“A short while ago, I sat in a state institution in Alaska writing about the town I left my heart in. I was asked to write about a ‘perfect day,’ and I wrote about this place a million miles away that I longed to be. I wrote about the people who I love with everything in me and described in detail how I would spend my day. It wasn’t really important how it would be spent though, just being in the town I love more than anywhere else with the people I love with all my heart, would make the day perfect. As I described this day to my therapist and social worker, they looked at me and said, ‘I expected you to write about something nearly impossible like winning the lottery or being the president for a day, but you wrote about something that is completely possible.’ At that time, I thought I had a much better chance at winning the lottery than returning to San Pedro, Guatemala.
I sat on the cold floor and stared at the blank white walls and sobbed, because I felt so very alone. I remembered the days when I was surrounded by so much love. The days that even when I felt alone, it was clear I was not. The days I was so free, and not locked up in a state institution.
About a year before, I spent a little over 6 months serving as a missionary in San Pedro. This place quickly stole my heart and I thought I would be there until my dying day. I was filled with so much faith, joy and love. After searching for my purpose for so long, I felt like I had finally found it. I spent so much time not knowing where I belonged in this world. My depression and anxiety tried to convince me I didn’t belong at all but I held on tight to my faith and God led me to the most precious town. I became more and more in awe as I got to really know this place. I didn’t miss home because this felt like home. It was like a breath of fresh air, and finally, for a moment, everything felt right in my life.
Then it felt like the ground beneath my feet was pulled out from under me. I experienced things that made me believe I could not stay. Things did not get better but worse. I couldn’t understand why God would bring me here for it all to be taken away. I felt like it was His will for me to stay here but He wasn’t hearing my cries. I no longer felt His presence. I loved this town and people with all my heart. I never felt so much love in my heart before, but I was fighting a war bigger than myself. A battle that I would clearly not win, so I did what I thought was my only option. When I left, I still felt I would return soon.
I was wrong. I returned home to Alaska and things quickly went downhill. I was left with a broken heart and crushed soul. My entire world shattered. I felt defeated and soon the mental illnesses I had been trying to fight, took over my entire life. I had lost my purpose and I no longer had the will to fight my mind. I didn’t understand what the point of living was anymore.
Two weeks after returning to Alaska, I was admitted to the mental health unit for the first time. The beginning of the most unbearable, trying, devastating, heart wrenching, painful year and a half of my life.
I went through more than I ever imagined. I was on the intensive care unit (ICU) 4 times, had multiple progressive care stays, went through two different residential programs, spent a countless amount of time in the hospital, more rides in the ambulance than I can count, spent over 70 days in a state institution, countless ER visits, and time in a crisis recovery center.
I was turned away by almost every therapist and psychiatrist in Alaska because they told me I was ‘too high risk.’ I was deemed helpless by multiple professionals.
I felt as if the life had been drained out of me and I was sure I would die before the end of the year.
I had been so close to death multiple times already and told by doctors I would not survive. I left many doctors astonished that I kept surviving and walking away from attempt after attempt to end my life. I could not understand why I kept surviving, when all I wanted to do was die. Darkness consumed me completely and I was positive it was the end for me.
By October, I had lost all my hope completely. I lost all my faith in God and had quit talking about the place I loved the most. I was certain I would never return to San Pedro and it hurt too much to think about.
It had been over three months since my last attempt and people believed I was better. I was in the absolute lowest and darkest place of my life though. October 10th, I attempted again. What I took put me into such a deep sleep I didn’t even feel my mom shaking me trying to wake me up. I was taken to the hospital by ambulance. I spent a week there and they were at a loss. They had no idea what to do with me. I was turned down by many places and I did not want to be sent back to the institution. I lied to the psychiatrist and told him I was fine and that I would not attempt again if they just let me leave. I felt the most hopeless I had ever felt in my life. At this point, many people had left my life and I felt completely alone. I was not okay, but I knew I could not be sent back to the institution. The psychiatrist believed me and let me leave. This was the first time I was sent home right after an attempt.
That night I did not sleep. I stayed up planning my next attempt. I knew it had to be different than all the others. I had never been more determined to die. The next morning, I woke up and expected it to be my last day on earth. I went to Target and bought a bottle of pills and razors. Then I went to Lowe’s and bought a rope. I had three different plans and figured one of them had to work.
I walked for what felt like miles to find an area with a good tree and no people. I finally found a place. I opened the bottle of pills and started taking handfuls. I tied the rope around the tree. I took what I thought would be my last breath and stepped off the branch. The branch bent, and I fell fast and hard to the ground with the rope still around my neck. I became hysterical and sobbed. I sat there swallowing more handfuls of pills.
Someone called the police on me. My phone rang and rang as the police called me relentlessly. I finally answered and she pleaded with me to come out of the woods as she tracked me. I was in such a bad state I couldn’t even form a coherent thought. The side effects from all the pills I took started to kick in. I was found by the most incredible police officer. I expected for her to be angry, but I was met with compassion. She advocated and fought for me.
