The Empty Room
I woke that morning alone with my husband’s lingering depressive energy haunting our bedroom in thick charcoal shards. I want to reach out and touch them, but don’t for fear of my hands being shredded by the ragged edges. I don’t dare rustle them like chimes as I reach for my phone, because they aren’t light or pulsating; no. They will crash down, bury, and suffocate me.
The call goes straight to voicemail. My husband doesn’t answer.
Something is wrong.
I have been tracking deepening blue shaded dots of severe depression symptoms on his chart for weeks but this is different.
The charcoal shards are scratching me.
I know my husband is tired. Sad. Defeated. He had recently said, “Worthless.”
Dark blue dot.
It’s infuriating and unfair; he’s done everything right. Years of treatment aren’t working. Medications aren’t working. Therapy isn’t working. Nothing is working.
We are broken.
I push the covers off me and slide out of my bed deliberately. The shards scare me.
Trepidation builds as I rush past our infant daughter’s bedroom where she’s still sleeping. I pause just outside the main hallway. The cold from the hardwood floors chills my bare feet as my eyes dart back and forth between the living room and the kitchen.
Nothing is obviously out of place but then again everything was. It was too still and quiet.
I begin to panic, slowly at first, then much quicker as my spirit registers despair. Hopelessness clings to me as I cross the kitchen in three escalating heartbeats.
I throw open the door to the garage, and I’m no longer breathing.
Unfathomable is the fear in that singular moment between what is anticipated and what is reality.
The garage is empty.
My husband is not hanged from the lone wooden beam.
The garage is empty.
I sink to the concrete floor, relief crashing in on the fear, making my eyes burn and my breath hitch awkwardly.
Realizing I am still clutching my phone, I hit send again. My husband answers. He’s at work.
I tell him where I am and what happened. With a small, shaking, tear-filled voice, I ask, “Why didn’t you answer your phone?”
He tells me it didn’t ring, he must’ve been in a dead spot in the shop.
Strange, hysterical laughter bubbles out of me as I sit there in the garage. Only he would make such an inappropriate joke.
A glimmer of hope joins my relief, forcing out some despair. A charcoal shard dissipates in our bedroom.
“You’re horrible,” I tell him. And I mean it.
“I know,” he replies, in an exchange we’ve had hundreds of time, “but I’m okay.”
He wasn’t okay. But he was alive.
I got my husband into his doctor that afternoon and we made significant changes to his depression treatment. I don’t know if he was suicidal, or would have become suicidal. Luckily, we never had to find out. His doctor dubbed me “his thermometer” as I always seem to be one step ahead of what he is feeling. I am incredibly sensitive to his energy and aura, an anticipator of his moods and needs.
Two months later, he was formally diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, an illness, in hindsight we know, he has battled his entire life.
We got a full course of bipolar disorder specific medications for him and we got resources for me.
People who suffer from mental illnesses sometimes cannot “go get help.”
They need to “be given help” by spouses, children, family, friends, coworkers, church members, and even strangers.
Those spouses, children, family, friends, coworkers, church members, and even strangers need to know HOW to give help and WHEN to give help.
I learned through NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and that is why we raise money every year to continue to fund the programs that saved our family.
We cutesy it up with Abi’s calendar sales, the kids’ painting raffles and other give-a-ways, but the unfiltered truth is there was a morning I woke up to the horror of suicide and thanks in large part to NAMI, I now share a story of victory and life, not heartbreak and devastation.
If you would like to help fund the programs (details of the programs are below so check them out!!) that saved our family, and continue to save the lives and families of the millions in the Greater Houston area, consider donating to the walk this year. Links to the kids’ fundraiser pages are below. Each $10 donation to Deklan, Ellie, or Abi’s page earns you a raffle ticket into their watercolor painting raffle. Deklan and Ellie have a $100 goal (they are 33% of the way there)!! Abigail has a $1750 goal (65% of the way there!!) and has 20 SIGHTS OF THE EYE calendars left for sale. Calendars are $20 each.
Here are a few of the amazing NAMI Greater Houston programs that are funded by yearly walk donations. My oldest daughter, Abigail (now age 13, also diagnosed with bipolar disorder just weeks after my husband) has plans to become involved with several of these programs as both a participant and a speaker in the next few years.
EXAMPLES OF EDUCATION PROGRAMS
Family to Family (My husband and I took this class!!) The NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program (English and Spanish) is a free, 12-week course for family caregivers of individuals living with a mental illness or brain disorder.
Great Minds Think Alike This program is for youth, ages 12-17, with mental health needs. Great Minds Think Alike (GMTA) is designed to provide teens with the skills necessary to take a leadership role in their own treatment. GMTA helps teens develop coping methods to deal with the daily realities of living with their own mental illness, as well as initiate success in their everyday activities. In GMTA classes, each student is given a workbook which provides an opportunity for them to actively participate in the lessons. The goal of GMTA is to empower youth to gain a better understanding of their personal needs and to develop the steps they need to take in order to meet those needs. Through GMTA, teens will learn how to be active in their personal treatment and recovery plan, while encouraging others around them to do the same.
NAMI Basics NAMI Basics is the new signature education program for parents and other caregivers of children and adolescents living with mental illnesses. The NAMI Basics course is taught by trained teachers who are the parent or other caregivers of individuals who show signs and symptoms of mental illness between the ages of 0-18. The course consists of six classes, each lasting for 2 ½ hours.
EXAMPLES OF COMMUNITY OUTREACH
Ending the Silence Helping middle and high schoolers understand mental illness makes a big difference. We can teach them about the warning signs for themselves and their friends. NAMI Ending the Silence helps raise awareness and change perceptions around mental health conditions
In Our Own Voice In Our Own Voice (IOOV) is a unique public education program developed by NAMI, in which two trained consumer speakers share compelling personal stories about living with mental illness and achieving recovery.
Great Houston Support Group