Why I Am Still Alive

Why I am still alive

Due to the length of this post, I am providing an audio version:

Depression, suicidal thoughts, and deep shame

Today’s post will be different from what you are used to reading on this site. I apologize in advance for the length. This is my personal story which I now feel compelled to share, and know that I must do so to help others. This is not something I have ever discussed in public, and for a long time it was a tremendous source of deep shame, but I realize that now is the time. If it helps one person, then it’s served it’s purpose for me to break my silence!

We are all painfully aware that beloved comedian and actor Robin Williams died last Monday from an apparent suicide. Normally, when a celebrity transitions, I send them good energy for their journey, and let it go trusting that all is well. Of course, I did the same for Robin, but the immense gift that he left us (besides an incredible body of work) is that we are now all discussing mental illness, depression, and suicide openly, in a generally thoughtful way.

This was not the case in the 1980s when I went through one of the most terrifying and debilitating experiences of my life.

It made complete sense, at the time

When I was in my senior year of college, I became so morbidly depressed that I could barely function. The lack of energy and internal motivation was so profound that I could not see my way forward. Suicide truly seemed like the most logical and sound solution! Just breathing felt emotionally and physically exhausting. Trying to catch up with my classwork made it worse. I was barely existing. Then, my fiancé of 2 years, with whom I lived, announced that he had changed his mind and no longer wanted to get married. I was crushed. It was too much for me to handle.

A month or so before this, I had developed a blood clot in my chest. Doctors were stumped. This was many years before I learned about my power to create health in my body and mind, let alone my power of creation. The University hospital Chief of Staff was dumbfounded how a young, active, physically fit woman, who was not on birth control pills, could suddenly develop a blood clot in her chest (not a common area for a blood clot). The reason for the clot was never determined.

Since most people who get blood clots are elderly, the treatment usually includes intravenous blood thinner until the clot is dissolved. Then, upon release from the hospital, patients are transitioned from I.V. blood thinner to a pill. The amount of time anyone remains on prescription blood thinner depends on the individual case.

Once I returned home, taking this prescription medication (Warfarin), resuming my college classes and living with my then-fiancé, it wasn’t long before a dark cloud came over me. I’m a naturally optimistic and happy person, so this darkness which crept ever-so-gradually over me is something I had never experienced. Suicidal thoughts became more frequent and sucked me into a hole that I felt incapable of resisting or escaping from. It got to the point that suicidal thoughts felt like such relief, that I felt crazy not taking action! I was fully in the throes of severe depression…and thinking I was being logical and thoughtful in my decisions.

Someone in their right mind would have questioned those thoughts, especially if this is not a normal experience. At that time, I didn’t even know I wasn’t in my right mind.

My suicide attempt (it must be called an attempt because it was not successful), which seemed like the absolute right solution, only opened the door to greater humiliation, being treated like I was unworthy of trust, generating deep shame and greater depression. After my fiancé intervened, I was sent to psychiatric ward and placed in an observation room (2 padded walls, 2 glass walls facing the nurses, completely stripped clean of potential hazards).

At this time, my fiancé, the person I had trusted the most and felt was my soul mate, used my absence to move out of our shared home so that he would never have to interact with me. Now, I was not only trying to recuperate from the blood clot, but I was also dealing with severe depression and grieving deeply the loss of my 3 year relationship. Later, I found out that he had told the psychiatrists about my behavior after the blood clot, that he intended to leave, and that is what convinced them to hospitalize me.

While in the psychiatric ward, they took me off the Warfarin, put me on the anti-depressants, and talk therapy. It was determined I could stay off Warfarin and just take a baby aspirin, once a day, if needed.

When asked why I attempted suicide, my answers did not satisfy the doctors, and it didn’t make a lot of sense to me afterward, either. I certainly didn’t *feel* mentally ill, and at the moment that I had suicidal thoughts, they seemed quite rational. For years, I carried the humiliation and shame of making a choice that the rest of society believes is inappropriate. Wrong. Not right. Sick. Stupid. Idiotic, even. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t manage those thoughts? Was I mentally ill? Was I unstable? I felt I had to hide this from others, lest they think ill of me.

