Bipolar diagnosis a 'gift' to suicide attempt survivor
By Amy Riggio
Twelve years ago, I tried to take my own life.
I felt like an albatross to everyone in my life. I remember literally praying for my parents — that they would be able to forgive themselves for being relieved once I was gone.
At the time, I was in a state of mania so bad that I no longer understood what was real and what was not. I spent time in a mental hospital, where I received what I firmly believe is the gift of my bipolarity diagnosis. Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder finally made me realize that my struggles were not all my fault.
I’d love to be able to say that once I received my diagnosis, I straightened up and became a high functioning, happy member of society. But the fact was, I still felt very depressed.
I had been in psychotic mania for so long that my “happy chemicals” were completely tapped out. My body and mind needed rest, and enough time to replenish its chemical deficit. But nobody explained that to me.
I did not understand that, regardless of how many pills I took, there was a depressive state that I would just have to endure until my brain chemicals replenished themselves and I’d be able to find my way out of the dark.
I was unable to work. I didn’t trust my mind. I was drowning in bills and living in a constant state of panic. Every moment was full of anxiety. What if I lose it and turn the wheel and go over the bridge? What am I going to do when these shoes wear out? How am I going to pay the rent?
Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder finally made me realize that my struggles were not all my fault.
I made my suicide attempt at around noon on a very ordinary day. I was supposed to apply for a simple job, but I was scared and did not feel sane or capable. I got to the office, and on page two of the application there was a question I didn’t know the answer to. It was a simple question like what month and year I had begun and ended one of my prior jobs. But for some reason, since I didn’t know the answer, I just snapped. I thought, “I can’t do it. I don’t know how to be an adult. I can’t go on.”
I drove home, cried and apologized to the neighborhood cat who tried to stand in my way (I think she sensed my despair), went inside, climbed into the bathtub fully dressed and slashed my arms.
Thankfully, the attempt failed. By some miracle, after much blood loss, the bleeding stopped. I sat there in the tub and didn’t know what to do.
Finally, I got out and called 911 and told them what I had done. I was taken into custody and mentally hospitalized again. This time, I stayed until I was fully stabilized on a medication that lowers the risk of reattempting suicide.
I am so glad I lived.
It took about a year and a half, but I slowly came back to center. Through some trial and error, I got onto a sustainable, long-term medication regimen that works well for me.
When I reflect on that moment when I made my suicide attempt, it now feels like I am reading someone else’s biography. I am more removed from that place than I ever imagined I would or could be. I feel love and I grieve for that decent, kind, suffering soul that I once was. I am so glad she is still here.
I have down days — down seasons, even. I sometimes need my medications adjusted, especially during the dark months, and still, under great stress, get manic enough to dip a toe into psychosis.
But, see, I’ve been slowly learning how to outsmart this disease. I know that these opposite poles, these manias and depressions, have hard-wired expiration dates attached to them. And I know to be careful with myself. To get enough rest. To eat regularly and (mostly) healthily. To stay connected to the people I love. To not isolate.
I feel love and I grieve for that decent, kind, suffering soul that I once was.
Life is, in many ways, amazing now. I have slowly turned my life around. I am now in graduate school to get my master’s degree and become a mental health counselor so that I can help other people afflicted with these unwanted, unasked for, undeserved conditions. We deserve compassion, love and help.
My best advice to anyone contemplating suicide is to please, please know that the only constant in life is change, and that change also means growth, and growth means you will come out from under the weight of depression and/or anxiety over time. Especially when you take that brave step to ask for help.
And there are those who can and will help you. If you have loved ones you can lean on, do it. Speak up. Ask them to help you advocate for yourself, to help you make the phone calls and find the resources.
If you don’t have people to advocate for you, call the crisis line (1-800-273-8255) or reach out to the text line (741-741).
Don’t give up. You can find help. Start by making that first call, and if the first place you reach cannot help, tell them you are in dire need of other ideas. Explain your situation, and don’t be afraid to admit how severe it is.
Nothing — no amount of humility it requires to reach out, no bill it may bring — is more important than your life.
No matter what you believe, treat this life as if this is it. Treasure it. And treasure yourself as much as you can possibly muster.
Our community desperately needs more resources to help people like Amy, which is why MultiCare and CHI Franciscan have joined forces to build a new behavioral health hospital in Tacoma. This year's Rock the Foundation event will raise funds for this important work. Please join us on Sept. 23 to meet Amy and help support this cause.