Written May 11, 2015
You would’ve been seventeen this week. How crazy is that? I wish that I could be planning your party with you instead of writing this letter. I guess it’s not really fair to either of us that I’ve been holding on for so long. It’s two and a half years after you already let go.
Since that October day, your oldest sister gave birth to another girl, so now your niece that you loved so much is a big sister. Your other sister is now expecting. Your brother joined YWAM and went to Australia. My brother started college. My sister graduated from college. My mom got married. Since that day, I’ve tried to kill myself twice. I’ve cut myself so deep that it required stitches. I’ve been hospitalized five times. I have been so consumed by your death that I thought my chest cavity was being crushed somehow by emptiness.
My failed attempts to join you only terrified me more as I tried to flee from the fact that we will no longer be together. And physically, maybe that’s true. I can’t see you anymore. I can’t hug you anymore. I can’t hear your voice or your laughter anymore. And I miss you. I miss you so much that sometimes I think it will literally tear me apart. But it won’t even though sometimes I wish that the pain would shred me to pieces just as it threatens to every day when it hits me that you aren’t coming back. That even if you wanted to, you couldn’t, and there’s nothing I can do to change that. It haunts me to know that you knew you were dying as it was happening and you couldn’t take it back. But maybe you wouldn’t have wanted to. It also haunts me that I have no clue what your mind was like at the time. I was just as fooled as everyone else, on the outside at least. I was on the outside. That kills me, but I can’t imagine how I would feel now otherwise.
My mom wants to expand the area around the Isaiah tree. I think we’ll add flowers and whatnot to make it like a real garden. Maybe we’ll plant some peppers like the ones you were growing in your flowerbed.
I always have to say it: I’m sorry. But I’m not sorry for being an awful friend, because I wasn’t. And I’m not sorry for failing you, because I didn’t. I’m sorry that I’ve turned you into a weapon against myself, carving your initials and the date you died and the last thing I said to you into my skin, justifying my own suicidal thoughts and actions with your absence, and overall just using you as an excuse to hurt myself. Because I know that that’s the last thing you’d want, and that’s probably part of why I do it. You did the last possible thing I wanted you to do, so it’s only fair that I’d do the same, right? But the only person I’m hurting is me because as much as I’d love to get you back or even just punch you in the face, you aren’t here. For punching or hugging or laughing or revenge-getting or anything. You aren’t here. You won’t be ever again. But I am. And I will be. I don’t really know how long I will be, but I will be. Because for one reason or another, right now, I need to be. And I’m sorry you aren’t here with me, but at the same time, I’m so glad you’re here with me. Because as much as everything screams that you’re gone, I know you never will be completely. Because that’s not how love works. And that’s not how friendship works. I love you. You’re my best friend. You’re my brother. You may have given up on life, but I will never gie up on your life and your legacy. And I need to say goodbye now.
So even though I don’t know what to say, and even though all i want to do is clutch you to my chest so desperately that for a moment, neither of us will breathe, I need to take a breath and I need to live. Not with you. Not without you. But in honor of you. If there is a heaven, if there is an afterlife, then maybe I’ll see you again someday. And I can only hope that you will have continued to grow there instead of being frozen at 14 so when I see you again, we’ll both be grown. And even if that doesn’t happen, I will forever remember you in all your passion and agony and glory, just as you deserve to be remembered. And we will make a difference, Buddy, just like we always said. You can put your life on that.
During the first week I spent in the hospital, I went through withdrawal from all the synthetic marijuana I had been smoking. I writhed in bed with frequent muscle spasms and uncontrollable bouts of chills. I felt too sick to eat or drink, so I started to lose weight, although that was the last thing on my mind. I hated myself and I cursed all of the decisions that had caused my hospitalization. I wanted to go home and smoke a ton of spice and end my life. I told my doctor that I was going to sign myself out of the hospital and he threatened to involuntarily commit me if I tried because I was too much of a risk to myself.
After two doctor changes, I found out that I was made a “long-term care referral”. What that meant was that the people in charge of my care didn’t think that I was making enough progress for a regular hospital stay. They thought that I needed longer-term care at either the extended acute unit at the hospital or even worse, a state hospital. Those are the only options that made sense at the time because I wasn’t improving at all. Although for my first month or so, I was the social butterfly of the unit, I quickly declined as my hallucinations and flashbacks increased and worsened. The more my therapist and I tried to work on them, the worse it got and the more I isolated from everyone else around me. Staff members and other patients had to basically pry me out of my room at times because I was so paralyzed by everything going on in my mind.
