I gave a glimpse of my life back in December when I wrote a recap on my intention toward courage for 2020. I transparently shared that I had self-harmed 43 out of 275 days. I am confident I have probably been close to self-harming close to 275 out of 275 days in the past, but I have come a long way since those days. But why so high now?
Maybe we can blame COVID-19. The state of Pennsylvania shut down almost completely on March 16, 2020 (I went grocery shopping the next day – it was empty of people and products). My admission date to First Hospital was March 31, 2020. I was discharged April 22, 2020 with a plan to connect with people and begin and maintain coping strategies that proved to be next to impossible when the state shut down. Granted, some of those things were still prohibited, but mental health was more important to me. On December 12, 2020, Pennsylvania was shut down a second time. I went to Steps Recovery Center (Annie’s House) in Draper, UT on December 28, 2020 and was discharged March 5, 2021. Although there were 15 days from the first shut-down to my hospitalization and 16 days between the second shut-down to my admission to the residential facility, it was much deeper and more complex than the governor telling me I could only go to the places he deemed appropriate.
I was in a seemingly healthy place compared to years before. I was a fully functioning human being; going to work, going to the gym, cleaning, doing laundry, showering, brushing my teeth and hair, cutting my fingernails, eating and drinking the way I needed to in order to maintain my activity level, and all of the other things that make people seem healthy.
However, my internal dialogue, thoughts, and feelings were inaudible to others. Sure, they came tumbling out here and there but only the occasional overflow. There were symptoms reflective of the state I was in as well, but even those were hidden as much as I could possibly hide them. There were ups and downs, ebbs and flows, feelings of contentment with laughter sprinkled in and despair that left unchecked would eventually lead to those intense suicidal thoughts and plans. Previous times that I went in for treatment did not include the ups, flows, contentment, and laughter. This was drastically different, but action was crucial. I made the decision to fly across the country because I knew the horrible things I was saying to myself were going to become the only things I could hear.
I chose to drive 146 miles (two hours, twenty-one minutes) from my house to the Philadelphia International Airport, hop on a 1927 mile (five hours, ten minutes) flight to the Salt Lake City International Airport, and then travel 23 miles (twenty-six minutes) from the airport to Annie’s House. I literally traveled across the country because I had no desire to maintain the state I was in. Maintaining is the equivalent of chewing on stale, flavorless bubble gum because that is what you have. Maintaining is familiar. It is homeostatic. It is stationary. I was static. My walls were tall, wide, and thick. I was unwilling to admit how much anger I was experiencing, primarily toward myself. I was unaware that I was holding people at an arm’s length and could not understand why I felt lonely even when surrounded by people I care about – or who I know care about me.
I found out that when people arrive at Annie’s House, the residents make guesses about who the newcomers are, whether they are there for mental health or for addiction/alcoholism. I was pegged as the person who came straight from prison, hardcore criminal and addict. Me, the one who has never had so much as a speeding ticket. Me, the one who has never even smoked pot. I found it hysterical when they finally felt comfortable enough to share their first impression of me, but it was very much an indication of the hard exterior I was using to protect myself.
I protect myself from others when the real danger lies within my own brain, or at least the thoughts I have about myself. Several weeks into my stay, I was in the same state as when I arrived and was still struggling immensely to connect and heal. I felt as though I was working with exceptional diligence, but the thoughts in my head were still unkind, so unkind that a sentence completion “poem” became telling to the people around me that I was still not okay.
- I am…nothing.
- I wonder…if anyone sees me.
- I hear…my heart beating in my ears right now.
- I see…everyone else.
- I want…peace.
- I pretend…to be doing well because others need this more than me.
- I feel…broken and disconnected.
- I touch…others lives.
- I worry…I will be “that person.”
- I cry…when no one knows.
- I understand…and comprehend words and facts more than my true self.
- I say…truth much more with my eyes than with my mouth.
- I dream…about a different future than the one I am approaching.
- I try…to be okay with what happens.
- I hope…healing is possible.
- I am…sorry I need help.