by - October 14, 2019

Why is there still such a stigma around mental health? Why do people get so uncomfortable talking about depression, death, anxiety, suicide, behavioral disorders, etc.? Does it make you uncomfortable? Maybe it should. Because pushing yourself outside your comfort zone is where all the growth happens, isn’t it? Mental health is coming to the forefront of conversation pretty much everywhere. I am an open book, a trait that I cannot help. Sometimes I feel like a book that no one knows how to read. This is not a cry for help or attention seeking. It’s to remind you that the pictures you see on Instagram are just the surface, and the faces you walk by in the hallways at work, the people who hand you your coffee at the drive-thru, your neighbors you’ve lost touch with- we all have a story. We’ve all been through something. Some of those things are much to painful to talk about. This world could be a much gentler place than it is, perhaps if we were all a little more vulnerable with each other. 

A couple of months ago there was an event that put all my emotions into overdrive. It was a part of PTSD that I had never experienced, and it hit me like a ton of bricks and then some. I was trying to process these incredibly overwhelming and complex emotions while trying to balance a very demanding job. I recognized I was going down a very dark road. I would walk across the street to work and look for a bus, and think maybe if I stepped in front of it at the right time it would be over. I would look at the buildings and consider which would be the best to jump from. I thought about how many syringes of insulin it would take for me to pass in my sleep. You cannot heal in the same environment that is breaking you. I knew I had to take a step back, so I took a leave of absence from work.  

I very quickly started therapy twice a week and had a medication adjustment- clearly what I was on was not working. I was diagnosed with severe major depression, severe anxiety and suicidal ideation. You wouldn’t be able to tell any of those things just by looking at me, because I’m a “high functioning depressed person”. I have to be. I have to get out of bed and go to work and pay my bills. I have to go to the store and get what I need. I have to go out in the world and keep up appearances because things have to get done. And I’m sure there’s a few of you reading this feeling the same way. Depression isn’t what’s portrayed in movies or commercials. You know, the sad woman who can’t seem to get out of bed and then pops an Abilify and is suddenly flying a kite with her family at a picnic. That’s not what it is. It’s hard work. It’s not something you can snap out of. You can’t just go have a day with friends in the sun and finally you’re healed. 

So let’s circle back to my medical trauma. It is an experience so deeply embedded into who I am now. It was such a profound thing that happened I can’t just brush it aside and move on. I hate when people say that one thing doesn’t define you, or a disease doesn’t define you. But it does. If it effects every sphere of your life, it does. It has had a ripple effect that has extended farther than I could’ve ever imagined. You’d think I’d be fine four years out, right? Yeah, me too. But healing isn’t linear and there are setbacks. I’m dead center in the middle of a setback. However, I recently had an epiphany, a revelation, a discovery or whatever you want to call it. I had felt a lot of emotions but I never allowed myself to be angry. I’m angry about what happened to me. I’m angry about what happened to my body. I’m angry that I lived. I’m angry that I woke up in the middle of it all, in agony, made peace with letting go, only to wake up fine. I’m angry that I had this extraordinary experience, a miraculous recovery, and now I’m just living a mediocre life. When you survive something like this people start saying “you have a guardian angel” or “you’re supposed to be here” or “you have a greater purpose”. Okay….where is it? This idea that I’m so lucky to be alive that I have a greater purpose becomes toxic. Like I said, I feel like I’m living a mediocre life when I should be doing something spectacular. I don’t know what that is exactly, but I feel as if I’m not living up to these expectations. There was no guardian angel, or a higher power that said it wasn’t my time to go. Take it for face value. It was great medicine. I was at a great hospital with brilliant doctors and nurses who did everything they could for me. Yeah, I had <5% chance for living, but I made it because I’m young and my body is resilient. Maybe it’s too clinical and crass, but that’s how I see it. And I hope if you’re reading this you can understand that. 

It takes more courage to live than to die. I wrote my suicide note on September 18, just last month. When I finished it, I simply put it away and went to bed. The next day I stayed in bed and cried all day. I didn’t move until 8 pm. About a week later, I felt significantly better. A weight was lifted off my shoulders. I had to get my thoughts from pen to paper. It was cathartic. It helped, tremendously. I’ve been off of work for six weeks now. I plan to take a few more and make sure I’m ready to go back. I’m in a much healthier place now. It’s been hard work to face things I didn’t want too. Mental health is so important and so real. So whether you’re an ECMO patient who follows this, or one of my friends reading this, or a stranger on the internet  that stumbled upon this, you’re not alone. I hope you can take solace in reading this and knowing that. And if you need help, it’s okay to get it. It’s not weakness. Its strength. 

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