How This Sock Business Owner Found Her Grip

How This Sock Business Owner Found Her Grip

Hi there. My name is Ariel and I am the founder of GripCity, a mission-driven grip sock business designed to help you find your footing, during tough workouts and tough times.  What you're about to read is a deeply personal look at my mental health story, and a major catalyst behind the business that brings me a deep sense of purpose and joy.  I'm glad you're here.

In addition to creating GripCity, I’m also a wife, daughter, sister, friend, aunt, and creative. I love music, singing, cycling, traveling, napping, puns, teacups, improvisational cooking and basically anything with milk chocolate. I’m also someone who has intermittently struggled with major depression, and a two-time survivor of attempted suicide.

There are no words to express how grateful I am to be here. If hearing my story helps one person feel even a glimmer of hope, or helps bridge a gap between someone experiencing mental illness and their loved ones, I will consider this vulnerable account of my struggle to have been worth it. Here it goes:

I didn’t just wake up and decide I was going to try to end my life

In the months leading up to the morning of December 4th, 2018, I had become incredibly depressed. I was getting professional help from a therapist and psychiatrist but, while I made many veiled references to suicide, I never let on just how all-consuming the depression and suicidal thoughts had become. In reality, trying to hurt myself was all I could think about.

Generally speaking, I avoid any kind of movie or situation where violence or bodily injury might occur. I cover my eyes, leave the room or refuse to watch in the first place. But in the fog of depression, I’d walk across the street hoping to be hit by a bus; I’d go to the top of tall buildings alone to dare myself to jump; I’d fixate on sharp objects, sometimes taking them with me into the bathroom or bed when I was by myself.

If I admitted to those around me how I really felt, I knew they would insist I check into some sort of inpatient program. Not wanting that, I avoided the type of disclosure that might have helped me get better sooner.

Depression wasn’t new to me

I had experienced major bouts of depression in the past. These episodes usually occurred around periods when I was adjusting my medication for one reason or another, or was experiencing significant stress at work.

This also wasn't my first attempt. While still in college, I experienced my first acute experience with depression. I was hospitalized for a month following this attempt and took the semester off of school. It took a while to get back to my "baseline," and adjusting to living at home was a challenge after growing accustomed to college life, but it wasn't the earth shattering scenario I made it out to be.

To the contrary, following that difficult semester, I went on to have a pretty great decade. I attended graduate school, made great friends, fell in love with my now husband, moved to Brooklyn, found meaningful work, and even took time off to travel. I had so much distance from that dark period that I nearly forgot it had happened.

Soon after turning 31, filled with optimism, several years of consistently stable mood and mental health, and a desire to explore a new life transition, I decided I ought to try going off medication. I consulted with my psychiatrist and we agreed it was the right thing to do. She agreed to remotely supervise the process over the course of a few months. Over that period, there was nothing unusual to report, everything seemed to be going as planned.

Fast forward to about 8 weeks of being completely off all medication, and all those awful and strangely familiar feelings came flooding back. But wait, I remember thinking to myself, trying to "get a grip," “This can't be happening. You have everything. You have no right to be depressed. You can't possibly be this miserable, again?!” 

I immediately started seeing my psychiatrist, a therapist, and went back on medications. Knowing where this could lead, my family quickly rallied to oversee my care and support me. I wanted none of it...I was already back to the frightening place I remembered from by 20s.

Living with major depression: the voice in my head

Over the course of what felt like an eternity (but was in fact just 3 months), I completely spiraled.  I talked myself into believing that there was some quota for how much society would tolerate people like me, and that I had exceeded it. I didn’t deserve to live in this pathetic state, burden everyone I loved, and take up space.

Unable to separate my identity from my illness, I blamed myself for everythingThrough the distorted lens of depression, and with generous help from social media—the kind that filters out other people’s struggles and amplifies their successes—I looked around and saw everyone else “figuring it out.” Friends were reaching new heights in their careers, having kids, and hitting other major life milestones. I, on the other hand, barely had the stamina to shower or feed myself.

