And then it came at me, like a burning arrow piercing my heart. His name came from my lips. I gasped, knowing in that moment what I had to do. I looked over the edge of the cliff and watched a stone fall from my foot’s movement– I took a deep breath, and closed my eyes.
The weekend started as typically as any other: I woke up, my heart raced, and my mind spiraled out of control. That had become my life– obsessed with something… no, someone. I lost my ability to discern between reality and the fiction I had created in my mind. It’s ok, he is going to call. CHECK YOUR PHONE AGAIN! He probably called. I knew better than that, but I was unable to detach from a the cycle of thinking that haunted my daily routines. In order to get my mind off of it, even temporarily, I would count steps, or sing the same phrase of music repeatedly… and not just for a few minutes, but all day (for days!). I was living in my own personal insanity, and it did not feel good, yet I attempted to exist in the world of the living, even though I felt half-dead.
So the morning began in that fashion, and I was was faced with a full day of nothing, no plans. I wanted to get out of my body, out of my head, so I made a decision: I want to go free-climbing. By myself! Not only did this seem like a good idea on that crisp November day, it seemed like a great idea! And once it was stuck in my head, much like a train that is bound to the tracks, there was no changing course.
I ran upstairs to ready myself for the journey, an hour-drive was ahead, so I packed a few snacks, layered some flannel over the thermal I was already wearing, added a jacket and sensible climbing boots, and decided that I also needed a hunting knife. Yes, I owned a hunting knife– it was gifted to me when I was a kid, and for some reason, I still had it. Now, it is important to point out, I AM NOT A HUNTER! I have never been a hunter– I don’t WANT to hunt. I NEVER WANTED to hunt… but those are the presents you get when you are of a particular gender living in a particular region of a particular Midwest state. The gendered indoctrination starts early everywhere, and it continues well into your teens and twenties. Hell, does it ever stop?! So, there I was all “butched” out, complete with a hunting knife… I was ready to go!
The drive passed by with ease. I was soon at my destination and parked my car, paid my permit fee to leave my car in an official park-sanctioned lot. I stood at the base of the cliff I was about to conquer, and I remember taking a selfie (above). “I volunteer tribute.” I captioned the photo with those words when I shared on social media that day. The look in my eyes haunts me to this day– and what was I volunteering for? Soon after posting the photo, I was then on the trail and soon grabbing protrusions of rock with my gloved hands and wedging my toes into crevices that were slightly dewy from the morning air and mild humidity. Once up the first cascade, I looked around and to my delight, there wasn’t a soul in view– I drank some water and looked down,
Not high enough.
Turning to the next incline, I proceeded in the same hasty manner that I began the day with, climbing until I reached another plateau. Something in me shifted– no longer was I there to get away from my thoughts– I was there to get away from the world, from life. I remember thinking, this is high enough, but I can go higher. I peered down the jagged little path I had just traversed, and instead of seeing just rock formations, I started to see an array of sharp objects below– a bed of large daggers I could land on when finally I met the base of the cliff.
As I started to continue my ascent, I saw something on the rocks– a little person. Was I hallucinating? Was someone really there? Something? I got closer– and my eyes were not playing tricks on me, but creating life where there was none? I was fabricating his existence. I got closer still, and decided to take a photo. I posted the following picture on my social media with the caption, “Oh hello, friend.”
That little figurine made an impression on me– I wanted to be that small and that high up. I called him my friend, because I wanted him to be… if only he could have spoken and intervened. Instead, I was careful not in interrupt his process and I let him be, standing there with his back to the cliff, and I carried on.
Climbing to the next prescipice, I was winded and starting to feel uneasy– it was high, and the ground and stream below me was getting more distant. A slight dizziness came over me, and I braced myself against the vertigo. In that moment, I took another break and sipped more water. It was refreshing and gave me just the boost I needed for what was to come.
