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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The darkest day

Warning: This is not an easy-to-read post and should not be read by children. If you're one of the children connected to GNF who likes to blog or read blogs, PLEASE don't read this. You can read the post below this one instead.

Eleven years ago yesterday was quite possibly the most horrible day of my life. I’m not sure on what scale you measure “horrible” when the events were so different, but in some ways it was even worse than the days I lost my dad and my son. It was the darkest, most hopeless day I have ever known. I don’t normally remember this anniversary, but Marcel’s mom always does. She reminded him of it yesterday.

Eleven years ago, I was pregnant with Nicole, our first-born. I had a decent job with the government, we’d moved into our first house that year, and Marcel had left his trucking job and moved into the office so that he could have more regular hours and spend more time at home with his emerging family. It should have been a good time – a hopeful time. It wasn’t.

Due to a combination of new job stress, new parenthood stress (throw in a fairly major pregnancy scare which landed me in the hospital for 3 days), and a condition later diagnosed as anxiety disorder, Marcel plunged into the deepest darkest depression I have ever seen. It was really, really scary. He was a shell of his former self. He couldn’t handle the simplest tasks. He couldn’t get out of bed in the morning and get himself off to work. He couldn’t sleep at night. He paced the floors, and regularly lost all control of emotions. If you’ve never seen anyone in this state before, just believe me – it is completely horrible. There’s no way to describe it. The man I loved was unrecognizable.

We tried repeatedly to get him help. We checked him into an overnight treatment facility, but they didn’t do much for him and he was home the next day no better off. He went to see a psychologist who basically told him he should grow up (which still makes me angry). We didn’t know where to turn. Nothing seemed to help and nobody seemed equipped to help us.

Eleven years ago yesterday, he got up early in the morning (he was starting work around 4 a.m. those days) and kissed me good-bye. I was hopeful. I thought he had turned the corner and was ready to go back to work. The night before, he’d said he’d try the next day. When he said good-bye, he said “take care of my baby,” probably patting my tummy while he did so. I said I would, and I wished him well. And then I went back to sleep, because it felt like life might be returning to normal.

When I got to work a few hours later, I phoned his office to see how things were going. They were surprised at my phone call. They said that Marcel had phoned a few hours earlier and said that he wasn’t coming back to work. Ever.

I can’t even begin to describe the panic that set in when I heard those words. What did that mean? Where was he? Why hadn’t he called me?

I rushed out of the office, shouting to someone that something had happened and I needed to go home. Now. My former boss and mentor heard me and followed me to the elevator. She wanted to know what was going on. I said I didn’t know for sure but that I would let her know. I think she hugged me.

My memory of the rest of the day is a combination of blurred surreal images and sharp crisp moments that are forever burned in my brain. I took the bus home, not knowing where else to go. I started phoning some of the people who might know where he was – his mom, his brother, I can’t remember whom. At some point, I phoned my Mom, partly because in my desperate brain I thought he might have fled to the farm because that was a place where he found peace. Mom hadn’t heard from him but said she was jumping in the car to come to me.

Throughout the day, some friends and family showed up at the house, everyone desperate to help me find him. His cousin came and said that he had driven to all of his favourite childhood haunts, hoping to find him somewhere. Others phoned to say they were praying or looking or doing whatever they could think of to help. Some just phoned to cry or to let me cry. Because we couldn’t just sit still, my mom and I drove to Marcel’s favourite lake – the place where he loved to fish and where he’d always said his ashes should be released when he died. He wasn’t there.

Mom tried to get me to rest, but there was no rest to be had. I think I fell into a fitful sleep at some point. That part’s a blur. I’m sure she also tried to get me to eat. At some point, we phoned the police. They sounded skeptical on the phone, like they were fairly certain he’d skipped town to escape a nagging wife. They said they couldn’t look for him until he’d been gone longer – maybe 24 or 48 hours, I don’t remember.

As I relive these memories, my throat feels tight and my eyes are fighting tears. I hardly know how I lived through that long, long day. It felt like someone had stuck a large syringe into my body and drained every last drop of hope from my life. Although I didn’t say it out loud, I was certain that Marcel was somewhere dying. Alone. Lost. Frightened. Unable to cope with where his mind had gone since the illness took away his will to live.

Late that night, the phone rang. It was Marcel’s brother. “We’ve found him.” He said. “He’s alive. But he’s at the hospital and he’s in pretty rough shape. You need to come here. Now.”

We raced to the hospital. I don’t think J-L gave me many details over the phone, but I found out later that Marcel had checked himself into the hospital. He was very near death after a nearly successful repeated suicide attempt. He had sliced his throat and his wrists, and plunged a knife into his chest. I can hardly type those words, because even eleven years later, it seems too gruesome to be true.

