Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Dying is not allowed.

The Deseret Morning News is running a series of articles this week about teen suicide in Utah. I have been reading the articles, every day so far, and plan on continuing to read them for the rest of the week. They remind me.

My freshman year of college, one of my roommates moved out partway through fall semester. She struggled with manic depression. One of my other roommates that year, and one of my very good friends, struggled with depression. I made up a rule that year, to repeat to her, and to myself. Dying is not allowed. It is strictly forbidden. Against the rules. It became the number one rule, for everything. We would say it jokingly around finals when everybody was stressed out. I would repeat it when my friends were having problems with relationships. I still say it frequently, to many of the people I care about.

The rule started off being rather selfish. I can deal with the pain my friends cause me, I can deal with listening to them tell me about all of their problems, I can try to help and encourage them. I did not know if I would be able to deal with them dying, though. Once someone is dead, I cannot help them anymore, and they can't help me, and I can't talk to them, and I can't see them, and they're no longer there, brightening my life in their various ways. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was showing slight signs of depression myself. It wasn't serious, just the occasional rapid mood change, from hyper to crying within a minute's time, with no good reason why. I blamed it on stress from school, on not enough sleep, on being hungry. I ruminated on things for long periods of time. I knew, that if one of my friends committed suicide, that I would not be able to deal with it normally. I did not know how I would react, but I knew inside myself somewhere that it would not be good. So the rule lived on, repeated often.

My sophmore year, I got a boyfriend. That makes it sound like a complicated chase, where I won a possession. More realistically, I discovered a person who quickly became my best friend, and we fell in love. I was incredibly happy, and rather dependant. My grades got worse, as I procrastinated homework to do things I enjoyed, like spending time with him, watching movies, reading, hanging out with friends, because I wanted the happy feelings to continue. I had the occasional bad day, nothing that seemed too horribly abnormal though. I blamed my mood swings on PMSing, on having my feelings hurt inadvertently, on nothing at all, but always with the reassurance to whoever I was talking to (usually my best friend, Mike) that I would be better the next day, that I would be back to normal when I woke up in the morning. Everybody has bad days, everybody feels lonely sometimes, even when they're surrounded by people that they like. This is, as far as I know, true.

The summer before my junior year, Mike went home to Arizona to get ready for his mission. We had agreed that I would wait for him, that we would get married when he got home again, that we would spend the rest of forever together, which would make the two years away from each other bearable. I talked to him on the phone and on Instant Messenger every day. I missed him. I had learned to trust him, and rely on him, and he would make me talk to him when I was having one of my bad days, until I was feeling a little better, and he wasn't around to do that anymore. I still wanted to do it on the phone or on the computer, but didn't know how to tell him that. I got irritated when he would ask if he could call me back or talk to me later because he was going to watch a show with his parents, or go hang out with his friends. I got even more irritated when he didn't respond much to me because he was involved in an interesting conversation with someone else, even though I knew that our conversation wasn't very interesting (maybe that added to my irritation, wanting to be interesting and not knowing how to be). I wanted his attention, his compliments, his time, because when he gave them to me, I felt worthwhile. When I did not have them, my brain would present me with a variety of my faults and shortcomings which I could think about to occupy my time. Looking back at it, I wasn't being fair to either of us, and Mike was incredibly patient to put up with me and my fishing for compliments and attention. He didn't know what was going on in my head any better than I did.

The fall of my junior year, he officially left. The daily phone calls stopped abruptly. He and his parents came over to my apartment the night before he went into the MTC so that we could see each other one last time. I sobbed on the couch of my apartment for a good hour after saying goodbye. At first things seemed okay, I was doing alright in my classes when they first started. I had lost my scholarship, and my parents informed me I needed to get a job to help pay for things, so I had gotten a custodial job. I gradually stopped wanting to do things though. I did not care about my homework, and continually put it off until the last minute, or later. I started skipping classes regularly. I missed Mike horribly, and started crying more frequently. I didn't like myself. I moved in with my grandma to try to save some money on rent for Winter semester. I talked a lot on IM to two good friends who were struggling with mental health issues. Things got worse as Winter semester progressed, until one day in January when I woke up, got on my computer, and started crying. I went downstairs finally to get something to eat and go to class in hopes that having some blood sugar, and doing what I was supposed to be doing, might help me feel better. I got to the bottom of the stairs, and sat down. Within moments I found myself lying on the carpet, curled up, sobbing, and I could not explain to myself why. I went back upstairs and told one of my friends about it through IM. He told me to go see someone at the counseling center, and to make an appointment with a doctor. I did both. I also called my mother sometime, I don't know when, and told her about the depression (which is what the doctor officially diagnosed me with). I told her about being tired all the time, and about all the crying, and about not ever being motivated to do anything. It was a hard conversation. I also started taking medicine every day, doctor's orders, and I quit my night-shift custodial job to try to get a better sleep schedule going.

My first prescription was for Amitriptyline (I think I'm spelling that right). It didn't work at all. My second prescription was for Effexor. It seemed to work okay. It stopped the frequent crying spells at least, and made it slightly easier to force myself to go to class. It also made me constantly nauseated, and I completely lost any trace of an appetite. I ate still, sometimes, if I forced myself. Summer came. I thought I was doing okay, and I was tired of never being hungry, of having to force myself to eat as much as a single meal in a day. I didn't want to go talk to the doctor again. The doctor was like a symbol of my depression, I feared that she would tell me that I wasn't better, and I so desperately wanted to be better, to be normal again, to not be, as I saw it, flawed. I did not want to go see the counselor again either. She was busy, it was hard to get an appointment, and when I went, she didn't ask probing questions like Mike did before he left, to find out if I was really doing okay or not, and she didn't remember me from one visit to the next, and I saw no reason to go back. I was, after all, doing okay. I stopped taking the Effexor. Eventually, my appetite came back. I was incredibly happy that day, when I finally felt truly hungry again. The depression, of course, also came back.

