One night, a friend unexpectedly came to my house very late. Only after we had chatted for 15 minutes did she roll up her sleeve and show me why. Her wrist was bleeding. I rushed her to the hospital and struggled not to faint as doctors stitched up what she had cut with a razor.
She was gentle and beautiful — and smart and accomplished, too. But she wanted to die. She attempted suicide more than once. She went to a mental hospital more than once. She tried almost every kind of antidepressant there was; she even received shock treatments.
Nothing helped. She had depression, and she had it bad. She could no longer work. Her husband divorced her during one of her stays at a mental hospital. Her life seemed too difficult to endure.
Then she had an impulse to sell everything she owned and travel. Crazy! That’s what just about everyone said to her. Nuts! How could she, a barely functioning mental patient, take care of herself on the road? Ridiculous!
It didn’t matter what anyone said. She held a sale. Strangers foraged through her apartment and bought everything from her kitchen table to her leftover Preparation H. Her ex-husband bought back their old futon sofa.
A few days later, she boarded an Amtrak train. Her travels took her to New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona. She ended up settling in a New Mexico town called, of all things, Truth or Consequences. It would seem made up if it were not true.
In Truth or Consequences, she struggled up mountains and relaxed in hot springs. She lived in a tipi at a youth hostel, reading by an oil lantern and curling beneath mounds of blankets when the temperature sank below 20 degrees at night. It stormed once when I visited, and I thought the tipi would blow over.
She met a man at the hostel, a horse trainer traveling from New Zealand. They shared a good connection, and then the unexpected happened. She became pregnant.
The same people who reacted in horror when she sold her belongings to travel did so again. She was still taking psychiatric medications daily, something like 10 pills in all. She was doing chores a few hours a day to earn $15 a week plus free use of the tipi and kitchen.
How could she possibly care for another person when she could barely care for herself?
Her inner voice spoke again. She would have this baby, and she would keep it — even though the father suddenly felt an obligation to resume his worldwide travels and has not been seen since.
She moved back to Texas. At first she received welfare and food stamps to survive. She went cold turkey on her medications and quit a 13-year smoking habit, too. The Texas Rehabilitation Commission helped her get back to work.
Before her depression hit, she had worked as a medical researcher in Dallas. While she was pregnant, she trained to become a massage therapist. This, too, seemed a little crazy. She was poor and pregnant — and she was determined to start a new business with no security, no stable salary, no health insurance, no benefits.
More than two years have passed since she brought a new life into the world. Mother and son are both exuberant, both beautiful, both happy. This month, she is marrying a member of her church who is also a single parent. Her massage practice is blooming.
She is a woman who listened to her inner voice, appreciated its mysterious wisdom, and healed herself in ways that no psychiatrist could heal her. She permits me to tell her story with abandon, because she hopes that it gives others hope.
“I’m so glad I never succeeded when I tried to kill myself,” she said to me recently. “I absolutely love life. Even when it’s hard, even when it’s exhausting, even when I cry, I am so happy to be alive.”
This essay originally appeared in The Dallas Morning News, in 1999. Fourteen years later, my dear friend enjoys abundant creativity and love. Her son is happy and healthy. Her marriage is strong. She has struggles and bad days, some worse than others – like everybody. Yet suicide does not beckon. To the contrary, she is grateful to be alive. She is a living testament to the changes that life can bring, even amid despair and depression.
© Copyright 2013 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, All rights Reserved. Written For: Speaking of Suicide
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