Below you’ll find a (modified) version of a letter I wrote after a suicide attempt in March. Before you get too worried, know that I’m doing much better these days. I have over 100 days of sobriety and have been in regular therapy and taking anti-depressants. I’ve lost some weight, am eating better and exercising more. I got a cat named Bogey who is just about the best thing ever. So know that before you read what I wrote on April 2nd:
As many of you know, nearly a month ago on March 7th I made an attempt to kill myself. During the attempt I had second thoughts, the little sliver of light that illuminates almost nothing, but lets you know there is something other than darkness. As you might imagine the days since have not been particularly easy or graceful. The time has been punctuated by mood swings, crying jags and a great deal of confrontation. I’ve confronted myself, my past, my family, my work and my desire to extract myself from this life I’ve been leading. Depression, anxiety, alcoholism, and chemical imbalance are words that have been used to describe what’s been going on inside my head. The only external symptom of my disease are the pale pink scars on my wrists from where I tried to open up my veins. To see me on the street you might not guess that anything is wrong. But there is a storm inside. I have good days and bad days. I can still laugh, still dip in to the well of my impersonations, I can still sing along with Springsteen, and I can still look at “Starry Night” and be moved. I can still swim, I can still ride a bike, and I can still clumsily swing a golf club. But my heart is still heavy and my mind still hums with anxiety. In the weeks since my attempt I’ve started on a course of medication, haven’t had a drink and have met several times now with a professional therapist for outpatient sessions at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse. This is an ongoing process. Over the next few months, and probably beyond, I’ll try and continue my medication and my therapy, get back to work, and back to a routine.
As humans we are naturally social creatures. Our evolution and survival depends on our reliance on one another. As my family, I want to let you know how much I rely on and appreciate your love and support. While I try to make tomorrow better than today and make next year better than this year please know I cannot do it without you making me laugh, making me think and making me want more for myself. You have all been a part of that small sliver of light that saved me as I wrestled with the darker parts of my own mind on that morning. You helped save me, helped me survive.
I wanted to share this part of myself with you because of the affection and the respect I have for each of you. In many ways I’m doing this for my family and friends as much as I’m doing it for myself. You deserve the best of me and to have your love and support returned, not because our relationship is transactional but because mutual support and love is how we all become part of something beyond ourselves and find meaning and purpose in the chaos. You are part of the light that saved me from the chaos that morning and for that I am grateful.
So why am I posting this here, now, and sharing it with a much wider audience? Well, it’s a little bit complicated, but in a recent session with my therapist we were talking about growth and confronting the truth of my struggles. One of the first things I had to do was recognize, for myself, that depression, anxiety and alcoholism are diseases/conditions that, in many ways, are just like any other chronic disease or condition people deal with. You can treat them, and live a happy fulfilling life despite them. Due to the fact that I was born with and have been living for thirty years with a congenital heart issue (a story for another day), I picked up on this pretty quick. The next step was working with my family and close friends to help them understand that these are things I need to accept, address and treat. Some treatments are pretty straightforward- you can take a pill to help with the chemical imbalances in the brain (and I do). Some treatments aren’t as straightforward. My sobriety is still pretty delicate. I can get lonely. But, and this is a big but, I’m no longer sitting around for hours in a miserable state hating myself for being sad, for being overweight, for stuffing my face with pizza or chips, for ignoring my mail, and neglecting my responsibilities because I had no motivation to pay my bills. So how do I address and treat those issues? For one, I’m living at home in the house I grew up in with my parents. They’re helping me by acting as a check on the drinking. They’re making sure I open my mail. They’re pushing me to go out for a walk.
If you’ll allow me a brief digression- I know these tasks seem pretty routine- why shouldn’t a thirty year old just be able to do these things on his own? I thought that way for a long time, and I would beat myself up for it, calling myself lazy, and unmotivated, and then I’d get anxious about it and that would make me more depressed, so I’d drink, because that helped shut my brain off for awhile. And then in the morning I’d wake up feeling like shit, and, as many people I’m sure know, a hangover isn’t exactly the key to getting motivated when you wake up the next day. It was a cycle. Except each time I went through the cycle my productivity, my motivation and my sense of worth slipped a little more. I was killing myself for a long time before I attempted suicide.
There are better ways to break a cycle than to try to kill yourself, but that was where I found myself. So I broke the cycle and was a train wreck. Lots of uncontrollable sobbing at first, and then a weird sort of stasis set in. I wasn’t going to work. I wasn’t going out much. My parents came home from their place in Georgia, so I was no longer alone. I had people looking out for me. The cycle was broken, but it was like getting thrown off a bus on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. What do I do now? How do you change so much about your life, about your routine, about what you consume? How do I treat this? It’s not like flipping a switch.
So back to the thought on the treatments that aren’t as straightforward- how do I treat the symptoms, how do I manage the disease? What’s my goal? How do I establish a new cycle? Right now my goal is to work on rebuilding myself. I’m like a house that got knocked down by a tornado- absolutely leveled- and now I’ve got a check from the insurance company to rebuild. There was a lot to like about the old Paul, so when I rebuild, I want to make sure those are all present at the outcome. But sometimes during a rebuild you have to cover the project with a tarp and keep it dry (right? I know very little about building things). So yes- I’m living at home right now, and that’s OK, because it’s part of the treatment. I have people watching over me who help me everyday to make the choice not to drink. They’re motivating me to eat better and to exercise more. To turn off the iPad and open a book (actually, I do a lot of reading on the iPad, so… Close the Netflix app and open the Kindle app? Technology these days… boy, I don’t know).
I want to use this opportunity to make some changes. I want to be sober, because alcohol was fueling the cycles of depression and anxiety. I want to be healthy. I already have a predisposition to heart disease- why lend it a hand by clogging my arteries? So I’m eating better, working out and I’m starting to lose some of the weight. I want to be more honest. There’s a lot of lying to yourself and others when you’re drunk, depressed and in denial. I don’t want to live my life like that. I want to be open with people and I want them to be open with me.
Back to the question I started this with- “So why am I posting this here, now, and sharing it with a much wider audience?” What I’d like to do is continue to share my progress and my setbacks on this blog. I hope you’ll read it from time to time. I hope that if you are facing any of these challenges or negative cycles this will let you know that you’re not alone, and that there are people who want to help you. It’s not always going to be this long and it may not always focus on me, my progress or my setbacks. But I hope it will be consistently worth your time. Anyway, thanks for reading this.