I sat down to write a piece about Let’s Talk day.
Here I am, 2 hours later, with absolutely nothing to show for all my efforts.
(except for an empty beer can and a half-eaten ferrero rocher)
Why am I feeling so absolutely blocked?
I’d say its about 50% the current state of my mental health (dodgy) and 50% the fact that in exactly 1 hour I turn 26 (and become an official spinster – send cats!).
So, instead of forcing out a a brief cliche post all about the importance of speaking honestly about mental health, I’m going to share with you an old post. This post was the first time I spoke openly about my darkest moments. It was the first time I talked about what I had been through with someone who wasn’t a medical professional and it was terrifying. I had no clue as to the reactions I would receive. I didn’t think the writing itself was any good. I feared that speaking publicly about this topic would change how friends viewed me and potentially hinder future job prospects. I had never talked about it before and immediately after posting it I experienced an anxiety attack yet I couldn’t bring myself to bring it down.
I’d done it. I’d posted it. It was out there.
And the responses I received were overwhelming in their kindness.
My entire goal/mission/hope for this blog was to encourage and/or inspire others to TALK ABOUT IT. It will take all the strength you can muster but my darling, it’s worth it.
Talk about it. Please, don’t hide your struggles. If you are struggling find someone to talk to and don’t allow yourself to be silenced. Don’t trust the voice inside your head saying that you deserve the pain, that you are weak and useless and merely biding your time. You deserve to be heard. You deserve to be held, to be loved, to be comforted. You deserve all the love and good feelings the world has to offer.
Fight for your happiness.
You are loved and you are important.
And so my darlings, I on Let’s Talk Day, I present to you a brief glimpse into the past – the first time I talked about it.
A Brief History of the Descent to Rock-Bottom: A Memoir.
There are periods of my life I don’t like to talk about.
Black holes in time, moments I wish could forget.
Unfortunately the mind doesn’t work that way and the memories I long to suppress are too often the ones to star in my nightmares.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, I might as well share these memories with the world.
Following my sexual assault in 2011 I fell into a major depressive episode. I had struggled with mild depression and anxiety from a young age, yet this episode was nothing like anything I’d ever experienced before. It was a monster that refused to leave me, day or night. My own personal thunderstorm, forever hovering over my head. I knew that something wasn’t right and I desperately tried to reach out for help – I requested to see a psychologist (called a KABAN in the IDF) multiple times only to be told it wasn’t possible at the moment. My parents were an ocean away and I had no one to hold me accountable for my own actions and no one paying close attention to me. My cries for help fell upon deaf ears so I decided to take it to extreme measures. One evening on my base, at around 23:30 I swallowed a handful of pills I had been hoarding for a few months and closed my eyes.
I opened them a while later to find paramedics in the room. There were 2 officers there with me, one of whom held my hand the entire time and, I remember this clearly, apologized repeatedly. He tried to climb into the ambulance with me, but ultimately was pushed out by the other officer who out-ranked him. When we arrived at the hospital I was placed in a cubical, the curtains pulled shut and I was left on my own for a few moments. I was so happy in those moments – finally someone would help me, someone would see what had been going on. Then the nurse came back with a long tube and a grim look on her face: it was time to pump my stomach. The officer who had accompanied me felt no need to stay in the cubicle for support. If you’ve never had your stomach pumped with charcoal, you’ll never understand how horrifically uncomfortable it is. I remember pleading with the nurse to stay with me after she had inserted the tube through my nose, down my throat, into my stomach: “please don’t leave me alone, please I’m all on my own”. She walked out without even a glimpse back.
The minutes ticked by, one at a time, slow as can be. Within a few moments the charcoal took effect and I started vomiting like I’ve never vomited before. This black, slimy, sludge was crawling up my throat the feeling of alarm only intensified by the tube down my throat and the fact that seemingly the entire staff was ignoring the sounds of me being sick into my own lap. It continued on like this until the daughter of the patient next to me pulled the curtains back. She walked over to me, mouth set in a straight line and I hadn’t a clue as to what her next move would be. She approached my gurney and wiped the sweaty wispy tendrils of hair (I call them my baby hairs) from my eyes. She turned to the nurse and demanded a wet cloth and a basin for me to vomit into, as opposed to continuing to be sick on myself. With a scowl the nurse acquiesced and just like that I found myself being comforted by a stranger. I closed my eyes and let the sobs overtake me as she stroked my hair and whispered reassuring nothings to me.
“Everything will be ok.”
“You are so strong and brave, they will help you now.”
“Your family loves you very much.”
“I will not leave you.”
Sure enough, she didn’t leave my side throughout the entire procedure. When my mother rang my phone, I still had a tube down my throat and a strangers hand on my back. The officer who had accompanied me answered the phone. She looked at me, questioningly and when I shook my head slightly she proceeded to inform my mother that I was unable to speak as I was currently having my stomach pumped following a bad bout of food poisoning.
The charcoal ran its course and the tube was removed (none-too-gently) from my throat. The stranger gave me a final kiss on the forehead and I was wheeled up to an overnight ward. Still dressed in my vomit-covered uniform I was placed in a hallway beside the nurses station “so I could be kept under close observation in order to insure that I would not harm myself again”. Otherwise known as – there were no free beds in the ward. I spent the night in a restless fit, tossing and turning, my stomach one giant knot of anxiety and fear. What was going to happen next?
The next morning, I finally got my long-requested visit with a psychologist. I sat down in the chair opposite him, distinctly aware of the stench of dried puke wafting off me.
