One year ago, I went home and babysat a friend's three young children as they played with my two. I assured her that it would be no problem at all and to enjoy her afternoon at a niece's bridal shower.
One year ago, I read stories to my kids and tucked them into bed, checking on them twenty minutes later to ensure they were asleep. I knew their dad would be home in a few hours and they were safe until then.
One year ago, I lay on my bed and thought about what I had thought about several times that weekend: the space in my garage ceiling that could be used as an anchor point, the dog's leash and broom that I could fashion together into a tightening loop and place around my neck before kicking away a chair. I thought about the sheer exhaustion I felt from fighting for what seemed like nothing. I thought about how stupid I had been to get pregnant, how it would be a much easier decision if I wouldn't be essentially killing a baby as well. And again, I thought about how my children would be safe, asleep and unaware, until their father arrived home in a few hours.
Then I did the smartest thing I've ever done. I sent a text message. Three, actually. One was to my sister, who knew how my depression had been worsening and who had been trying to help from afar as much as possible. She called me immediately to talk and distract me until I wasn't alone anymore. One was to my husband, who knew I was unwell and I thought deserved some warning of just how bad, and what he might be coming home to. He tried to call, but was on a train travelling through the countryside and kept hitting black spots. He sent messages instead, begging me to hang on. The third was to a friend, my pastor's wife, who replied with "we're coming over to sit and pray with you". After sorting out babysitters for their own kids, they arrived at my front door and didn't leave until after my husband arrived home at 1am.
I remember feeling guilty that I was taking so much time and energy from these people. I remember moving from thoughts about suicide and imagining failed attempts, to the thought but I wouldn't actually go through with it. I remember outwardly downplaying how bad my mental state was while inwardly chastising myself for being melodramatic and making good people feel unnecessary worry. I remember thinking and saying but on some level, I can't possibly be serious, because if I was, I wouldn't be telling people about it. I know you'll stop me.
The friends who sat with me talked and prayed, offered to let me sleep, listened to anything I wanted to say, and told me they thought it was time for a hospital admission. When my husband arrived home, they stayed another half an hour to share with him some of what had been happening and to make a plan for the coming few days, to ensure I wasn't alone. He and I stayed up another two hours, talking. I don't even remember what about. The following morning, my husband returned to work, my pastor looked after my daughter, and his wife K accompanied me to the doctor. My sister was driving the 3 1/2 hours from her place to mine.
I explained to my doctor that the depression was getting worse and I had been feeling suicidal. She told me that, ironically, suicidal thoughts were a possible side effect of my medication, but we could increase the dose. As I sat there quietly agreeing, K jumped in.
"No," she said. "I don't think you understand. She contacted me last night because she had a plan."
My doctor's demeanor immediately shifted and she wrote out a referral for the private hospital I'd looked up, then told K not to leave me alone until I was safely admitted somewhere. She said, "it's not your fault; you are sick. You can get better. Most people who kill themselves warn people beforehand. It might be a day before or a month before, we don't know, but most people tell someone. You have to take it very seriously and go to the hospital."
I was surprised at her statement about warnings. It contradicted my own thoughts that I must be making this up, because if it was real, I wouldn't be sabotaging my ability to attempt it. But in a strange way, it gave me peace. People were listening. People were making decisions, so I didn't have to anymore.
My husband left work after an hour, unable to concentrate, and told his boss he was needed at home. K drove me 45 minutes to the nearest city and talked to different staff members at hospitals. She refused to give up when a shortage of beds meant driving to three different hospitals and taking up her entire day, from 9am to 6pm. I told her how strange it was to feel like I was fine, I was kidding myself, this was a weird mistake that had got out of hand, but then another moment consider whether I could sneak out of the house at 3am and walk in front of a truck on the highway. She made a point of mentioning the latter to a nurse, explaining that she was worried to take me back home when I talked like that. Finally, I sat alone on a bed that felt as hard as the floor, in a room with white walls and smooth edges, locked windows and no power points. The nurses had searched all my bags and removed a dozen things they thought could be dangerous, then left me with exhaustion and my own twisted thoughts.
What followed was the hardest year of my life to date. Three hospital admissions, totaling seven weeks. Medication increases that eventually took me to eight times the dose of antidepressants I was on a year ago today. Psychologist appointments weekly or fortnightly depending on how much better I was doing at a given time. Close to $5000 on psychologist appointments, around $400 on medication, $6000 on private hospital gap payments and health insurance excess. Not to mention the PHI premiums, the babysitting, the petrol to travel to all these things, or the possible income lost. There is help out there, and I am glad it is available, but I can't help but wonder if I would still be here today were I not a married middle-class woman with wealthy, supportive parents.
That year, horribly difficult though it was, also brought me to where I am now. Last week I finished another novel draft - many, many months later than I had hoped when I began it, but I FINISHED. I know the editing process is ahead, but I'm excited rather than exhausted by the prospect. In September, just hours after my husband saw K at her son's birthday party, we texted her to announce the birth of our daughter. I now have a six month old baby with a gummy grin that can melt anyone's heart, a baby that still felt like a theoretical idea back when she was inside my body and I wondered if I could bear to kill her. A few weeks ago I said goodbye to my son on his first day of school, my elder daughter on her first day of preschool. I celebrated another wedding anniversary with a man who loves me more than any rational human should, and he grew closer to our kids as he became their primary carer for periods. My sister came to stay and helped me decorate a Christmas cake, then we sprinkled fake snow from Santa's boots. I have not cut or burned myself once in 2017, and that's a bigger achievement than I know how to express.
When I think back on it all, I do return to that old thought. But am I really depressed? Did I just want more attention? Would I ever have actually tried it? I can't know the answer for sure, but with the clarity of hindsight, I know that I was definitely very unwell, barely functioning. I can see that recognizing how wrong a thought is does not mean it had no power over you. Trying to ensure that thought never translates to action doesn't mean you didn't think it. It just means that you reached out for help before it was too late.
This time last year, I sent a text message. I do not regret it. And I am writing today, sharing this with unknown people on the internet, because I want them to feel like they can send a text message if they need to. Even if they doubt themselves and feel dissociated from the thoughts they sometimes think. Even if they're tired and they don't know if they want to fight on for another week or month or year or however long it might take to get better, if such a place exists. Even if they worry that they've been burdening the same couple of people and might lose a friendship. Even if they're afraid of what comes next or who might know. Send the text. Please.
A year ago today, I made the smartest decision of my life.