Three years ago I wrote this post about my fathers suicide and it's impact on me. I don't talk about this often, but I felt like it was time for an update on that. So here you go.
From 2007-2010 I tried approximately 12 different anti depressant medications. I tried therapy. I tried a lot of things. In the end nothing helped make sense of the thoughts and feelings in my head. One of the biggest, most lasting side effects of my fathers suicide was this feeling of worthlessness. As if I had no value. I've spent years feeling like everything good ends, everyone leaves, and good things can't happen to me. I've felt as if something must be wrong with me, because if I had just been good enough, he would have stayed behind for me. If I had done more, been more, gotten better grades, called more, been prettier…..etc, etc, etc, maybe he would have wanted to live for me. I almost left the night before my wedding because all of this was in my head. I've tried to leave my husband many times because this voice in my head continues to tell me daily I'm just not enough for my husband.
In 2012 things came crashing down inside of my head. I don't know how to describe this. There is not an event that happened, there was no giant momentous life changing thing that made me suddenly miserable, this was just in my head. I was unhappy. I had this incredible husband, and two amazing little boys, great friends, a good family, and a pretty good life. In my head though I wanted out. I felt many things. I felt like my husband deserved a better wife. Someone who wasn't 200 pounds, who did dishes, and cleaned up, who was active, and pretty, and put together. I felt like my kids were young and wouldn't realize I was gone and would end up loving this perfect new wife my husband would eventually find. I felt like I would no longer be a financial burden on my family, and my job. I felt ugly, sluggish, and worthless. I tried reaching out. I did. I was met with various responses, anger (sooo the wrong reaction), confusion (understandable), ignorance (frustrating for me), and from one person, understanding (yes, yes, yes, this is what is needed when someone reaches out to you asking for help).
This is where my history with suicide comes in. Because of what my father did, because of how it left me feeling growing up I knew one thing for certain, I COULD NEVER DO THAT TO MY KIDS. It was not an option. I would never ever leave them feeling the way my father left me. Instead I came up with a brilliant new plan. I would self destruct in a different way. Since the way I saw it in my mind is that I was a burden to everyone the solution to this issue would be to first and foremost destroy my marriage. I figured if I pushed my husband far enough away he would leave, find someone new, and eventually live this amazing life I felt he deserved. Then he would take the kids some of the time and they would have this amazing new family and everything would be great. What you have to understand is in my head I didn't feel worthy of my marriage. I didn't ever feel like I was enough for him. He would tell me all of the time that he loved me, all of me, and that I couldn't tell him not to love me. I just didn't hear it. All I heard in my head is that everything good ends, and I'm never going to be enough. If I made him leave then I could be the one to end it, and not give him a chance to end it for me like I knew would happen eventually.
I tried hard. I was mean to him, I made a male friend and spent far too much time with him. I began flirting with every guy in sight seeking any kind of validation. I drank more and became reclusive. I was absent from our daily life. It was like I was just existing enough to be a mom (barely) and make it through the day and go to bed. I told my husband I wanted time apart. I wanted him to go out of town and see how much better life was without me there bringing him down. I stopped cleaning, I stopped doing any chores, I didn't do school work, or play with the kids. My husband was being dad and mom all at once while I sat on the outside sinking into this hole of self hate.
And then, the best way I can describe what happened is to say, the butterfly effect kicked in. On March 23 2013 one of the moms at my sons school off handedly asked me to go to the gym. Because I didn't want to look like a lazy good for nothing and make up some bullshit excuse I said okay. To this day, I honestly don't know why she asked, why I accepted, why I didn't cancel, and how this all took place. All I know is on March 24th I met my friend at the gym. It was horrific. I couldn't complete a mile on the treadmill at a 15 minute mile pace. I couldn't do crunches. I couldn't lift any weights. I was overweight and felt out of place, miserable, and embarrassed. At the end of the workout when we left, the employee Russell who had taken my ID for the day pass asked me if I would be coming back tomorrow. Again, it's like another person took over my body when I said, "yes, I'm going to come back tomorrow and join the gym."
