A Story I Recently Shared on CNN’s iReport for National Mental Health Awareness Month / by padhia hutton

I had been suicidal most of my life. As a kid, I used to draw my gravestone over and over and over until I just went numb in the soul. I guess it was in my late teens though that the actual debilitating depression set in. I was raised basically in isolation by a mentally ill mother, who never received help, so I thought I would be responsible and go to the doctor and admit I had a problem. A serious one. I explained to my first psychiatrist how I was having all of these terrible thoughts that I couldn’t control they spun around and around in my head. I described these “flashes of death” that would happen every few seconds to the point where at the end of the day my nerves were so frayed all I could do was drown myself in alcohol. I described this tight knot in my throat that felt like a golf ball, and how all day long I tried to swallow it. I was diagnosed with OCD. The complicated medication regimen that I was put on would’ve required OCD to follow it. It made me lethargic, dizzy, frighteningly anxious, gave me vertigo, and extreme nausea. The thoughts became worse, to the point where I was afraid I was going to lose control.

I saw another psychiatrist who diagnosed me with depression and started me on Prozac since that was the flavor most of my depressed family was on. I don’t think I got out of bed for a whole month. I felt like my skin was a bag full of concrete. I could barely drag myself to the bathroom. When I was awake, my heart would pound and I could barely breathe. I felt crippled by fear. Then I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder too.

Over the next ten years, I was prescribed virtually every medication on the market. The effect of these meds never lasted very long; I’d start off on whatever the regular dose was, and over months of them becoming less effective, the dose would increase until it was at the max. For over a decade despite being in therapy and on constant medication management, I suffered from night terrors, gripping flashes of death, insomnia, panic attacks, times when I felt completely dissociative, depression that at times completely immobilized me, stints in the mental hospital because I was sure I was going to hurt myself, and consumed with thoughts of suicide every second of everyday. In this condition I managed to graduate college, co-author several books, and start my own business. I so desperately wanted the life I would’ve had if I wasn’t so dysfunctional and I never stopped fighting with everything I had to overcome this emotional disturbia that was trying to consume me. My idea of success was how little of my suffering anyone actually knew about.

Finally after all of those years, I broke and began telling people that I wanted to die. I was married at the time and my husband started doing research and found a seemingly hip younger psychiatrist who had impressive credentials and seemed like he might offer a different perspective from the older, more conservative doctors I had always seen. This was the tiniest twinkle of hope I felt in my heart in years.

He sat there with his trendy surfer hair and shell necklace and again began to sentence me to the same fate as all the other doctors I had seen over the years. He repeated what I had been told time and time again, depression was not about being cured, it was about coping. Trying new meds as soon as they came out on the market, upping dosages, mixing things. Being proactive about medication management. He then went on to diagnose me with a rare form of bipolar, where instead of cycling from high to low, I cycle from low to lower. I keep the paper that he drew on right here, where I can see it. He drew a relatively straight horizontal line- which represented the moods of a normal person, an exaggerated sine wave- representing bipolar high and lows, and my own special rare bipolar, way below the other two lines- where my “high” was the bipolar low. I felt like someone let the last teeny drop of air out of the already deflated balloon that was my soul, yet I managed to protest that I was feeling slightly better, brighter and more alive now that I had reduced my dosage slightly. He explained to me that that was because I was on an “upswing towards down”. He told me in addition to sleeping pills, anxiety meds, an antidepressant, he also wanted me on an anti-psychotic.

Standing at the crossroads of “continue descending into the dark hell that was my life on antidepressants” and “give up”, It was then that I decided I deserved peace. I had tried hard enough, been through enough therapy been on enough pills, enough side effects, endured enough pain and I had nothing left. I was going to kill myself. I deserved freedom. And so I prepared to depart this earth. This meant internally making peace with letting go of every single thing about my reality, my existence and my dreams. That was easy; there wasn’t much left.

But there was just one thing that bothered me, that I could not seem to let go of. Was the joy, happiness, inner peace that I had dreamed of all of these years- that I distinctly remember experiencing as a small child- just really the delusion of a sick mind? I decided that since I was going to commit suicide anyway, I would go on the journey of answering that question first.

I got off all the meds. This meant that I endured close to a year of the most excruciating physical and emotional detox you could imagine. I lost almost a year of my life in “protracted withdrawals” detoxing from medications that supposedly were not addictive. In addition to the “brain zaps” and other physical symptoms, the emotional symptoms were equally frightening. Waves of sheer terror would wash over me constantly, my vertigo was so bad I often had to crawl, I had zero ability to calm myself down. I had what felt like no control over my mind or emotions and mood cycles. When the physical symptoms finally subsided, I remember the first time I felt air on my skin. It was such a beautiful moment that I giant streaming tears just poured out from somewhere deep inside. Just to feel the breeze on my skin… To be coming back to life.

I found a new therapist, who for the first time in all the years I sought help, told me that she believed depression was curable. She talked about “when I reach the end of my treatment”. I couldn’t even wrap my mind around that concept. She said we were going to go back in time and explore how its roots. Bit by bit, guided by her insightful questions, I began to tell her my story. A story I had never told to anyone before. No one had ever asked.

I learned that being suicidal is not so much about wanting to die, as it is about wanting to be free. I found my way to freedom. The freedom I had been searching for my entire life.

That was 7 years ago. It was hard at first. I felt like I had literally woke up standing in the middle of my life. I saw how my marriage, my friendships, basically everything was built from a place of being a completely dysfunctional person. I started over, gaining momentum in my newly found freedom with each step. I rebuilt my entire life, this time with intention. I would describe my general state these last several years as a baseline of happiness with peaks of joy, and that is why I tell my story. I want people to know that is even possibility.

My story about living with mental illness is actually a story about living most of my life with a mental illness that I did not in fact, have.