Some memories stick. Moments, vulnerable and exposed. When the tenderest part of me wasn’t enough, or when I couldn’t recognize the me everyone was looking at. Moments that broke me down and left me wondering who I was.
Tree trunks, green leaves, green grass, white gazebo. Detached from myself in a blur of colors. My eyes found the orange change purse in my hand. Its blue cat. Its tricky zipper. They’re not your real parents…
Standing beside my first-grade teacher’s desk. Special. I knew she loved us, and I believed we all wanted to please her. I trusted her enough to keep standing there as she tied my long hair in knots. My peers kept laughing when I no longer found it funny… which meant they weren’t laughing with me… I froze. The teacher I adored was mocking me. We weren’t special. Or at least I wasn’t.
Then there was the second-grade substitute. My teacher was on maternity leave. I’ve always kind of resented that kid. He must be 35 now… The young woman given charge of my class YELLED at me. I tried not to, but I cried. In public. Where people could see me.
The unfortunate case of impetigo that resulted in a boy I had a crush on calling me Scab Face. And later, at an end-of-summer-camp dance (my mom wouldn’t have let me attend if she’d known), my cabinmates asked that boy to dance with me. At first, I wasn’t really sure he’d said yes. Then, worse, I didn’t know how to dance… I panicked and ran. Not far. By my arms and legs, the girls carried me back. After they gave up on the two of us, and the counselors were easily aware we weren’t up to anything, we spent the rest of the evening sitting silent and miserable across from each other in the little hallway at the end of the loud and darkened dining hall. I never found my voice to explain.
High school gym. The tall, blond boy running toward my area of the field. A rare moment my latent competitiveness overwhelmed the passivity of my desire to not be seen doing something I might not be good at. His sure thing, was actually mine. I ran. Dove for the flag as would please any gym teacher. I did what I was supposed to do, and it was perfect. Until I realized the flag was not all I’d pulled down. And the gym teacher wasn’t sure I hadn’t done it on purpose.
The knife cut through her skin, leaving a trail of tiny red beads. It was my fault. She told me so. How could a daughter so hurt her mother? My knees buckled. I was convinced I had no way, and no right, to stop her. Outer pain to alleviate inner pain.
The darkness I’d been drowning in was finally lifting. But I was locked in the upstairs bathroom. I wanted to start communicating again, but how do you explain to someone who loves you that all you wanted the past few… days? weeks? was to obliterate yourself.
How does your reawakening heart articulate where you are the morning of your fortieth birthday, compared to where you were, even the day before, when your voice is stuck way back in the furthest reaches of your mind?
I latched onto the abandoned crayon like a lifeline… Unrolled a toilet paper tube… Then another, and another from the pile my kids were collecting. I slipped my purple scrawls under the door to my husband.
The… oddness… of my behavior escaped me. I was communicating, isn’t that what he wanted? Neither he nor my friend he called saw the situation quite like I did. Although I was drawing closer, they thought I was pulling away. I didn’t know he called her. By the time she arrived, I’d left the bathroom. Only to be overwhelmed and hiding in the downstairs bathroom.
I hate my house. We never have enough time and money to finish renovating. And everything I take apart to start fresh reveals another problem and another problem and another problem that we can’t fix to move ahead. I peel and steam away seventies greens and golds with a century’s thickness of wallpaper beneath it, like I want to strip away bad memories that obscure the good of growing up here. Nothing is square. Patching plaster never goes as well as I hope.
I live inside a constant reminder that I’ve failed to raise my kids in the home I thought I would… Comfortable, pleasant, away from the constant sound of traffic… Room for kids and a dog to run… A pond, orchard, beehives… A home, not an ugly mess of a house.
Inviting people in is like asking people to enter my failure and regret. I didn’t invite my friend in that day, but she came in. The love that usually kept her from entering demanded she disrespect my boundaries.
As I tried to collect myself enough to deal with life in this house I hate with the four people I love most, I was unprepared for my husband’s quiet, maybe nervous, “Um, Brianne’s here.”
The words I found… “How DARE you?!?”
I wasn’t ready to deal with another person in my space. People require attention. Barely communicating with my husband, while tiptoeing and stumbling in my children’s periphery, I lacked the wherewithal to interact with another person. Even someone I care about, and trust.
I needed to escape. I couldn’t breathe. I needed space with only me in it.
My eyes met hers as I rushed past her in the hallway outside my bedroom… the horribly messy hallway… and I felt the look of a wounded animal caught in a trap leap into them.
