Every Breath Is a Choice to Live

Hamlet

My 19th Nervous Breakdown

About 4 years ago, I experienced what used to be called a nervous breakdown, but it’s referred to now as a major depressive episode. I’d been fighting depression and anxiety for a long time, but my tenuous hold on sanity finally evaporated.

Every morning when I woke up, I would have a panic attack about going to work that day.  I was a dedicated teacher, but chronic insomnia, panic attacks,  and depression left me exhausted,  which I will admit affected my ability to teach and to complete my duties. I was also deathly afraid of “losing it” in front of my students or coworkers.

As if on cue, I started having panic attacks at work.  Then I had to go through the embarrassing process of explaining to my bosses what was happening. I had to be taken home at least once by a counselor because everyone who saw me hyperventilating and clutching the wall for support was afraid to let me drive.

My absences began to rack up, and I finally went on Family Medical Leave.  Twice, actually. I tried to come back, but I think I lasted a couple of months before having to go back on leave.  Then FMLA ran out, and I was on unpaid leave.  After a meeting with the principal and the Human Resources representative, I faded away into the sunset; my contract was not renewed.

Gloomy Sundays

My life became the “downhill slide” everyone fears. Our finances suffered severely.  I began to develop panic attacks at the prospect of going other places, like the grocery store or church.  As at work, sometimes I’d make it to the store only to have to turn around and go home.  I started spending more and more time in bed, not necessarily sleeping, just staring numbly into space.  My husband, and even my daughter, had to take on more and more and more responsibilities because of my illness.

The guilt I felt because of my failure to hold it together seemed unbearable. I had destroyed my family’s “American Dream.” Not only was I in the depths of misery, but I felt I was dragging them down with me as well.   I would lash out at my husband even though my anger and increasing hatred was directed at myself.  Worse, I felt that even though I wasn’t actively abusive, my inability to be a “normal” Mom was unforgivable.  I needed to be a good mother to achieve some form of atonement with mine, and I could not. In my own mind, I was tried and convicted without question.

Suicide solution

Finally, I was facing Hamlet’s famous question, “To be or not to be? Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or take arms against a sea of troubles, and, by opposing, end them”  (Hamlet Act III, scene i). I confess that I contemplated suicide quite frequently.  I told myself that I was a burden to my family.  At least without me,  they could move on.

To die, to sleep

I began to form a realistic plan. I analyzed various methods to see which one would be the most painless and leave the least amount of mess.  Also, I’d personally known a mother who was a failed suicide, and after hospitalization, her husband divorced her, and she was forbidden to see her daughter, so I had to make sure it was final.  Because I didn’t want my husband or daughter to come home and find me, I was going to dial 911 first.  I was too savvy to let my psychiatrist or therapist know my thoughts.  I’d be hospitalized immediately.  I’d already had bad experiences with hospitalization in my late teens.  That wasn’t an option.

To sleep perchance to dream

The contemplation of death led to a contemplation of my life’s purpose and my afterlife, in whatever form it would take. I had to admit to myself that my family would be devastated.  I would solve my problem but compound theirs.  Then what happens after death?  What if it were infinitely worse?   This life is frightening, as much an “undiscovered country” as death.  If I failed in this life, then I would surely fail in the myriad possibilities that would confront me after death, or if there was nothing, then what was the point of my having lived at all?

Conscience makes cowards of us all

My thoughts naturally began to justify my existence. There would be  so many projects, explorations, and relationships left unfinished or unattempted.  I would be giving up precious time watching my daughter grow.  There was also a faint hope that I could get well, and because of that faint hope, I owed it to my husband and daughter to fight to live the best life I can.  A very small voice inside also whispered that I owed it to myself, especially to my child self that deserved to know loving kindness, to know success.

The Long and Winding Road

And so here am I.  I cannot say the question is answered.  It’s not.  In fact, it is ever present.  There is a quote by a favorite author, Chuck Palahniuk, which sums up my condition, perhaps the human condition in general.  “You have a choice. Live or die. Every breath is a choice. Every minute is a choice. To be or not to be.”

Since becoming aware of that choice, I have embarked on a search to find a purpose to live, to make meaning for my life, to find peace. I read philosophy, self help books and blogs,  study spiritual teachings, study myself, study my experiences and the experiences of others.  Mostly I just find more questions, but ironically, the original question itself, “To be or not to be?” has been the catalyst to motivate me to find a better way to live.

Notes from the Author

Suicide is obviously a very serious subject and a very real threat when dealing with major depression.  Follow this link for resources on suicide prevention.

Did you notice the subtitles?  Yes, they’re the titles of songs by The Rolling Stones, Billie Holiday, Ozzy Osbourne, and The Beatles.   I would have provided you with a playlist, but I had some technical difficulties.

Photo Attribution:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ell-r-brown/3639046759/

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About emilyrossiter

Ever since I was little I was interested in reading and learning. I was the type of kid who did research for fun. Along the way, I have picked up interests in traditional Geek fare such as video games and tabletop RPGs. Science fiction, horror, and fantasy are my "brain candy." I have a B.A. in English and an M.S. in Education. I taught high school English for a while, but unfortunately, I developed an illness that made it impossible for me to work anymore. Staying at home, I rely on my "Geek Profession" to pass the time.

5 responses to “Every Breath Is a Choice to Live

  1. Rusty

    One of the hardest things I had to go through was watching this in real time. Seeing your soul-mate in such pain and then trying to give them reasons to live and to fight another day, is hard. My deepest fear was that I would come home from work to find Emily dead. I had that fear for a long time. She has reasons to live and to fight. Suicidal thoughts I do not think ever truly go away, but may be pushed to the back of the brain. With luck and prayer they will stay there.

    Where is a heal spell when you need one?

  2. Wow, Emily… thank you for sharing this. It brought back a flood of memories of those days of not being able to get to work, or just continuing to drive past because I just couldn’t face another day.

    And I need those memories. I need to remember that I’m one of the lucky one’s who came out of the other side, but could go back there anytime if I stop doing what I need to do to stay healthy.

    And Rusty, thank you for your comment. Now that my head is clear, it breaks my heart remembering my wife’s eyes as they would wheel me off to the hospital yet again. Another painful memory that I never want to go away.

  3. Thank you for sharing this with us. I for one believe that each of us adds a light to the world. I’m glad you’re light is still shining!

  4. I am so glad you shared this. I have had a major depressive episode this summer, I guess it is still going on, although I am finally feeling better. I have not had suicidal thoughts, but I could definitely hang in my house without going anywhere if my hubby would let me get away with it! I am on medical leave from my job, which I will not be going back to as it is what caused a great deal of my stress and anxiety. They do say I can go back to some part time work within a month or so.
    Great thing is, I have a husband who has been awesomely fantastic. He has been there for me and done everything he could to help me heal, even things I don’t “want” to do, like going out to run errands with him on a Saturday afternoon!
    I just think it is important for all people who suffer with mental illnesses for us to be real and as open as we can be, so that A. it reduces the stigma and B.others will get help earlier in their illness making for less recovery and less anguish.
    Keep your chin up!
    Bernice
    http://bernicewood.wordpress.com/2010/10/05/trying-so-hard-to-be-myself/

    • Yes! I think every voice that speaks out helps undermine the stigma and embarrassing silence that surrounds mental illness. Most statistics agree that 1 in 4 people have some sort of mental illness in their lives. That’s 25% of the population who need advocacy and support!

      My husband has been wonderful also. If it weren’t for Rusty, my condition would be much worse. I am blessed to have him.

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