My therapist at inpatient and I talked more in-depth about my friend, Isaiah, and my trauma history than I ever had with anyone else, which caused all of my symptoms to skyrocket. The hallucinations of my best friend hanging only got worse in the hospital. I had originally blamed them entirely on the spice, but I was forced to face that there was more to work through. My body memories also intensified. Body memories are like sensory flashbacks of abuse or other traumatic incidents. You can feel impacts or people touching you all over again. It’s extremely scary and disconcerting, especially when around other people. I kept to myself a lot for the periods of time when I was experiencing the hallucinations and flashbacks just because of how terrifying they were, let alone in a crowd of people making random noises and movements.
It took tons of repetition and what must have been a million staff contacts and therapy sessions, but eventually, I started to turn things around. I honestly am not quite sure how things got on that track, but they did. And even after they did, I sobbed on multiple occasions, and I struggled, and I hallucinated, and I flashed back to abuse and I might have even self-harmed once or twice, but I kept going. That’s the key that I figured out. No matter what, no matter how unbearable it may seem, you really just need to keep going.
So many people showed me so much support and love and unconditional kindness that I still struggle to understand both in and out of the hospital, and that’s what really helped me figure out that life is worth it. And I mean it for real this time. People care about me, and I care about people, and that is a bond that is growing strong enough to keep me on this earth and I’m so excited to be here.
After my turnaround, I convinced my doctor to discharge me home instead of to the extended acute unit. He even, on my very last day, admitted that he agreed that home was the right choice. So now I’m back in Lancaster and while I am stumbling a bit with my anxiety, I am surrounded by wonderful people that love and support me and I will always hold the encouragement that I got in the hospital close to my heart.
And now, without further delay, I can proudly say that I am returning to the blogosphere.
It’s good to be back.
“You know there’s a difference.”
As I fell deeper into my obsession with getting high, people started to take notice. My therapists tried to understand what was going on and I did little to help them out. My outpatient therapist, who I have been a client of for over three years now, insisted that the way I was wasn’t the “real me”. The debate was frustrating for me because I couldn’t pinpoint anything that had changed. Much of my sessions were spent discussing my substance abuse and with that, my refusal to stop abusing substances. I frequently smoked before therapy as well, which really messed with my treatment because I could rarely remember my sessions after the fact. And still, I denied that it was a problem.
When I started smoking synthetic weed, I didn’t realize just how bad it was for you. I knew it wasn’t good, but I didn’t imagine it would take the toll that it did. I started having visual, auditory and sensory hallucinations. The voices that I already heard got distorted, louder, and more frequent. I thought rats were in the blankets on my bed and bugs were crawling under my skin. I started seeing inanimate objects breathing and walls melting. The worst hallucination of all though was the dead people. I saw people hanging from trees and overpasses, chandeliers, flagpoles, everywhere. It was a combination of people I knew and people I had never seen before. The most recurrent person, however, was my best friend, Isaiah, who committed suicide by that method two and a half years ago. These hallucinations continued for months after the last time I smoked spice, but that’s getting ahead of myself.
I guess the big question is “why keep smoking spice?” Even after multiple health scares where I thought I was having seizures or strokes, even after beyond-distressing hallucinations, even after reading articles on how dangerous it was, even after my self-injurious tendencies reared their ugly head again, even after my suicidal ideation skyrocketed and was paired with homicidal ideation for the first time in my life, I kept smoking this drug that seemed to spur it all on. I smoked it so much that I got addicted, which I hadn’t realized was even a possibility beforehand. I would get sick and shaky, have muscle spasms and panic attacks if I tried to go without smoking for even an hour. At first, I liked the feeling of disintegration, and by the time I wanted off the ride, it was too late. It was like I was trapped in a cycle of addiction that I didn’t even think would happen. It got to the point that when left to my own devices, I was taking hits of spice every 15-20 minutes.
During this time, I was discharged from the partial hospital program that I had attended for 6 months to go to a specialized DBT program. That program, however, rejected me because I was still in high school and then failed to refer me to a psychiatrist, so I began to run out of my medications with no way to refill them.