Jeff got my keys away from me as I got behind the wheel. I couldn’t get the words out.
I’m not trying to hurt myself. I’m not trying to die.
I couldn’t argue. So I ran. Literally.
The woods behind my house have grown thick with brambles since my brother and I grew up. They caught at my clothes. Ripped my skin. They tore the t-shirt that was insufficient for an April morning bitter enough to spit snow.
The air was cold, but it was mine to breathe in solitude. My chest caught when I heard Jeff approach, and saw him pass by a couple of times, searching for me. I had no desire to speak. I wanted to stay in the space I’d found. Jeff doesn’t know how he couldn’t spot me.
If I’d known how far my silence would take me from where I wanted to be that day, maybe it would have loosened my tongue.
When I was as ready as I could be to take on the rest of my day, I headed back to the house, aware of the cold and the scratches.
I didn’t notice the car in the driveway, or the officer in my living room. I went straight to the shower.
Me, alone and unsupervised in a bathroom, was not something he could be okay with.
My husband knocked, and asked me to come out. The last thing I wanted to do was get out of the warm shower.
But then he told me the police officer really wanted me to come out. I knew I’d like the alternative even less than getting out of the shower and unlocking the door myself, so I did.
I was angry, but had spent my adrenaline.
I’ve been drowning in the dark for days, and you call the cops now?!? I’m not even suicidal anymore!
Well, not actively suicidal…
My sweatpants were a muddy mess. My t-shirt was in the trash. I wrapped myself in a towel, unlocked the door, and, too tired to stand, sat on the edge of the tub to listen to the well-meaning officer. The well-meaning officer who had just walked up the stairs past the horrible wall in various states of having layer upon layer of wallpaper removed, and a huge hole open to the lath.
You can guess how I felt to have a stranger in my space. He’s seen how we live. Who wouldn’t be depressed here?!?
I was exhausted. And practically naked. I was nowhere near irrational enough to wrestle my way past a police officer like that. I had anxietied myself into the weird numbness where you feel like you’re not quite attached to your body, but a detached observer.
I spoke when spoken to.
After he was reasonably sure I wasn’t an immediate danger to myself, he asked me to put some clothes on. He was clearly not done with our conversation, however, so, fully clothed, I grudgingly but obediently returned to it.
I had two choices. Willingly go with my husband to the emergency room at the hospital where my new psychiatrist was affiliated, or have my first ride in a police car, willingly or unwillingly, to wherever the officer decided to take me.
After a 45-minute ride with my husband, and a chat with a nurse, I spent the rest of my birthday in scrubs, in a small room with a big window and a locked door with an armed officer on the other side. Suicide watch…
Welcome to 40. Melinda…
But, Happy Birthday to me. Today I’m 43.
It gets better
I’ll be back tomorrow with some things I learned from my uncelebrated birthday. Better lessons than the inadequacy and shame of my earlier memories. In the meantime, don’t let my humiliating day dissuade you from getting help if you need it. Let it motivate you to get help NOW. Things would have been easier if I’d sought help sooner. The decision was taken out of my hands because it needed to be.
My story isn’t over; neither is yours.
If you are in crisis and need help NOW, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also click the this link and use Click to Chat. Either way, you will be connected to a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline counselor, anytime 24/7.
CrisisChat is another online option.
If you are a US Veteran, or family member of a veteran, you can contact the Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 1-800-273-8225 and pressing 1, by texting 838255, or clicking the link and clicking Confidential Veterans Chat. They also provide service for the deaf and hard of hearing.
If someone you love is in crisis and is at risk for attempting suicide, GET HELP. They may be angry at you in the moment, but they’ll be around to thank you later.
What did I learn from my suicide-watch birthday? Better lessons than the inadequacy and shame of earlier humiliating days: After Suicide Watch: Three Years and a Day
Wondering what my suicide-watch birthday was like for my husband? It was worse for him than you could tell only hearing my side. Jeff’s #depressionis: Something that Needs to Be Talked About
If we can’t make the hard choice to get help for ourselves, we need to make it for others. When We’re a Danger to Ourselves… and Others
Though depression convinces us to isolate, we’re not meant to struggle on our own. We need each other. Never Alone
What’s my responsibility as a parent diagnosed with bipolar 2 and major depression? The Joy and Agony of Free Will
My birthday isn’t my only suicidal depression-related anniversary. Breaking Free from Depression’s Lies
For a Biblical model for crisis intervention check out The Good Samaritan and Crisis Intervention