I am so pleased and privileged to host Rebecca Lombardo on The Lithium Chronicles. Rebecca’s debut book (a memoir) has just been released hot off the press as of yesterday. Please help me in welcoming Rebecca and acknowledging her bravery. Rebecca’s story has helped many and will continue to do so. Thank you, Rebecca.
The Suicide Attempt That Changed My Life
By Rebecca Lombardo
When I was just a kid, I had big dreams of becoming a writer. It seemed like it was going to be pretty easy. People were often telling me that I was talented. I never had any idea how difficult this dream of mine would be to achieve. In 9th grade, I took a journalism course that made me decide to steer clear of that field. I’ve never been a get in your face and ask the hard questions, person. I’m more of a stay in the shadows hoping for an idea to strike kind of gal.
I continued to do very well in creative writing courses, and I maintained a steady stream of ideas for the poetry I wrote. Heading into my senior year of high school, I noticed that for no apparent reason, I was often feeling incredibly sad. Then, as quickly as the sadness hit I would feel extremely hyper, always laughing and talking. I also spent many mornings trying to tell my mom that I didn’t feel well so I couldn’t go to school. I often experienced these horrible bouts of extreme nervousness, which I now know to be anxiety attacks.
After high school, I was able to write poems sporadically. It seemed like the urge only came when I was experiencing pain or heartache. Writing helped me deal with those emotions. I needed all the help I could get because I was quickly falling into a deep, deep depression. I moved into an apartment with a roommate I met through a rental service. I was working seven days a week at two different jobs, and attempting to go to school when I could. I was rarely able to sleep at night, so I would take a handful of Excedrin or Tylenol PM to sleep, and then a handful of No-Doz to stay awake.
I began to notice these strange feelings hitting me when I was at my day job. I would start to panic, cry, breathe heavy, get dizzy, sweaty, and I felt like the walls were closing in on me.
Any writing I might have done was put on the back burner as I tried to find out what the hell was wrong with me. Finally, alone in my apartment one night, I experienced what could only be called a nervous breakdown. My cat at the time, Fred was staying with my parents while I trained the puppy I received from an ex-boyfriend. I went into my walk-in closet crying out for my cat. I closed the door and buried myself under blankets in the corner and just sobbed.
After a couple hours, my roommate came home. She insisted that I call my family and I did. My mom sent my brother to pick my dog and me up. I never spent another night in that apartment. My parents realized that I needed treatment. I started seeing a psychiatrist at 19 and have been on medication ever since. The writing that was once a big part of my life just stopped. My mind was always racing. If I got an idea for a poem, by the time I got up to write it down, it was gone.
I made my way through a series of jobs in my 20’s. I was often promoted to management and was pretty well respected, until the migraines that I had been getting since the age of 12 started to take a serious toll on me. I lost quite a few jobs because I was getting them so often; I had to call into work. The older I got, the worse the depression got. Thankfully, my parents were there to help pick me up, but even they didn’t understand the impact this disease would eventually have on me.
In my late 20’s I started cutting myself. I found out about it entirely by accident. There was a guy that I was crazy about. We were the best of friends, but he took advantage of how I felt about him. He stayed with his fiancé, but if she went out of town or wasn’t around for whatever reason, he called me. We very nearly consummated our relationship one weekend that I stayed with him. He rejected me because he was feeling guilty about cheating on his fiancé, in the apartment they shared. He had told me they were broken up. I went home, and I decided that I wanted to end my life. Not just because of this jerk, but because the symptoms of depression were starting to weigh on me again. I started cutting my wrist, but the blade wasn’t sharp enough. So, I kept doing it. I had made probably 10-15 cuts before I realized that I was feeling a sense of relief.
I was a mess, but as odd as it was this was helping. I had no idea that there were other people out there that also did such a thing. I felt very isolated. It seemed like I was losing my mind.
As crazy as it was, I continued to cut myself whenever things got too bad. It was especially bad if I was feeling down on myself because of my weight. My weight fluctuated constantly. I was a pudgy kid and was picked on a lot in middle school. High school was somewhat better, but by then I was starving myself and abusing laxatives. I kept up that behavior into my 30’s. I will never fully know the damage I did to my body. There were times when I would cut myself on my stomach repeatedly because I hated how it looked. It was a scary, scary time for me.
