Thursday, June 6, 2013

My Husband Tried to Take His Own Life

Deep breath.  Can you hear my heart pounding? I sit on a light brown fabric couch.  My face is pale and my cheeks are flushed with emotion.  Something weighs on me. You know I value honesty or if you did not, you know now. I write this blog post with as much honesty as I can because I know that neither I nor my husband are the only ones who have walked this road. I hope that perhaps if someone reads about our story, they will know that they are not alone in their journey. We all know life can be messy. And I'm all about being the messenger of truth, not pretending that things are something they are not.

George and I have come to a point where we feel now it is time to share our story of the last eight plus months. Up until now, it was too hard to open up, though we knew we would eventually as we do not want anyone who has walked through a similar situation to feel alone.  

So, this post is the beginning of this story, which starts with sharing what happened in September 2012.

The Kelly who is composing this post is different from who I was before September 2012. It is not because I am heavier than I have ever been in my life: 50 lbs over my driver’s license weight and 70lbs more than my wedding weight. I am different because what happened in September 2012 and the process of healing that I went through caused me to take a long hard look at myself and realize that I am not who I want to be. I went through a grieving process that included shock, denial, a lot of anger and finally acceptance and freedom. I have been dealing with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Panic Disorder, Anxiety disorder and Depression—all  so debilitating that I was physically frozen in a ball for much of the time. I have learned some very hard lessons. Most importantly, I learned that it is an ABSOLUTE necessity to find Joy in every single day, especially when we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

Let me make this clear: I am not a victim. George is not a victim. We are fighters. We are stronger than we ever thought we could be. We have had to be braver than we ever thought we could be.  And we have had to lean into God harder than we ever have. It is a long journey, but one we are walking together.

The phone rings at eleven o’clock in the morning as it has for years. I say hello and George sings me a verse from a song –one of our many songs we sing. He is a touch tone deaf, but it never fails to make me smile. I envision my husband in his suit and tie huddled in the corner of the lobby of his work building singing to me. I feel pure Love and Joy. Just after George awoke from his September coma and his ventilator tube was out, even though he was quite drugged, quite out of it and cognitively affected, he attempted to continually hoarsely sing to me.  I had to convince him to stop so that he could rest his voice and his body, but it was Joyful as I did not think I would ever hear the sweet sound of his voice again.

We dance too. These last eight months, we have made a concerted effort to dance almost every day, because dancing brings each of us Joy.  Even on days where one or both of us were unwell, George will take my hand and gently sway back and forth to the music in our heads.

The last eight plus months have been pretty hellish to say the least.  Both of our worlds got turned upside down and inside out. Everything I knew to be true in life turned on its head and I felt gutted.  I have been getting to know a George that no one ever knew before –not even himself.  I grieved the marriage we had and who I thought my best friend and husband was and began the journey of embracing a new way of being in our marriage and a man who is incredibly brave with an even more beautiful heart than I knew.  I have been working extremely hard to change things within myself that are not conducive to relationships and also discovering ways to support my husband.

Let’s rewind time a bit to the day that my husband, George, woke up from his coma. I wrote about my experience with George's coma in a blog post: Trauma 22 Years Apart: My Brother & My Husband. George was not quite with it and still quite affected by the medication he had been on to keep the seizures at bay among other things.  He was restless in bed;  he was extremely uncoordinated ; he was not thinking clearly at times; his memory was quite poor; he was still very fragile medically and though off the ventilator, he was very hoarse.

George’s parents were sitting in folding chairs at his side. I was reclined in one of those pink hospital chairs as my chronic illnesses were draining me in addition to everything else. It was lunch time and my parents were out to lunch on their shift, promising to bring back something for me from home. I was on my cell typing a text to my dad saying my body was crashing and I needed to go home and sleep (something I had not done in a few days) and was asking if he could take me home.

But before I could hit "send", George’s almost unintelligible raspy voice called my name. “Kelly.” I put the phone down and looked at him with a smile and asked what he needed. He said,

“I need to tell you something.”

As he had repeatedly asked me questions and kept forgetting what he was told, I expected that he was going to ask something we had already discussed. After navigating that crazy powder pink chair, I stood up, walked slowly to his bed as my legs were unsteady and leaned in to hear what he had to say.

I cannot remember exactly what George said because in the moment I was telling myself to keep strong and keep on a loving supportive countenance.  Through his hoarse voice, George communicated that he had taken many bottles of my medications-- with the intention of taking his life. (He later told me he was surprised that he lived with how many pills he took.) After comforting and consoling George, I had him tell me the exact medications that he took and where he got them from so I knew he was not hallucinating again from the IV medication. I stuffed the absolute and complete shock on a shelf and did one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. George’s parents had not heard him over the noise of the ICU room. I touched his father’s shoulder, leaned in close to his ear and told him a sentence summary of what George had just told me. I could not look at his father's face which was already distraught because I knew I would not be able to continue to hold it together. I walked to the nurses’ station and told them what George had said.  I was present as the nurses asked George what medications he had taken and the amount (none had shown up on blood tests as they hadn't tested for those specific medications).  Many many health professionals have said that George should not have survived or be even functioning in the way he is with the amount of medication he took. His neurologist said on a follow-up visit in April 2013, "Someone up there must like you. You dodged a bullet."

