I’ve been teetering on that proverbial edge again the last few days. Self-induced pressure, exhaustion, and misguided priorities have the walls closing in around me, and depression nipping at my heels. Strangely enough, I feel like everything will be okay.
My life has been a roller coaster ride for the last two years. Ferocious and intense, it has flipped me upside down and turned me inside out. Now, I’m starting to feel the effects, and sink into a deep depression.
I’m starting to feel that familiar self-hatred and I feel guilty about the same things I’m proud of. It’s tearing me apart, and I’m on an urgent mission to find balance in my life.
My name is Nathan Daniels, and two years ago, I went crazy and began planning to commit suicide for the fourth time in my life. I had lost my job to an extreme case of Agoraphobia and severe Social Anxiety. I was having audio and visual hallucinations, blacking out, and cutting myself. Let me reflect a little…
I stayed home, or went out with earplugs, sunglasses and a hood pulled over my head. I’d stare at my feet and try to ignore the bursting colors and muffled angry noises. I’d try to focus on the itch of my most recent self-inflicted wounds. This was a dark time, one when I preferred to sit in my basement and put cigarettes out on myself, compared to being at my stepdaughter’s birthday party.
This was also when I started writing extensively, and honestly, about my life in a desperate attempt to provide my own therapy.
I tried to get help. Eventually I had myself committed to a mental institution for the second time in my life. My whole family was terrified. I was starving myself, and had lost seventy pounds in six months. Then I was breaking my toes, dousing myself with boiling water, and waking up with a bloody razor in my hand after cutting in a fugue state.
Unfortunately, the hospital didn’t work. My Agoraphobic symptoms were too powerful, and out of my comfort zone, I maintained an exhausting and perpetual state of panic. They had to release me after a week, with an appointment to see an intern on a regular basis and an impressive menu of anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety medications. They apologized for not being able to help me, and wished me luck.
After seeing my new therapist for a few months, and taking all my pills like a good little psycho, I was no better, and often worse. For the second time in my life, a shrink told me… she couldn’t help me! I was referred to an extensive outpatient program that would last several weeks and run eight hours a day. It would be a classroom setting, and this horrified me and stabbed at my social anxiety, but I was willing to try anything… for my family.
I went to the assessment interview in a complete state of panic. I was sweating profusely, wearing my hooded sweatshirt in ninety-degree weather. I had chills too, reverberating up from somewhere deep and irrational inside me. The interview lasted a torturous ninety minutes, and I shouted my answers at my sneakers, holding the sides of my chair as if I were in a plummeting airplane.
Finally, after telling my traumatic life story for the thousandth time to a complete stranger, they told me they would be able to help me. The fee for my help would be $200 a day, non-negotiable, for fifteen days. I was no longer working though. I just lost my medical insurance, and after exploring every option, it proved to be impossible. The interview was a waking nightmare, and in the end, they too were extremely sorry they couldn’t help me.
I honestly believe… this would have been it for me. I think the utter hopelessness I felt when I left that office may have finally pushed me over the edge, but I had an outlet. I had been writing through all these experiences… and it was helping! Out of sheer desperation, I was finally being honest with myself –about everything. No matter how painful, I promised myself that I would explore every corner of my mind through my writing, because… it was working.
The journal entries were therapeutic and more and more they were replacing my sessions with razor blades, but it wasn’t enough. I started to give myself writing assignments. I decided to write, from the heart, about every crucial person and experience in my life.
I wrote about the abuse I suffered at the hands of a psychotic father, and my desperate attempt to understand him after his death. I wrote about my sister molesting me –how that dark time affected my life. I poured my heart out about losing my mother to breast cancer –what it was like being orphaned and homeless.
I was changing. When I wrote I could focus, and that was starting to spill over into times when I wasn’t writing. My thoughts were getting organized, and my emotions were becoming easier to identify and control. I had found a form of therapy that actually worked for me, and I kept going long after I felt stable again. I felt like I was succeeding where so many therapists had failed.
I wrote about unflattering and shameful things that I’ve done. I uncovered repressed memories, and put them on paper to dissect and study. I spilled my guts about the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made. I even forced myself to write about my better qualities… going completely against my self-abusive nature. It was a learning experience.
When the smoke cleared, I had a few things to show for my efforts; closure on things that had haunted me most of my life, the strongest sense of self-awareness I’ve ever felt, an iron-clad promise to myself and my family that I would never take my own life… and a book.
One of the worst feelings you get, battling mental illness, is the feeling that you’re alone. I’d been through so many different experiences that I knew people would be able to relate to, and I wanted to reach out to them and share my story. I wanted to add my voice to raise awareness for the realities of mental illness and the prevention of suicide. With the full support of my family, I went to work.