Proceeding upward, slightly shaken and dazed, my feet became less sure, and my grip weakened with every inch I climbed. But I was stubborn and I continued onward, fading all the while. I took a moment, mid-climb, to assess my progress and my mental decline, at the time I wasn’t aware of how lost in my head I was. I was thinking, but it was too rapid, and too buried underneath negative thoughts and emotions. I was lost and wanted so badly to be found, but coudn’t even begin to find myself. It was then that I heard a voice– it was coming from below. What did it say? Who was it? Listening intently as if it would tell me what to do next, I leaned out from the rocks.
“… on the other side! No! Come this way!”
I leaned farther away from the stone, What did you say? Are you talking to me!? I glanced to see if I could spot the little green man I found along the way. He was nowhere in sight.
Then there was laughter followed by, “Ok! I’ll wait! Just don’t take so long!”
Wait? For what?! Am I taking too long? Ok… I will move faster. I turned to start climbing again when something caught my eye down below by the stream… a red jacket and hat. The voice was coming from there.
“Dad! Hurry! I don’t want to be late for dance practice!”
Where did they come from? A family of three was suddenly in view and I was scarily close to dropping myself on top of them. Regaining my physical stability, my mental stability continued to spiral and I watched the family as they passed by the stream below, dangerously close to the protruding daggers that I studied and admired earlier on my ascent. They were lovely– not fighting, caring for each other, in the presence of loved ones. All things that I didn’t have in that moment– things that I had led myself to believe did not exist in my world. I was alone… at least I was that day.
After they were out of view and earshot, I found a nice sturdy flatbed of rock sit on and dangled my legs over the edge– any mother present would tell their child to back away from the ledge!You’re too close! Occasionally dropping a rock to watch it bounce down the rugged terrain, I was suddenly very thoughtful. It was in that moment, during the free-fall of that rock, that I recall feeling so clear-headed. My destiny was that of the stone– the stone I had just dropped down the watched plummet to its rocky landing.
“I want to die.”
The words escaped from my mouth before I could censor myself. And then it came at me, like a burning arrow piercing my heart. His name came from my lips. I gasped, knowing in that moment what I had to do. I looked over the edge of the cliff and watched a stone fall from my foot’s movement– I took a deep breath, and closed my eyes. The world suddenly seemed very quiet, I could hear every pebble as it settled into the ground and every breath of wind that rustled the leaves around me. In the distance below, I could hear the slight trickle of the stream– and then I stood. My breath deepening, the pain never leaving my eyes. I gasped and wheezed, I was ready. I breathed in an out a few times, bracing myself for the dive. As I inhaled and exhaled a few more times, I was struck by the overwhelming sense of fear I felt inside me– I was too weak to take one step forward– I couldn’t even do that right. No wonder no one is here with me! I am such a fuck-up!
I steeled myself one more time… all I had to do was lean forward, and then it would be over: the pain, the discontent, the yearning.
But I couldn’t.
Some force inside of me prevented me from moving my body. I knelt down on the rock… and wept, my tears adding to the already damp surface of the foundation that was holding me up. After spending an indeterminate amount of time on the cold surface, I mustered the energy to stand and begin my descent. My mind was still spinning, but on top of the already anxious state that I was experiencing, I was also reckoning with a sense of defeat– my will was not strong enough; at least that’s what I was telling myself.
I arrived back at the car and made my way back to the city, wondering what had come over me– I was tired and I wanted to lay down. The closer I got to home, the more anxious I felt; I knew that in the city, I would be closer to him, and there was more pain in proximity. Once back in the comfort of my own space, I sat there, trying to relax and clear my head. I moved from upstairs to downstairs; this pattern was on repeat for a while until finally I found myself looking at the jacket I was wearing while climbing.
