The Black Days


Kay Harper 


© Copyright 2017 by Kay Harper 


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It was March when the black days came—long, hollow days when nothing major had changed in my life, and yet a shift in my perspective had left me inconsolable. There was terror in every moment. My mind was on an endless loop. What do I do now? I can’t escape. I’ll never escape. I can’t see out. I can’t see in. It’s too black…too black.

Although I had lived many bouts of depression’s rollercoaster, I was still in denial about the seriousness of my condition. Two months prior while trying to conceive, I had stopped taking lithium—the medication that stabilized my mood. A multitude of doctors had told me that it would be detrimental to the fetus.

Did I consult my doctor? No. Did I tell my husband? No. I chose the do-it-myself method. That, coupled with the wall of hopelessness had demanded I take action.

I awoke that marning with such despair it led me down a road I thought I would never travel. I was no stranger to the piercing thoughts that turned bright days black. I had known them many times before, and the dread of having to grope through even one more sent me reeling.

I felt so alone. Yes, I lived with my husband, Irwin and step-son, Davis, but there was no way of communicating the depth of my pain. It was strangling me—crushing my heart, shattering my mind. Somewhere in the first few minutes of that morning, I reasoned that it was simply impossible to convey my anguish.

Logic told me that living in this hellish state would be harmful to those around me. I had ceased to be productive within, so how could I be of any use to my family or friends. And if I could no longer be or do any good for them, why go on?

And so, I would do what I believed was the considerate thing. I would disappear. With that thought, I dragged myself out of bed and into the kitchen where I opened the cabinet beside the sink. There, behind the mixing bowls and measuring cups, was a brand new bottle of Valium.
In one continuous motion, I poured the pills out on the counter, grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator and downed them all. When they were gone I returned to bed—longing for the oblivion that would finally end my pain.

How much time went by? Then, sounds…underwater… floating…shaking…screaming …pushing…pulling…sitting up…sobbing…black…bright…up…down…shaking…bottle …pills…screaming…silence.

Later, Irwin told me he had had found the empty bottle on the kitchen counter. Perhaps I wanted to get caught. He called my doctor immediately. He wasn’t surprised at my attempt. He assured Irwin that he had prescribed a low dose. “She will sleep for a long time. Let her, but bring her in when she wakes up.”

I didn’t wake up until the next morning. I was consumed by black thoughts, yet I refused to go to that doctor. He had said it was a low dose of Valium, but what if I’d taken it with another drug? I wasn’t ever going back to him.

That afternoon I called my Al Anon sponsor to confess my guilt and shame. She listened to my rambling account then said, “Don’t you think you’d be better off in the hospital—just until the worst passes? I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Get ready.”

Karen held my hand in the ER then squeezed it hard when the orderly came to wheel me away. She leaned in close and said, “God will hold your hand. Ask and He will be with you.

A giant orderly wheeled me down the sterile hallway of the Psychiatric Ward as he hummed This Land is Your Land. By the time he deposited me in a small, drab room, I was screaming, “I’m not supposed to be HERE! I’m not crazy!”

A few minutes later a Nurse shot in. “Hello, I’m Minerva, but most folks call me Nerva. Kinda fits, doesn’t it? I’m surrounded by nervous types.” She chuckled, and sang, “Time to go to the Visitor’s Lounge. Gotta meet the gang? See if you have any visitors.”

Gang! Visitors! She started to help me into the hallway, but I growled, “No,” and pulled away.
So, she grabbed my arm and howled, “Let’s go.” I resisted. “You’re not gonna get out of it. Now get in there.”

I want out of here,” I squealed, and started to go back into the room, but she blocked my way and shoved me down the hallway to the Lounge—a gloomy room with bars on the windows.
She took my arm, and as she walked me across the room she leaned and said, “You’d better behave. We’ve lots of different kind of shots that will calm you right down if you try anything.” Then she gave my arm a pinch.

This is Joe,” she whispered, “He’s been here forever,” she snipped and rolled her eyes. The roly-poly hippie with a stringy brown pony tail and legs that shook uncontrollably held up his fingers in a V and sang out, “Peace, Sister.”

