Birthday: Marking Survival

As I neared my 21st birthday, I couldn't get a glimpse of my future. And I mean, I couldn't picture more than a few days in advance. A feedback loop of suicidal thoughts played over and over in my head, and I thought for sure, all the suffering and pain would soon be over.

As it turned out, I spent my 21st birthday hospitalized for a suicide attempt. My college housemates brought me birthday cake covered in Saran wrap that they dropped off with the hospital staff. It never made it to me. My roommate in the hospital was a woman with whom I had been in a partial program (a stepped-down program). She was terribly depressed, like me, but unlike me, thought the hospital was the worst thing that had ever happened to her. When she saw me, she burst into tears: "What are you doing here with your angel face?" she cried. I had no reply for her.

I was just grateful to be in a place where I could be kept safe from myself for a time. I wasn't afraid any longer. I got a break from the relentless suicidal thoughts. I still had them, but I couldn't act on them. Nonetheless, I imagined the hospital as being at the end of the world. It was like a place out of time, a place the world had forgotten. Many of the people there had been forgotten. I was one of the lucky ones.

However, I didn't heal in the hospital. That wouldn't come until much later, as I started to pick up the pieces of my life, to go back to school, to re-enroll and to do the hard work of advocating for the right diagnosis. Much of the credit for that work goes to my mother, who was relentless in searching out doctors to provide quality treatment. She was my tireless advocate at a time I was too depressed, too beat-down to advocate for myself.

The right diagnosis wouldn't come until three years later. That was a lot of suffering that didn't have to happen. Nevertheless, I managed to graduate. Sometimes, I would walk on the treadmill to stay awake so that I could read my literature texts. Other times, I would be too anxious to read, and then my mother would read to me. I don't know how I managed to get through all the reading I had to do as an English major.

Now, more than ten years after that hospitalization, marking its anniversary, birthdays are a time for celebrating survival. I have come a long way and survived a lot. And where once I couldn't look more than a few days into the future, couldn't dream of surviving to age 30, I know see a long life stretching in front of me with endless possibility. I have big hopes and dreams for the future, some of which are starting to come true as I move forward in health.

Where to from here? My psychiatrist says that I could go years, even a decade, without a major relapse. Of course, a relapse will come, and it is wise to prepare for that. But it is also important not to live in fear. I will continue adhering to my medication regimen, continue eating healthy and exercising, and by God's grace, many of my dreams for the future may become reality. I think God wants to bless--sometimes, we get in his way!

Birthdays are special times, days to mark survival. I think that is why, even as I get  older, I don't particularly get caught up in the typical angst surrounding age. I am happy to be the age I am. It is hard-won. I am comfortable with myself, with my own story. After years of struggling with weight, I am even comfortable in my own skin. With some age also has come a little boost of confidence, I have found. I am happy to be me. That is the best part of being this age, the best part of celebrating my special day: Happy birthday, me!



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