This post was originally titled “I’m Still Breathing” which you can find through a search bar on my page.
I edited this blog post into a Mass Media article which will be appearing in the first issue of the semester. I plan on converting a few other blog posts into articles, as well as my suicidality story which you will have seen the final product of on Sunday September 4th.
Thank you for reading.
Edited 8.24 (to fit 1,500 word limit)
Forgive the crappy spacing in this piece, I fixed it before but it won’t follow through. My apologies D:
By Raquel Lyons
There are times where I listen to Sia’s song “Alive” and appreciate that I have survived my darkest days regarding mental health issues. There are times where I listen to her song and smile at the strength I’ve used to get through those difficult times, and marvel at how I managed to make it through them, when I was so convinced I never would.
Recovery is a process in which I include my dark days. The days where I wasn’t sure I wanted to recover or get better or see the next day. That’s where the beginning of my recovery started–in the abyss, the vortex, the black hole, the white out. In the nothingness, still, there was something. There was me. And I made it through.
Now, there are still days where I wish I hadn’t. I call those moments Resentful Raquel. However, I also have days of Recovery Raquel, in which I’m proud to have survived and to be here, on the better side of days, where I can still achieve my dreams and my hopes and my wishes. Where I can still listen to awesome music and interact with awesome, amazing people; where I can expand my sense of self and who I wish to love. It’s exciting, really, and I think sometimes it can be easy to forget that.
It’s especially easy to forget that when you have a dark cloud of mental illness shrouding you.
So, you may ask, how did I make it through my crises?
A combination of tactics is my best answer.
First, medication was necessary in my case. I was reluctant to go on medications; I can likely attribute that to the controversy and stigma surrounding medications to treat mental health issues. However, I was in my first hospitalization at the end of January 2015 when I was convinced by a nurse on the unit to try out medications. The worst was already upon me, and not being on medications wasn’t helping my scenario (as I was in the hospital), and if it could help, why would I not try them? That’s the best of what I can remember her telling me. It had enough of an impact, regardless if I can’t remember her exact words, for me to drop my reluctance and go on medications, and for me to tell you about it now.
So I tried meds. And they didn’t help for a while, they may have made things worse actually, but I don’t know for sure. So I tried another brand of meds. And those helped. And then there were a few other trials, but eventually I got on the two medications I’m on today.
And, what I’ve been told repeatedly through the mental health community of professionals is that medications are an aid to help me do the work I need to do with psychotherapy. Without medications, I’d continue to be emotionally dysregulated and going through several crises–which isn’t a cohesive environment for me to make gains in recovery. So, again, for me, medications played an important role.
What else helped?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll continue to say it again: Finding something to hold onto. Whether it was physical (a stuffed animal) or metaphorical (my dreams for the future), I found things to hold on to. I found reasons to live another day.
My suggestion would be to come up with reasons to live for yourself. They can be ANYthing–I had listed food and activities and friendships and more. In another article, I will even share my own.
Also, writing positive things about your day in a journal can be helpful, too. Bonus points if you come up with different things each day, so it gets your brain thinking and you notice all the little stuff that makes you happy, even when life’s…well, difficult to say the least.
Doing IOS (ink on skin) helped me a LOT, too. Drawing or writing on myself with pen really, really helped to get my attention focused back in the present moment, to distract me, to feel the touch and smell of the ink, to create something beautiful rather than something destructive or painful.
Remember that getting better requires time to pass. It sucks, I know, and for a good few months I didn’t notice change in my outlook on life, but it was brewing, through the small steps. My dark days lasted for 3 months definitively and 6 months overall (including those first 3 months). But Recovery was brewing in my system from March 2015 on. That’s why I think and say my dark days were encompassed by my Recovery. They fit inside each other like those Russian doll sets. Each moment I could use to try one other positive coping mechanism rather than scratching myself was a victory. Each moment I could get through alive meant another day under my belt of survival.
And again, I didn’t think I’d actually make it through alive. I got through those first dark 3 months with the complete belief that I was going to kill myself at any moment in time. I was always planning my suicide and looking for “opportunities”. And the snow days killed me more inside as I kept missing therapy appointments–which I didn’t completely mind since it gave me more of a chance to die.
And while I may have been scratching myself during those three months, and while I did get two hospitalizations out of that time, I wasn’t always acting on my suicidal thoughts. Mainly because I felt there were problems with my plans or chances I’d be interrupted.
My point is, while I didn’t think I’d make it out alive, time continued to pass, and as it did my crises would too.
You see, a crisis is time limited. The more time you can buy yourself within that crisis, the better the chance you’ll make it through it unharmed (or at least, not dead). Another way to think about it is: Feelings are temporary.
When I couldn’t stand the thought of making it alive through another week, I thought about it as getting by the next hour, the next minute, and the next few seconds. And working with seconds, that’s pretty good because seconds go by quick, and if I could hold on for a few seconds, I could make it to a few minutes, hours, days. It was a way of breaking down the complexity in a simpler fashion to something I could genuinely handle and cope with.
Hospitalizations were also very helpful for me. I’d go through a good range of emotions beforehand but I’m grateful to myself that I used the time in the hospital as best as I could, regardless if I was annoyed or depressed through it. I kept myself going to groups and asking for help, and a lot of that experience I now use to write these articles.
My crises began tapering off by the summer of 2015, and one time when I texted my friend and my Mom that I was having a hard time and was going to take a bath, they freaked out because they thought I was going to kill myself–when in my mind, I was only going to take a bath and had NO thoughts about killing myself. It wasn’t even on my radar, AT ALL.
Another time, I went out of the house to the store to meet up with that same friend. My Mom was concerned that I’d crash my car and die, and again, I was like, “What? No. I’m just going to the store. I hadn’t even thought about that.”
These were signs that I was moving away from the identity I had crafted about myself being a suicidal blob.
Implementing positive coping strategies and proper self-expression through art aided me in the process of my recovery. Particularly, implementing positive coping strategies when I was feeling WELL was of HUGE importance. I was told in my third hospitalization that the key to using positive coping alternatives is to use them when I was doing well, so that when I feel bad, I’m more likely to think of the positive coping alternatives I do when I’m well and turn to them. This is because many of us know when we’re feeling bad, we have a harder time of thinking clearly and doing what may be more beneficial to us rather than getting a quick, temporary ‘fix’.
The most important thing to remember is that you can and will make it out alive through your crises. And if you EVER have ANY doubt, reach out to someone. You are loved. You are cared for–more deeply than you realize. I care about you, and I believe that you, too, will get better.