How I Averted Suicide in the Year 2001: Raising my Self Esteem has been the Battle of My Life
by Ruth Z. Deming, MGPGP
November 16, 2004
Dedication: Thanks to Jake who has always saved my life
This is a very serious piece in which I discuss my own psyche. I’ve shared the piece with a few friends who assure me it will help others. I want to emphasize that I am focusing mostly on the “dark side” of my interior life, which is not the major portion of me. In fact, in the last year, I consider I’ve regained my life: The life I’d lived up until the age of 12, when I was, as I am now, a playful, curious, adventurous person. And smart. (I was the smartest kid at Mercer Elementary School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, Alice van Dusen, principal.) After age 12, bipolar disorder got an increasingly tightening grip on me. But has relaxed its grip because I follow My Keys to Recovery, also loaded on this website.
Please keep in mind as you read this, that these experiences are unique to me. I am one theme and you, the readers, are the variations. Every person can identify with what I say whether they are diagnosed with a medical condition such as bipolar disorder, or whether they are not.
Each person reacts differently to every single experience that comes our way. And to every word we read. Our mind is who we are. Everything we put in our body affects our mind. Everything we see affects our mind (tv, newspapers, the sights riding along the highway). We live in the present moment. People smoke cigarettes, drink coffee, drink wine, shoot heroin, or take medicine because of the way it makes us feel.
For me, a child of the ’60s, I smoked pot with friends on an almost daily basis for perhaps 6 months when I was 22, worked as a secretary (loved my job!), and lived in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. Marijuana is a hallucinogen. Dr. Francis McMahon of NIMH told me that smoking pot can lead to later psychosis. I wonder if I would have gotten psychotic at age 38 had I not smoked pot.
I don’t smoke pot anymore, nor do I drink alcohol. I don’t like anything to interfere with the clarity of my mind. I do drink 2 cups of coffee in the morning, and sometimes I will treat myself, as I did last night, at the Lower Moreland (PA) Public Library’s ‘Great Speeches Program,’ to a cup of Decaf. I monitor my caffeine intake. Caffeine is my ‘drug of choice,’ in addition to my psychiatric medication.
And I drink bottles of water like crazy.
But we need other things than drugs to keep us well.
For me, love and beauty and creating art are the most powerful potions for my mind and emotions to bathe in. And work. I love to work! But I also love to play and I do loads of things for fun.
My life changed when I experienced a manic episode at age 38. I was put on lithium. And did very well. I still suffered dreadful moodswings, but was always able to manage them, and in all that time only missed half a day of work. Work is the thing that has always kept me going.
I had a very good life indeed while on lithium. My life as a mother was the favorite job I’ve ever had. I loved my little children so much. My time was devoted to being a good mother, and we had a wonderful life together.
Also, I was always writing. How I love to write!
Just give me a typewriter, a cup of coffee, great music, and time, and I’m in heaven.
So I had a great life on lithium. I had a wonderful, caring psychiatrist, who was also my therapist, and always called me back whenever I needed him. I remember sometimes when I’d be in distress, lying in bed at night waiting for his call. He never let me down. I’d tell him everything that was on my mind and he comforted me. And he had faith in me that I would get better. We had a truly loving relationship, appropriately so, with boundaries. Remember, there are many kinds of love.
When I was on lithium and would get really down I would console myself by imagining to kill myself. I shared this with my psychiatrist. It was only a thought, a surcease from pain. It was comforting to think of myself as not having to endure any more pain. It was an escape. But it was a thought, a passing thought. I had 2 young children (I was a single parent) and I would never abandon them, no matter how great the pain.
My former psychiatrist was a person of immense comfort to me. But then we both moved on. I went to graduate school to become a psychotherapist and became interested in psychoanalysis. I found a new female psychiatrist who became my analyst and we did amazing work together. My new-found insights helped me grow as a human being.
Skip ahead to the year 2001, when I was 56 years old. My children were grown, off on their own. That was the year I experienced strong suicidal ideation for the first time in my life.
It was terrible. I learned, for the first time, what it feels like to want to kill yourself.
It’s called an urge. Dr. Laszlo Gyulai of University of Pennsylvania had written a commentary for The Compass Magazine in which he spoke about the urge, as distinct from the thought.
“So this is what he means,” I said to myself when I had the urge. It is different than a thought. And it is the most terrible feeling I had ever had in my life (well, other than when I was in 4-point restraints in Bldg. 16 and lay in a pit of blackness and despair with my mind speeding wildly out of control). No one should ever be left alone in a room when they are in restraints. I had black and blue marks on my arms and legs for weeks.
My suicidality was produced, as are most severe moodswings, by a convergence of events, although I think the first event listed below would’ve been enough.
