During my first appointment at the pain clinic, the pain specialist completed a very detailed intake questionnaire with me. Some of the questions on the questionnaire were designed to gauge a patient’s mood. One specific question asked if I had thoughts about taking my life. I said no, but jokingly added that I had enough pain medication on hand if I ever considered it. The pain specialist stopped writing and looked me straight in the eyes with deep concern. Her concern surprised me. I had to assure her that it was only a joke and that I would never make such a joke again, and more importantly never try to take my life.
I thought about that meeting this morning because in addition to this blog I recently started a gratitude journal, and this morning I wrote about being grateful that I was never successful at my past attempts to take my life. That’s right, I said attempts; meaning more than one. I tried to kill myself more than once in my youth because of unspeakable things I had lived through that I felt I couldn’t and shouldn’t have survived. Unknowingly, I was also suffering from undiagnosed depression – or more accurately PTSD – which caused me a tremendous amount of psychological and emotional pain and made me believe that death was my only cure. At the bottom of some very dark valleys, I decided it would be better if I never climbed out. So, I swallowed lots of pills but I didn’t die.
I wrote in my gratitude journal that I am grateful I didn’t die for many reasons. Because I didn’t die I had the opportunity to obtain higher education – in academic settings, in the workforce, and just by being part of the world. I have traveled to many places (there are many more I want to see), and in each of those places I met wonderful people. I have seen many beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and as cliché as that sounds there is nothing more incredible than watching the sun set the sky on fire with colours you never imagined before. I have swum in the salt water of oceans and seas. I have skied down mountains. I have learned foreign languages – sometimes just small bits so I could communicate with strangers – and I have shared delicious food with some of those strangers who later became friends. But I am most grateful I didn’t die because I have received many blessings, most of which have come to me from unexpected places at times when I was ready to give up.
Although I am grateful, I understand wanting to die because I understand feeling hopeless, defeated and unloved. Thankfully my illness has not reduced me to feeling any of those things. Maybe it’s because of the antidepressants I’m taking. Early on when it became clear that getting me better would be difficult and could take a long time, my doctors started me on a low dose of antidepressants. Antidepressants are commonly prescribed for chronic pain patients to manage mood. When I started taking them I was concerned that they would dull my mind, but considering the amount of pain medication I’m taking any dulling a mild antidepressant could do is negligible. I also believe those feelings are being kept at bay because I have to be my own advocate, which means I have to be alert to understand and research information about my condition, and participate in all decision-making about my health and daily life.
Nonetheless, since my illness arrived I have not wanted to die. Even though the unbearable pain sometimes makes me feel like I might die. Sometimes I feel like I might die as I lay alone in the dimmed lighting in my apartment in the middle of the night. I have felt like I might die when just trying to get out of bed sends lightning hot pain through my body. I feel like I might die when I stand, weakly, at my kitchen sink to wash my dishes; and I felt like I might die when I fell in the shower a few months ago because my strength gave out while I was standing in the shower washing my pain riddled body. And, I have felt afraid that I might die while riding in the back of a taxi on the way to the hospital emergency room to get help to reduce my pain when my pain medications failed to manage it.
Still, as much as I understand wanting to die and feeling that I might die, today I am grateful that I did not.
Josh Groban – You Are Loved (Don’t Give Up)