A deep blue blanketing of 1AM sky envelops my car as I sit in my parents’ driveway in February 2010, pondering my next, last move. I have just driven home in a blur from someone’s house after a typical night of self-destruction, racing along the winding, backcountry roads of the town I grew up in, a primal scream emerging from somewhere deep within me, ripping at my throat as it pushes its way out and makes my eardrums ring. My desperate desire that a deer leap into the road, smash my windshield, and crush me to death has been left unfulfilled, and I’ve now realized for the second time in my life that a future of inner peace and contentedness is just not in the cards for me— my bipolar disorder is just too severe, and it’s in my hands to do something about it.
I stare listlessly into the encompassing darkness beyond my windshield, my guttural screams now quieted by a wave of deep detachment from myself. As tears push themselves from the corners of my eyes and roll silently down my cheeks, I sense only pervasive nothingness. In the past year, I’ve been swiftly spiraling down the drain of existence, drowning myself slowly and leaving the few people I’ve not yet pushed out of my life floating safe and sound on the surface above, despite their attempts to help me. With this combination of hopelessness and isolation fueling a desperate urge to escape myself, I’ve now placed alcohol at the center of my universe, which has officially become smaller, darker, and emptier than it’s ever been before. The time seems right to complete the job I’d left unfinished two Novembers ago on the rocks in Maine, and to do it right this time. I feel a sudden surge of motivation.
With my heart pounding and eyes widening, I feel paradoxically alive with anticipation that I’m finally about to go to sleep forever. The same familiar relief I felt that November day starts to creep back in, and I can feel my heart beating harder in my chest with a sense of confidence in this decision. I once again feel nostalgia for what my life had been a long time ago, knowing that my last breath will take place in the house in which I grew up, and that I’ve come full circle, the beginning now becoming the end. With my parents out of the country and my grandmother asleep in the guestroom upstairs, I know I’m in the clear to ransack all the pill bottles in the house and meet my fate. I have surrendered.
Suddenly, however, I notice my hands moving to my pocket to retrieve my cell phone, my fingers dialing a number I recognize. The phone is now at my ear, ringing once. Why am I doing this? Twice. Why can’t I hang up? Three times. I feel possessed, aware of what is happening to my body but mentally paralyzed to make it stop. Four times. All of a sudden, my father’s voice, roused from sleep, is on the other line.
Without my permission, my throat and mouth begin to formulate words.
“Dad, I’m scared I’m going to kill myself. I don’t know what to do. I’m in the driveway at home and if I go in the house I’m going to die.”
I sense fear in the changed tone of my father’s voice, but also firm determination.
“Laura, you’re going to be OK. Can you drive to the hospital? Go straight to the hospital. You’re going to be OK. I’ll stay with you on the phone.”
I hear the engine start, baffled by how that could be until I realize that my hand is on the keys turning the ignition. I watch as this hand, which seems to be on a stranger’s arm, shifts the gears into drive, and now a foot down below slides over from the brake to the accelerator. After watching the car make a three-point turn, I find myself sitting in the driver’s seat of this vehicle that is now leading me out of the driveway, my hands somehow on the steering wheel. I feel confused, as I am making no conscious decision to do any of this.
Ten minutes later, I found myself walking through the sliding doors of the local emergency room with tears once again streaming down my face. This time, however, they felt different. I felt them on my skin, tasted them on my tongue, watched them stain my shirtsleeve, for I was now actually crying— deep waves of emotion, both uncomfortable yet vaguely familiar, had begun rolling through my body, gushing over the high tide mark and beyond the steep dunes that had built up and blocked me from myself for so many years.
I told the first nurse I saw upon stumbling through the doors, bleary eyed and emotional, that “I’m here because I’m going to kill myself if I go inside my house.” It didn’t matter to me that I sensed the subtle disgust in her rolling eyes as she sat me down to measure my blood alcohol content. It didn’t matter that the rest of her colleagues in the otherwise quiet ER— a group of strangers who knew nothing of my past, of my pain, my loneliness, or my desperation— may have been judging me, because I felt, for the first time in a long time, something stirring deep within me that mattered more. It didn’t come from my mind— not from a thought, a calculated decision, or any sort of cognitive process— but rather from something visceral, something primal, a force residing in the very fabric of my being that couldn’t be put into words. I felt something ignite inside of me that awakened a feeling I couldn’t remember having had in a very long time— that I was going to be OK, and that I didn’t have to die. I didn’t how this was true, or why this was true, just that it was true.
I was escorted to the hospital’s small psychiatric floor to wait for transport the next day to the same psychiatric hospital in Westchester County, New York, to which I’d gone for my first inpatient stay during the fall of 2004. Over five years later, and feeling more desperate, afraid, confused, and profoundly sad than ever before as I tried to go to sleep on the starchy sheets and plastic mattress behind the glass walls of the observation room, I now held onto a strange, new awareness that was faint but graspable nonetheless— awareness that I would have a future. This sensation was so foreign to me that I did not yet realize I’d felt my first glimmer of hope. It was all I needed to make my start.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.