The hunting knife…
Rifling through the pockets until I found the leather case in which it was hiding, I opened the sheath and pulled it out. It was folded in half, so I studied it for a moment. The knife was never used for anything– it had never cut through a string or a branch, much less flesh or something more to its purpose. I opened the knife, no longer was it folded at its hinge; now the blade was shining in front of me like a small vanity mirror. Peering at myself in the reflection, I didn’t see someone I wanted to know. I no longer knew that person– I saw those pained eyes looking back at me. No longer wanting to feel the way I did, I was through with wondering if he would call. If only my pain was isolated to that one small detail, but it was much greater, and was rooted so much deeper than a simple phone call that wasn’t coming in– but I couldn’t excavate deeper than the surface. Not then. Simply staring at the blade lost its luster, and without intellectualizing the action, I was soon dragging the shiny metal across my forearm. First lightly, to test the device and the sensation. Then I pressed harder only to find mild discomfort. It was dull! It was never sharpened and therefore didn’t have the fulfilling sensation for which I was hoping. Surely, the point of the blade would at least scratch me, so I held it like Sharon Stone holding an ice pick in Basic Instinct. Rather than stabbing like Catherine Tramell before me, I pulled. Finally seeing some results, welts forming, I was finally getting somewhere. My new task was consuming my thoughts, and I was feeling something new: fascination. I was fascinated with the new experience, and I wanted more.
I ran to the kitchen to find something sharper– there were so many options, but being aware that this was a shared kitchen, I didn’t want to sully any of the sharps with my DNA. In no time at all, I had become a conscientious cutter. Returning to the hunting knife, I decided to press harder. I finally started to see some oxygenated life…
And that scared me. What am I doing?! I put down the knife and picked it up numerous times, resuming my activity before interrupting myself again and again. The thoughts of silent phones and missed calls became more distant, and I was suddenly hyper-aware of my welted and bloody forearm. I wept. Openly. For no one. For nothing.
I turned off all the lights and sat in the darkness, afraid of what I might do next. The silence was thick, and I knew that I had a moment before deciding on my next self-destructive action. Reaching for my phone, I searched for a the nearest hospital and dialed their number. After navigating an automated system that seemed endless, I finally was speaking to a human. The conversation was short, but long enough for me be able to convey that I was scared. “I don’t trust myself tonight.” The gentle voice on the other end of the call guided me through what was going to happen. “I am sending a taxi; they are going to come get you and bring you to the emergency room. When you get here, just tell them your name, and they will take care of you.”
The phone call, which felt like a great feat in interrupting a destructive progression, led me to pack a bag with a few belongings and I was soon in a car, on the way to the hospital. Any pleasantries I might normally have exchanged with the driver were erased from my being that night– I had a perfunctory interaction with my driver; I couldn’t muster up a smile, much less a thoughtful dialogue. I was exhausted. By life. And by pure emotion.
When I arrived at the hospital, I walked through the sliding door, and walked up to the bulletproof glass, “Hi. I am here.” The triage nurse smiled at me and said, “What’s your name, hon’?” I told her, and she made a note, “Ok, glad you made it. The officer,” she pointed at an armed police officer who was standing next to me at the window, “will take you back, but he’s going to need to search your bag. Is that ok?” I agreed and was on my way back– my bag was taken and I was told I would get it back later, I was wanded to make sure I had no metal on me, and then patted down, to make sure I had nothing else on me that could be used to harm myself. After I was done with security, I was put in a private room, with nothing, except for a bed, and some padding on the wall. There was nothing else– fluorescent lighting and stillness would be the only thing in my immediate future. After some time, the nurse came in to see me and asked me what was going on. I filled her in on the details of my day, she looked at my arm and cleaned up my wounds, and then said that a doctor would be in to see me shortly. I tossed and turned and stirred in the sterile room, then after an hour or two, a doctor came in to check on me. He was a psychiatrist. Young. Again, I was asked what was going on– after explaining my situation, he said, “We have a couple of options, you could go home– I am not going to force you to stay here– you came on your own fruition after all. So, you can go home… Or, I can get you checked in to the psychiatric floor, but it may be a while. I think we have a room, but I need to verify. So, it’s up to you.”
Wanting to hide and run away and never be found again sounded ideal… but I knew that I didn’t arrive at the hospital because I was doing great. So, without allowing my own ego to talk me out of the reason I came to the hospital in the first place, “Um. I think I need a little help. I really don’t trust my brain at this point. And I came here because I am scared. Of what I️ might do.”