“There’s no way he won’t take me seriously, he’s going to help me!”
I knew that this was possibly my only chance, so I took full advantage. I told him everything. How my roommate had held me down and forced me to perform sexual acts on him. How I hadn’t slept properly in weeks and had no appetite and could only shower after pushing a shelf against the door to ensure it stayed closed. I told him that I couldn’t stand to be touched, that some mornings I could barely drag myself out of bed and into my uniform, but it was better than staying home with my own thoughts running rampant through my mind. I told him I was all alone and needed someone to help me before all this bottled up rage and pain made me explode. He nodded at all the right places, jotted down notes, and then confirmed with me that I “hadn’t actually intended on ending my life, it was merely a cry for help”.
I confirmed this to him and a seemingly relieved smile appeared on his face. He prescribed me an anti-depressant and assured that if I started taking them immediately I would start to feel better within 10 days. He told me to take 30 days sick-leave from the army and to get as much rest as possible. I took the prescription, shook his hand and was ushered out of his office, still in a bit of a haze. It all happened quite quickly from there. I picked up my new medication and was discharged. No family in the country meant that my ride home was a public bus and so I boarded a bus, still covered in my own vomit, black snot dripping out of my nose as a side-effect of the charcoal stomach pump. I got home and climbed into bed, no plans on getting up in the near future.
It was another 2 days before anyone checked on me, and by that time I’d come to terms with the fact that the army would be of no real help. I considered leaving the army, running back to Canada. I looked into private therapists. But none of these options were realistic. So I took my 30 days sick leave and spent them building up my walls. I moved to a Kibbutz where I had my own studio apartment and no one to check in on me. By the time I went back to base I was seemingly the old me – cheerful, silly, and loud.
I had found a way to handle my pain.
People will often look at the scars on my left arm and make various assumptions. The first is often that I am still harming myself.
Let me get that one out of the way – the scars on my body are just that: fully healed wounds. There are no fresh wounds on me, and I no longer even entertain the idea of cutting myself. I haven’t for quite a few years.
The next assumption is that I tried to kill myself without realizing that I was actually slitting my wrists the wrong way.
Also wrong. The goal was never to put an end to my life with these cuts.
My first memory of self-harming comes from around age 12. I don’t remember it in full detail, but I remember feeling the urge to cause physical pain to myself. I don’t know why, and it’s something that’s bothered me for much of my adult life. Around age 16 I dabbled with it again. Nothing serious, scratches here and there when life got to be too loud, too out of control.
The cutting this time was much more than that. I wanted to see a physical manifestation of my inner pain. When the voices would get too loud I would drink a bottle of wine, pick apart a razor and cut at my arms until there was blood running down my hand. The voices were silenced. The wine numbed my senses and provided me the opportunity to doze off into a (often much-needed) deep sleep for a few hours. I’d wake up, clean and bandage my arm, throw everything away and go about my day. I would shut myself in my apartment for 3 days at a time, going through this cycle repeatedly. I was able to do this thanks to my position in the army – I served 8 days on base, then 6 days at home, due to the nature of the hours required in this job. So I had 3 days to myself, 3 days with all the other soldiers who lived on my Kibbutz and then 8 days on base. By the time I returned to base, my cuts were well on their way to healing and as long as my arms remained covered, no one was ever the wiser.
With time, the weight on my chest started to lift. After a lengthy battle with the higher-ups, I was allowed to transfer to a new base. I moved the Rosh HaNikra Border Crossing where I was surrounded by some of the most incredible people I will ever meet. These people will never understand the impact they collectively had on my life. They saw to it that I saw a psychologist on a weekly basis and slowly, so slowly, my heart started to heal.
However, my heart and mind still had a few weak spots and I carried on cutting from time to time until 2013. It didn’t always go unnoticed. I remember a friend coming up to me at the hotel I worked at, taking my hand in his gentle grasp and assuring me that he wasn’t upset, but he needed me to know that I deserved better than the marks on my arm. One time a roommate walked into my room and I had bled through my shirtsleeve. He silently went into his room and returned with a first aid kit then proceeded to bandage my wounds. He gave me a hug and promised not to tell anyone.
I don’t remember causing specific scars and for years I tried desperately to hide them. I was so embarrassed (and still am) of the way I chose to deal with my pain. In the aftermath, it always made me feel weak. I’ve had my selfharming tendencies thrown in my face by many, the most memorable being an ex as we were breaking up.
“Aren’t you upset about this?” (I screamed probably hysterically)
“Of course I am, but it’s not like I’m going to go slit my wrists because of it” (he replied in a moment of true stupidity).
The thing is, I can’t change my past. There was a time when I saw no other option. I don’t like to think about that time, but I know that I can’t simply suppress it. I also know now that I am not the only one to struggle with these feelings. The stigma’s surrounding mental illness and self-harm still very much exist but it is becoming less taboo to open a discussion about it. I will never be proud of my scars. They don’t prove my strength and they most certainly do not make me a goddamned tiger (Instagram is full of insanely cheesy quotes). I made poor choices in my youth and desperately wish I could go back in time and stop myself from causing physical pain on top of the already existing mental pain. Unfortunately this is not a movie and I can’t change my past. I can only accept it.
I am no longer the broken girl I was in 2011. I am strong, I am brave and I am smart. I know that I have a bright future ahead of me and I know that I must work hard to get there. I’ve no doubt that I will one day make my greatest dreams come true.