More ruminations on recovery (a guest post by Caitlin Coleman)
My name is Caitlin Coleman. I am 31 years old, and I’m a suicide attempt survivor.
Suicide has been a bit more prevalent in the media than usual lately, I suppose, due to the death of Robin Williams. While I’m always pleased to see attention focused on an issue that I feel truly doesn’t get enough attention, I’m saddened that it took somebody this “big” to make us pay attention. With each and every day that passes, I hope to see awareness grow. So here, in my own words, are my thoughts on the after effects: recovery, if you will.
First and foremost, I have to say I hate the use of the word “commit.” This was one of the first things I said to Dese’Rae during my Live Through This interview back in the fall of 2012. Those who have died by suicide have not committed a crime. They have succumbed to an illness. It is sad, and it is tragic, but it is not a crime. Think of things that people commit: arson, murder, robbery. It’s an ugly word. I have never seen myself as one who committed any crime. And believe it or not, I have never been ashamed of my attempt. I’ve run the gamut of emotions—fear, anger, apprehension about the future. I have never felt shame, though others have either implied or told me that I should.
I think one thing people need to realize is that recovery is a long road.
I didn’t wake up in the hospital and say, “Thank God I’m alive!”
Honestly, even if I had, my physical recovery was such that I had to leave college and move back in with my parents for over a year. I had a whole host of physical problems to deal with. I was weak. It wasn’t a jump out of bed and be happy kind of moment.
I think people have a bit of a warped idea on the recovery aspect. There is no one moment when you’re cured. It doesn’t happen. I will say that I am now in a place where I am incredibly happy to be alive. It’s been almost 12 years, and it certainly didn’t happen overnight. Everything I am today, everything I have become is partially due to my attempt. This is not to glorify my disease or say it was a good experience. It was painful and terrifying. I would not recommend it to anybody, but all of our experiences shape us as people, in good ways and bad.
I think one thing we need to remember is that these experiences are things that we always carry with us. One who is a recovering addict will always be a recovering addict, and I will always be a woman recovering from a mental illness, no matter how healthy I am. Some people will never understand it.
Those who crave normalcy will say, “Oh, but that was a long time ago,” and, “You’re better now,” and, “It’s all in the past.”
But this is a part of who I am.
I meditate every December 8th (the anniversary of my attempt) and take time out, and do something nice for myself. I remember several years ago I was with my ex-boyfriend, and I mentioned this to him.
He brushed the topic aside, and the next time we talked he asked, “So, are you over that thing now?”
No. I will never be over it. You never get over something like that. You work through it. You build on it. But you’re never over it.
I see recovery as a constant overall improvement, though it does include setbacks. For the most part I notice that, when I have a bad day, there’s a reason now: boy problems, a boss being a jerk, a sick pet, etc. Every once in a blue moon I’ll wake up in a doom mood and it terrifies me because there’s no true reason behind it. Days like that don’t happen often, but when they do I get scared, because I worry about what it means.
I also feel pressure to constantly be “better.” I feel like, because I’ve come so far and overcome so much, if I were to ever truly be in danger of relapsing, I’m not sure I could share those thoughts. I present myself as somebody who has lived through this horrible thing and come out the other side fighting. And I will share my story at the drop of a hat, to whomever asks for details, because I want to put it out there that this is not something to be ashamed of. Coming through it fighting is one of my proudest accomplishments.
I do consider myself recovered, but there’s always a fear of backsliding. It’s also probably one of the reasons I stay in “easy” restaurant jobs rather than pursuing writing or singing, or something else that would be a risk. I’m constantly being told how smart and talented I am—and I do think I finally believe that—but the thought of actually pursuing something and finding out I couldn’t do it would be awful. So I continue to do what is “easy.” That’s another battle I’m fighting. I think being mentally stable and letting go of toxic relationships has put me in a good enough place that I could start pursuing more “aspiration/dream” type endeavors.
I have nightmares a lot. I have the same dream over and over. I wake up in my childhood home, and I’m trapped in the house. My parents are there.
I tell them, “I have to go home. I have to go back to my apartment.”
They tell me, “No, you couldn’t hack it in NYC and you live with us now.”
I have that dream at least once a month, sometimes more. I’ve had it so many times. I know it’s just a subconscious fear, but it seems real.
In conclusion, for me, recovery is an ongoing process. I’m light years beyond where I ever thought I’d be when I came out of the hospital. I am confident in the fact that I am a worthy person, that I’m smart, talented, and well-loved. But the physical and emotional scars of an attempt never really leave you, and that’s what people need to understand. It’s not about “being fixed” or “becoming normal.” It’s about going through hell and coming out the other side fighting.
I’m happy. I have a good life. But to forget or deny what I went through would be denying who I am, and insulting to those who live with mental illness every day. Whether in agony, in hospital, or in any stage of recovery, we are all fighting through it. It is time to stop being ashamed, and keeping quiet, and pretending that the problem isn’t there. This is reality, and it isn’t going away.
I will continue to share my story. I will encourage others to share theirs. I will continue to keep talking to anybody who is interested. I hope others do the same.
Caitlin Coleman is a writer, comedian, singer, and (of course) waitress living in NYC. She is a proud participant of Live Through This and encourages everyone to keep sharing their stories, asking questions, and listening to each other. Read her story here.
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