He looked at me with hope (or something different from the oh you poor thing look I had become accustomed to), “Ok. Great. I will start the paperwork. Sit tight.”
Left alone again, my brain– the same brain that, for years, tricked me into thinking that I did not have a drinking problem– started to talk me out of any plea for help I had just made: You’re so dramatic. Get over yourself! Get out of here now before they lock you up. I fought with myself internally for the next 30 minutes, undulating between the options that lay before me… but somehow, clarity continued to win and I knew that I was in that hospital for a reason– the reason was still so unclear to me, but I wasn’t feeling well. So I stayed.
After getting settled into my room on the psychiatric floor of the hospital, I changed my clothes into the hosptial appointed scrubs, and was allowed to continue wearing my t-shirt and cardigan. Of course I was wearing a cardigan. I was then asked about the medications I was taking– I let the doctor know that in the past month, I had been started on a regimen of a medication my psychiatrist at the time called the Cadillac of Antidepressants. I should have known then that he was maybe not the best fit for me, but he was the expert, so I began taking the prescription. I let the doctor at the hospital know that I hadn’t missed a dose since I started, and that it didn’t seem to be working– in fact, I told him that if felt like it might be intensifying whatever I was feeling: loss, despair, hopelessness. Oh and, wanting to stop the pain– permanently– through whatever means necessary.
“If it’s ok, I think I would like to try something else. A different medication,” I said to the doctor– or at least thought it. I don’t actually recall if I uttered those words, but he said in return to my thoughts and potential words, “I am going to keep you on that drug for now. It should be working. It may just take some time.”
There was something lacking with the interaction… perhaps it was empathy. A coldness existed where I wanted warmth, and instead of fighting anymore, I said, “Ok. Sounds good.”
As he made a few more notes in my chart, “Is there anything I can get you?” I smiled, “My phone? I would like to make a few calls.” I was informed that there were no phones allowed on the floor for safety reasons, but that once my stuff was up here in the locker, I would be able to peruse my phone for numbers and then return it to the nurse– but I would have to be monitored while accessing the information on my phone. “There are two phones on the floor, one at each end. You just dial 9 for an outside line.”
I sheepishly thanked him and I was soon left alone in my room, not much bigger than a closet, but with a private bathroom and a window. It was evening and I hadn’t eaten, but I wasn’t hungry. The nurse stopped by and recommended that I eat something, but all I wanted to do was sleep– I laid down just to rest for a moment, not ready to explore the floor and see whom I would call my neighbors for the next few days. My head fell to the pillow.
The next thing I knew, I was awoken by a nurse. It was dark outside, “What time is it?” She looked at her watch, “About 11:30pm. Have somewhere you need to be?” She smiled at me. I mustered a harrumph and a smile. “No. Is it still Saturday?” Her smile persisted as she took my blood pressure, “Yes. It’s still Saturday. Listen, I need you to drink a little water, just so I feel better. Can you do that for me?” I sat up, groggily, “Of course.” I drank a full glass of water. “See. You’re thirsty.”
“Thank you,” I laid back down and closed my eyes.
A blood-curdling scream pierced my dream state and I abruptly sat up in bed. I glanced beyond the door to my room (that I wasn’t allowed to close) and was reminded of my whereabouts. Feeling discomforted for only a moment, I knew that I was safe. I slept.
Light spilled through my curtain-less window in my room, and I was soon awake. It was early; the sky had the gorgeous glow of early sunshine. I stood and stretched– having been in bed for a long time, I was sore. Meandering outside the confines of my room, I explored the floor– meeting people with various states of sedation. It was a co-ed floor, so men and women chatted about things that ranged from the banal to the grandiose. I found the dining area and ate some assortment of hospital fruits and starches. It was fine, and overwhelming, so I soon retired back to my room.
