August 1st kicks off my birthday month. Yes; I said birthday month. I am not grandiose enough to believe that the date of my birth deserves a month-long recognition or celebration, but if several our country’s most prominent leaders, long since deceased, have had their birthdays declared federal holidays, I think that spending a month acknowledging surviving and/or thriving for another 365 days deserves some sort of extended commemoration by the living. So, welcome to my birthday month!
That said, I have come to realize that not everyone celebrates the arrival of August with the same anticipation and enthusiasm that I do. For some people, August marks the end of summer and the beginning of school. For others, August ushers in “the dog days of summer”, and the heat and humidity already have long overstayed their welcome. For still others, August holds some painful memories from past events. This month means different things to different people, but to me, it always will be my birthday month.
I don’t have raucous celebrations planned for each of the 31 days of August, although I do hope for a few such celebrations along the way. Much like New Year’s Day, my birthday is another chance to reflect on all of the changes of the past year and to look forward to the year to come, but unlike New Year’s Day, I don’t make any resolutions. Instead, I fully embrace the fact that I am alive to celebrate another birthday, as I know what a gift that it is in and of itself, especially this year.
Last August, I was just beginning to emerge from the cocoon of depression and anxiety, and I began having “good” days. I recall how excited and overly confident I’d feel when I would have such a day, and I would declare to my pen pal, “I’ve got this”, only to be overwhelmed by the darkness a day or two later. It was a frustrating pattern, as I worked so very hard to heal and to learn how to string enough “good” days in a row so that they outnumbered the “bad” days. To my pen pal’s credit, with every declaration of “I’ve got this” that I made on a “good” day, he always was supportive and encouraging, even though he understood that I still had much work and healing to do before I could truly “get it”. Like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”, I actually had it all along, but I had to discover that for myself.
As I stated in an earlier blog, contrary to the rumors, I never attempted suicide, not ever. I never devised a suicide plan or made any attempt to end my life, but I was faced with the decision about whether I wanted to live or die when the depression and anxiety overwhelmed me. I would like to say that it was an easy decision to make, but it was far from it. I am ashamed to admit that, but it is the truth. From personal and professional experiences, I know that you do not have to choose to die instantaneously and that death is not just solely in the physical sense, as people every day do things to slowly cause the death of their body, mind, soul, and spirit. I have watched the deaths, both literally and figuratively, of people who are in the throes of addiction, whether it be to alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, food, tobacco, etc.; people who toil in jobs that they hate; people who remain in unhealthy relationships/marriages; people who ignore their body’s warning signs that they need to seek medical attention; people who take unnecessary risks; etc. Death, like life, takes on many different forms, but the end result is the same, you are dead to yourself and others.
There was an actual moment when I had to ask myself if I really wanted to live or begin the process of dying, and it was by far the most intensely painful moment of my entire life, and that is saying a lot. For many reasons, I have never talked about this moment in any detail at all, not even to my pen pal, who knows absolutely everything about me. I still am not prepared to discuss it further and do not know if I ever will be able to do so, but I wanted to mention it to hopefully offer even a bit of hope to anyone else who understands the depths of pain I am referring to. At the time when I chose to hang on with all I had and to fight my way back to the light, I still wasn’t even sure why I made that decision, but what I can only describe as my intuition said to go forward, despite not knowing what it was I was going toward. I would like to say that once I made that decision that life became lighter and brighter soon thereafter, but that would be a lie. It hurt a lot to do all the things I needed to do in order to survive, such as continuing to participate in individual and group therapy, mourning the loss of my marriage and some of my closest friendships, and learning how to trust others again, and I still felt so inordinately alone and damaged. I definitely questioned whether or not I had made the right decision a number of times, but at the time of that decision, I made a promise to myself that whatever I decided that there would be no turning back. I am nothing if not a person of my word, so, I kept my promise and survived.
Not long after I made my decision, I was devastated to learn that a college friend made a very different decision. As I grieved his death, it was difficult to hear our friends wonder how he could have done such a thing, because I understood completely, which made me feel guilty. I absolutely do not condone or support his choice, but I do know what it is like to feel as he did at the time when he made his own decision. I saw myself in him, and I wish that he had seen himself in me, as he would have known that no matter how much pain he was in that relief awaited him, if only he could hang on and ask for help. Right after his death, I was touched by how many of our mutual friends reached out to me to make sure that I knew that they loved and supported me, and one friend even asked me to swear that I would never choose death over life, unaware that I already had been faced with that choice and chose wisely.
So, this August looks very different than last August did, and I am so appreciative that I chose to stick around for it and that some very special friends and family members did, too. This will be a truly happy birthday indeed. I am ending this year on a positive note and looking forward to continuing to thrive in the upcoming year. I have big plans and even bigger dreams, and since I keep my promises and have a knack for making the seemingly impossible, possible, it is sure to be extraordinary. I wonder what next August will look like.
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story