This post is a continuation of “Talking to Volleyballs“
I always figured a mental illness wasn’t severe enough until it landed its captive in the hospital. At least, that’s what it seemed like. You had to be hospitalized to receive a diagnosis… like those with Bipolar I Disorder or Schizophrenia. You know, the more “obvious” disorders. In fact, my friend, T, had been sent to the hospital on multiple occasions due to suicide attempts. Later my cousins, G and J, would also seemingly have an on-and-off relationship with hospitals and inpatient care centers in their teenage years. But I wasn’t “bad enough.” My disorder was built on isolation and fear… suffering in silence. How could I communicate my suffering without adding to the fear? Besides, I would hate the attention it brought me… all the worry that would seep into the air and choke me. I hated doctors and needles and pills and who know what else. I could fight this. I mean, it was only a dark cloud spewing dangerous lies that I was fighting. How hard could it be?
In January 2011 (9th grade) my mom had taken me to urgent care because, as it turned out, an abscess was growing underneath my tonsils, threatening to close my airways. It was difficult and painful to swallow or open my mouth more than a few centimeters. I only bring this up because the doctor or nurse or whoever she was seemed to be heavily concerned with my behavior… behavior that wasn’t strange to my mother. At fifteen I was adamant that I not be poked or prodded, leading to a very dramatic scene in which five healthcare professionals had to pin me down so they could swab my throat.
“Are you sure?” the lady asked my mother for the millionth time, trying to be sure she wasn’t missing that something else may be wrong with me. When she had first asked the question, I had opened my mouth, but glanced over at my mother and shut it, shaking my head vigorously. It would have appeared we were hiding something, despite that not necessarily being the case.
I don’t know if it was my age or if the late 2000s into the 2010s brought on a sudden wave of mental health awareness, but whatever the case, medical professionals suddenly tried to screen me for more dangerous mental health symptoms – Depression and suicidal thoughts. Okay, so that failure was on me. I had lied on some paperwork eight months prior to this in an ill-attempt at self-preservation. And honestly, by 2011, the voice had left me, so my only fear was that it would find its way back.
I almost died that week, probably on my brother’s eleventh birthday. Not by choice, no no. The doctor was kind of mad when we walked into the ER (emergency room) the day after the walk-in clinic. Apparently I was only a day away from death and he wasn’t happy with whatever medication the clinic had prescribed to me. I didn’t feel like I was dying though. In fact, I knew I wasn’t going to die. It just didn’t seem plausible that a peritonsillar abscess would lead me to my demise. My mother, apparently, was not as easily convinced. “I thought you were going to die,” she told me later, chills running down her spine. She wasn’t the only one. When I returned to my church’s youth group three days later one of the older girls practically cried with relief when she saw me, “You’re alive!”
It was strange for me. All these people were suddenly very fearful of my life’s end, but for once I had not been. The thought hadn’t even occurred to me. In fact, I was out of the hospital in time to celebrate my brother and cousin J’s birthdays that night. I gulped down a whole plate of mac-a-roo ‘n cheese from Outback Steakhouse, my communication very animated. In fact, in the hospital, doped up on medication, that was how I acted – talkative and content. But it also made my Selective Mutism very obvious in hindsight. My parents laughed because I would be talking and joking one minute and then suddenly stop when a nurse or doctor stepped into the room. It was funny to them. Even then I knew better than they did. Hear my silence, I’d think, what does it tell you?
My battle with the darkness had reached its climax in May 2010, almost exactly eight months before the whole “almost dying” fiasco. By that point, I was fearful of the kitchen. One of my chores, a chore I would be yelled at for neglecting, was to wash the dishes. It seems simple enough, but for fourteen-year-old me, the task was as dangerous as the dark alleys in Kansas City’s high-crime neighborhoods. Both experiences had the potential to end with a knife through the gut. It would have been an impulsive decision… anything to shut up the darkness.
The last day of eighth grade was the day the darkness seemed to slam into me full-force. I could almost see it, it was so thick and dense, the voice nearly booming like thunder. Here was the storm, coming for me, no longer lurking in the corners of my thoughts. I sat at a table in the junior high commons (cafeteria), having been separated alphabetically from my friends. The voice laughed evilly, knowing it had captured my full attention, “Nobody cares about you. They’ve left you all alone. You don’t have any real friends.”
“You’re lying,” I argued back in my head, but he continued to shout the lies and soon tears began to stain my face.
“It’s rude to stare,” a girl, H, chastised her friend. And then I continued my battle.
Mrs. H pronounced my name correctly during roll call not too long afterwards, “See! I told you I would get it right on the last day!”
I didn’t react and a boy, L, nudged me, but I couldn’t break my concentration.
I wouldn’t see these people again, whether I won against the darkness or not. I was transferring to a different high school.
I had several signatures in my yearbook that were signed that day and when I read them years later, I was amazed at how blind the darkness had made me.
And then there was N. Somehow the news of my transfer hadn’t reached him until the last minute and so he was adamant in staying near me in the afternoon. I’m not sure I remember how many times he hugged me goodbye, but honestly, it was the highlight of my day. Even for just a second, I forgot about the darkness.
The darkness stayed with me a week longer and then left rather abruptly. It was only a dream, but I had died after saving a church daycare center whilst escaping from a serial killer. I had run out into the backyard of my parents’ house, only a few yards away from the lake I had considered drowning in, and found myself amidst a makeshift street-fighting ring, full of my brother’s friends. I took on the first opponent and the second… until I couldn’t take much more. Then I died. A vigil at the end of the street brought my soul back and when I awoke from the dream, the darkness was gone. Only light remained. It was like there was a battle for my soul and the good guys had won.
U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (Click this link to chat online or for Spanish or Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing Assistance)
Crisis Services Canada (Click this link to learn more about Canada’s Suicide Prevention Services and connect with responders now)