2020 has been one of my best years ever.
I know, right?
Ten years ago, I spent the Christmas season at “5 North”; Medicine Hat’s psychiatric ward. The stay started with placing my signature on a piece of paper asserting that I would not try to kill myself for 24 hours.
They asked for three days. I couldn’t promise that much time.
As near as I can figure, I had been suicidal since I was eight years old. There were two primary reasons that it took two decades to seek and receive treatment.
First, I was absolutely unaware that treatment existed. I didn’t know I had a diagnosable and treatable disorder. I didn’t even know I had a disorder. I so sincerely believed I didn’t deserve to, and had no reason to live that it didn’t strike me as irrational.
Second, I was under the vague impression that psychiatric treatment meant, more or less, that you were locked away forever. I didn’t understand that treatment meant getting better. I guess if I thought at it at all, I’d have thought I’d be placed in a padded room for the rest of my life and that seemed much worse than death.
Since then, I’ve been ever-so-vocal about mental health treatment. It’s so important that people be aware that treatment exists, that it is possible, acceptable, and desirable to feel well and to love life, and yourself. Because people need to know what I didn’t know: that help exists if you seek it.
Know that there are services you can call if you feel suicidal. Know that treatment means just that: getting treated and return to normal (or a new, better normal). It’s no different from getting an appendectomy. You get surgery, you go through a recovery phase, and you leave the hospital healthier than you went in.
Know these things, and make sure everyone else knows them.
It hasn’t been all roses since then. My treatment has been, and continues to be, ongoing. I’ve talked to a variety of psychologists, psychiatrists, councillors and therapists. I’ve been on quite a few different medications. I’ve had relapses, suicidal thoughts, irrational rages, panic attacks, and weeks on end of depression.
Last winter wasn’t great. I ended up going to a new psychiatrist in the spring (odd fact: all the best psychiatrists I’ve visited take notes with a fountain pen). In February, we started a new medication plan that eventually became a cocktail of three different medications.
Then March happened, and it’s been March ever since. In spite of that, 2020 has been one of my best years, second only to 2011, the year after that fateful visit to “5 North”.
I had a eureka moment in mid-summer when I realized that my baseline anxiety levels were, for the first time in my life, probably about what normal people normally feel. There were times previously when I thought I felt “normal”, but I didn’t know what normal really felt like.
I have forged a life for myself that is truly ideal for me. If you had told me in 2010 that I would ever be happily married I wouldn’t even have heard you. If someone said I would be financially secure, I’d have laughed it off. That I would own my dream car? Technically, it hadn’t been announced yet. That I would someday build my dream home? I thought I would be living in a condo for the rest of my (short) life.
Or that I would surpass the accomplishments I had made to date? In 2010, I published my first book. A substantial portion of that suicidal spiral was a belief that I would never top that, and therefore my useful life was over. I went on to work for the UN and Facebook. My book has gone through three editions and counting.
Most importantly, I met and married my wife.
So please, know that, however low you feel, you can and will feel better. You deserve to. And make sure everyone you speak to knows it too. Especially this year. 2020 hasn’t been one of the best years for most people.