The blessing of déjà vu

Fast-forward 14 years. I have moved to another state, married, had a child, divorced, started a business, bought a home, and was learning how to ballroom dance. I was a single mother and thriving…but, the deep shame I carried about this experience was a dark shadow I rarely discussed.

One night at a dance party, a dance instructor made a comment to me about not holding up my arm. Except that, I was holding my arm up. That arm had been feeling heavy all day, come to think of it. I recounted to him my experience of the blood clot (but not the experience that followed). The next morning I woke up and felt my ‘heavy’ arm was asleep. That was the same way my arm felt when I had the blood clot before. I checked the color of my skin and it was obvious: the heavy arm was purple. The blood was not flowing properly.

The Advice Nurse told me not to call an ambulance but rather go straight to the emergency room. Once there, I showed the doctors where to look and they gasped when they saw the blood flow from my chest to my arm was only 10%. Installation of the Coumadin I.V. was next. Upon release from the hospital, they once again prescribed Warfarin pills. This time, I was told I would need to be on them the rest of my life.

pills-wide-diffThen, I began to notice… over the weeks, my energy waned. I felt frustrated more often, I need to sleep more often, and eventually so drained that suicidal thoughts began to creep in. They were, once again, a welcome relief. Then, it DAWNED on me: it was the Warfarin that was making me suicidal!

I immediately made an appointment with my doctor and our conversation went something like this:

The young doctor, fresh from his internship, listened to my explanation of how the Warfarin was affecting me and promptly replied, “That’s not possible!”

Cocking my head, I asked, “How can you say it’s impossible? I am the one feeling the effects! Who do you usually give this drug to?”

He replied, “Those in their 70s, 80s or older are usually the only ones on blood thinners. No one has ever said they felt suicidal from taking this drug.”

“When an elderly person tells you they feel tired and depressed,” I said, “why does no one question that? Clearly, I am not elderly, but I am telling you right now: this medication is making me feel suicidal and it has already wrecked havoc once before. I will not let it do so again.”

He shook his head in disbelief. “You must be mistaken, and you have to be on this medication the rest of your life or you will die.”

For me, the only choice was to advocate for myself. The doctor would not listen to me, and since I had accidentally discovered that certain foods naturally thin the blood, I made a decision to take myself off the drug*. I regularly eat the foods that naturally thin the blood and I’m still here to talk about it, without the suicidal side effects. That was more than 16 years ago…and  this is why I am still alive.

The humiliation and deep shame I had carried for years was completely unwarranted! I have forgiven myself for not knowing, for how could I have? The relief I feel now is that despite the dark urges, I was able to find out the true source of those feelings.

Why did I feel so compelled to share this story now?

Robin Williams death has opened the door for discussions of depression and suicide in social media. When I briefly mentioned on Facebook that sometimes prescription drugs (for other ailments) can trigger deep depression and suicidal thoughts, a number of people responded that basically a similar situation (different ailments, different drugs, same outcome) had happened to them: prescription medication for unrelated ailments had wrecked havoc on their mind and body to an extent that living no longer made sense.

When our body/brain chemistry is altered by a drug, whether recreational or prescription, we may not know it. We may feel we are thinking clearly. Suicidal thoughts in this situation may feel like our clearest thinking, the solution that does everyone a BIG favor. Telling people to seek help is nice, but not necessarily realistic. They may truly need an intervention.

In my case, the realization 14 years later, that the same drug was inducing suicidal thoughts allowed me to discount those thoughts, more than I had been able to do when I was in college. Thank goodness for that second blood clot!!!

Now, I am not telling you to get off any medication you are on or to never be on prescription drugs. I do not recall feeling suicidal while I was in the hospital on the I.V. blood thinner Coumadin, but the gradual increase in those suicidal thoughts took place when I was on the pill form of Warfarin. Perhaps the I.V. blood thinner was fine but the pill just doesn’t work with my body chemistry. There may be people who cannot handle Coumadin but do well on Warfarin. Alternative doctors are quick to explain that every human being has different body chemistry, so it is impossible to say that one drug will have a beneficial or maleficent affect on every human. Even placebos don’t affect everyone the same.

