How Do You Live When You Want to Die?
Sorry for the click bait headline, but I needed to get your attention. I’ve debated for a long time whether to go public with this. It’s not something that is easy to talk about. However, I feel so many people struggle with it, and are ashamed, that it’s time public figures like myself come forward to take away the stigma of mental illness. It’s no secret that I’ve struggled with anxiety for quite a while. I’ve made that well known over the years. However, last year I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Things came to a head for me last fall at San Angelo Comic Con. It was a fun show and I was happy to see all my friends. However, I’d been under a lot of stress that year. I’d had a string of shows that hadn’t done well, book sales had been slow and I had just been struggling with all around fears of failure. I learned later, these kinds of negative thoughts are normal.
About halfway into the show on Saturday, I suffered what I thought was a debilitating panic attack. I learned later this was a severe manic episode. You see, I often get these things called racing thoughts. I call it head noise because that is just what it is. Noise inside your head. Have you ever turned on your car radio and it was stuck on static on full blast? It jolts the hell out of you, doesn’t it?
That’s what the racing thoughts are like, except there is no turning them down. It’s just noise in your head and static. Usually accompanied by depression and negative thoughts telling you that you’re a failure and you completely suck. Now, I’m not posting this for sympathy. I’m trying to help people understand.
Often people are like “Just focus on good things!” but it isn’t that simple because all of this is generating from inside your own head and you can’t get it out. Something I told my therapist at one point was to imagine all the horrible, violent and grisly things I write about in my stories; then turn them around and point them inward. That’s what the inside of my head is like on most days. I don’t choose it, I must fight it, every single day.
That day at San Angelo, I left the convention center without saying a word to anyone. I went back to my hotel and dug my medications out of my bag and prepared to swallow every single pill in both bottles just to make the thoughts stop. This wasn’t what I wanted, but at this point, I was feeling hopeless. I couldn’t make the thoughts stop, I was hours away from home and the idea of driving home in this condition felt overwhelming. Everything felt overwhelming.
This is something healthy minded people have a hard time understanding. For a person with bipolar or even depression, things snowball and they can snowball quickly. You can be fine one minute, then soon your thoughts are out of control and you are instantly being tortured by your own brain and there is nothing you can do about it.
No amount of fresh air, deep breaths, vitamins, chanting, exercise or healthy eating can fix it. Not that these things can’t be helpful in preventing it from getting worse and contribute to overall wellness, but they don’t all work for everyone and sometimes those things don’t work at all.
Luckily, one of my friends texted me asking where I went off to. I told them what happened and what I was feeling and they convinced me to call a local hospital which I did. I spoke to the nurse there for a few hours who talked me through the mania until things calmed down.
Later, I called my wife and told her what happened. I felt bad explaining it to her because it scared the hell out of her. One thing she doesn’t realize is how many other times I’d been that way and held it in because I didn’t want to scare her. More than her or most people who know me realize.
That night, I went downstairs and had dinner with some friends. I made it ok through the rest of the weekend and could get to my doctor who sent me to a therapist and they were able to get me on the proper medication and diagnosis.
I’m not going to sit here and say I have it under control because I don’t. I’m much better now than I was back then, but there are good days and bad days. Now, it’s more like the demons are sitting off in the corner instead of walking around climbing on my back, but they are still there and I can see and hear them regularly. It’s not fun and I don’t choose this.
I wake up every day and must convince myself to keep existing. That is a common feeling among people with depression and bipolar. Often, we don’t want to die, we just don’t want to exist. I know for many that may not make sense and it’s hard to explain, but it is something we battle with every day. Honestly, the idea of not having to fight with my brain every day feels like such a foreign concept I’m not sure what healthy people think about all day.
I really hate the stigma mental illness has. For me, when things get bad, I internalize. I hold everything in because I don’t want to trouble others with my problems and honestly, I figure people don’t want to hear my bullshit. Some people act out. Many authors and creative people suffer some form of mental illness. Some of us have more control over it than others.
Once again, I’m not posting this for sympathy or any kind of pity. Over the past year, many readers and other authors have confided in me about having struggled with the same thing. Some have had it used against them by their own friends or family even though they are perfectly functioning.
Dealing with mental illness is no different than any other medical disorder, except you can’t see it. Just because someone may look OK to you doesn’t mean they are OK. Constantly questioning how they feel vs. how they look or making them feel guilty for feeling bad doesn't help them. I haven't even touched on trying to find the right combination of medication that works or the side effects. That would be another article entirely. One thing is clear, medication doesn't cure mental illness, but it does help us control it.
I hope this blog takes us at least one tiny step closer to removing some of the stigma and understanding what makes us tick.