Every minor insecurity that bubbled up quickly escalated to a full boil

I interpreted every misstep as a personal failing and character flaw.  Without considering the logical causes for my sudden change in behavior and personality—namely, that I had gone off anti-depressants I had been on for over a decade and wasn’t regularly seeing my doctor—I concluded that this change was a manifestation of my true character.

I also built a very convincing narrative that the only reason people cared about me was because I pretended to be someone I wasn’t. 

I had somehow tricked others into believing I was smart, caring, and competent. I had manipulated my husband into marrying me; I was the worst sibling; I was a disappointing daughter; I was a lousy, selfish friend—

I was dirt, basically. It seemed as if everything I laid my eyes on was a sign that'd been deliberately put there to remind me of my worthlessness.

You overcooked the broccoli?! Of course, you did. You screw everything up. You lost your sunglasses? You f*cking ungrateful idiot. Everything is wasted on you.

Self-compassion has never come especially easily to me, but this was next-level bullying. When I could have benefited most from a little grace, I became my own most skilled tormentor.

From ideation to active planning

Not able to sleep through the night or focus on anything for longer than a few moments at a time, I did a lot of secret, morbid late-night googling in “incognito mode” on methods for ending one’s life.

Using the little energy that I had, I wrote goodbye notes to the people I loved and hid them in various places around the apartment. I wrapped gifts I had been saving for the holidays and set them aside. I even picked out a possible love interest who I wanted my husband, the love of my life, to consider dating after I was gone—yes, you read that correctly.

Detached and numb to everything around me, I convinced myself that everyone would be truly better off if I were dead. After what felt like an eternity of suffering, I was determined to put an end to the misery and the horrible, self-loathing voice in my head.

I made the decision to overdose on a mixture of pills, liquor, and cough syrup, and I went through with it. I’m writing this post, so you know how it turned out. But on December 4th of 2018, and several days that followed, it wasn’t clear that I would be here to have the chance to one day write something like this. 

Surviving the attempt

Some survivors express relief, remorse, and/or regret after a failed suicide attempt. I did not. When I woke up in a completely disoriented state and with a tube down my throat, I was not even slightly relieved to learn that I had survived.

With my husband and family members around me, all the feelings of shame and worthlessness came flooding back, made worse by the new humiliation I felt at having failed at yet another thing. I also felt guilty for taking medical resources away from people I deemed “actually sick.”

Suddenly, I also felt like I had been trapped in a cage; I knew that I had missed my chance to end my life and was enraged by the knowledge that I would have no privacy or independence for the foreseeable future.

Since you can't exactly check yourself out of a psychiatric ward or hospital when you’re deemed to be a danger to yourself (and even if I tried, where would I have gone?), there was no way out but to get better.

I couldn't bear to upset my family more than I already had but I also couldn't stop myself from telling everyone, including the medical staff who saved my life, that they were all just wasting their time. 

Since I had no say in the matter, I knew I would just have to go through the motions. In the days and weeks that followed in the inpatient floor of Brooklyn Methodist, my eyes still darted around any given hospital room looking for ways to hurt myself. I couldn’t help it, and I still kept this to myself.

Life in the psych unit

After days in the ICU and over a week in the psychiatric ward, I was transferred to a psychiatric hospital in Westchester with a specialized longer-term inpatient facility. 

Everyday life in the psych ward was monotonous, draining, and strange, even with caring, attentive staff and a world-class treatment team. For many patients, the highlight of the day is visiting hour—which, at the very least, serves to break up the seemingly endless days of therapy, board games, pacing around the unit, or sequestering in one’s room. But personally, I dreaded knowing that my family was coming to visit. It always felt like I was just the same miserable person every time they showed up, and that I was letting them down.

After nearly three insufferable weeks in this specialized hospital setting and several new medications, my condition still hadn’t improved.  I became even more convinced that I was beyond hope.

See, even these highly skilled doctors can’t fix me?! Plus, inpatient care is incredibly expensive, even with insurance, and I was acutely aware of the financial burden my illness was posing. 

And for what? They might as well flush it down the drain.