I am not telling you to ditch your medication or your doctor, but I am telling you to be aware of your body, and communicate with your medical professional. If you are on a prescription medication and finding yourself unable to think positively, emotionally exhausted, and/or finding relief in suicidal thinking, tell someone and speak to your doctor if you can. It’s your body and no one knows how medications will affect it as much as you do. If your doctor will not listen, go find another doctor. If no allopathic doctors will listen, go find an alternative or integrative medicine doctor who will!

It’s your life. Who will care enough to advocate for your own quality of life, if not you?

 

*Various insurance companies penalized me multiple times for making the decision that saved my life. Why they would penalize a patient who could not get proper medical advice or a doctor who would listen to them is puzzling, to say the least. I was forced onto unnecessary state-sponsored Major Risk insurance because of this choice, and later made to sound like I was a “difficult patient” for not following doctor’s orders…the one that would have led to another suicide attempt, or possibly worse.

Original photo source: nenovbrothers / 123RF Stock Photo
Derivative image credit: Barry-Jansson & Associates

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17 thoughts on “Why I Am Still Alive

  1. A very powerful reminder to tune in and trust yourself. The severe debilitating effects of depression can have so many sources. Lifting the shame and fear around depression and mental illness is critical in being able to effectively treat it. Thank you for sharing your experience. With love and respect, Cathy

    • Yes, depression and suicidal thoughts are not one-dimensional, and they have many sources. Best to know our own body and advocate for our own well-being when the medical system will not.

      Thank you for stopping by, Cathy!

      Many blessings,
      Nancy

  2. Your story is so, so powerful, and I thank you for sharing it. Until this post, I don’t think I truly understood how, to a severely emotionally depressed person, suicide can feel so totally logical, like a decision from a healthy mind. But now that I ponder it further, as I recall times being even mildly to moderately depressed (comparative to your experience) and the actions deemed logical in that state, I ‘totally’ and completely get it!

    As for how pharmaceuticals can insidiously affect the mind, OH YES! Unless one has experienced this, it’s difficult to understand.

    I’m grateful, as I know you are, to that part of your consciousness with the aerial view, that flash of insight, that enabled you to clearly see what was happening and remedy it. Sometimes these insights are difficult to receive, when clouded over by opinions of ‘professionals’, but nothing and no one has the brilliance of the still small voice within each of us. Thank God you listened to yours. And, what a great reminder!!!!!! I feel so blessed that you’re here on this earth (and at the same time as me! 🙂 ) to share your experiences, insight, and brilliance – insight helping us to be more compassionate and insightful human beings. Thank you again, my friend.

    • Brenda, I could tell from a lot of the comments this past week that unless people have experienced deep depression, they have no idea how the thinking works. Thank you for reminding me of yet another reason why it was so important to share my experience.

      Until this post, I don’t think I truly understood how, to a severely emotionally depressed person, suicide can feel so totally logical, like a decision from a healthy mind. But now that I ponder it further, as I recall times being even mildly to moderately depressed (comparative to your experience) and the actions deemed logical in that state, I ‘totally’ and completely get it!

      So now you can better understand Abraham’s teaching to only take actions in the Vortex.

      Someone just wrote me that anti-depressant medications sometimes make a depressed person feel just enough relief to take physical action toward suicide, because it feels like reaching for relief (and doing everyone the BIG favor, as I mentioned). This is a complex topic, for sure.

      Many blessings,
      Nancy

  3. If we were taught to listen to our bodies from an early age, and in school – things would be very very different.
    But we’re not. We’re told to do as we’re told and to be quiet and stop imagining things.
    A lot of people are questioning their doctors, their medications . . and why should we not? As you say – it’s OUR body! Who else knows it so well?
    I am glad that you were able to be persistent enough to have your say and your insights. Others are not as . . self-aware.
    Which is why this post is extremely helpful to all of us.

    • Annette, I agree about being taught to advocate for ourselves, even if it means questioning “authority” (whoever that might be in the moment, including our own minds). I am glad that it came relatively easy to me the second time around (with the clot) to not acquiesce.

