This week on Virtual Book Club, I’m handing the reins over to Rebecca Lombardo, as hers is a story best told firsthand.
Rebecca is an author and mental health advocate. She lives in a suburb of Michigan with her husband, Joseph, and five cats. She has three brothers and one sister. In 1992, at the age of nineteen she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She has spent more than twenty years battling depression and all its consequences.
In her memoir, It’s Not Your Journey, Rebecca charts her struggles with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, self-injury, and recovery from a suicide attempt. It it, she shares her very real, raw feelings on these subjects, as well as addressing other issues that contributed to her downward spiral and eventual climb out of her own pit of despair. Issues such as the loss of her mother to lung cancer, the death of her brother, abandonment from friends and family members due to her hospitalisation, and more.
Not only does she hope to help people that are struggling with depression, but she also hopes to help them realise that you are never too old to find your voice, and make your dream happen.
By: Rebecca Lombardo
As I entered my senior year of high school, I noticed that my mood could change at the drop of a hat. I might have got to school feeling alright but, by the time the afternoon set in, I would be exhausted and dragging through my day. Now and then, a teacher would approach me and ask if everything was OK at home. It was a humiliating experience, and I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I graduated in 1991. In 1992, I moved into an apartment with a girl I barely knew. I was working two jobs and taking classes when I could.
It didn’t take long for my excitement about being out on my own to turn into this horrible feeling of dread that took over my life. I was having nightmares, so I often couldn’t sleep. I would down a handful of No-Doz to try to stay awake every day. It all came crashing down around me one night when I quite literally had a nervous breakdown. I was hiding in my closet, screaming and crying. I finally found the strength to call my mom. She sent my brother to pick me up, and I never spent another night in that apartment.
Not long after that, my parents found a doctor for me. I was put on Prozac, and I tried to go on with my life. I was nineteen years old when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. From that point forward, life was a struggle. My moods were up, down, and back up again. I never knew what to expect. In my late twenties, I decided that I wanted to take my life. In the end, I just couldn’t do it. I did succeed in teaching myself how to use self-injury as a coping mechanism.
After being committed on two separate occasions and losing every job I ever had, I had no clue where my life was headed. I would date here and there, and inevitably I was dumped due to my illness. Relationships with horrible people who abused me soon followed. By the grace of God, I met the man who would eventually be my husband, and we were married in August of 2001. He was there for me when nobody else would take the risk.
As amazing as it felt to find happiness and my one true love, it didn’t take away my disease. I battled depression every single day. I often used cutting as a way out of my pain. I tried medication after medication, and doctor after doctor. It was clear that I wouldn’t be able to hold down a job, so I filed for disability benefit. In 2005, it was granted. I hated myself for being such a waste of space, and I regularly beat myself up for it. I needed to find the strength within myself to get stable. The medical community sure as hell wasn’t helping.
My husband and I bought our first house in 2006, and we moved back to my old neighbourhood. We were close to my parents, and I was happy. Things changed drastically when my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer in September of 2007. I promised her I would be at her side for everything, and I was. She passed away in January of 2008, and my life fell to pieces. I was filled with grief that I was unable to overcome.
In 2013, I turned forty years old. I felt as if my life was starting to look up. I had a good group of friends and my husband and I were incredibly happy. Until that summer. The depression hit me like a brick.
I tried to ignore it. I had better things to do. I wasn’t going through this crap again. Unfortunately, there is no stopping it. You can’t run from the pain. After a series of unfortunate events had left me feeling like a gigantic failure, I decided it was time to go. For real this time. I missed my mom, and my brother who had passed in 2011. I couldn’t cope with my life any longer.
I cut my wrists and took an entire bottle of medication. I sat on the floor and sobbed. My husband was at work, but he sensed something was very wrong. He sent family members over to check on me. We sat in awkward silence until he got home and took me to the emergency room. Despite the fact that I begged him not to. I stayed in the hospital on suicide watch for five days. I was then told that the State was having me committed. I was hauled off by ambulance to the most Godforsaken place I have ever seen. I spent the next four horrible days locked away with drug addicts, criminals and the clinically insane. I played the game and acted like the model patient. The only therapy we ever received was watching movies that were turned up way too loud, or colouring.
Walking out of that hellhole, I knew my life was going to change. I swore never to take another razor blade to my skin. I promised myself that I would never put my husband or my family through that again. I would do the work. I would take my medication and do whatever I needed to do to fight this battle. I decided that if I told my story, it might help people. By helping others, I knew I would be helping myself. So, I started writing again. It had been a passion of mine when I was a child, and I was grateful to finally find my voice again.
I began writing a blog detailing all of my struggles with bipolar disorder and how I survived a suicide attempt. Before long, the blog started to catch on. A lot of people were reading it. Eventually, I would receive messages from people all over the world thanking me for coming forward. It was an incredibly rewarding process, even if it was painful having to relive it all. Every day, someone is coming to me asking my advice. Many just reach out to thank me for sharing my story. I am glad to reach out to every one of them.