And here’s Isaac.” He was slumping in his wheelchair—rocking back and forth and drooling. “He’s a junkie. He’s collapsed out on Hollywood Blvd about the fifteenth time! Cops bring him in. I don’t know why. He’d be a lot better of if they’d just leave him out there to die.”

Chester comes and goes,” she chuckled, moving on to the obese man on the flowery couch.

Hello,” I tried to smile. He looked as though he’d been a prisoner in a bakery for his entire life.
As I was about to leave he leaned forward, smiled and whispered, “You’re gonna like it here.”

Can you believe it?” said Nurse Nerva, spitting out her words. “He’s only fifty four, but he looks seventy five, doesn’t he?” I said nothing.

Who else?” She looked around for her next victim. “Oh, here’s a good one,” she said in her best haughty tone that soon shifted to syrup, “Hello, Eleni. Here’s our newest resident, Kay.” I gave a half-hearted smile as I tried to calm the terror I felt at having been called a resident. “Love the pink today, dear.

She insists on wearing hairnets—all day, every day. Has them in every color!” After adjusting her head-topper, Eleni put up her hands and began to dance ballroom with an invisible partner.
Thinks she’s Ginger Rogers,” Nurse Nasty hissed.

The face of the handsome white-haired gentleman in a green polo shirt was completely blank.

“This is Oscar. He’s going on his tenth year here. He’s lost in some land nobody’s ever heard of. But wait til you see his grandsons come in. Just watch him light up.”

A six-foot tall woman had been wandering the room since I had arrived for the meet-greet. “That’s our busy body, Agnes. Watch her. She’ll probably find you soon. She’s a zombie.”

On Saturday, I returned from lunch to find Agnes in my room rearranging my clothes. “Excuse me, I’m staying here. This is my stuff.” I said, startled by her boldness.

Looking down with dazed purple eyes she whispered, “Oh yes, I know. I’m helping you get settled.”

Settled! My mind took an abrupt halt. I’m not settling here! This is a three day observation. Monday can’t come soon enough.

Each moment had its own hellishness. At night, I tossed and turned. I’m not sleeping—no telling what might happen. I hid out in my room most of the time, except when I was ordered to the sunny yellow dining room to eat awful hospital food.

On Sunday morning, everyone was corralled into the lounge as a well-meaning psychiatric social worker sat us in a circle to discuss Current Events. “Has anyone watched the news lately?” she chirped.

I rolled my eyes. How utterly ridiculous! How can any of us know what’s happening in the world? We are being held prisoner, temporarily or permanently, by our own minds. I shivered. Let me be in the temporary group.

Questions haunted me day and night. How could I have come to this? What was it all for? Was there a lesson?

The answer came from deep within. “To learn.”

What had I learned? The lies had held me hostage. I had given up—turned my back on my family and friends even my self, all because I hadn’t known how to live in and beyond the terror of those black moments.

Anger and despair had had a strangle hold on me since my return home. I learned that suicide may seem like the only way out at the time, but I had lived through this attempt. There had to be better solutions—even if I didn’t know what they were right then. I had to reach out for the help I needed to find them.

Several days after my release, I took my frazzled mind to yet another psychiatrist. Dr. Ross was calm and questioning. He quickly led me through the interrogation process, reviewing my histories—life, medical and family. Then he stopped and looked me in the eye. “You are a manic depressive. Do you understand what that means?”

Yes, I know. I just thought I could take a short vacation from it.” I spoke quietly as I focused on the red stripe in the rug.

And what do you think now?” His clipboard sat squarely on his lap.

This time I looked him in the eye. “I could try to kill myself again if I don’t have the medication and a doctor to help me manage it. It’s serious. I have to be responsible now—it’s time. With lithium I can live a normal, fulfilling life. Without it, I have seen that my life collapses down around me. I know how to prevent it. There’s no reason not to do what I know works.”

He started to write, and with his head down asked, “Will you tell me more?”