In 1997, I started spending a lot of time on the Internet. I would talk to guys all the time, and even met a few of them. This was back when it wasn’t quite as scary as it is now. I had several email pen pals through AOL. I started talking to this one guy exclusively. I lived in Michigan, and he was in New Mexico, but it seemed like we connected. He started flying out to see me at least one weekend a month. In 1998, he asked me to marry him, and I said yes. Unfortunately, that would also be the year of my first psychiatric hospitalization. He called me every night when I was in the hospital, and I thought he was going to be supportive. For some reason still unclear to me, he decided to stop talking to me. When I got out and tried to call him, he had changed his phone number, his pager number, and his email address. The one time I got through to him at work, he hung up on me. We were so far into the planning of the wedding that I had cases of napkins with our names on them. We put down deposits that my parents never got back. To this day, I still don’t know why he did what he did.
After that, I found myself in a series of abusive, failed relationships. In 1999, I had surgery, and it took me a year to recover. I didn’t have a lot that I could do except talk to people on the Internet. Eventually, I met my soon to be husband. It took some time for us to to connect. We took some time apart, but found each other again in 2001 and were married in August of that year. It was the best day of my life. I’ll forever be grateful for the undying love and support he gives me, even to this day.
Between major depressive episodes, self-injury, and migraines I was a mess. I tried to work several different jobs and worked my ass off. I just ended up missing too many days. In 2005, I was approved for disability. That was a huge weight off of our shoulders. In 2006, we moved into our first home. We were five minutes from my parents. We were feeling pretty good about ourselves, even if we were experiencing some financial difficulties here and there.
In 2007, everything came crashing down around me when my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer. It was September, and I promised her that I would be by her side for everything, and I was. Eventually she needed around the clock care, and I cared for her as best as I could every single day. My dad picked up the slack when I wasn’t there. In January of 2008, I rode with her in an ambulance to the hospital. She was no longer able to eat, and I was terrified. She was admitted on a Thursday, and she died that Saturday night at exactly 7:00. I have never been able to overcome my grief at the loss of my mother. She was my best friend. We had become much closer since I moved out, and I was devastated.
In the months that followed her death, I tried to get my mind off of the situation by attempting a part time job. I tried a few customer service positions, but I quickly remembered why I hated retail jobs. I did manage to find a job at a bookstore that I loved. I was promoted to management, but shortly after that we were told the store was closing. In October of 2010, I was admitted to the hospital for a myriad of issues. My husband and I realized that it was ridiculous for me to keep trying to work. It was just too much for me.
On March 23, 2011, I was supposed to be celebrating my birthday. My husband was off work and was running errands. The phone rang, and it was my dad. He told me something that made my knees buckle. My brother, Dana was dead. I couldn’t understand how or why. My dad is very soft spoken and doesn’t talk a lot. He told me that my brother had been found brain dead in a hot tub. He was a lifelong alcoholic, but I had no idea that he had begun doing cocaine as well.
I never got to see him, and I was never able to say goodbye. My dad had him cremated, and that was it. I still beat myself up over the fact that I hadn’t spoken to him in months. None of us even knew the person he had been with that night. It haunts me every single day.
In 2013, I was doing anything and everything I could to exist as a normal person. I was doing some pet sitting in my house, and attempting to sell candle products for a direct sale company. It turned out to be an even bigger nightmare than working in a department store. In late June, I was starting to crack, and I knew it. I wasn’t processing my grief, and I was working day and night to try to be a success in sales, and I was for a while. I had to recruit team members, and we were all fairly close, but I got into an argument with a couple of them over Facebook. I don’t even remember why. After everything I had done for these women, one of them told the company that I was mean or some such nonsense. The company started calling me and threatening me. I finally told them to go to hell.
It felt like just another failure. I had made all of this progress, and then let it turn to crap before my eyes. That coupled with everything else going on, I just snapped. I spoke to my husband at some point during that day, and he knew from experience things were not good. I still had some razor blades hidden in the basement, and I made my way down there to get them. I remember feeling like it was an out of body experience. Like I was watching someone else do it. I never thought to myself, I want to die. I just wanted the pain to stop. I called out to my mom for hours. Asking her why she left me. I wanted to be with her, and I wanted to punish myself. If I died…well, I guess that was fine.
A while later, I woke up on the floor of our home office. I think I cried myself to sleep. There was a lot of blood, and I knew it wasn’t good. Suddenly, the doorbell rang. It took me a minute to figure out what was going on. It rang again and again, and finally I got up and yelled, “who is it” through the door. My husband had called my dad and sister over to babysit until he got home from work. It was very awkward. Nobody knew what to say. I excused myself to go get some aspirin. In my room, I stared at my pill bottles. I knew I had one that we just picked up that was full. I swallowed the whole damn thing. I made my way back downstairs and sat there staring blankly until my husband got home.
