I’ve lost more than a few nights of sleep trying to decide how to write this post. How much of this part of my story should I tell? Do I err on the side of caution, keeping back details that some might deem too personal to share? Do I tell it all and risk being ostracized, being judged for things I will never be able to go back and change? I’ve vacillated between these polar points for months now and in all honesty I’m still not sure where I’ve landed. I suppose I’ll let you be the judge.
Theres is one thing I’ve been certain of from the beginning – this post wasn’t going to be political. The election and its aftermath have consumed my life, and consequently my writing, for quite some time now. I decided that what has happened, and is happening, in DC wasn’t my main concern. What’s happening to me, directly, is extricable. To use a phrase common to the the Hill, I’ve “flip-flopped” on that stance. Simply put, taking politics out of this chapter of my story would turn it into fiction, and telling my truth is more important than ever, since it’s one of the only things they can never take away (no matter what they tell you). To those of you wishing I had stuck with my original plan, I hope by the end of this you will understand why I came to this conclusion. Anyways, here goes.
On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump was sworn into office as the 45th President of the United States. A man whose smug grin reminded me all too much of the one my would-be rapist wore the first time I met him. A man who consistently tells me I am less than because I am a woman, who tells people I love that they matter less, or even not at all, because of the color of their skin, the religion they practice, the people they love. A man who vowed to take away the one piece of legislation directly responsible for keeping me alive. He is everything I stand against and I am everything he thinks is wrong with this country. On January 20th, he placed his hand on the Bible, replacing the President I proudly cast my first vote for, seemingly defeating the woman I have admired for the better part of my 24 years, and I felt alone. My country had chosen him, and in doing so had decided that I didn’t matter. I ignored the facts against this – the millions of women who had marched just one day earlier, the friends of all genders, colors, religions, who felt as outraged as I did, the possibility that it wasn’t my country, but the leader of hostile one, who had decided the election – and I let myself believe the awful lie that this country, this world, didn’t want me. It would be better off if I wasn’t a part of it anymore. And so, on January 22nd I tried to kill myself.
This was not a cry for a help, something I would try to convince myself and others of in the days that followed, nor was it a way to seek attention or make a statement, things I would later be accused of. Very simply, I wanted to die. For a long time I had been telling myself that I was a burden on my family and friends, that my illnesses, physical and mental, were causing them more pain than I was worth. I convinced myself that they would be better off without me, and now it seemed that this new President, backed by the GOP and the millions that had voted for him, agreed. In retrospect I can’t believe that, whether this was true or not, I had been willing to let them win.
Suicide is complex issue, and I would be minimizing my decision if I blamed it solely on the current political climate (not to mention maximizing DJT’s influence on me). For the last few years I have struggled with severe depression and anxiety, chemical imbalances not created, but certainly made more oppressive, by a dual cancer diagnosis and resulting chronic GVHD. I spent almost 18 months months on unorthodoxly high levels of Prednisone, a steroid used to treat GVHD, whose side effects include aggression, irritability, severe mood swings, difficulty thinking and speaking, and chipmunk cheeks (I know that last one may seem inconsequential, but you spend a year not recognizing the puffy face in the mirror and tell me how you feel). Even with this drug, my physical health didn’t seem to be improving – an ulcer in my eye ruptured in January and required surgery in August, I spent the month of September in the hospital with pneumonia, and in early January my kidneys came dangerously close to failing. Throughout all of this I watched as some of the most important relationships in my life crumbled, seemingly outside of my control.
I try not to deal in hypotheticals, but it’s likely that with a clear head I would have been able to handle all of that. I have always prided myself in being able to shoulder whatever the world threw my way. But since the age of nineteen I have been wrestling with an addiction to painkillers, an addiction that escalated in the last year to a point where I could no longer control it, or myself. More than anything, more than politics, physical ailments, or just plain bad luck, I hold myself in this addiction responsible for my decision to give up.
So, after one week in the hospital and two in a psych ward, I pushed aside my inner Amy Winehouse and said “yes” to rehab. This is a very long story made very short, but at almost 60 days clean, I can say, without hesitation, that that decision saved my life.
We live in a world where stigmas about mental health run rampant and addiction and suicide are largely considered taboo, but I have always been an oversharer, some would say to a fault. I plan to tell a great deal more of this story, partially because it makes me feel better and partially because I hope that it might make someone else feel better, or at least less alone than I did in those dark days following November 8th. To those whose political leanings align with mine, I offer this – earlier this week Hillary Clinton spoke at the Women in the World Summit about, among other things, how she dealt with losing the election. She said, “I just had to make up my mind that ‘yes,’ I was going to get out of bed, and ‘yes,’ I was going to go for a lot of long walks in the woods, and I was going to see my grandchildren a lot and spend time with my family and my friends who have rallied around me in an amazing way … so I’m doing OK.” If she can get out of bed (and into increasingly fabulous pantsuits) every day then so can I. I’ve spent enough time listening to Hamilton on repeat to know that, no matter what is happening in my life, personal, political, pop cultural, I am not throwing away my shot.
Title Credit – Lyric from “Hamilton” by Lin Manuel Miranda
(points if you can find the other reference in this post)