He told me later that he was sure an angel must have driven him to the hospital, because he didn’t know how he’d gotten there. He did remember waking up in the back of the truck, realizing that he was still alive, deciding there must be a reason why he was still alive, and choosing to get himself to a hospital.

Throughout the long night, we waited (his family, some members of my family, and me) while the doctors performed surgery on him. We didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know how serious the damage was. We only knew we needed to keep vigil and pray that he would live.

Needless to say, he survived. There was no long-term damage, except that he says it changed his ability to sing the high notes and he’ll wear scars for the rest of his life. A week later, he was released from the hospital. We finally found him some good help. He joined an anxiety disorder support group, learned a lot more about the demons that were haunting him, saw a more reasonable psychologist, and went on medication.

He has never suffered such debilitating depression again. Once in awhile, he recognizes himself slipping into that pit, but he knows how to get help now, and he knows how to spot the signs. He’s done a lot of really positive things to fight these demons, because he knows how important it is to live a healthy life – for himself, for me, and for our daughters.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, sometimes the memories are overwhelming and I find I need to write them down. And sometimes I think of all the other people who suffer through depression – either their own or someone they love – and they need to hear other people’s stories to know that they are not alone.

Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to get help and a lot of people still don’t know how to talk about mental illness. For us, it took a near tragedy to learn to recognize the signs. If you’re in the middle of this yourself, please don’t let it come to that.

(In case you're wondering, Marcel read this first and I have his permission to post it.)

13 comments:

Maria said...

I am SEETHING at the first psycologist that you saw. How utterly neglectful to not recognize a severe anxiety disorder. We are trained to look for that and it sounds as if your husband had all the signs of it. He should have never had to suffer like that before getting help.

I am so glad that he survived and that you found someone to help him. Knowledge is power, it really is.

I am SO glad that you both have each other. That was some tough terrain to go through and it sounds like you both made it through together.

What an inspired writer you are...

Maria said...

Ugh...sorry. But, I HATE to mess up words. I meant PSYCHOLOGIST. I just read that post and cringed....

The Passarelli's said...

You are my hero Heather! You must be a very very strong person. You have had way way too much to deal with. I wish you and Marcel peace.

I feel honored to know you!

Mike

Accidental Poet said...

So glad you're still here, Spot. Must have been that stockpile of lucky soap you had :)

Melissa said...

My god. My psychiatrist always asks me if I'm feeling suicidal or homicidal every visit, and my answer's always no, so I can only relate up to the point of blackness you describe.

You're very strong to have lived through that and chosen to help him through that time. Thank you for sharing such an uncomfortable memory. I think writing it down makes it easier, not to let go of, but to deal with.

You're both in my thoughts.

Gina said...

Oh Heather, I can't imagine having to go through all that.

I am so glad that Marcel was able to find help, and that the both of you have obviously made such a great recovery. How strong you both are!

((Heather and Marcel))

The very nice man said...

There are no words to describe what I felt, reading your post.
I, too, had an experience of utter depression and not being able to talk, love my wife or even make a decision for tea or coffee. Black times.
Thank the Lord they are behind me.
How I feel for you and Marcel and thank you both so much for sharing this with us all.
I praise God you survived, Marcel!!
You are (by the look of things) muchly needed.

Anonymous said...

Oh, wow.

Thank you for sharing from the depths of your pain.

Judy - www.judyh58.blogspot.com

wordgirl said...

Holy Mother of God...I just can't put into words how awful that day must have been for you. And for Marcel. thank you for being brave enough to share it with us.

Joyce said...

Heather-- I too have known the pacing, the demons, the tears, the utter inability to make the simplest of decisions. I am thoroughly blown away that he slipped through the cracks that way. This is hardly an uncommon illness.
thank you for this story.

oshee said...

Thank you for posting your own experience with this. I hope someday to be brave enough to share my own.

gemmak said...

A brave post and a brave couple, his treatment by the first psych is unforgivable but sadly all too common. If this post helps just a few people recognise their illness or the illness of a loved one you have done a very big thing in having the courage to share your experiences.

Anonymous said...

"I am SEETHING at the first psycologist that you saw."

I am too. People like him are a dime a dozen. They are little more than schoolyard bullies with diplomas. I smell malpractice here.

I'm glad this is on the web and that you're not just suffering silently. Perhaps a few more people, in and outside of the medical profession, will take this kind of thing seriously and not just blow it off in cavalier fashion as did that so-called "psychologist", who should be working at Wal-Mart.