Today is monumental for me and it has nothing to do with my book sales.
On January 26th, 2008, my dad was in England celebrating his birthday. At the same time, I was in Phoenix. I was sitting in my SUV and parked in my garage. The engine was running and there was a hose pipe running from the exhaust into the passenger window. I had downed two bottles of wine and was unconscious when the police found me. It would be the first of three suicide attempts over the next five weeks. The last of which involved an overdose of medication that put me in a coma for five days. I had taken what doctors consider to be three times a fatal overdose of Ativan. I should not be here, but somehow I am. On March 5th, I came out of that coma and left the hospital, I swore I would never go back.
My name is Craig W. Chenery and I live with clinical depression, chronic social anxiety and bipolar disorder and it’s been ten years since my last suicide attempt.
Notice I say I live with depression, I no longer suffer from it. I suffered for 33 years with undiagnosed depression, social anxiety and bipolar disorder. Despite the social stigma attached to these illnesses, I am not ashamed to admit I have them. There is far greater shame denying their existence and trying to live life like nothing is wrong. If I choose to ignore it, everyone else then has to deal with the fallout when I have a swing. Living with these illnesses is mandatory. It is how I was programmed. I have no choice in that matter. Suffering, on the other hand is optional.
In 2008, I should have been dead. No ifs, ands or buts about it. I took enough Ativan to kill me three times over. The psychiatrist I was seeing at the time, who knew I had suicidal tendencies; after all, I had tried twice in the previous three weeks, prescribed me with six week’s worth of anti-anxiety medication. Something in my mind finally broke and I took the lot and a bottle of wine. I’d given up.
This is the longest I have gone my entire life without contemplating or attempting suicide. To put that into perspective, my first suicidal thoughts were at eight years old. For 23 years, every year or two, I wanted to die. At best I had gone four or five years without issue. So what changed?
After I came out of that coma, I knew that was it. I was emotionally at rock bottom. I’d been clinically dead twice. If I didn’t get help, I wouldn’t survive a fourth attempt. Alcoholics have booze, users have drugs, I have my brain. My point is to not lessen other addictions, but to highlight that my demon is internal and there is no rehab or twelve-step program to aid in my recovery. I had to undertake major lifestyle changes. I had to find the right doctor to get me on the right medication and I had to stick at that medication. There was no getting off it when I thought I felt better. I had to cut out all negative people in my life. I had to cut back as much toxic behavior as possible. My ex-girlfriend, close friends, peripheral friends and acquaintances. That stage was difficult. Taking a look at everyone in your life and determining who does and doesn’t care about your well-being sucks. And for the first time in my life, I had to put myself first.
I am not a doctor. I will not offer medication advice. We all work a little differently and what works for me, may not for you. Medications that would give me nightmares and hallucinations work perfectly well for others. Finding the right mix is a discussion for you and your doctor. I have finally found my mix.
For the next year, I focused on me. Finding what made me happy. Made me sad. Made me depressed, scared, anxious, angry, elated and yes, suicidal. I spent the year sometimes surrounded by friends, sometimes alone where the silence became deafening. I dated, dumped, and learned about myself. And after a year I felt I was finally good enough to be good for someone. And then I met Tera. She was the one and my mind had never been clearer.
As most of you who know me has seen, my life has turned around. I am now happily married to a wonderful, wonderful woman and we have an incredible daughter. My writing career has taken off and I’ve been at my job for 17 years. I finally have peace, love and stability. Tera and I married quickly and some accused me of having a manic swing. Well, nine years later I can prove that theory wrong. Our marriage has outlasted many others I know and gets stronger every year.
I always try (and sometimes fail) to avoid the big three topics on my blog and other social network sites. Sex, religion and politics are the easiest ways to alienate people. That’s not to say I will avoid controversial subjects. Far from it. I will talk about depression and emotions. Perhaps this inability for men to talk openly about feelings is why we are seeing so many school shootings. “Be a man”, “suck it up”, “don’t be such a little girl”, “show some balls”. As if showing ones emotions is a sign of weakness or femininity. I call bullshit on that. We all have feelings, needs, and desires. Why shouldn’t we talk about them? Maybe if we could more openly, society would be different.
As a society, we do not like to talk about depression and mental disorders. Sometimes it seems that the only time it is socially acceptable is when a celebrity commits suicide. Then it becomes a buzzword spoken around the water cooler for a few weeks and is quickly forgotten. That is not to downplay the loss of a celebrity’s life. The loss of any life due to depression, be it celebrity or otherwise is a terrible thing, but depression affects 8.5% of the adult population totaling almost 18 million. Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adult Americans, or about 2.6%. We are not alone, not by a long shot and we shouldn’t be ashamed of talking about it. I’m not.
So here I stand, a decade into my recovery, feeling better than I have ever felt. Do I have down days and moments? Of course I do, everyone does. Mine are a little harder as they don’t have environmental triggers. It just happens and this illness will never be completely gone. But I am now better at seeing the tells and Tera has been my rock. She knows when my mood is off and we talk. I increase my meds and talk to my doctor. I have too much to live for to let this beat me.
Ten years… that is huge. Here’s to the next ten. And the next. And the next. And the next until I die of natural causes having lived a full life of love and joy and peace.
P.S. I know I’m a writer, and the editing here is shit. This is unedited and unfiltered and simply my heart of my sleeve.