I was taken by ambulance to the hospital. I was beyond angry and hoping with everything in me that the damage had already been done and I would die.
We arrived at the hospital and I started deteriorating fast. Doctors and nurses filled the room. I had more IVs than I could count, they drew blood, put in a catheter and connected me to a billion different things to monitor me. The nurses tried to force me to drink the charcoal I kept refusing. Despite everything they were doing, I was getting worse and worse.
I remember thinking I would die and was glad there was nothing they could do to save me. It became hard to breathe and they put an oxygen mask on me. As my breaths became slower and slower, I kept begging for the next one to be my last.
My organs were failing and I was dying. It was determined I would need dialysis. I was told by a doctor it was my last hope, and if it didn’t work, I would die a slow and painful death.
I was asked if there was anyone I could call to be with me because I might not make it. I nodded no. In that moment, I felt the most alone I have ever felt in my life. They sent in nurses to hold my hand as they took the scalpel to my neck. They placed a central line so I could receive dialysis. I was moved to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and received dialysis. I laid there feeling so alone and pleading with God to just let me die. I promised I would do anything to not wake up the next morning. The doctors were skeptical I would make it through the night and I continued to pray that I wouldn’t.
I made it through the night. God didn’t answer my praying of letting me die but He answered another prayer. He sent someone to come be with me in my darkest hour. Completely broken and laying in the ICU, I was convinced not a single soul loved me. He sent someone to love me.
I had met Jennifer in Guatemala about a year and a half before. We are both from Alaska but met in San Pedro. The town that had both of our hearts. She walked into that hospital room with so much love. She held my hand and cried and prayed with me. I was at my very worst and somehow, she could still see something in me. She believed in me when there was no way I could believe in myself. She told me that one day we would return to San Pedro together and I thought she was crazy. I truly believed I could never return. I gave up on that dream and was dealing with the heartbreak of that.
She continued to visit me in the hospital. Another person I met in San Pedro, visited me as well. The officer that saved my life came by as well. She gave me a cross and her card. Telling me she was there for me. I could see God was sending me people to remind me I was not alone. What I didn’t understand was why I was constantly being reminded of San Pedro. Why would He remind me of a place that He knew I couldn’t return to?
When I got released, Jennifer was right there. She continued to visit me on nights I didn’t think I would make it through. Staying most nights until 3 or 4 a.m. No expectations or judgements, no preaching or telling me how I had to stay alive or minimizing the amount of pain I was in. She felt called by God to love me and that she did.
I continued to struggle and each day was unbearable. Two weeks later, I had another attempt. The guy who rode in the back of the ambulance taking my vitals and putting an IV in my arm told me he had been to San Pedro. I thought he was messing with me but he started naming people and telling me about his time there.
I was frustrated and could not figure out why God was giving me all these reminders of San Pedro when all I wanted was to die.
Now I currently sit here in this precious town, and I’m in awe of how everything led me back here. Hand in hand, my friend who is more like a sister now and I returned to the place we love.
I’ve been welcomed with arms wide open and pure love from the people who have my heart. These people whose hearts broke for me as I was hurting and struggling last year. These people who spent so much time praying for me. These people I call family and will forever be more thankful for them than I can say. To be reunited with people I never imagined I would see again is unexplainable.
I’m not the same person I was before. Everything I went through truly broke me. I don’t have the same faith or joy. I find myself devastated in moments I know I should be happy, but I’m not. My mental illnesses didn’t disappear because I am in another country. I am relearning how to live. Learning how to breathe again. Learning how to open my heart again. A heart that has been so broken and hurt. I have been told over and over the amount of courage it took to come back. I am facing some of my greatest fears. I try to remember that on my hardest days. Knowing that some days, just breathing is simply enough.
Despite everything I went through the last year and a half, I am alive. I never thought I would be alive today. Doctors never expected me to make it to today. The fact I am alive is a miracle.
While I still struggle, I will never forget all those nights in the institution I spent crying to be here. I will be forever grateful for the mountains God moved for me and for the people He placed in my life. I know now that when I felt He had left me, He was right by my side. He was sending people to be with me and slowly leading me back here. Being back in this town is something I still can’t comprehend. I never thought I could return, but here I am.
To those fighting a mental illness, I know how hard and tiring it is. I know most days you want to give up. I can’t promise it will ever be easy, but please know you aren’t alone. Take it one breath at a time. Know there will be moments that make fighting so hard worth it. Stay for those moments.”
[If you’re thinking about hurting yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionhotline.org to live chat with someone. Help is out there. You are not alone.]
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Courteney Vidal. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
Read more about Courteney’s story here:
‘When I was 12 years old, my older sister died by suicide. She was my whole world. This year alone I’ve had over 20 suicide attempts.’
‘I begged for you to stay the night, but you said you had to go. I gave you a big hug, not knowing it would be the last. You told me you would see me soon. I believed you.’
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