May is a special month for me (it also happens to be Mental Health Month) so I’ve decided to finally publish what took me 3 months to draft — my personal story on self-harm and suicide.
It was a tough thing for me to relive, but I believe it’s important for others to understand how mental illness could lead to self-harm and suicide. While I don’t claim to have all the answers, I hope my perspective is at least helpful to one person.
There were multiple triggers, which I won’t go into. Instead, I’d like to focus on exposing the lies which mental illness feeds to the sufferer.
I cannot emphasis enough just how important it is to get treated once the symptoms, no matter how seemingly minor, arise.
Note: This might be emotionally distressing for some, therefore reader discretion is advised.
Lie #1: I don’t need help / I can do this on my own.
It’s 2006/7. I had decided to stop taking antidepressants on my own because I was afraid of the cost and viewed medication as the enemy. After two short weeks, I concluded that meds didn’t work and I didn’t need them. I was steeped in denial about the severity of my depression.
My illness worsened and I found myself curled up under my study-desk, sobbing uncontrollably and unable to leave house for work one day. In my mind raced thoughts of extreme fear. It’s hard to explain that irrational sense of foreboding, which never went away no matter what I did or where I went.
During the day, my mind experienced hallucinations. I knew it was playing tricks on me. But I couldn’t stop it somehow.
At night, I am fatigued yet unable to sleep. When I do, I would wake up every 3-4 hours. I also experienced nightmares which left me awake in tears, badly shaken. It was hard going through this day after day.
Sleep. Wake. Cry. Repeat. Moments of peace were few and fleeting. There was no rest.
This went on for several months which grew into years, sustained by occasional visits to a private counsellor, whilst evading medication. I had read plenty of self-help books, kept myself meaningfully occupied with work, church and people, until my inner reservoir of strength had run dry.
The idea of taking my own life grew in a dark corner of my weary mind. I started harming myself out of frustration.
Lie #2: Nobody understands me / I am abandoned and alone.
I confided in only a select few, and unfortunately they had little understanding of depression and anxiety.
Receiving “advice” like cheer up, pray more, repent, don’t be selfish, show some gratitude offered no comfort, but instead felt like a slap in the face.
It felt unfair because I viewed myself as one who would put aside her own needs for friends and family. And I was already trying all I can to keep up with life.
I felt alone and was in a lot of emotional pain. Despite being a writer, I struggled with finding the right vocabulary to adequately express the intensity and ferocity of such an attack on my mind. Like relentless waves, I was battered by an unexplainable undercurrent of grief.
My foggy mind shrouded all things beautiful. I was constantly scared. Afraid to be alone. Afraid to be around people. I could only cry out to God. But even then, I was convinced He had abandoned me and allowed the darkness to engulf me. I thought I was being punished for something and had to figure out exactly what.
Lie #3: There’s no way out / The world is better off without me / Things won’t change.
Early 2011 was the turning point.
My husband and I hadn’t slept that night. I was on the brink and my self-harming had escalated into several suicidal attempts during those few months. I knew this could not go on forever. He was running out of office leave, emotionally stressed and spent. I concluded I was a burden to everyone.
So at 5 a.m., my husband called the nearest hospital for help. The psychiatrist would see me in a few hours.
I remember thinking — Surely it wouldn’t change anything. But might as well make people around me feel like they’ve tried so they wouldn’t feel too bad about themselves when I leave them.
The illness continued to invade my mind with more of such fatalistic lies, mixed in with venomous insults of how useless and weak I was, and how the world doesn’t want broken things like me and is better off without me. It was a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from.
A veteran psychiatrist took on my case. He listened with compassion, discussed my treatment plan, explained how medication worked and prescribed a combination of medication for depression and anxiety. At the same time, I moved in with my in-laws so they could look after me while my husband was at work.
Life Does Gets Better
Years have passed since, and by God’s grace, I am still alive today. In fact, I’d just celebrated my 32nd birthday. And I feel more alive than I ever was.
Being diligent with my medication (I kept a log) and communicating my concerns openly with my doctor and therapist improved my condition tremendously. My husband too, played a vital role to my recovery. He remains someone I could confide in, and understands me like no other.
My family and in-laws too, have been a steadfast source of prayer, love and encouragement. I am forever grateful to them for being there for me when I was at my lowest.
These lies, which are actually symptoms of the illness, led me to believe there’s no other way out of my misery but death.
The Truth: Mental illness lies to the sufferer
Medication and therapy have altered my state of mind and changed the way I view myself, my illness and the world.
It is important to reach out to the right sources for help. Surround yourself with people who have an accurate understanding of mental illness and recovery.
This was why I founded The Tapestry Project.
My vision was to encourage insight through my experiences and others’, so that we are better equipped to support those who fall, as we all do from time to time.
Having the right knowledge and being empowered with the skills of supporting someone with mental illness are crucial, for good intentions can only do that much.
With depression and anxiety in remission, my mind has cleared. My scars, emotional and physical, have since faded. I can breathe freely without the grip of fear and grief.
Sure, there are clouds that pass overhead at times, and the lies of the illness occasionally resurface. But I now have the tools to identify and challenge them. I have become strong at my broken places.
If you or a loved one is suffering from suicidal thoughts, get help here. And know for sure, that even in the darkest of nights, the stars still shine. There is hope — hold on to it. Choose life.
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” Psalm 23:4