* My doctor took me off lithium cold-turkey. It had been my mood stabilizer for 16 years – and is an antisuicidal agent. Lab tests showed it had damaged my kidneys. Fortunately, I am left with enough kidney function to live out my life. 2 mottos: Get lab tests if on lithium. And find out what drugs you can or cannot cold-turkey off. It’s called titration or slowly raising or lowering your drug dosage. Some drugs are exceptionally difficult, but not impossible, to titrate off of. Look at what happens to people on heroin or alcohol. (Go see the movie “Ray” about Ray Charles kicking his heroin habit. Beautiful depiction.) One of our group members was in Horsham Clinic, which I consider the finest psychiatric facility in the Philadelphia area, and was taken off Klonopin cold turkey. He was so supremely agitated and freaking out that he punched out a window in the hospital.
* I had also lost my 8-year-job as a fulltime therapist at an agency which closed down. And thus had no incoming salary. More importantly, my lack of employment stopped my built-in circadian rhythms of awaking at a certain time of day to go to work and going to bed at a certain time of night.
My body clock had begun to spin out of control.
* I had also terminated a five-year relationship with my live-in boyfriend and asked him to move out because the relationship was detrimental to my mental health. And his, as well. I knew that when he moved out he would get his act together. And did.
* The other significant event was that, on behalf of New Directions, we received a large grant to support our work. It was my salary plus a little extra.
You would think that I would have rejoiced by getting the grant. I did rejoice, but I also began suffering rapid moodswings (after going off the lithium) where from moment to moment my mood would shift.
When you have been on a drug for so long – 16 years – your body and mind have grown used to it. You are seeing life through the eyes of Lithium.
Lithium acted as a protection from the searing realities of life that my tender ego could not handle. It was like going through life with a pair of sunglasses on. Then, presto, you take the sunglasses off and you’re rather blinded by light.
Then you try on new sunglasses to make things right again. The goal is to find the right kind of sunglasses (meds), the right shade, so you can feel protected and feel like yourself.
And while you are trying on all these sunglasses – or meds – your mind is in transition. It’s recovering from its ‘lithium mind’ and trying to right itself.
The goal is to find the drug that most simulates Our Real Self while protecting ourselves from our vulnerabilities.
My doctor put me on Depakote, which made me feel like The Real Me. I felt normal. Unfortunately, my platelet level kept falling, so I had to come off it.
Then he put me on Lamictal, which I consider a wonderful drug – all folks with bipolar disorder should be aware of it.
But, as we know drugs can’t fix everything, and I was dealing with the most important issue of my life: acknowledging the fact that I am a talented person.
Why would someone who has just been given a nice supporting salary go into a suicidal depression?
I have to put myself back three years ago and remember what it felt like. I’m a person who since age 13, have suffered bouts of poor self-esteem. I never knew “I was good.” The reason I became psychotic in 1984 was because I realized I was good (a talented, good writer, good mother) and I couldn’t handle the feelings that I was good. Nor, at that time, did I know I was lovable, which I learned in the past 2 years: that I am lovable. It was not consonant with the view I’d always had of myself, that I’m basically a loser.
Upon further reflection, however, I did have very high self-esteem when I worked fulltime as a therapist.
But that was self-esteem involving work. As a writer, I had none, even though I’d written over 100 newspaper articles, one of which was on The Pennsylvania Turnpike and put in a frame in the office of the Turnpike Commission in Harrisburg. And won a prestigious literary prize but still didn’t realize I could write!
Raising my self esteem has been the battle of my life.
Skipping ahead to today, November 15, 2004, I am only on 2 drugs: Synthroid (lithium apparently knocked out my thyroid function) and Klonopin, (1 mg before bed). After I take my Klonopin, I’m out like a light. Sleep, as we know, is vital to anybody’s health.
I control my moods by doing the things I state in My Keys to Recovery, also listed on the web.
Remember that I am 58 and post-menopausal, which probably has a lot to do with it, plus I have a lifetime of experience in learning healing techniques. I no longer get psychotic and believe I never will again. My brain has changed.
So when I was 56 and off the lithium, the same thoughts assailed me: How can they give a grant to someone who is so unworthy? I am a nothing, a nobody. I swung right back into that world where I wasn’t able to appreciate who I was as a person. I saw myself only from the dark side. My self-loathing was off and running like a quarterback trying to avoid being tackled by a tiger.
The feelings were immense and terrible. Anyone who can feel such intense and deep feelings, I believe, has great access to the world of art, should they choose to acknowledge that they are an artist and try to make it as an artist. I am trying to make it as an artist, a poet and writer of creative nonfiction. I am trying to get published.
Here is what I did when thoughts of suicide came into my head.
I would immediately call my ex-boyfriend Jake. One of the reasons I lived with him for so long was because he, above all people, has an enormous ability to comfort me. If you’re a person with a mental illness, it is imperative to have someone to comfort you. To tell one human being who understands you, what is going on inside your head. The other night I called my psychiatrist when I was feeling intense loneliness and fright about doing the necessary paperwork for a literary grant I’m applying for. He comforted me. I am very grateful to have him.
