It's time to have a serious conversation about mental health in our country. It seems like we are ashamed to talk about it. Well I am not ashamed of the issues I have had, I just have always chosen to keep them private. I am going to share my two darkest days in the hopes that others will share and get help like I did.
In March 1999, I lost my boyfriend to a car accident and my grandfather just one week later. I was devastated. This was the first time in my life where I knew how to it felt to be numb.
My heart was shattered. I remember feeling as if I could not feel anything.
I got through those days as a zombie. I had no fight in me. I just went from place to place when really all I wanted to do was hide.
I had no tears left when the thoughts of just letting go entered my head. I even began to sketch it all out. How? When? Where?
At that time, I felt like I really had no one. I felt utterly and completely alone. I thought no one will miss me if I go. So why not just go?
I could see my Mom and Step Dad wanted to help me so badly, but just didn't know how. They didn't know what to say or what to do. I took some time off from college to just deal with everything.
The night I thought of letting go, I decided I had to do something. I had to get off the fence. Either I was going to let go or I was going to go on. It was the pain in my mother's face that made me get off the fence. She loved me so much and wanted to help, but just didn't know how. There was this look on her face. I'll never forget it, the thought of it makes me cry today. Her look reached my heart like an arrow. She needed me to move on. She needed me to be ok again.
So I did move on. I struggled for a long time with depression. I hid my depression with a smile and by focusing on finishing my degree. I buried myself in my studies. I built many of the walls I still have today because I just didn't want to be hurt anymore.
A few months later, Chaz got through one of those walls. For some reason, he just kept coming around and slowly broke through that wall. And before I knew it, everyone called him my boyfriend and then he became my happily ever after.
Fast forward to 2005-06-the darkest year of our life. Chaz was in Iraq and I had two very sick babies on my hands. I never got to talk with him. I was in the doctor's office every week. Cutie #1 developed asthma and Cutie #2 developed every baby disease on the planet it seemed. Chaz's company was getting hammered. Every time I turned around there was a call, KIA, WIA, it was insane.
Then came the sleep deprivation. At one point I had to give Cutie #1 a breathing treatment every other hour. Cutie #2 was just an infant and she was an infant who seemed to catch everything so she was always on meds. There were a few days that I ran on just minutes of sleep. I later learned that Cutie #2 also brought me postpartum depression. Something I knew nothing about until I was buried inside of it.
I was at my edge again. I was so tired. I was being criticized by family and friends for this and that, all petty BS of course. I was called a hypochondriac for the medical concerns of our girls. I was called a bad mom. And in all this criticism and health issues, I had to find time to attend memorials for my husband's fellow soldiers.
I remember the day I walked out to the back deck of the first home we lived in. I remember thinking it's only a matter of time before I am a widow. I remember thinking I'll just end it all. Then came the How? When? Where?
I was snapped out of those thoughts from 3 year old Cutie #1 needing something. Luckily our days were so busy with meds and treatments that I was just exhausted and would pass out at the end of each day. The days passed quickly for the three Allen girls that year.
I did see my doctor and talk with them about everything. It was my hormones mixed with exhaustion for sure. I was put on a hormone treatment and it did make things better for me. When Chaz came home, I confessed everything to him. He did not understand at all, but he did try. We both had to try to understand each other after that deployment. Neither of us were ever the same.
When my girlfriend's husband committed suicide, I remember a man telling me in anger that I have no idea what it's like. I may not know another person's demons, but I have shaken my own demons' hands. I know what it's like to stare at the end. I know what it's like to be in the dark tunnel and be desperate for a light. I have been there twice. Both of my bouts were brought on by the death of others and exhaustion that carried into hopelessness. The hopelessness and exhaustion spiraled me into the pit of despair.
I do not know what combat feels like. I only know what my husband has shared with me about his tours. I have looked at my husband more than once after he has shared a story with me and asked, "How the hell are you sane?"
When the guys came home from Iraq, you did not talk about the war if you wanted to stay in the Army. Chaz had nowhere to turn. He had to give his guilt to me. His stories are buried in my brain and yes even sometimes wake me up at night. I know he has not shared them all and I doubt he ever will. But the stories he has shared are ours now.
People ask me how does Chaz handle everything so well? I truly believe it's because he given me so much of his guilt and I do not judge him for what he has been through. I know he has killed people. I know some of the things he has seen. I have held him when he has cried and we cried together. I have let him fall apart and together we put the pieces back together. I truly believe he is doing so well because he has no doubts that I love him unconditionally. For him, that is enough. Unfortunately many others need so much more. Everyone's needs are different and it's time we realize mental health treatment is not one size fits all.
We lose 22 veterans per day to suicide, but suicide is not exclusive to the veteran population. Suicide hurts us all. For some odd reason, we as a society do not want to talk about dark feelings and dark places. It's hard and it makes us feel awkward. You know what, it is hard and awkward. I have walked away from typing this several times so I can clear my eyes. This is an extremely hard monster to face, but we have to. We are losing too many people to this monster.
We need to start the dialog. There's nothing wrong with talking about our feelings. What is wrong is that we choose to avoid the elephant in the room. What we need to do is take that elephant down one bite at a time. I do not know how to accomplish that, but we have a lot of medical professionals who do. It is time to listen to them.
It has almost been a decade since I have been on my fence. I truly hope I never see it again. I still battle depression from time to time, but mine is hormonal based. Exhaustion always makes it worse.
How do I cope? I have a few ways. I make sure and get some type of exercise in at least a few times a week. Right now I am training for a half marathon, so I am doing a lot of walking. I also love yoga and I love to turn the music up and dance around the house with our girls. Sometimes I just need a lovely cup of tea and a good book to escape into. But every single day I begin my day by giving thanks for waking up, then that I can see, that I can hear, that I can breathe, that I can walk, that I have another day with my family and my thankful list is very long. Beginning my day in thankfulness is what kicks off my positivity. And yes I have been called Pollyanna, but this Pollyanna is far from perfect and it took me a long time to like looking at her in the mirror. Some days I still don't like her. I am still a work under construction, but I truly believe we all are.
Looking back, I realize that God put me through those tests so I would be able to handle Chaz's injuries and the plan that he had in store for our family. My faith was tested to extreme levels more than once. God and I had lots of bad words back then. I was so angry with the things that had happened to me. I had been faithful to him, yet he allowed this hurt to continue. I did blame him for pretty much everything I had gone through.
Now I know you have to have tests to have a testimony; you have to have trials to be triumphant. My scars are not out there for everyone to see. They are buried inside and really only a few know about them. There is a lot more hurt to my two stories, but I am just not comfortable enough to share every single detail with the world. And you know what, that is ok.
I am ok with be a part of the dialog in our world and getting the statistics of suicide lower. There is something that can be done, I just don't know what that is. All I know is what worked for Chaz and I and all I can do is share that in the hopes that it helps someone else.
Today is the start of a new year. Let's work together to learn about how we can help others and get those statistics lower. And my media friends....if you can saturate our news with the threat of ebola, you damn sure can start this dialog and help save lives.