Nearly 18 years ago, my life changed forever. It didn’t change for the worse or better, although things were quite tough for a while. They just changed my world, and even the world around those who loved me most, and helped to shape me into the woman I am today. Every year, when this date comes around, I find myself remembering and reflecting. In some ways I think of it as a rebirth-day because it was a day of rebirth in many ways. For the first few years, I would find my mood shift to one of restlessness and anxiety until I realized that this day was nearing. Once I realized that, I would be like, “Oh yeah. I get it.” Now, I sometimes don’t notice until the day before or the day of, but I always remember it.
The morning of Friday, September 13, 1996 was one of the worst days of my life, and that of my family and friends. However, it was also one of the most blessed days in my life, although the blessing was not immediately clear. Not until later did I realize what a gift I received. It was a day when I was wanting death, but instead found life.
I remember standing with tears filling my eyes and saying a prayer to God, despite being agnostic, unsure of His existence. I asked and prayed that God would help me. Certain my prayer would not be answered, and in some ways afraid it would, my tears increased as I looked around me. I was on the balcony of my hotel room looking out at the Pacific Ocean and Diamond Head in the distance, although my view was blurry since my glasses were in my Waikiki hotel room safe. I don’t remember the next part. My brain saved me from the pain of reliving it, but what I know is this. At some point, I climbed on the ledge of the balcony and looked down. All I saw was green. A moment later, in desperation, I stepped off the balcony and fell eleven stories down, over 110 feet, to what I was certain would be my death.
My world completely changed on that day. It changed my sister, parents, friends, and family. No one knew I was in that place. I had gotten so good at masking my feelings from everyone over the years that no one had any idea that I was in that depressed and hopeless place.
From the time I was 11, I struggled with depression.When I was 12, I started to first consider suicide as a legitimate option. After my Grandpa Scott killed himself, when I was 14, I “knew” it was an option. During my senior year of high school and my sophomore year of college I had suicidal thoughts again, but was able to talk myself out of it. I was never treated. I did seek help on a couple of occasions, but I felt no one really listened or dealt with it seriously. So, it must not have been the real thing, right? Wrong. Obviously. What I did learn was how to mask what I was feeling. Heck, I was so good at masking that I didn’t know I hit that wall until a few days before my attempt, when I decided to drive cross-country from where I lived in New Jersey out to California so I could die far away from anyone I knew. For some reason, I decided to fly to Hawaii, and a few days after I arrived, I stepped off that balcony.
God did answer my prayer, the one I prayed before I fell. He saved my life on that day. I’m convinced that Angels came down from heaven and made sure I fell through a tree. The tree buffered and slowed my fall so that I didn’t hit that ground as hard as I “should have.” Apparently, another guest at the hotel saw me falling and called 911. The paramedics arrived and got me to Queens Medical Center, the best trauma hospital in the Pacific at the time. The doctors did amazing work, but didn’t think I would make it. They even told my parents on the phone not to fly out right away because it was likely that I would die on the table during surgery. I didn’t and my parents and sister flew to Hawaii as fast as they could. I remember being in ICU sometime after and a nurse telling me my family was on their way. Tears came to my eyes. Tears of relief. I think part of me thought that they wouldn’t come. I lay in the hospital bed with my broken body grateful my family would come soon, but scared as well.
My struggle back was a difficult one. I had broken 6 ribs. One rib punctured a lung and then the other lung collapsed. I had a minor skull fracture. I broke my upper left arm, shattered my right hip, and broke my pelvis in 4 places. In exploratory surgery to stop internal bleeding the doctors discovered that my stomach lining was torn, I severed a kidney and part of the liver (all repaired) and ended up losing my gall bladder. I had tree limbs and twigs impale me in odd locations that required care. I had tried to kill myself the night before by overdosing on drugs (ibuprofen, prescriptions, anything I could find). All I ended up doing was throwing them up. However, because of all the drugs still in my system, my blood was quite thin and surgeries to repair my bones would need to wait. The surgery was performed 2-3 weeks later and put me back in ICU. I had 2 pulmonary embolisms, developed compartment syndrome (resulting in a fasciotomy to my right calf and right foot), and required a skin graft.
After spending nearly 2 months in the hospital in Hawaii, I was flown to New Jersey, where I was living before all of this happened. From there I went to a physical rehabilitation hospital, Kessler. I spent 2 months there and didn’t leave until early January. It was at Kessler where I relearned how to take care of myself and start to get the strength to walk again. I also got some worthwhile, and much-needed, therapy. One of the first things we worked on was getting me on Zoloft and learning to identify my emotions. It was soon after that I was officially diagnosed as being bipolar.
One very clear memory I have was a moment in my ICU room at Queens Medical Center. I looked around my room and for the first time truly noticed all the balloons and cards I had received. Tears filled my eyes with a sense of realization that I was well and truly loved. I never “knew” that before. And then another thing hit me like a thunderbolt. God does exist. He saved my life. I knew in that moment, I would never do something like that to myself again. He alone was in control. I did all I could to end my life, but HE stopped it. He decided if it was my time to live or die. In that moment, I found the joy of life.
It took years for me to fully cope with my actions. My ability to walk would never been the same. Almost exactly a year after my attempt, on 9/11/97, I had a total hip replacement because the arthritis took over my right hip. Because of the compartment syndrome, I have nerve damage from my right knee down and drop foot. The physical was easier to deal with in some ways that the emotional. I had to relearn who I was. I was grateful for life! I still am and still thank God daily for letting me live. It took a while though to come to grips with the me before my suicide attempt and the me I had become since and putting them together. I remember once, a few years ago, I was feeling particularly happy and my mom noticed. She commented that I must finally love myself. I said no. That wasn’t it because I had loved myself for a while. It was hard to explain at the time. The difference for me was that I finally had fully forgiven myself, those who had hurt me in the past, and figured out who I was.
To this day, I look at the events of that day as a blessing. I was blessed by God’s love and kindness to be given life again. Now I appreciate it in way I never did before. Since that day, I am now closer than ever to my family. I married a wonderful man, and we have a beautiful daughter and one on the way. God has blessed me with so much. I am so very thankful. God is good!
**If you struggle with depression or suicidal thoughts, I urge you to get help! Keep letting people you need help before you end up where I did. Contact a suicide hotline, please!
This post originally appeared on Adventures of a Jayhawk Mommy.
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