research, I found something called internet CBT, where I could do Cognitive Behavioural Therapy online. I went to the assessment appointment where they diagnosed me with Panic Disorder. I was hopeful, the therapy seemed easy enough, there were steps to follow, it was supposed to be only 12 weeks long.
The dark fog emerged
Three weeks later, one of my best friends died. Her name was Jenny and she was only 29 years old. She died of heart complications that an autoimmune condition caused her. She was a mother of two little kids, had just gotten married and had been so hopeful about her future. The news hit me hard. I was stuck in crying spells that lasted hours. I broke down during class. I didn’t sleep anymore. The panic attacks got worse and my energy levels dropped. I couldn’t believe that she was gone, and life started to feel meaningless. If someone as good as her just died, what was the meaning of life anyway? Where was the fairness?
I was starting to have suicidal thoughts. I didn’t want to anymore. My life felt over. I couldn’t function anymore. I felt like a burden to everyone. My energy levels were so low, I had to skip classes because I wasn’t able to get out of bed. During one night of panic, anxiety and weird memories popping up, my boyfriend decided to get me to the ER. He was worried about me. Sitting there, everything felt unreal. I didn’t want to end my life. I just didn’t want anything anymore. They gave me a couple of sedatives and sent me back home.
Someone from the internet psychiatry contacted me because they were worried about me, as my answers to their daily mood questionnaires indicated that I was severely depressed. I got prescribed antidepressants and was put on a sick leave break from my studies. I had just started an internship at an art’s center, helping out with an art exhibition. I managed to get my work done there but then dropped out of the internship (still go the credits for it because I finished the work, lucky).
I had one more class to finish and I was stubborn. I attended the class as much as possible, although things became increasingly blurry. The sideeffects of the antidepressants and the sleeping medication made it even harder to focus. And I didn’t feel any positive effects from them. I went into darker and darker places in my mind.
One day at the beginning of December. It was around 11 AM, I was on my way home from class. I was sitting on the subway, and I couldn’t stop crying. In public. I was shaking. I felt an overwhelming hopelessness and sadness. I didn’t feel like anything was ever going to get better. Like what I was experiencing was going to last forever. I missed Jenny. I felt like I lost my future because I couldn’t function anymore. I wanted to die. I didn’t want to live anymore.
I wanted to get out of the subway, wait at the station, for the next train. And jump in front of it. I managed to stay on the train until my stop. There, I sat on a bench, and held onto it. Train after train passed the station. I wanted to jump, but my hands held onto that bench. I was still crying. Still shaking.
I walked home. Took my shoes and coat off. I sat down on the bed and started crying uncontrollably. And then everything became blurry. A weird calmness embraced my body and mind. I wasn’t crying anymore. I could make this stop. Part of me, got really scared. I felt like I was in control now, but I was the least in control than I had ever been in my whole life. Nothing around me seemed real anymore, it was like a film. I walked over to the window. We were living on the sixth floor, and when I looked out, I could see the balconies of the building next to ours. I climbed up on the windowsill. Cold marble.
The solution was there now. I didn’t have to feel anymore. It could just stop. I stood up, on the tiny thin piece of marble. I held on to the window frame. One step. One tiny step. Just one. I felt the cold winter wind. But it didn’t awaken me out of my state. Instead it felt like an invitation, it would carry me down. It would help me. One step.
Then I felt a sudden pull. Someone was hugging my belly really hard and pulled me down, back inside. My boyfriend was yelling. I didn’t hear a word. I was still in the film. And I was calm, incredibly calm. He held onto me. I wasn’t allowed to move. Tears were running down my face again. I slowly came back to myself, stared at the open window. And I got overwhelmingly scared. Scared of myself. I had almost killed myself.
My boyfriend called the psychiatric emergency room. A nurse talked to me on the phone, I didn’t hear a word she was saying. I was sobbing uncontrollably now. We were told to come in. I was back in the film. It wasn’t real. Nothing felt real. My boyfriend was crying. I got assessed by two psychiatrists. I don’t remember anything from my conversations with them. They admitted me to the hospital. My first stay at a psychiatric unit. Two weeks later I was allowed to return home. Many more admissions followed. I had almost killed myself and my life was never the same after that one afternoon.
Jenga! – And everything fell apart
In 2010, everything just fell apart for me. And I didn’t know why. In retrospect, it all makes sense. I lost the functioning me. And it was not my fault. I suffer from bipolar disorder and I was going through an intense hypomania episode. The restlessness, the ability to ace everything. It wasn’t a healthy me. Hypomania and mania are always followed by a crash into depression. The restlessness becomes overwhelming and turns into anxiety. That is why my panic attacks started. At the same time, my trauma caught up with me. The things that I had been able to push away, to compartmentalize for most of my life, were now pushing forward instead. The death of my friend made things worse for me, and the crash into depression was inevitable. I didn’t know I had bipolar disorder. I didn’t know about the severity of my trauma. I couldn’t have made any other decisions. I didn’t know better. I have attempted suicide more than 20 times in my life, but most times, I was not in any real danger. But this one time, it was close. Too close.
The worst of it all was feeling scared of myself. I was afraid of me. I thought I was in control. But I was out of control. My mental health (and physical health) went downhill and I have never recovered. But I am more aware now. I still get suicidal, and I still have moments where I can say I am not safe. I am not safe for myself. But I know how to handle it. I know where to turn for help. I know it will not last forever. Better times are always around the corner.
My friend Jupiter Grant wrote about her experiences with grief, cancer, depression and suicide as well. Read her inspiring post here.