As I sat down on the edge of the bed, a nurse popped her head in and said, “There’s a group meeting I need you at in 20 minutes, ok?” Confused, I looked at her, “What kind of meeting?”
She calmly said, “A group one.” Then laughed a little. “It’s a support group,” she used air-quotes, “you can share what’s on your mind if you feel up to it.”
“Yeah, thanks. I think I’ll pass.”
She stepped into the room and dropped her head to look at me, “Look. You’re here for a reason, right? I don’t need to know that reason, but what you need to know… is that it won’t just go away. Participating in the activities is going to be key in starting to reckon with it. So… I’ll see you in 17 minutes in the common area.” She smiled, turned, and was out the door, alerting my next-door neighbor of the meeting.
I arrived to the meeting on-time and sat there with my arms crossed. I listenend for the next hour, not wanting to be vulnerable. People were angry. There was shouting and crying– there was laughter mixed in, but there was a lot of pain. I watched people’s faces contort into various shapes of grief and suffering, and in doing so, was able to access some perspective about my situation. Maintaining my silence, it wasn’t my place to speak. It wasn’t a competition, but my pain was nothing comparatively. Sure, it was real, but it was not so crushing. My brain led me to believe that it was, but I could begin to rebuild if I accessed the pain and approached it from a different perspective.
That meeting was the moment when I realized that I didn’t want to isolate myself from the pain and from the others suffering on the floor– my comrades. I wanted to be amongst them, because… well, I WAS one of them. I started talking to others, but mostly… I listened. I listened to a heavily sedated “Shelley” tell me, through strings of saliva falling from her mouth, about her experience with homelessness and intimate partner violence. She shared with me details I wished no one ever had to experience. I talked to “Mac” who was so tired of “being the problem” everywhere he went– he got blamed for everything, even when he didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. He also heard voices, but the medications were helping. I attended art classes where I made a t-shirt with glittery green fabric paint and a therapy calendar where I used images from magazines to highlight who and what I wanted to be. I started to make plans again– I didn’t want to end it all; I wanted to thrive.
I was only there for about 65 hours, but it was enough to get an outlook adjustment– I didn’t go to the hospital that day because I was seeking attention, I went because I lost track of myself. I lost track of who I wanted to be and who I had already become. I allowed my shame and anxiety spiral to take hold of me– my alcoholic/addict brain took over and I had to reckon with the fact that I had been white-knuckling my existence instead of living a sober lifestyle. I created drama where there was none, and I was very unforgiving of circumstance, positioning myself in the center of everyone’s world. I was unable to see past myself, in order to make sense of the complete picture that was laid out in front of me. It took me some time to wrap my head around that– I wasn’t fixed over night… but instead, I started a new round of therapy and found a new psychiatrist to work through some of these issues.
At my first session with the new psychiatrist, I remember explaining to her my situation with the “Cadillac” and the hospitalization, and I distinctly recall her sage words, “It sounds like you have been struggling and I am sorry to hear that. And let me tell you, that “Cadillac” isn’t doing shit for you.” I laughed; I couldn’t help but laugh. I didn’t understand why the previous doctor kept me on it, so I was thankful for her candor. The new doctor started me on a new regimen that miraculously reduced my vigilant mind– my obsessive thoughts were far less controlling and I was working with my therapist on changing my patterns of thought. The pictures and rhythms in my head became less circular and more expansive; I was no longer trapped in a cycle. I was roaming free, mentally, and I could process things with a more discerning mind.
Sure, I wasn’t perfect and I would have moments of rupture when I could no longer contend with the reality of the situation, but that is also human. There is no prescription for that. People will constantly surprise you– no one ALWAYS does any one thing. Even the most grounded individuals will shock you with their behavior from time to time, because… well, that’s what humans do.
Being human used to be my least favorite thing in the world– to be vulnerable and aware of mortality? It sounded dreary and grim. Today, however, it is less of a task to be and feel human. As the glacier that enshrouds my heart slowly melts, I am finding that mortality is not a curse at all, but more of a blessing. I am learning that I am indeed “hashtag blessed.”