Stephanie “Just Live”

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Randy Bacon with 7 Billion Ones in partnership with National Alliance on Mental Illness Southwest Missouri (NAMI) are proud to announce a major, multifaceted portrait art exhibition, story and short film series:

It Knows No Face

Portraits of Suicide Survivors.

Learn more HERE

Stephanie’s Story:

Photography by    Randy Bacon

Photography by Randy Bacon

I grew up as what my parents thought was really shy and withdrawn. I know now that that was the depression. I had very unrealistic fears growing up. I remember we had a boat and I was deathly afraid. I lay on the floor on my stomach and gripped the carpeting until my fingernails bled. So it was really just unrealistic fears that I dealt with all the time.

As I got older, I still had the fears. I felt different all the time. I didn’t really fit in with anyone. I didn’t have a whole lot of friends. Then, when I got pregnant with my daughter at nineteen, I finally felt like I had something to love that loved me back. I loved being a mom and taking care of my daughter. When she was in kindergarten, I had my first panic attack in the carline at school. It terrified me so bad that I never went back. Then the same thing happened at a store, so I started avoiding there too… until eventually my entire world shrank. I was confined to my home for fourteen years with agoraphobia. I did not leave. At all. Anytime I would try and leave I would have such a horrible panic attack, where I couldn’t breath and I was shaking and hyperventilating. So I would just go back into my safe place. I got really skinny and really sick and was confined to my bedroom eventually. Then my panic attacks started getting so bad that my family would start waking me up out of my sleep. My husband took care of everything. He took the kids to the doctor. I did not get to go to my daughter’s graduation. He did everything and was everything to all of us. He would turn down promotions because he knew he couldn’t leave. He would leave his phone on speaker on his desk so I could press numbers if I needed him.

One day I told him not to worry about it, that I could do it, I’d be fine. But I knew that was the day I was going to die. I had planned it and made peace with the fact that I was going to end my life because I was a burden. My children were very angry with me because I couldn’t participate in their lives. Of course they didn’t understand. My mother was really hard on me, half my family disowned me for talking about my mental illness in the open. So I felt like I had no one and that it would be easier on my kids to visit me at the cemetery than to see me slowly dying at home. So that morning I told my husband to go to work and not worry about turning his phone on. He questioned me several times, “Are you sure?”, I smiled and said, “Yeah, I’m sure. I’m good. I’m not going to live like this anymore.” And so he left. I had gotten my knife and climbed into the bathtub and started cutting my wrists. Thankfully he came home… he had just gotten down the street and came back because he knew something wasn’t right. That’s when we decided that we were going to help people that didn’t have help or have access to help.

When I was suffering with agoraphobia, I felt like there was a wall in my head that I could not get over. I couldn’t think logically. I literally felt like if I backed out of the driveway, I was going to die. It was extremely isolating. We had a courtyard at our house, and my husband would think of creative ways to show movies in the courtyard, and I could stand in the window and watch. So we still did things, we just did them differently. But I remember thinking how stupid it was that I just couldn’t live a normal life or give a normal life to my kids.

I started slowly getting better when I was taking medication, I was going back to church, and eventually I was able to go back to therapy. The problem with therapy, is that at the time, there wasn’t therapy over the phone, my therapist’s office was on the ninth floor, and I was afraid of elevators so I’d have to climb nine flights. By the time I’d get up there, it’d mimic a panic attack. And my therapist would say, “Okay you’ve made it. Now come back and see me in two days.” That was my therapy; the exposure. And eventually I made it to the whole hour! And I took the elevator.

I started living my life and doing things; then I came home one day and my husband told me that he wasn’t in love with me anymore and didn’t want to be married. And I almost felt like that was as bad as my illness… that was the shock of my life. I wasn’t expecting it. The one person that got me, that was there, that saw everything and knew everything, and knew how to calm me down, was my safe place, my comfort zone, was all of those things for me; has now walked out of my life. And I’m scared to death. I’m terrified. But I also know that you can’t make someone love you. I’ve given up on that. Thankfully, my children and my grandson are what’s keeping me going. If I didn’t have my kids, I don’t know if I would still be here. But I am very tired...I am mentally exhausted. I am trying to be a hundred places all the time because it keeps my mind occupied. Down time for me is very dangerous. I cannot have downtime, and that is exhausting.

On the days when I just really felt like I didn’t want to be here, I can remember thinking that taking my life would mean I would be free. I think about heaven a lot. I think about being with the ones that have passed on that I didn’t get closure with, and how it’s a beautiful place, and paradise, and there’s no more hurt, or fear, or pain… and when I think of that I get excited and scared at the same time. And then I feel an extreme amount of guilt, because my kids and my grandkids are here. So I’m very torn. I think about death a lot, but not so much about killing myself anymore necessarily. I do have a fear of suffering, but not really of dying. I think what I want, and what so many people like me want, is just that feeling of peace, because it’s constant turmoil. I think about not being here, but I immediately feel guilty for feeling that way. But I have dreams of me laying in a casket. I have dreams of my headstone, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to die.

My dream for the future is that people can just enjoy the life they’ve been given, and be able to make a difference in the lives of others, which I really believe is our purpose. I want people to realize that, because we only have one shot, and you might as well make a difference. I think that’s what was so frustrating for me being home, because I knew that. I knew I only had one shot and I was wasting away. So that’s why I came out, guns blazing. This was supposed to be the part of my life that I was going to enjoy with my family. My husband and I were going to travel, and we talked about these things the whole time I was sick. We made vision boards of all of these things we were going to do. And now that he’s gone, I’m so scared to death. And I don’t know what I’m going to do.

I want to continue to make a difference in the mental health community, for sure. To give back, to be the voice for so many that have lost this battle. To leave a legacy for people to be proud of, and to build off of. I want to make up for the time I let my kids down. Because I know I was not a mother to them like I should’ve been, and that’s hard. I hope that someday they see that I wasn’t just lazy. I tried as hard as I could and fought as hard as I could. I want to make my kids proud.

May 2018

Brought to you in partnership with:

7Billion Ones, Annie Busch, NAMI Southwest Missouri, and Touchstone Counseling