My Story

Most days I can't even imagine not being in this world any longer. Never to see my dogs or my family or my close friends again? The thought of that brings tears to my eyes. On those days, death terrifies me.

Other days dying seems as if it's the only way to get rid of the black hole of sadness that lives inside of me. Almost 30 years of fighting off emotional pain has left me weary. My dogs would be fine without me. My family and friends are better off without my negativity darkening their days. On those days, death beckons me.

I have major depression. I am a suicide attempt survivor. And this is my story.

The Beginning

I wasn't always depressed. In fact I don't recall feeling that way until sometime in my 20's. I later learned that certain mental illnesses, such as major depressive disorder, often don't manifest until people are in their late teens or early 20's. Researchers believe you can be predisposed to it from birth but it can lay dormant until something about post-puberty mixed with life's stressors triggers it.

Looking back I believe it built up over several years, slowly worsening, until an event resulted in a period of grief that I should have been able to crawl out of but just couldn't. Months later as I boarded a plane to return from a vacation, crying my eyes out because I didn't want to return to my life at home, I realized I needed help.

After returning home I began speaking to a therapist but after a month without much improvement I saw a psychiatrist and was formerly diagnosed with major depressive disorder.

Anti-depressants helped enormously. The drugs aren't a perfect fix and I've had to change prescriptions here and there, but for the better part of 20 years I stayed stable and any suicidal thoughts I'd initially had early in the depression were kept at bay. I went in and out of psychotherapy during the years - seeking counseling when I needed it, and doing fine on my own the rest of the time. I practiced positive thinking and when I got my first Siberian Husky I discovered dogs were one of the greatest therapies of all. In fact, after moving to NH and getting seriously into the world of dog mushing I was the happiest I'd been since my teens.

Downward Slide

Somewhere around my late 30's I began having stress-related panic attacks. By this time I was running my own business, had ~30 dogs in my kennel, and was just starting to get into distance racing. I had too much on my plate. I've always been a Type A personality and thrive on keeping busy, but the flip side of that is that occasionally I can get myself into such a frenzied pace of activity that I'm like a snowball rolling downhill, gaining speed and anxiety about getting things done and suddenly I'm out of control with it.

Distance racing, even when you're only talking about a 250 mile race versus 1,000 miles, brings with it a certain level of extra pressure, extra work and extra financial stress that you don't have with shorter races. Despite that, the challenge of it appeals to me as does the adventure; distance racing has always been my dream and goal.

I learned a lot that first season, primarily about trying to do it all alone. From then on I've always had extra help during the training and racing season to lesson the pressure of too much to do, but in a way that first season of panic attacks left me vulnerable to more. I began having panic attacks whenever things got too stressful, and often at the end of a panic attack I'd go into a state of mind where I felt almost catatonic for awhile. I'd “shut down” as I called it. Extreme emotional overload could send me into the same state. If I were driving when I entered this state I'd simply stare straight ahead, barely noticing anything but the road, driving almost on auto-pilot. If I were home I'd sit on the floor or in a closet staring at the wall, my mind a blank.

The first time I made an attempt on my life was in one of those states. I'd just moved to a new home and had been so excited to finally be in a house that met my every requirement, one that I felt I could stay in forever. After 4 stressful months of selling my prior house, trying to find a new one, and then moving 30 dogs, myself and my belongings to an entirely new state, I was excited to start the coming training and racing season in my brand new locale. Then I found out the house I'd purchased was lacking one of the major requirements I needed, despite having been assured of it during the purchase process. The disappointment, the disillusionment, practically flattened me.

Under normal circumstances I likely could have handled it. But the previous year had already come with a series of major blows: the suicide of a teenaged girl I was extremely close to, a back injury that was threatening my future as a distance racer, a broken heart. Most people have the ability to grieve and heal, to deal with life's ups and downs, but for someone with major depressive disorder that can be a mountain range to cross instead of bumps in the road.

I started having anxiety attacks on a regular basis in the fall of 2013, multiple times a week. My depression had worsened and I had begun cutting. At first the cuts were very mild, like scratches, but I discovered that the sting of the cuts actually took my mind off the pain inside of me for awhile. And over time it took deeper cuts to make the pain go away.