My parents were still at lunch and I stood just outside the glass sliding doors of his ICU room trying to keep strong until the ICU nurse put her hand on my shoulder and asked if I was okay. That was the straw, and I couldn’t keep the tears back.  I was in shock.  She handed me a Kleenex box and directed me to the waiting area. I stood in the hallway where I could get cell reception, my face planted into the wall sobbing and called my parents, who were speechless.

After George was stabilized in the ICU, he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for five days. He was diagnosed with severe depression.  I have never experienced true “shock” in my life. My parents and a couple of dear friends, especially one who talked to me in the middle of the night, held me together. I thought I would melt into the floor with agony of knowing that my husband had been so severely depressed. When George was still in the coma and the doctors did not know what was happening, I was repeatedly asked if there was a possibility he had attempted suicide. I was emphatic that it was not something George would do and no way could that be what happened. I actually lost my cool when one doctor asked about it--after a few others had. I had told my closest friend that I would die of shock if he had attempted suicide. I did not die, but it was devastating. Being such an intuitive person, I did not even have a clue he was depressed, much less capable of attempting to and almost succeeding in taking his own life.

I still to this day have a difficult time that I missed it. I knew a lot of things and of course I knew how he was treating me was different the last couple years than the beginning of our marriage but I always gave it some excuse.  Even on this blog, I have described George as being even keel and that things roll off of his back like water. Not so. Over the last eight months, I have met someone new to me. There is the core of George that is the same, but he had stuffed his emotions for so long that who he portrayed himself to be was not him. He has an incredibly soft heart. He is quite affected by the world and without the tools to cope, his psyche finally broke.  Our psychiatrist told me that even the most intuitive people or ones who are trained, such as he is, cannot see this type of thing. With having family members with depression, having struggled with it myself, having friends who have had depression, and who have attempted suicide, I saw none of it in George. And I feel I should have. But my psychiatrist told me that until mind-reading is invented, I cannot hold myself accountable.

Though I am not the reason George attempted, I do carry a heavy burden on my heart of guilt because my chronic illnesses over the years took an emotional toll and contributed to his depression.  Though, as I discovered, sometimes we can do everything possible to help and encourage our partner and it is to no avail, people with chronic illness should realize that their suffering is their loved ones’ suffering and we all need support.  

As both George and I take many medications for our chronic conditions, I have them locked in safes--five. I think this is a good idea in general if you have children or other people visiting your house to keep your medications in a safe locked place (especially if you get 90 day supplies like we have had to). I dose out the medication in the house (even to the dogs), but this is mostly because of my PTSD/anxiety issues as George is not a suicide risk at this time.

I imagine some people may ask why I am sharing this publicly before talking with you privately about George’s attempt or maybe you wonder why I am talking about it publicly at all. My response is that you never know how you will respond to a situation until you are in it and frankly it is George’s story to share how he chooses without expectations of anyone. George is fragile in his recovery and I have been navigating PTSD and panic disorder from the experience. We are a couple in survival mode, clinging to each other and to God.  Speaking about this is not easy and we have needed to care for and selfishly put ourselves first.  This is about George (and I guess myself too) and however he wants to navigate it is fine by me. This is George's story and it has been up to him when, how and who he wanted to share this with. It is not my story or anyone's to have shared except George or with his permission. I write this post with George’s encouragement and blessing so that we can bring awareness that stuff like this happens to those who we least expect.  George showed no suicidal behaviors and only in hindsight do we see he had severe depression. Attempting and almost succeeded in taking his life brought those of us who love him in a state of shock and confusion.  Many people who seem even keel may be like George was, stuffing his feelings away because that was the only way he knew how to cope.  If you can identify with this, please check out the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. They are an excellent resource.

When George attempted, I could not find anything online about how to cope when your loved one attempts suicide. It is a very complicated issue with complicated feelings. Among the few people that knew of George’s attempt, I had some people that thought I should suck it up and move forward. But, healing is a process for both George and myself. It is not something to be rushed and it is something that will take time. We have a long road ahead of us, but it is full of hope and full of joy that we choose each day. And we shrug off the expectations anyone places on us to do or to be anything other than ourselves and how we are in the moment.

As an aside:
George’s attempt was not a “cry for help”, it was an intention of a psychologically broken man to end his life because he did not have coping skills. Suicide or an attempt takes a huge toll on the people who love that person. I write this for those who have walked the path we have. It is a horrible path to walk. A big thing that I learned is that it is best NOT to avoid talking about the attempt or the situation around it. The person may initially feel guilt or shame and if you ignore it, they may feel worse about themselves or wonder what you think of them. What they need is love, support, acceptance and the knowledge that you are there to listen if they want/need to talk and understand if they don’t.  Saying “the past is in the past” or ignoring the attempt is not healthy for anyone. The important goal is to grow together through the pain and to a better place. George currently sees an excellent therapist weekly, sees a psychiatrist regularly and is on daily medication. 

If you or someone you know is suicidal, please take a look at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website or call them at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). It is a fabulous resource that I have used many times. 

(“Complete” not “Commit” suicide is the appropriate term by the way. “Commit” infers judgment and it is the family, not the individual, who have to carry that label once someone has taken their life.)

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