He told me that we were going to the ER whether I liked it or not. We had been married for twelve years at that point, and he was well aware of my feelings about hospitals. I knew it would be horrible, but I had no clue just how bad it would be. When they brought me in the exam room, and the doctor came to talk to me, I admitted to him that I took the bottle of pills as well.
My husband was shocked and scared. I read it all over his face. So, I spent the next five days on suicide watch. Near the end of my stay, they came and told me that the state was having me committed. I was completely devastated. My husband couldn’t drive me there. I had to be restrained on a stretcher and driven across town in the back of an ambulance that couldn’t have been less than 100 degrees. I cried the entire way there.
When we arrived, they stopped us before we entered the psychiatric ward because my husband was not allowed in. We said goodbye, not knowing how long the nightmare was going to last.
It was a God-forsaken place. Filled with drug addicts, criminals, and people that could only be considered clinically insane. There were people that smeared feces on other people’s doorknobs. One woman was so far gone that if the staff tried to touch her, she stood in the center of the hallway and screamed for over an hour. She clearly hadn’t bathed in weeks. As soon as I got there, there was a tremendous commotion. One woman touched another woman, and they started fighting. The instigator wouldn’t calm down, so they gave her “the shot”. Then they put her in the corner of an empty room to drool until it wore off. They strip-searched me. Bend over and cough, etc. I hadn’t had a shower at the other hospital because they didn’t think they could trust me to do it alone, so I was even more humiliated.
I was in that hellhole for four days. I got smart, and I played the game. I was a model patient. I even helped that screaming lady finally get something to eat. I helped a blind girl walk back and forth to her room. The employees hated their jobs. They would swear at you, ignore you, and talk badly about other patients in front of you. Lucky for me, I was one of the “favorites”. Even the cleaning staff would swear at you if they felt your room was nasty. I cleaned mine every day and never left a towel on the floor. At the end of the stay, when I was walking outside with my husband, I felt like a prisoner that had been in jail for 20 years. I had some serious feelings of panic and anxiety thinking about trying to get back to my old life.
Before long, I started to get the urge to write again. It started out slowly. Once I felt I was getting the hang of it, I began writing a blog. I was determined to let people know that they did not have to follow my path. I knew it would be hard. The most difficult thing I had ever done. I was going to be real. I wasn’t out to impress anyone; I just needed a voice again. I would use it as a type of therapy. In the process, I hoped to reach people that felt all alone in their struggles. Slowly but surely, people started contacting me.
They were thanking me for my honesty. So many people said they were afraid to get help or didn’t know how to talk to their loved ones. Some said they finally understood what their spouse was going through. It was unblievable. The more I wrote, the more people contacted me. Was I doing it? Was I finally becoming the writer I had always wanted to be? It seemed so simple! I just told the truth, and people kept reading. It all made me wonder, could this become a book? Do people do that? I did the research, and it was possible. So, I kept writing and doing research. I happened upon a couple of different publishers that were just horrible people. By the end of 2014, I was a mess. I was so discouraged because these so-called publishers had lied to me in any way conceivable.
For my sanity, I took some time off from the whole process. In June of 2015, I got back on the horse. I wasn’t going to let this dream fall by the wayside. I had to keep pushing. In July, I signed with a real publisher that appreciates my work and never lies to me! Here it is August 21, 2015, and my book was officially published today. I’m not sure that it has even sunk in yet. I’m an author! How weird that sounds. It was worth it. Every time I was rejected, every time I felt discouraged, and every time I threw in the towel only strengthened my resolve. I did it. Despite every obstacle that has come across my path, I have done it.
It brings tears to my eyes thinking about all of the battles that I had to fight to get to this point. I am so very grateful. Now it’s on to a new chapter. I’ll keep writing my blog and who knows? Maybe someday I’ll write another book. For the moment, I plan on basking in the glory of finally accomplishing the dream I have so desperately wanted. Am I completely cured of my depression? No, I don’t think that’s possible for me. I have, however, recovered from one of the most horrible, heartbreaking ordeals I have ever endured. I may have lost some friends and family members along the way, but now I know whom I can truly count on. Number one on the list? Me.
Rebecca Lombardo is 42 years old and lives in Michigan. She has been happily married for 14 years. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 19. In addition to writing, she also enjoys photography, movies, music, reading, and caring for animals. Her first book, It’s Not Your Journey is available through Amazon now.