By Cassandra D. Lowe
Up until four years ago, I was convinced that I would die by suicide. I made more than three serious suicide attempts that landed me in almost every emergency room or intensive care unit in Chicago.
At times, my depression was so severe that I could not walk, sleep or eat. I was fired from one job after another because I was only stable enough to work for a few months at a time. I prayed that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning, and then felt defeated when I’d open my eyes and hear birds singing. All I wanted to do was to escape from the reality of my life, so I often slept for 16 hours a day and actively self-harmed.
Looking back, it’s painful to remember how sick I was. My depression created a pit in my soul that often took my breath away. I cried from one moment to the next, seeing despair and death in the most mundane or positive situations.
Fortunately, I survived, and I have moved forward and taken control of my mental health. I was able to do this largely because I was willing to ask for help and fortunate enough to receive it. The support from family and friends and expertise from mental health professionals kept me afloat even when I felt I was about to go under for the last time.
My survival is also due to several concrete steps that I hope to share with anyone else who may be struggling.
My father was a recovering alcoholic, and after seeking help from Alcoholics Anonymous, he was able to stop drinking. His example of courage and recovery lingered with me even in my darkest hours. Because of him, I understood that asking for help was a courageous act.
More than once, I allowed myself to be admitted to the hospital. I also agreed to take medications prescribed by a psychiatrist — even when I did not believe medications could work (or, in some instances, when I did not want the medications to work). I even underwent Electro Convulsive Therapy, which seems to have made the most profound improvements in my symptoms.
Occasionally, the fog of my depression would lift; when this happened, I made sure the “business side” of my life was in order. I kept my doctor’s phone number within reach. I filed all necessary paperwork with my insurance company, and I filled all relevant prescriptions with my pharmacy.
I got in contact with family and friends, letting them know that I appreciated their help, and notifying them of any important developments in my medical regimen. When I obtained an apartment of my own, I put my rent on an automatic payment schedule to cover myself in case I was sick at the time rent was due.
While my depression was painful and difficult to manage, I did not suffer in silence. I let people know that I was hurting even though I was afraid I would challenge their patience and unconditional love. This fear, I learned, was unfounded.
Family and friends came through for me: My husband cooked for me and accompanied me to all my doctor’s appointments. Friends and family called with encouraging words and visited me in the hospital. My in-laws wrote me letters of encouragement. People did not abandon me as I thought they might; on the contrary, the right people paid attention to my pleas and stuck by me.
I feel no shame in having mental illness, and I am glad to be a survivor. I have met so many strong people, neighbors, friends and members of support groups who have created satisfying and productive lives with mental illness. I am proud to stand among them.
Since my depression included psychotic delusions, I still have my struggles, but I have many more good days than bad. I continue to see a psychiatrist and a therapist who help me manage my medications and cope with my thoughts and everyday problems.
I am grateful to organizations like NAMI that give me a safe space to explore my feelings and meet people who, like me, are survivors of mental illness.
Cassandra D. Lowe is a freelance writer who holds a B.A. in English Literature from Lawrence University and a M.A. in Education from St. Xavier University. She has worked as a teacher and a community organizer on Chicago’s southside.
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