This past June, I celebrated two years of being self-injury free. I’m happier than I have ever been. My husband is still by my side. We can’t spend enough time together. Am I depression free? No, I won’t ever be free from it. At least now I can say that the bad times don’t come as often and don’t last as long. I did the work. I taught myself coping skills, and I lean on other people when I am too weak to stand for myself. My writing has been the best therapy I have ever known. Very soon, my blog will be a published novel, and I hope to reach more people that need help. Most of all, I always keep in mind that if I’m having a bad day, it doesn’t mean I have a bad life.
Even though my life is going much better, I need to be realistic. I will never be cured, and medication will forever be a part of my life. I am OK with that. If anyone I know isn’t, I don’t need them in my life.
I’m taking care of myself for the first time. I’ve lost a lot of friends and even family members because of my suicide attempt. There are people who consider me selfish. I’m here to tell you that suicide has nothing to do with being selfish. Having bipolar disorder doesn’t make you selfish. I only hope that anyone reading this understands the repercussions of attempting suicide. It’s terrifying to remember the events of that summer. I will never forget the look of pain and fear on my husband’s face. I’m just sorry that it took almost dying to start finally living.
At forty-two years old, I’m living proof that you can succeed despite your disability. It will take a lot of work, and you will feel like giving up. Don’t get in your own way. It can be done. Just take the first step.
You’ve got this.
Rebecca, thank you for being so candid. You’ve always had an interest in writing, but it took some time for you to find an outlet for that interest.
When I was just a kid, I had big dreams of becoming a writer. The first time I remember being interested in writing was in third grade. I had written this little story, and it was very well received by my teacher. It seemed like it was going to be pretty easy. People were often telling me that I was talented. I never had any idea how difficult this dream of mine would be to achieve. In ninth grade, I took a journalism course that made me decide to steer clear of that field. I’ve never been a get in your face and ask the hard questions, person. I’m more of a stay in the shadows hoping for an idea to strike kind of gal.
What was it that made you think of turning your blog into a book?
It was around June of 2014 that I started discussing the idea with my husband. More and more people were coming forward all of the time wanting advice, and I had waited to be an author for a very long time. We just didn’t know how to execute it, so I Googled it. Turns out there’s lot of information about turning a blog into a book.
Have you had any rejections that inspired or motivated you?
Absolutely. In 2014 when I first considered turning my blog into a book, I faced countless rejections. My husband and my friends were quick to tell me that I was a good writer, but I felt like a failure. One publisher contacted me and said it would take a year to edit my book and correct all of my bad habits. She indicated that I was wasn’t a real writer, but it was alright because she was patient. She would insult my intelligence until I changed that she wanted to be changed. The tiny little bit of self-esteem I had left was gone. The more she criticised me, the more I knew I had to cut her loose and find someone that could treat me with respect. Her voice in my head was a constant reminder of my goal.
You’ve described your writing as therapy, but it much have been tough to revisit certain situations.
Yes. The entire book is my real life. I endured every single heartache or painful experience. Which is both a good thing and a bad thing. On the positive side, I knew my subject matter in and out. On the negative side, it was extremely difficult to have to relive all of it again and again. Nevermind the fact that when my manuscript was refused, it was incredibly hard not to take it personally. It felt as if they were rejecting me and my life. The most difficult part for me to write was the death of my mother. So many painful things surfaced in the writing of this book, but that scene was the hardest. I find myself in tears every time I go over it for any reason. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully come to terms with her death, but I’m trying.
To Look Inside or buy It’s Not Your Journey, click here
In which ways was writing the book transformative for you?
From the moment I started writing this book, I could see a change in myself. Not only was my depression lifting, but I felt as if I was learning about myself. Suddenly, writers’ block wasn’t as much of an issue anymore. All I needed to do was sit in front of the computer, and words would flow. I felt like a weight was being lifted off of my shoulders. I was teaching myself how to edit my work and learning that sometimes less is more with writing. When I finished a particularly painful chapter, I found myself exhausted. As if I had finally purged the pain that those circumstances were causing me.
Your husband and the readers of your blog have been hugely supportive. What has that meant to you?
My husband inspires me to keep going, as well as my many friends that read my work. The people that came forward that I didn’t even know were hugely inspirational. It was incredible to hear that someone in Belgium or Malaysia now felt like they could talk to their family about how badly they were feeling. I would often hear that people felt like they were reading about their life in my story. They weren’t alone; it was amazing. I kept writing to keep helping those people and to keep helping myself.
Who is your book aimed at?
Several different types of people. Obviously, those that are experiencing mental illness themselves, perhaps for the first time and are feeling lost and confused. Not knowing who to talk to or what to say to ask for help. Then there are also their loved ones, significant others, partners, etc. They may not recognise warning signs, or may take their spouse’s behaviour as a knock on them, or think that they’ve done something wrong.
Was it your intention to write a book with a message or a moral?
That wasn’t the first thought that came to mind when I began writing. It developed over time. If I was writing a particularly difficult chapter and was feeling especially depressed, it was very difficult to try to find a positive message. It did become my goal after a short time for each chapter to show the reader that if I could find a silver lining, they could too.
Want to find out more about Rebecca?
Click here to find out more about World Suicide Prevention Day (10th September).
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