July 18, 2007 was, and remains, the happiest day of my life. (Just why that is so, is a story for another day.) It was also the day I realized I was, in a sense, terminally ill.
The fact that I realized I was dying was BECAUSE I realized it was the happiest day of my life, and I still couldn’t help feeling sad and getting suicidal impulses. I was so happy, I was enraptured, entranced, I had reached Nirvana. All I can think of is that Nickelback (lame, I know) song and that line in the chorus: “Something’s gotta go wrong cause I’m feeling too damn good.”
Then something did go wrong. Just like that, like flipping a switch, I was screaming and crying in the car and trying desperately to fight the urge to drive it into the nearest brick wall or off a bridge or something. I went from smiling to sobbing in less than a minute.
Now, this sort of thing had happened before, though usually not as bad. I would just be sitting there minding my own business and suddenly begin “feeling black” (as I called it, after the Rolling Stones song) and become extremely depressed, often suicidal, and this black period would last for hours or a few days or maybe a whole week sometimes, and then vanish, just as suddenly as it had arrived. This had been going on for years, at least back into my teens, maybe since I was a child. I thought it was just another part of being me. And I certainly wasn’t expecting it to happen that beautiful day where so many great things had happened.
And I got calmed down after twenty minutes or so, and I went back to the hotel, and thought: “Meaghan, let’s be realistic here. If you can’t keep these black periods from happening, even on the best day of your life, a day when so many wonderful and unexpected things have happened to you, when this whole WEEK has been nothing but great, there is no hope at all. You are doomed. You will die a suicide and probably it will be sooner rather than later.” And I considered this, and wondered how much time I had. A year perhaps, maybe two on the outside if I was very lucky, but probably less, and then it would be over.
Now, many people at this point would have sought out psychiatric treatment rather than just give up and accept their fate. I did not do this. It never even occurred to me to do so. That was stupid of me and negligent. I make no excuses for myself.
(Had I done so at the time, and told the psychiatrist about my vacation and how during the happiest day of my life my mood crashed in an instant, and how this sudden change in mood happened to me quite a bit actually, I might have gotten the right diagnosis immediately instead of having to wait years for it. The feeling happy and then having your mood rapidly swing to terrible, on a regular basis, is a classic sign of bipolar disorder type 2, but I was initially diagnosed with just depression and the bipolar bit wasn’t added until four years later when I gave the doctor my diary to look at. It was full of entries saying things like “I felt really happy today and then I felt really sad and don’t know why” or one day would be “happy happy joy joy life is beautiful” and the very next day “I wish I was dead.” But I digress.)
I started making preparations for my upcoming demise. For example, I made a list of people who needed to be contacted, internet friends who, most of them, lived hundreds or even thousands of miles away and away and would need to be told what had happened to me. I even checked out life insurance policies. (Yes. they do cover suicides, but only if you’ve held the insurance for a minimum of two years.) The Charley Project was a conundrum I could not solve. I made sure I had a few people who knew the password to get in, but I had no idea as to how to dispose of it — that is, dispose in the sense of “give or transfer to another,” not in the sense of “throw away.”
Well, long story short, obviously my prediction was wrong because I’m writing this now, eight years later. But in a sense my prediction was right because in June 2008 — eleven months after I had pronounced myself terminally ill — I had what was essentially a complete mental and emotional collapse and was more suicidal than I had ever been, and would have taken my own life had I not been hospitalized at the time.
“Can’t you see that I’m dying?” I kept asking them. They asked me why I felt that way but I had such little energy in me that it was hard enough to get simple sentences out, never mind a kind of long story involving a dead writer, a living writer, a Roman Catholic priest, two libraries, two librarians and two children. I just kept repeating, “I’m dying.” I think they weren’t sure whether I was delusional and meant dying in a physical sense, or just meant I FELT like I was dying. It was more like something between.
I didn’t die. In fact, I rapidly recovered (and just as rapidly decompensated again, two months later, when my anti-depressants suddenly stopped working just for fun and games). It felt like I had been in a dark room and suddenly the lights came on. Or had been underwater and then surfaced and got a breath of air.
Eight years, one psychiatrist, a zillion different medications, three caseworkers, three therapists, one rape, one resulting breakdown, one short stay in a halfway house, one Great Headache Crisis, innumerable mental health crisis interventions and several short hospitalizations later, here I am, alive and not entirely unhappy.