      Indeed, it was my intention in sharing that this would help others, too!

      Many blessings,
      Nancy

  4. Thank you for sharing your story. I love the fact your experience can now catalyze transformation for others. I also love it every time someone pushes shame out of the way to make room for truth! May many others benefit from your courage and wisdom.

    • Christy,

      I also love it every time someone pushes shame out of the way to make room for truth!

      Thank you for that! For those 14 years before discovering the source of those suicidal thoughts, I really wondered about my own sanity and if I’d ever feel that way again. What a huge relief to find out the true cause, and know there were healthy alternatives that would work ‘just fine’!

      I look forward to the day when doctors honor how their patients feel, even if ‘no one else has ever’ said the same thing.

      Many blessings,
      Nancy

      • What you wrote here echoes my sense of your work – the power of a reframe. Without knowing there was an external cause of your thoughts all those years, you assumed *you* were not right. I would love it if self-doubt didn’t influence people as much as it does. Kudos on not “swallowing” what the doctors said! 🙂

        • Without knowing there was an external cause of your thoughts all those years, you assumed *you* were not right. I would love it if self-doubt didn’t influence people as much as it does.

          Christy, I agree it would be great if self-doubt didn’t influence us (women, particularly) as much as it does. Thinking back, the people around me who couldn’t understand what I was doing in the depressed state were not helping, either. “Chin up”, I kept being told. As much as I am an advocate for positive thinking, it doesn’t really work in situations where the body/brain chemistry is being altered. Especially difficult when you don’t even KNOW that is what’s going on.

          And, on that point, I felt my thoughts were my own even though they had been altered via the prescription medication! So, even if I had good self-esteem, I would have been under the influence.

          Many blessings,
          Nancy

  5. Hi Nancy, this is an amazing story. I’m sure it took a lot of courage to share.

    Besides being a Reiki Master I have been a pharmacist for a very very long time. Many medications do have a side effect of not just depression but can cause suicidal thoughts.

    We are trained to tell the patient this and risk verses benefit on whether they should take it or not. Or some medications may cause cancer, and again, it has to be documented in the chart that they were told about it. Sometimes we ask Psychiatry to clear the patient, so the psychiatrist has to write a note in the chart taking responsibility for the patient should he/she develop depression.

    It is the law now that a pharmacist needs to counsel you on your medications when you leave a hospital or a pharmacy. A pharmacist can be a very important part of your life if you are on medications. 🙂

    • Ming, thank you so much for sharing this information!

      I certainly did not know this 16 or 30 years ago, and the laws may not have been in effect at that time. However, if I knew I could have gone to my pharmacist about this medication, I certainly would have. Prescription medications seem safe because our ‘doctor’ prescribed them for us, but we all have such different body chemistry that the need for a pharmaceutical advocate is bigger than ever!

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing this very important information! I hope it helps others who may be in a similar situation know that they can be heard!

      Many blessings,
      Nancy

    • Thank you for sharing this on Facebook, Parul. Let’s get the word out so people know the importance of listening to their own body, and advocating for their own health and well-being.

      Many blessings,
      Nancy

  6. I am so glad you fought for what you knew was right, and I know it took a lot of courage for you to share your story here. It’s heartbreaking to think of how many people will trust their doctor over what they know to be true in their own body. And also heartbreaking that you can’t always trust a doctor to HEAR you when you know there is a problem, regardless of what is “normal”. The default position should be that the patient’s thoughts/feelings/wishes/observations should be heard and valued.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Rhonda…

      can’t always trust a doctor to HEAR you when you know there is a problem, regardless of what is “normal”. The default position should be that the patient’s thoughts/feelings/wishes/observations should be heard and valued.

      PREACH IT! I so agree…

      It is easy to have the courage to share my story when I think it might save another person from the same drug-induced depression and suicidal thoughts, blaming and shaming themselves. Also, raising awareness of how unrelated meds could actually be creating the deep depression. Both of those make sharing my story worth it!

      Many blessings,
      Nancy

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