Enter electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)

After a month and various medication trials, the doctors concluded that I had a form of medication-resistant depression for which they recommended Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). In case you aren’t familiar, ECT is a treatment in which an electric current is applied through one’s scalp to the brain in order to induce a temporary seizure.  Doctors analogized the mechanism of ECT to breaking up a blockage in my brain that was making it hard for antidepressant medications to be absorbed.

When you hear about ECT, you might picture a disturbing scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  But as I soon learned, modern ECT is not at all like what is portrayed in the film.  It’s a very civilized, controlled procedure that feels closer to a spa treatment than a major medical procedure.  You are placed under general anesthesia during the treatment, and muscle relaxants prevent your body from physically seizing. 

I told one of my doctors that I didn’t believe anything would work but that I didn't care what they did to me. I even admitted after all those weeks of them trying to help that I hoped that the shock would kill me. With patience and compassion, the doctor calmly asked me to “borrow his optimism”—words I’ll never forget. I shrugged and agreed I would try.

ECT changed the trajectory of my recovery

After five treatments over the course of two weeks, I was back to a version of myself that I recognized. The negative self-talk was dialed all the way down so I could think. Thanks to a bit of hypomania, a short-term side effect of ECT, I felt so energized and creative that I began working feverishly on GripCity Socks from my hospital bed and planning my grandmother's 100th birthday.

By my seventh treatment, I felt fully back to the motivated, social, generally happy-go-lucky person that I had thought no longer existed. I returned home and after months of being in the hospital or severely depressed, I was eager to reconnect with loved ones and find a silver lining in this nightmare.

Without ECT, I don’t know what would have happened to me. I’m so relieved and grateful I didn’t have to find out.

Major side note: I know ECT is not a cure-all that works for everyone with major depression, nor is it appropriate for everybody with my symptoms. But given the rate of success in reducing symptoms, helping between 70 to 90 percent of patients achieve remission according to Johns Hopkins Medicine—a rate higher than that of antidepressant drugs alone—I continue to find it shocking that this treatment option isn’t more widely discussed. Since I had never heard of anyone undergoing ECT, I wanted to share the role it played in my recovery.

Why share this with the world?

Rehashing the details of my experience is both difficult and healing. On one hand, what I went through feels incredibly personal and raw. When I first expressed a desire to share my story publicly, some family members cautioned against it, mostly out of a well-intentioned desire to protect me.

On the other hand, I know that hearing others’ experiences has given me insights into my own struggles and brought me a lot of comfort and self-compassion. I’m not a religious or especially spiritual person, but sharing my story has made me feel like there was greater purpose behind what I went through and the pain I caused those close to me.

I also share because I know that silence is what keeps mental illness stigmatized.If you’re reading this and feeling lost or even hopeless, I urge you to open up to someone you trust and get help. It’ll be hard, but you have made it this far, so you already know how to do hard things — it just might be the reason you’re around tomorrow to learn about a treatment you never knew existed.

I’m forever grateful to the people who refused to give up on me even when I had given up on myself. I know that I’m incredibly lucky to have received the type of care and attention that I did.  Everyone is worthy of that kind of help, and no one should need to prolong their pain by waiting until a crisis to get the right  care and treatment.  Suffering in silence doesn’t serve anyone.

You don’t graduate from mental illness—but there are ways to manage it

We’re near the end of this story, but I know it isn’t the end of my mental health journey. Unlike some other conditions, mental health issues need to be monitored closely, indefinitely. For me, I know and accept that managing my underlying depression will always involve some form of medication and therapy. Like everyone, I also need to be conscious of what sorts of activities, circumstances and people add to or detract from my overall well-being.  At the same time, I also feel incredibly reassured to know that ECT is a resource available to me should I ever need it again.

For anyone reading this who is struggling, please know that you are worthy of help; your pain is valid; and no one would be better off without you around.  If these words are difficult to hear and hope feels out of reach — trust me, I get it. Hang in there and get help. In the meantime, I would be honored to let you  borrow my optimism.

 

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