After about three months of not taking any medicine, I realized that I really wasn't doing well at all. The old hated thoughts of not being good enough, of being a disappointing human being, of doing bad things that made me a bad person, were all plaguing me again. I gave in, and got a new prescription from the doctor, this time for Wellbutrin. It worked alright for awhile. My grandma fell while trimming a tree and ended up in Intensive Care for four months. I started crying a lot again. I had been planning on graduating in August, and it hadn't happened, and I had changed my graduation plan to December, but was having an awful time being motivated to do my Independent Study Shakespeare course. Two days before Thanksgiving, I showed up at home, with an overnight bag and my homework, and asked my mom if I could stay. I started commuting to class and work every day, and to church on Sundays (because I still had my calling in Provo). The doctor upped my dosage to twice as much as I had been taking before, and for the first time, I really started to do okay emotionally, and got to start slogging through all the homework I was behind on, to try to pass my classes for that semester. I delayed my graduation again to April, so that I could take an Incomplete grade in my American Lit. class (thank goodness for the wonderfully understanding of both Dr. Snyder and Dr. Harris that semester, who both let me turn in assignments late, as long as I showed up to their classes).

I ran out of medicine once. Living in Salt Lake, it wasn't exactly easy to get in to the Health Center to see about getting my prescription rewritten. After a few days, all the old thoughts were back again. Good people, I would think to myself, go to class, and do their homework. And good people prepare their Sunday lessons sooner than Saturday night or Sunday morning. And good people read their scriptures and pray every day. And good people work hard at their jobs, even if their job is at Cosmo's Connection, rather than sitting around talking to their coworkers. And good waiting-for-a-missionary girlfriends, I thought, write long supportive letters to their boyfriends and send them nice packages and make it easy for them to be away from home, instead of telling them about being depressed, about crying, about having hard days and apologizing all the time like I was doing in my letters. And, I thought, I was not a good person. Good daughters, I thought, graduate when they're supposed to. They don't lose their scholarships. They don't move home because they can no longer take care of themselves. They are able to find full-time employment quickly and easily after their classes are done. The live up to their parents' expectations. They are not a waste of money. That was by far my worst day, the day I decided I was a waste of money. I had it all logically figured out in my head, what a waste I was, and what a burden I was to my family, and what a bad girlfriend I was (it was logical at the time to me, as illogical as it seems now). I had repeated my No Dying rule to myself and others so many times that I did not consider suicide as a viable alternative. That was the rule, and if I could not live up to any other rules, I could at least live up to that rule. I did consider, however, running away. Taking some clothes, and getting in my car, and driving to anywhere other than where I was. Of what it would be like to disappear from peoples' lives, to not be a burden to them anymore, to have my actions from then on only affect myself because there would be no-one else around me for them to affect. Luckily for me, my father was home, and instead of running away and trying to disappear, I went and talked to him. I don't know if he knows it, but he saved me that day. I told him what I thought about myself, and he let me know how wrong and convoluted my thoughts were, and reassured me of how much I meant, of how important I was, that I had not disappointed my parents, and more importantly, that I had not disappointed God. I drove down to the Health Center the next day, and went to the front desk, and explained that I had run out of medicine. Then I got to go talk to the nurse at the nurse's station. I got there, and started telling her my name, and started crying. She pulled out my file, and said "You've run out of your medicine, haven't you?" It was more than a little obvious.

She gave me a new prescription. I got a full-time job. I made it past the year-and-a-half mark with waiting for Mike. I graduated, finally, thankfully, passing my classes. I decided, after thinking for awhile about it, that I could stop taking my medicine, but this time, I went and talked to a doctor about it first (not the doctor who had prescribed it, they wouldn't let me go to the Health Center now that I wasn't a student). He said that was fine, that I could just stop taking it, that unlike the Effexor it wasn't a medicine that needed to be tapered off to avoid severe imbalances in my head, as long as I felt I was really truly doing okay enough with little enough stress in my life to be able to handle things. I have been off it ever since.

In eleven days, I am getting married to Mike. I am incredibly excited at the prospect of being sealed to him for eternity, of never having to worry about going through that horrendous separation ever again. At the same time, I realize that depression is, for most people, a life-long illness, and that I have to be careful to not let myself start thinking in the same negative thought patterns that I used to think in. I realize that there are many things, now, which could trigger a relapse of the depression. I am on my guard, and thankfully, I have the loving support and understanding of friends, family, and Mike, to keep me on the right track towards staying healthy. In the meantime, things like reading about teen suicide in Utah, remind me forcibly how thankful I am for such a seemingly-simple rule I made back when I was a freshman.

Dying, my friends, is not allowed.


JB said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
JB said...

What an amazing blog post. This was so compelling that I didn't stop reading it except when I was on the phone and even then only for a little while. I think it's healthy to get things like this out and encouraging for people going through similar things.

It's interesting to me, because the last time I was struggling with depression was when I was separated from Lunkwill. I think that's a much tougher thing than I used to be willing to give people credit for.