The next day March 25th 2013 I joined a gym. I worked out steadily for five months before I signed up with a trainer, a guy, because I was too self conscious to stand next to the girl trainers and their "perfect bodies". I had lost some weight, but not enough to change how I felt about myself. Now, I was surrounded by cute, thin, healthy fit girls and all I could think is, "That will never be me, I will never look that way." My husband was there working out also. He was getting a six pack set of abs, and being featured on a website of hot men, and in general just getting more and more fit. All I saw was the kind of girls I felt he belonged with. There was one trainer there, she was a small Filipino girl. Fit, and cute, and friendly, and everything I felt my husband deserved. I spent another five months trying to dismantle my marriage. While I was becoming happier, and in general a little bit nicer, I still couldn't get past this thought that my husband needed better. He deserved the best. He deserved the cute little fit girl at the gym. I even tried to get them to become friends, hoping if he just knew her he would fall in love with her, see there was something better then me out there, and go off and be happy with her.
After a while I got the hang of the gym. I made a complete lifestyle change. I cut out junk food, I cut out refined processed foods, I cut out the binging habit of self destructing, and I stopped drinking. I STOPPED DRINKING. But wait there is more. For about 10 years I had taken vicodin for back pain. I didn't have a habit, I would go months without it, but I always kept the prescription, "just in case." Just in case of what, I don't know, but I kept it. I made a choice in 2014 to let go of the prescription. To just stop everything. Get clean. Clean eating, clean mind, clean system. Other changes happened. I started dressing nice again. No more sloppy sweats, and dirty hair. I got my hair cut, I curled it, I threw on some mascara, I bought some cute dresses, and I threw on some heels. I was getting right.
This is where the second and third butterfly thing happens. I attended this funeral and felt a lot of myself change inside, in an instant. Then, for some reason I ended up at a certain business on a certain day. By happenstance I ran into the owner of the company whose father had just passed away (see above funeral). I've talked about him before, he is Jacks son. He is a busy man. You wouldn't believe the demands on his time. However on this day, he took ten minutes out of his day, to stop me, pull me into my office and ask me how I was doing. I told him about the gym, and he was thrilled. He was so encouraging, he told me I could do this, that I needed to do this, that I WOULD do this. He talked to me a lot that day. What he never realized is that day, he made me feel valuable. I felt like I must be worth something, if this very important person took ten minutes out of his day to talk to me. In an instant my head changed. I didn't want to let him down. I wanted to prove him right. I wanted to be this person that he saw when he looked at me. I wanted to become someone like him, who motivated others, encouraged others, did good things, gave back to the community, and lived my best life. We still talk. I still check in with him. Whenever I feel like I need a little boost I still shoot him a text because I know he will always have something positive, uplifting, and encouraging to say back to me. There will never be enough time, or enough words to express my gratitude for this man, who took time out of his day to make me feel valuable. Something I hadn't felt in over ten years.
Slowly the gym became a habit. I went three to five times a week. I never skipped workouts. It was as though I was addicted. Truth is, I probably am. Working out releases many of the same chemicals in your brain that all of those antidepressants contained. I was getting the same medication in a natural form that they were trying to pump into me in the form of pills.
However with all good things comes some bad things. I lost friends in this process. I lost friends because I stopped drinking, and wasn't "fun anymore." (authors note: I'm still super duper fun). I lost friends because I got thinner then them. They accused me of being gym obsessed and too fit. They didn't know that every one of those work outs was acting like an anti depressant for me. They just saw a pants size. Once mine was smaller then theirs, I was cut out. I was "obsessed and addicted, and spending too much time indoors." I looked back on my history and realized that in high school I had always worked out. I would go to school, go to work, and then go to the gym. Then I moved out and I just stopped. Cold turkey. No more activity. In reality that was like going cold turkey off of a drug. I crashed. I became depressed, and I spent the next 13 years sinking farther and farther into this hole I couldn't find my way out of.