Jake was there also when I suffered from intense suicidal thinking several years ago. He was always there to talk me out of it and make me feel better. I remember standing in the early morning in my bedroom by my clothes rack, which I found in the trash, hung with towels and jeans and nightgowns, and I would mumble on the phone under my breath, “I’m feeling terrible. I want to kill myself. I feel like I’m unworthy of getting the grant.” And the feelings of unworthiness would flood me.
So, the first thing I did, when I became suicidal was “Call Jake.”
If Jake wasn’t home, I would get out of my house as fast as I could. And I mean really fast. It didn’t matter where I’d go, but I just needed to get out of the house, the place where my potentially lethal pills were. You can go just about anywhere: Barnes and Noble, The Library, the supermarket. The most important thing, though, is to get out of the house, into your car and drive. Or if you don’t have a car, then walk.
And then you find someone to talk to. No matter who. The guy at the post office, the person at the supermarket, the library. I’d stop at friends’ houses, relatives, just go anywhere until that mood passed, because it always passed. It came in the morning, when I ought to have been working – which I had done for 8 years straight – at an outside office – but no longer had.
One thing I remember distinctly was walking around flea markets with Jake. Just tagging along. I’d pick up things and listlessly turn them over and put them back, all the while my mind was syncopating with the thought, “Kill yourself.” I did buy a pair of 1.25 magnifying glasses at a flea market for $1.50 and a Cleveland Indians baseball cap. I’m from Cleveland.
Back to the Philadelphia Race Track Flea Market. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was go to flea markets, but those flea markets helped keep me alive, and Jake let me drag along with him.
He still is my major comforter of everybody in the world.
Jake is retired and works from home, so I can usually find him.
Another way he comforts me is when I put things on the website. It’s a form of nakedness when you share your thoughts with other people, so he’s always there to reassure me that what goes up on the web is okay.
I don’t remember how long the period of suicidality lasted but it was truly dreadful: The urge to destroy oneself. What I finally did was write an index card and put it in my top drawer. It read: “I vow not to kill myself.” I truly believe I will never again consider suicide.
One time at the peak of my suicidality I did decide to kill myself. I knew deep down that I wouldn’t really do this, but it was like I was being forced to act out the ritual. And could not stop myself.
I said to myself, Which is worse: Pouring pills out into my hand, or writing a suicide note.
“I will do the lesser thing,” I said to myself. So I got out a notebook and began writing a suicide note. “Dear Sarah and Daniel,” I was going to write. These are the names of my grown children. I was going to ask them to forgive me. Then I was going to go off in the woods and take the pills so no one would find me, and I’d give directions on the note where I was.
Well, as soon as I started writing the note – and there were so many people I had to mention to forgive me, I said to myself, “Jesus Christ! Do you realize what you’re doing to your children!”
It was a fantastic idea to write the suicide note. It put everything in perspective.
So I tore up the note into teeny-tiny pieces and took it outside the house and put it in the trash so the vibes wouldn’t contaminate me, and felt immense relief.
Then I got on the shtick and did all the necessary work to save myself, getting volunteer jobs every day of the week to get out of the house. I still volunteer at the Upper Moreland Library. I absolutely love Mrs. Lillian Burnley and wrote a poem about her and read it on the radio.
The light of life is very very strong in each of us. Even in our darkest worst moments. We so want to live! We were meant to be alive! The eternal flame burns bright as the sun inside us.
If you’re ever suicidal, have a list of people you can call up and get out of the house fast! Take action. Keep moving. Move. Move. Move!!!
How New Directions Can Play a Vital Role in Your Getting Better
We encourage everyone who attends a New Directions meeting not to waste a single moment at the meeting. We make an announcement:
“You are here to get well by meeting people, establishing relationships, becoming friends in good times and bad, to meet people like yourselves, to form friendships and bond with one another and become one another’s support team.”
There is no experience on earth like being in a room of people who understand you and what you are going through.
In fact, one of our members just called me this evening and said, Thank you for introducing me to so-and-so. He is helping me with my withdrawal of an amphetamine my doctor prescribed, along with my Zyprexa, to keep me awake at work.
This is the most important service that New Directions offers to our people. The ability to form real-live support systems with real flesh and blood people who can understand you and accept you for who you are. Our support group is a great place of Love. And when you enter, you will feel love shining all around you.
That’s the kind of people we attract.
We also keep a list of Top Doctors and Top Therapists who have been of supreme help to us. In fact, I received a call today from someone whose brother was committed to Bldg. 52 and I was able to recommend a couple of top psychiatrists from our list because everyone in our group shares the names of their excellent healers. This is a vital service New Directions performs.
New Directions! People who care and will do anything they can to help you. You wouldn’t believe all the fantastic networking that goes on in our group, the things that people do for one another! All of us are there for you. Come to a meeting and you’ll find out. It’s our calling!!!
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