After a short while, it became clear that between my increasingly severe self-harm, my suicidal and homicidal thoughts, my hallucinations, my regular stroke and seizure scares, and my continued use of the drug that was perpetuating it all, I was going down a road that would inevitably kill me if I didn’t do anything about it. I battled internally with whether or not to ask for help until one day, my fear won out. I told my mom and soon-to-be step-father about my synthetic marijuana use. Their reactions were of frustratingly calm concern. I left out many details about what the spice was doing to my mind because I didn’t know how to explain myself, so they didn’t understand the severity of the problem at hand. My mom took my spice, but I convinced her to let me keep my bowl, bong, and bubblers. That night, I smoked again with a small amount of spice that I had found hidden in my room from a time that I don’t remember. When I ran out, I took double the dose of my PRN for anxiety to help me sleep through my withdrawal. The next day, my mom took my pieces. The withdrawal was hellish, and as soon as I was alone, I constructed a water bottle bong and scraped spice crumbs off my desk and out of my carpet to try to get a few hits just to calm the spasms and sickness. Through it all, I hadn’t felt like a drug addict until I was shaking uncontrollably on my hands and knees trying to pick spice flakes out of the carpet in my dark bedroom to fill my water bottle bong.
The very next day, I had an appointment for medication management where I spilled my emotional guts out. I was immediately hospitalized for inpatient care and evaluation. That was on February 9th. I wouldn’t be discharged from that hospital until May 22nd, this past Friday.
To be continued…
My last post was on February 2nd of this year. Now, on May 23rd, I am returning to my untouched computer with a new perspective and very few words to describe it. In my absence that lasted almost four months, I practiced writing and rewriting my return-to-the-real-world post time and time again. Now that I’m attempting to resume the same life I had as a different person, all of those sentences just don’t add up to anything fulfilling enough to be posted.
How can I possibly explain a journey that stretches back almost a full year in a way that’s coherent enough to be understood? Maybe this entry will need to be stretched over a few posts.
In July, a friend of mine passed away after her car was struck by another driver that was drunk and on heroin. I wrote an entry about her at the time that was titled Remembering Meredith Demko. The link to that is here. Three weeks after that, I was hospitalized for nine days in a psychiatric hospital because of my suicidal ideation and self-harm. Until that point, I had been free of drug use for close to six months, but almost immediately after my discharge from that hospitalization, I began smoking weed again.
My smoking quickly became more than what it is for most teenagers, more than a habit or something to do when you’re bored. It became my obsession and with that, my identity. Suddenly everything was about when and where I could get high next, a thought process I had never associated with a drug before, let alone marijuana. The labels “pothead” and “stoner” quickly replaced “cutter” and “mental patient” among less flattering words that I tend to keep to myself like “whore” or “failure”. And honestly, I’d rather be a happy, functioning pothead than a cutting, failure of a whore that hangs out in psych wards. Not to mention how much more socially acceptable being a stoner is than being a cutter. It may sound extreme, but that’s pretty much how my brain works. There were two options, no in-between. My frequent self-harming subsided with the more weed that I inhaled. I didn’t need the pain on my arms anymore because the burn in the back of my throat and the high were enough. This appeared to be a brilliant revelation, a safe alternative that I had been searching for.
Weed became my answer to everything, and everything became my answer to the question “why weed?” The dog that I grew up with had to be put down, so I smoked. I reeled over the deaths of three close friends in less than two years, so I smoked. I wanted to cut, so I smoked. I still felt hopelessly suicidal, so I smoked. I hear voices, so I smoked. The two year anniversary of my best friend’s suicide passed, and I smoked. Family drama? Smoke. Triggering therapy session? Smoke. Fight with a friend? Smoke. Have a flashback? Smoke. Nothing to do? Smoke. Smoke. Smoke. You get the idea.
It wasn’t long before alcohol got involved, and with that came a new level of complications with the psychiatric medications I was on at the time. I started skipping doses of my meds around the times that I was drinking, somehow rationalizing that that was more helpful than drinking on top of the medication.
Around Christmas, I started smoking spice. Spice is synthetic marijuana. Other names are legal, fake weed, beagle, k2, etc. I knew it was bad, but I had no idea what I was getting into.
To be continued…