I've been with the gym for over two years now. That cute little Filipino girl that I thought was so perfect for my husband eventually became one of my trainers, and a real friend. Over time without me noticing things just sort of changed. I was happy. I was confident. I felt worthy. I changed at home. I started doing chores. I started cleaning up, I put away my laundry every Sunday rather then let it pile up for five weeks until my husband gave in and complained. I started being active with my kids. I started working out with my husband. I no longer saw the cute trainer as better then me (her ass still has no rival, it's incredible), I saw us as equals. I didn't worry that my husband was looking at other girls at the gym, because I see myself clear enough now to know I'm enough for him to never need to look at anyone else. (In an effort to be honest, we both check out other girls asses at the gym, because he's an ass man, and I love a good ass as much as men do). I don't get jealous though, because I know he loves me, and I know I deserve that love. I know he wouldn't be happier with another person. I'm clear headed enough now to see all of the things he would miss if I was gone. (I'll reference the word "unicorn" for him here.) I know I'm a good wife. I know he needs me. I need him. We make an incredible team. A team of EQUALS. I'm not less then him, or more then him, I'm equal to him.
In January 2015 I had to have surgery. I had to take six weeks off from the gym. About four weeks in I found myself in the dark again. Suffocating once again. It was debilitating. I wanted out again. I was mean, unhappy, and feeling worthless again. What I didn't realize until much later is that I had basically gone cold turkey off of my drug. I stopped working out. I lost that dopamine boost. That serotonin boost. That endorphin bump. It wasn't until after, when I had been cleared to work out again, gone back to the gym, and gotten my head back that I was able to look back and see what had changed. My kids were telling me something was wrong, I wasn't acting like the mom they had known for the last year. My husband was asking me if I was okay, he was telling me I was different. I didn't hear it. I didn't want to. I wanted to be in that blackness. Making the choice to go back to the gym and get back to it was a hard one. Normally I get so held down with wanting to embrace this blackness that I don't make a move forward to help get out. This time, this time I did. I went back, I signed up for Tough Mudder. I told myself I had a goal. I had to train for this race. I couldn't stop. It worked. I kept going. I got that habit back. That touch of gym addiction came back.
I complete the Tough Mudder. I'll be honest, I slayed it. I absolutely rocked that event. I walked away from that event and took the time to look back at who I was and what I had become. I'm in love with this person I am now. I'm worth so much more then I thought I was for a lot of years. I'm happy. I'm capable of so much more then I had ever given myself credit for. I'm also annoying and obsessed with fitness, and I'll talk to anyone who wants to listen about working out and eating healthy. Because for me, it's the best thing I've ever done and I just feel like maybe if we all made a life change, got healthy, cut out the refined chemical food, maybe we could all get along, and be happy together. Maybe not, maybe it only worked for me. Either way, I still encourage it. Now, when I get a little fuzzy in the head I will tell my husband I need to go for a run, or perhaps a bike ride. Sometimes it's a hike alone. Sometimes it's a family walk. Sometimes it's a lunch break mid day run. I'm conscious now of my head space. When things start getting grey I handle it different. I don't turn to food. EVER. That was a horrible habit that was the biggest form of self destruction of all. Emotional eating is the one of the worst things you can do for yourself. I broke that habit. Now, I go to the gym, I go for a run, hell, sometimes I'll notice things are a little off and I'll start doing squats in my living room. Anything to give my mind that little endorphin bump long enough for me to bounce out of the negative mindset.
I keep everything in my house too. I have whiskey and vodka at home. Both my favorites. I don't touch them though. I keep them for two reasons. One is to remind me where I was, and the other is to prove to myself daily how strong I am. It's one thing to say you've quit drinking when there is no alcohol available, it's another to say you have quit when the alcohol is right there in your pantry. This also means I have Oreo's in my house. I have vegan ice cream, vegan pie, vegan cookies, etc. I keep it all there. That way every time I have a shitty day and I make it through without turning to food I feel that much stronger. It's easy not to turn to food when you don't have any of your triggers there, and you would have to leave the house and tell everyone you are leaving and drive to get the food. It's not as easy to avoid your trigger when there are right there in your pantry. I could easily go eat every cookie in the house, self destruct, shame myself, and no one would even know. I don't. I make better choices. I vocalize it to my husband so I know someone is watching me. It keeps me on point. It forces me to find another way to deal with the emotions besides eating them away.