I turned a year’s worth of writing –thousands of hand-written pages, into a book. I called it Surviving the Fourth Cycle, because I had identified four distinct times in my life (cycles) when I was on a mission to die by my own hands.
I combined my personal essays with the journal entries that best captured my last struggle. I rewrote it fourteen times, before submitting it for publication and having it accepted. I rewrote it two more times in process. Now, my book is out there, and I have so many mixed feelings.
I’m proud of myself for finding a way to heal when I had run out of other options and people, with framed certificates on their walls, were failing me left and right. I’m even proud of myself for tackling the daunting task of publishing a book on the heels of such turmoil. At the same time, I’m scared. I officially have no secrets left, and I have to keep a sickening sense of embarrassment away when I think about people reading my story. It’s scary to feel so exposed and vulnerable to judgment and criticism. I keep telling myself it will all be worth it, if I can help one person feel less alone at a time when they need it the most. It’s a nice thought.
My girlfriend has been behind me every step of the way, and in my opinion, she is the best source of support a person like me could ever dream of. It can’t be easy dealing with the likes of me. She tells me that the good outweighs the bad… sometimes I believe her, but not lately.
A year and a half ago I wanted to die. Now, not only do I want to live, but I also want to help others… It’s a drastic change. A year and a half ago, I had memories so bad I repressed them, now anyone with a computer has access to my nightmares… I’m still getting use to that. A year and a half ago, I never went on the computer. I didn’t have a Facebook page and words like tweet and blog were silly and foreign to me. Now I manage my own website, exist on almost every social network, and participate in more online communities than I can name… It can get a little overwhelming.
I’m doing the best I can to wrap my mind around all these positive changes, but I can’t deny feeling some serious growing pains from the intensity of it all. My desire to share my story with the mental health community and make some kind of connection with someone out there has become an obsession. I’ve been so hyper-focused on reaching out to the rest of the world, that I’ve been neglecting those who helped me… my girlfriend… our children! I can see that now, and that’s a good sign, because I wouldn’t have been able to acknowledge such things before.
I am better.
I am also pissed off at myself… and tired. I have no set schedule, and my erratic sleep patterns are taking a toll on me. When I’m not writing, or working online (70 hours a week), I’m obsessing over what to do next instead of helping my stepdaughter with her homework.
I’m dozing off at ridiculous times of day, when I should be taking my son to the park or rolling his cars around on the living room floor with him. I tell him “not now,” too much and I know I’m making a big mistake.
I’m neglecting the love of my life too, and this is inexcusable after everything she’s done for me. We’re not getting along so well right now because she wants me to cut down on smoking and get a physical. I know she’s right and I’m wrong, but I’m exhausted, overwhelmed, and mad at myself. I’m misdirecting the anger and it’s not fair to her. She’s holding a mirror up to me, and I don’t like what I see, so I childishly want to smash it.
She keeps mentioning household tasks that need my attention, and I make a mental note to take care of these things, but then I bury it under a thousand other mental notes. I’m forcing her to keep reminding me, and each time, she feels more like a bitch and I feel more like an ass-hole! I’m doing this to us, creating this situation, and I need to change it!
It’s an odd feeling to do a good thing, and then allow it to have a negative effect on your life, but not all is lost. I get to be proud of myself again, because a year and a half ago this could have been the start of a complete downward spiral… but I’ve changed.
I thought about cutting myself, when I was alone tonight, but I didn’t. Instead, I did this… I wrote. My mind wants to resume its habit of coming undone in times of stress, but I won’t allow it anymore. I feel the self-hatred and inner-turmoil stirring inside me, but I’m not afraid like I used to be. Before I would turn this situation into the end of the world and push everyone away… but no more!
I know what I have to do, and it’s simple. I’m going to apologize for my recent behavior, and I’m going to talk about what I’m feeling with my family. I know we will be able to fix this together, and I know I will be able to find the balance I need to complete my newfound self-awareness.
I do not regret writing my book, and I’m happy to say I’ve gotten nothing but genuine support and positive feedback from everyone who’s looked at it. I will definitely continue my mission to raise awareness, but with a much healthier approach and with my priorities in order. There’s so much more to us than our mental illness.
I just forgot that for a little while.
Nathan Daniels lives with psychological disorders including Agoraphobia, Borderline Personality Disorder, Insomnia, and OCD. Abused in his youth, orphaned and homeless as a teenager, he became self-abusive and suicidal as an adult. Against all odds he has survived, and now advocates for suicide prevention and awareness through his writing. Find his Book Surviving the Fourth Cycle on Amazon, I am currently reading it and highly recommend it!