To make matters worse, I had been fighting with my primary care physician in Maine for months over the correct dosage of my anti-depressant. When I switched to her from my NH doctor she lowered my dosage without discussing it with me first, and when I discovered the problem she explained that the dosage I had been on was higher than the FDA recommendation and she refused to prescribe it. I told her I wanted to see an actual psychiatrist but was informed there was a 6 month wait. We discussed other antidepressant options, none of which appealed for various reasons. When I mentioned I had been having a lot of panic attacks she recommended adding a “helper” drug that would lower the anxiety and, she claimed, would boost the efficacy of the lowered anti-depressant.

Over the next few weeks as I waited for the new drug to kick in I began to feel even worse. One day I was driving back from an errand, thinking about how much I hated my life and how due to my financial problems I was stuck in Maine for the unforeseeable future. The memories of that day are a bit fuzzy but I recall being so depressed and feeling so hopeless that I “clocked out” again. I later learned that these episodes are called dissociative states. When I pulled into the driveway of the house I had begun to hate, I thought to myself, “I should just go in and take all the painkillers in my medicine cabinet.” (They were left over from shoulder surgery I'd had that summer.) I made my second attempt that day.

I work for my brother's company and feel a huge sense of responsibility to my job, and I was supposed to be in on a phone conference with a client that afternoon. Once I snapped out of the dissociative state I realized I couldn't just blow off an important meeting. So I texted my brother a message that said, “I may not be in that meeting with you,” and after some back and forth with him I eventually had to explain why. Prior to that my family had known absolutely nothing of my suicide attempts or of my cutting.

Surviving

That set off a series of events that basically saved my life. Thankfully the amount of pills I took that day were not enough to kill me, though the intent had certainly been there. My family stepped in and got me out of Maine immediately. At first I stayed with them in Massachusetts and then they and some close friends all made it possible for me to immediately move back to NH with the dogs.

We found out the “helper” drug that my doctor had prescribed had a side-effect that could actually worsen depression. I went off that drug and back to my NH doctor and we decided to try a completely new anti-depressant. The next two months were rough as I weaned off the previous drug and waited for the new one to kick in, and then adjusted the dosage to what worked. I would go weeks without cutting or dissociating and then I'd have a major setback. I finally got stabilized on the new medication by late January, three months after my second attempt, but it wasn't until I finally got into a house of my own that summer that I really started to feel like my life was back on track.

There are still bad days - dark days as I call them - when the black hole inside of me threatens to suck me in. The difference is that instead of keeping it all inside now, I try to reach out. I call someone close to me because I learned that I don't have to keep it hidden anymore. The fact that my friends and family know about that evil that lives inside of me, that dark place that occasionally calls, makes it possible for me to reach out when I need them.

I'm not saying it's easy to do. That voice inside me still says, “They don't need your negativity. They have enough problems of their own. They are better off without you.” But I'm able to overrule that voice now and reach out despite it.

Since surviving the second attempt I've felt very passionate about speaking out about depression, suicide and cutting. Years ago someone like myself would have been institutionalized because of what I did; my family would have spoken about me in hushed whispers, the truth of where I was and why kept secret because it was an embarrassment. Thankfully we don't live in those times anymore but the stigma still remains: too many people think of mental illness as something to be ashamed of and something we need to hide. Including those of us afflicted with it.

Clinical depression, when it's caused by a chemical imbalance in your body, is as much an illness as diabetes or heart disease. It is not something we've done, it's not that we're too weak or too emotional to handle our daily lives, and it should not be more shameful than having any other type of chronic medical problem. We need to stop being afraid to talk about it or to admit that we have it. Because the reality is that being able to talk freely to my friends and family, being able to reach out when I feel like I'm slipping into a dark hole, is what has saved my life more than once in the past few years.

I survived, but it's still a struggle some days to keep surviving. To choose life. To not cut. To not give up. I'm not always successful at keeping the demons at bay, but every day that I choose to live and fight makes me that much stronger.

And even though I do feel passionately about sharing my story with others in an effort to help spread awareness, actually posting this story to the public has taken far more courage than releasing the snub line at the start of a major dog sled race!

#AlwaysKeepFighting