**Content Warning** This piece discusses suicidal ideation and a suicide attempt, as well as the graphic death of a child (resources available at the bottom of this page).
If you are thinking of hurting yourself or committing suicide, please tell someone immediately. In the US, you can call or text 988, or call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). To find a suicide hotline near you, try http://www.suicide.org/suicide-hotlines.html; this website lists US hotlines by state as well as hotlines by country (click on the "International Hotlines" link at the top of the main page).
I wanted to write my next blog piece about mental wellness. Then as I got the internal fortitude to actually start writing, I thought to myself that lately this topic is beginning to feel slightly overused.
Wow... how ironic. I rolled my eyes at myself. Here you are trying to put your keyboard warrior self into high gear in the most beneficial way, and even you are finding true strands of exhaustion in that experience. That thought itself made me regret wanting to write this.
Yet in true Lynda Arnold form- I soldiered on.
Every one of us is dealing with our own fragmented mental health and wellbeing each and every day.
Acquiring HIV was not the first life changing experience for me. Of course, at the age of 23 I didn't know it would also certainly not be the last. However, like many long-term HIV survivors, I have lived as though that day of my diagnosis should have been the first day of my last days.
Prior to that day I had survived:
- living as a sibling of a sister with a very serious physical disability (children today are now referred to increasingly as "The Glass Child" by pop psychology)
- witnessing firsthand the tragic death of a first-grade school child by a school bus driver when he was literally crushed to death under the wheel
- being a sexual assault victim at age 10 by a family friend
- at age 19 finding myself discharged from the prestigious Army ROTC program at Catholic University for disqualifying conditions of endometriosis and ruptured cysts
- having already undergone numerous abdominal surgeries including one incredibly painful laparotomy where I was found to be allergic to morphine
- at age 22, being diagnosed with HPV and having a precancerous cervical scare (was being treated with an injectable every few months for the endometriosis at Hershey Medical Center)
To say that by the time I had my needlestick injury and seroconverted to HIV, I was no stranger to trauma, would be an understatement. However the depression and anxiety that has plagued me for the past 30 years has at times become so intractable that yes, of course I have been suicidal, multiple times, attempting it only once.
In 2016, a treatment of IV ketamine for four days in an Arizona clinic, followed by outpatient dosing for a year, literally saved my life. I don't write that lightly. Ketamine is a powerful substance. I've never truly been a drug user other than the occasional use of marijuana in my college days. Recently I tried hemp in a titrated dose and it knocked me on my butt - so needless to say, whether a medicine is natural or synthetic I am a big believer in making sure that you are really working with professionals and above all else listening to your body.
Maybe you do need to start again. I encourage you to keep trying because there is always a new day. A new moment. A new opportunity. Yes, there will be another time to try again or simply recreate a new path.
Stress can affect our bodies in ways that it literally breaks down our bodies at the cellular level. All systems are affected from our heads to our toes. In severe cases stress can cause more severe or long-term physical health symptoms that can be life threatening and change the way you interact with family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers.
Medication is clearly today one of the first line defenses we have to use as a tool in the battle for mental wellness. However it's not the only one. Supportive counseling, whether that be in an outpatient center or online therapy can be engaging, as well as group work with like-minded people who can relate to the issues or problems that are causing one to feel such anxiety and strife.
Again though, even those tools are not the only way. We know clearly that individual work can be done to guide the mind into a healthier place and reduce stress, whether that is through exercise, meditation, sound cycling, poetry, journaling, music, rhythmic movement, volunteering, cooking, and even by watching something engaging - live or recorded.
I once finished 30 days' worth of daily reflective work. It was truly helpful to me. As a guided tool it helped me by giving me either spiritual passages, poems, song lyrics, or biblical passages and those things were my word and story prompts for each day. While the entire 30 days were extremely enlightening and self-empowering, there was a resonating lingering sadness near the end when one of the passages told the story of Ruth.
Ruth was a heroine in the Bible. She is a leader for her virtuosity and exemplary friendship and loyalty. She is true and faithful to God despite the tragedy of becoming a widow and not being able to bear children and chooses to support Naomi, her mother-in-law, and ultimately David, her great great grandchild, providing for the continuing of God's plan.
It was asked in this reflection for the reader to truly examine one's life and find their own Ruth. I struggled with this. I found that my anxiety and depression, which had been present since a very young age as evidenced above, coupled with the physical ailments and stresses of living with HIV, the side effects of my medication when I chose to be compliant, and the multitude of related comorbidities (cardiovascular, neurological, and pulmonary) because I wasn't compliant, truly created such a strong and recurrent case of PTSD!
This overwhelming PTSD has become so chronic and challenging that it has become invasive in my life. It allows me to simply shut out anyone that "trips" my tight threshold or barometer. When I get too stressed I will cut and run. My operating mode is to flee. I will fight as a keyboard warrior as long as I can hang in, but in my interpersonal circle, you will see that my true Ruths…? They have all left or I have shut them out time and time again.
Now the dilemma is if they were really a RUTH... as the story goes, they would find a way, I suppose, to love me through it all. Was that their problem? Should my loved ones and long-term friends have known better? Maybe. Maybe not. The Bible is full of fictional stories and parables. These are ideals and not true normals.
Stress can affect our bodies in ways that it literally breaks down our bodies at the cellular level. All systems are affected from our heads to our toes.
Every one of us is dealing with our own fragmented mental health and wellbeing each and every day. Just as our own body system is dependent upon its success, so too our own families, neighborhoods, communities, and workplaces. We are truly only as strong as our weakest link.
I don't recount this story now for sympathy. I do it so that maybe we can see that people who walk among us, those who we know as the strong ones, those people are quite possibly searching for their Ruth, even in the days and times where it feels like mental health awareness has already populated more than enough. Maybe you personally will not feel so alone, knowing that you are enough. Maybe you have driven those you love away. Maybe you do need to start again. I encourage you to keep trying because there is always a new day. A new moment. A new opportunity. Yes, there will be another time to try again or simply recreate a new path.
I don't have any NEW answers to solving the mental health crisis in the world or spearheading a NEW campaign for mental wellness. I can today offer you NEW hope though because I've been there. I'm still there. I see you. I hear you. I am one with you. But after 54 years living, nearly 31 years diagnosed, I offer you hope and strength to know that I am still searching. If you're like me and are looking for your Ruth, there's power in the searching; accept it until you find the peace.
Until next time,