What The "Edge" Means to Me
There’s a reason I chose the name of this site: Stories from the Edge. For most of my life, especially in the many years prior to diagnosis and treatment, I felt like I was always hovering near a precipice. It was as if there was a deep pit was below me that I could feel myself about to fall in to. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had dreams of me falling off a cliff or from high in the air. Night terrors they are called and I would awake in sweat and fear with a large gasp just as I started feeling myself fall. My entire childhood and teenage years were spent like this, never understanding why. I thought it was normal. I thought everyone felt this way.
When I became a volunteer first responder, I got my first taste of the adrenaline rush. For some reason, running towards trauma made me feel alive and that edge would disappear for a time. I felt like I was floating. Then, inevitably, the feeling would leave and I once again was standing on “the edge”. So I kept running towards that feeling and all my volunteer efforts have focused on emergency or disaster response. It was as if I was chasing something I didn’t understand and couldn’t quite catch. I was driven in to overdrive and would volunteer, and work, until I dropped in exhaustion. A viscous cycle I am happy to say does not occur near as often now.
Back and forth from the edge I would go like a yo-yo (journal entry of March 21, 2004 – Why do I do so well for a while then self-destruct?). When my doctor first diagnosed depression (no mention of PTSD at this point), she prescribed an anti-depressant and told me to buy a book entitled “You Mean I Don’t Have to Feel this Way?”. All of a sudden my eyes were opened! I devoured every word on those pages and for the first time in my life realized why that edge was there. It wasn’t normal (whatever normal really is), it had a name, it had a reason, and it might actually have a cure. That last part makes me cringe at the naivete I had back then…..magic pill here I come and poof! I am cured! Imagine my surprise when I found myself on that precipice again and again, sometimes within seconds of going over, as we worked on different medications and treatments. But we live and learn and grow and that recovery journey is what is most valuable to me now.
Realizing there was no magic cure and that I had to learn management of my illnesses was a hard pill to swallow (pun intended). The countless types of therapy I engaged in though provided me with an ever-growing number of tools I could pull out when I felt myself heading towards that edge again. And this is the most important thing of all – recognizing when that was occurring. If you can’t see where you are going, its incredibly hard to get your bearings. I had to train my unconscious mind to be conscious of where I was at and how I was feeling at any given time. For years I didn’t want to. I preferred to shrink from it and let the darkness engulf me. It seemed easier somehow. What therapy did, and the medication piece that allowed my brain to let it sink in, was show me that I needed to be fully aware. I needed to know how close to the edge I was all the time. Only then could I use the tools I had to pull me back away from it. The fight some days is harder than others and I won’t pretend that I always do a good job of recognizing it. What I can say is that no matter what happens in my life, I fight like mad to stay as far from that edge as possible. Every. Single. Day. Because of all I have learned, and with great supports in place, I actually live now as opposed to just exist. I am so grateful.
Everyone has a different and unique experience with mental illness. Your “edge” will be different from mine and that makes each journey all the more special. For those who are feeling like they may never get away from that edge let me tell you this; I see you, I hear you, I feel your pain and so do many others. You are not alone and you can find your way back.