I look back at my dads life and wonder, was he like me, did he lack basic chemicals to keep his brain happy? When he stopped doing athletics if he also went through that same chemical imbalance the same loss of self. I wonder if that is why he turned to drugs. If they were a faster way of getting that high, then fitness would have been. Or perhaps he was really just troubled and saw no way out. I wonder every single day if I would have suffered all of these years of depression and self loathing had he not committed suicide. Would that have still been in my head? Am I just genetically pre disposed to this hell he was in? If so, would I have found better tools of management from the start had he just been around to talk to me about his struggles? If he hadn't run away would I have gotten help sooner? I'll never know for sure. All I know is that I'm very glad I had the intelligence to realize what incredible damage I would be doing to my own kids if I had followed him down the road he took. I'm thankful I chose to self destruct without permanently ending my life. I'm glad I hit rock bottom. I'm glad I clawed my way out of it. I worked for this. I've earned it. My head is clear enough now to know that NO ONE will ever be better for my kids then me. There is no one who will ever ever ever know them like I do. No one will love them as much as me. Knowing that is what keeps me going to the gym. It's what keeps me logging miles on the pavement. It's what is saving my life again and again every single day.
I pay attention to my own kids now. To the signs. I know what it was like in my head from a young age. I know how I felt. I remember feeling worthless. I remember all of those feelings. I feel prepared now to face this head on should either of my kids suffer even an ounce of what I suffered. If this is genetic, if I have handed down a DNA nightmare I'm ready for it. Let's get active. Let's talk openly about this. Lets face this all head on. Talking about depression is not bad. It's not embarrassing. It should not be hidden. It should be faced straight on. Stared right in the face and acknowledged. It should never be buried or shamed. My father did years of damage to me. I don't know that I will ever fully recover from all of it. From losing him, losing my siblings whose mother moved away and erased me from their life, from losing touch with his side of the family, or from losing my sense of value. I wish he had tried harder. I wish he had reached out even one more time. I wish he would have put the drugs down and went for a walk, and had a protein shake, and gotten his mind right in healthier ways. I wish he had realized he was leaving behind a little girl who would have loved him no matter what defects he saw in himself. Suicide is never an answer. I have never once looked back and thought I was better off without him. None of us did. His mom wasn't happier, his family wasn't happier, I wasn't happier. He just left behind a trail of carnage and destruction. I still hate to be hugged. I still loath being touched. I'm still distant and emotionally unavailable. I'm still damaged from his loss.
Please. Please seek help. Try something different. Commit to thirty or sixty days of exercise just to see if perhaps what has helped me can help you. Reach out to someone. Lots of some ones. I reached out many times, and it wasn't until the sixth person who gave me understanding and a sounding board that I found a safe place to vent. Keep reaching out until you find your sounding board. As always you can even reach out to me. I love when I get emails about this. When I know that someone saw the mess my dad left me and has second thoughts about ending their own life.
I don't think I'm cured at all. I think I will battle this demon in my head my whole life. I can only hope I stay strong enough to battle it face on every day. That I stay strong enough to keep running, keep lifting, keep eating healthy nutritious food, keep looking for the good things in life. It's possible I'm just in a very extended HIGH part of a the bipolar coaster and that the exercise could all stop tomorrow when the rollercoaster falls down again. For now I choose to believe I'm curing the monster with fitness. I have life lines too. Outside of my family I have other people. I still text Jacks son. I reach out when I need a boost. I post publicly on social media because it reminds me how far I've come and keeps me accountable. I reach out to the trainers at my gym when I feel like I'm stuck and can't keep going. The guy, Russell who was there the day I agreed to enroll at the gym still works there. I still stop by his desk now and then and ask him to pull up my file. I like to see on the screen the date I enrolled, my history with coming to the gym my progress from my starting weight until now. I hope I've set myself up for success. I hope I don't end up with my dads legacy, that my kids never know his legacy, that I have a whole new legacy. One full of happiness, self love, and living the best possible life I can.