I launched into my schpiel. “I was diagnosed 14 years ago. My mood swings go from devastating depressions to hypo-mania, which means when I get high I don’t get SUPER high—losing touch with reality. In other words I don’t strip down naked and run screaming through the streets, or spend a bunch of money I don’t have.”

Well, that’s a good thing, I’d say,” and smiled for the first time.

When I’m high, I feel absolutely terrific. I also feel VERY creative. I start sixteen projects at once and barely make it through half of one. I sleep less, or not at all, yet I have tremendous energy. I talk more, and listen less, if at all, and I think that I have all the answers that I or anyone else will ever need. And I keep up this mad-dash pace for weeks, sometimes even months. In the end it is all exhausting for me and those around me.

Then there might be a period of normalcy for a few months when things even out. But inevitably, this even state is chased away by the damnable depression.

This downside is totally debilitating?” the doctor asked. He put his doctor scribbles on the legal pad.

Yes. It sounds dramatic I know, but I feel terror in every moment as the anxious grip in my chest moves upward to become a captured scream. It catches in my throat, and settles under my tongue. It’s the fury of self-loathing.”

I’ve never heard it described quite that way. You are a vivid storyteller.”

I’m not telling a story.” I shot my angry eyes at him. “Grinding emotions are not vivid, they’re shattering!” I returned to the red stripe, canceling the session in disgust.

I stand corrected,” said Dr. Ross apologetically. “Are you willing to continue?”

I need him more than he needs me, I thought. After a long pause I continued. “My black thoughts tell me there’s no hope, no help—that it will always be this way for the rest of my life. I am alone in the pain. I have no ability to feel or react to what surrounds me. One thought scream at me. Why can’t you shake this thing off? I’m desperate to make sense of this hell, but fear thrusts the answer at me.”

What does it say?” He had stopped writing, and looked up.

It screams, “There is something VERY wrong with you. You are very, very sick. You will always be this way. End the pain now.”

I can’t eat or sleep, can’t think of anything except I want to die. How can I die?”

He closed his eyes for a moment, sat up in his chair and said, “Kay, from all you’ve told me, I know it will be difficult for you to understand right now, but I’d say you are well on your way to a full recovery! I’m sure you are aware of what I’m about to say, but I’m going to say it anyway, because you need to hear it again and again.

Manic depression is one of the most treatable mental illnesses. In fact, it isn’t a mental illness at all. The State of California has ruled that it is not psychologically based, but a physiological phenomenon —like diabetes or high blood pressure.

When the patient receives proper medication, the chemicals in the brain begin to move in a fluid fashion, they respond. You will be able to lead a normal life within a few weeks.” He paused for effect, and then raised his voice. “The truth is, Kay, you do have a serious condition. It is not to be denied, taken lightly or managed on your own.”

He let his words sink in then concluded. “The good news is it is treatable! You will be back to your functioning self within in a few weeks. And from here on out, it’s simple. Continue to seek professional help to monitor your meds, and, this is the most important part, take your medications as prescribed. Your life will not necessarily be free of ups and downs, but they will certainly not be to the degree you have just experienced.”

Faith took me by surprise in the days that followed. There was a glimmer of hope out on the horizon. I began to see the truth that had evaded me in recent days. When I’m out of depression, I can’t imagine ever being in one. And when I’m in one, I can’t remember what it was like to be out of it. Like fixing a leaky roof on a sunny day, who’s going to seek medical help while they’re manic? “Gee, Doc, I’m feeling a little too good right now, can you do something?”

It took me fourteen years from my initial diagnosis to accept responsibility for my condition—to do my part. Being diligent—under a doctor’s care and taking medication faithfully was the only option. I knew the consequences if I failed to comply.

I felt angry afterwards, but, gradually, I began to embrace the hard lessons I had learned from those hard days. Every moment beyond was filled with questions.

Did God keep me alive? What for?

It would be ten more years before I fully surrendered to Him, but I knew then that throughout that desolate season He had kept my head above water in a flood that had tried to pull me under. I didn’t know it then, but one day He would carry me over the River of Hope where the black days that used to rumble and roar would be no more. 

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