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.
Then, 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.