Two Steps Forward, One Step Back - The Roller Coaster Ride of Mental Illness

(Trigger warning for discussion of suicide.)

It is truly amazing how good one can be doing in progressing in mental health issues, only to have a huge setback. I know what I wrote for the title, but lately, it seems like two steps forward, five steps back.

I have no doubt I've made a lot of progress in the past few years. Since experiencing the lowest time in my life about 6 years ago, I have 1 - become a professional writer and photographer, dreams I had completely given up on; 2 - become semi-fluent at sign language, another dream I had given up on; 3 - been able to be around for my parents who, though still mostly independent, have needed that help several times and honestly, probably wouldn't still be here if I wasn't around; 4 - found a therapist with whom I'm actually making great progress; 5 - realized I'm an addict and am now sober for over three years in one addiction and making slower progress, but still progress, in the other; and 6 - met an incredible man who is my partner in so many ways, who puts up with all of my baggage and truly loves me anyway.

Writing all of that makes me remember just how far I've come. Knowing how far I've come makes me even more discouraged about yesterday.

I haven't been suicidal in a while. In fact, I thought that was one aspect of my mental illnesses that I had conquered. But yesterday I found out that it's not gone... it was just in hiding.

[Note - just as I was writing this, a random background out of 600 or so that cycle on my computer came up: "The devil couldn't take you out so he's trying to wear you out. Don't you dare get tired. Hold on because the tide is turning."]

Apparently, all it takes is an accumulation of really stressful circumstances to bring those thoughts back. Plus, I know exhaustion, both mental and physical, is a part of it (see the previous paragraph). 

On Christmas Eve my mom went in the hospital. What we thought would be a few days there at most turned into 15. Then when she got home she was still weak, confused, and in overall rough shape. My dad, a diabetic who doesn't keep his blood glucose at the right levels in the best of times, ate horribly during the hospital stay and it has affected him badly too. His blood sugar levels are still really high and he's had both physical and mental issues due to it.

While mom was in the hospital, it fell on me to be her primary caregiver, which mostly involved navigating between her many doctors to make sure they each knew what was going on and informing my family what the doctors and test results were saying. It was exhausting physically but even more mentally, trying to keep up with everything and trying to keep my mom fighting all of the issues she kept having.

I thought that when she got home, I could get some rest. I didn't realize how far behind I was with work and personal matters. Even more so, I didn't realize how much she and my dad would need my help at first, which made catching up much more difficult than I thought it would be.

Add to that some big computer issues and it's several weeks later and I'm just now catching up. 

I've been trying to rest but it hasn't come easily. I'm still exhausted, again, both mentally and physically.

When I dropped my phone and it stopped working a couple of days ago, at first I handled it okay. I had been getting ready to go swim because I was already a nervous wreck for some unknown reason and I had to put that plan on hold, knowing the priority was ordering a new phone.

I got online and started shopping for phones, comparing plans, phone prices, and the phones themselves. After a lot of indecision, I finally landed on the one I wanted and ordered it.

Only then did I find out that it could be almost a week before I received it. As a freelancer, I use my phone for more than the basics... it's my lifeline to work opportunities. I asked around to see if anyone had an old phone I could use temporarily and found a few to try. Each one of them had something that kept it from working for my situation.

After realizing that none were going to work, I tried to figure out another way to make it until my new phone came. After a lot of research, I figured out that a pay-as-you-go phone would work. It would be expensive to use for a few days, but I would have one.

The shopping started again - to find a decent phone at a low enough price for me to justify going this route. I found one, only to call the store to verify it was in stock and find out it wasn't. My boyfriend checked at this same store near his house and they had one. So he ran out and bought it for me. We when ahead and activated it that night in case it took a while for my number to transfer.

The next morning, I got up early and met him at work to get it, thinking it should be good to go. 

It wasn't.

I proceeded to both call and message customer service for the phone I bought off and on all day. I'm pretty sure it was at least four calls with long hold times and two or three chats (when I was finally able to connect with them). Every encounter tried a different solution and none worked. It was more than frustrating.

During this time, I also had some computer problems I was trying to fix. The various customer service representatives for the software and hardware companies in question also didn't have the answers I needed.

I finally gave up on the phone and made one last call asking for a refund for the service time I had already bought. I packaged up the phone and took it back to the store. Then I looked for a replacement phone.

This store had very little stock and I had to choose an inferior phone for the same price as the one that didn't work. The monthly service with this phone was more than my original one. However, it had a deal that the first month's service was free, so that made it reasonable.

I got up to the register and found out that there was fine print and you had to commit to a monthly plan to get the free month. Since I only needed it maybe three days by this time, that was crazy. I decided to deal with having no phone rather than pay that much and potentially have the same hassle I had with the first one.

So... two days were spent working on getting some kind of phone only to still have no phone for the next few days. 

In the middle of this was another big issue - trying to find a time that my family could get together for Christmas (since my mom was in the hospital during that time). Every date that was suggested had at least one person who couldn't come. 

Normally that wouldn't be a big deal. But on top of the stress I was already under, it almost broke me.

After one more bad customer service call and another issue with scheduling Christmas, I thought about taking a few handfuls of pills so I could get out of this pressure cooker.

I was able to shake the impulse pretty quickly so I wasn't really in danger. But it happened again when I found out that the phone deal I wanted to use to get a cheap temporary phone wasn't valid. 

Once again, I was able to shake off the impulse quickly.

My point is that I haven't even had those thoughts for a pretty good while now. I assumed that I had made so much progress that those thoughts wouldn't even return. It was discouraging to realize they are still there, under the surface, like an alligator waiting for the best moment to strike.

My fellow stressed-out peers who have had suicidal thoughts - with or without mental illness - be ever vigilant when life becomes especially hard. Ramp up what you have learned about coping and do something, anything, to bring the stress down. Keep supportive people nearby.  

But mostly remember that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. As big as my phone issue, my parents' health, my exhaustion, and getting together for Christmas all seem right now, in a few days or, at most, a few weeks, most of these issues will be resolved. Do whatever it takes to keep going... but just keep going.


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