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In Celebration of Someone Who Saved My Life

In honor of Women's History Month I'm dedicating various posts to the ten different women who I've called my "best friend" at different times in my life, as well as the dozens of other women who are my close friends as well. Who've been there for me. Who have even saved my life. This one goes out to two women and an entire town that for some reason decided I was one life worth saving:

Anyone who is close to me, truly close to me, knows that I have a morbid streak. Some of it is due to my humor. The rest is due to the fact that I'm a long-time sufferer of depression and Bipolar Disorder. Although I've been relatively healthy and stable since 2009, I went through a dangerous eight year period where the next day wasn't necessarily guaranteed. 

In the bad times, I would lie in my bed trying to will myself, find any reason to get up and get dressed to go to work. I'd stopped talking to my mother, which only made her more anxious. So I started getting teary 5 a.m. in California, 7 a.m. in St. Louis calls begging me to get up, to shower, to eat, just to do something that wasn't lying in my bed like a corpse.

I would eventually get up and go to work and grunt hello to everyone when they would ask how I was doing. Grunts were not a good sign and I grunted and groaned instead of using my words to answer, "How are you" for years. 

By then, my friends knew what the grunting meant. Everyone knew and had known since the first hospitalization in 2004. The newspaper I worked for, The Bakersfield Californian, actually sent me flowers. 

If you're going to lose your mind, losing it in Bakersfield isn't that bad. I lost it while being a troubled but promising writer at a newspaper where both management and the Union were supportive, where your co-workers looked out for you, friends who didn't have to intervene, intervened and where two of the closest friends you would ever have spiritually kept you alive. I was lucky to be so loved at a time when I did not love myself at all.

Unrecognizable to how I am now, I'd stopped caring about my appearance. Gained tons of weight I'm still trying to lose. And tried to find a way to give up on life, if only so the pain of living would finally stop. There were three incidents where I almost followed through with my darkest thoughts -- the morning of a friend's wedding, the drive back from Visalia visiting those same worried friends in 2004 and one terrible night in 2005 when I couldn't sleep and wound up in the hospital, suffering from a "mild" overdose.

I don't remember much of that drive to the hospital. My friend who knew I was in trouble when I didn't leave a message after calling her. By then, my two closest friends knew if I left a long, jokey message I was fine. If left a message saying I was "fine" and don't bother calling back, I was near suicidal and they most assuredly needed to call me back.

So knowing this, she came straight to my house after working the late night police beat shift at The Californian when I couldn't tell her what exactly I'd taken and how much of it. I'd had insomnia for a month, but I was mostly despondent because my sister Denise had recently left after a visit. My depression always got worse after family members would visit, due to me missing them. Let alone the fact that their visits were often distractions from what I was really going through. The 2004 meltdown had everything to do with a terrible reaction to an anti-depressant and my baby sister moving back to St. Louis after living in Bakersfield for the summer. 

My friend called Poison Control, then drove me to the emergency room, talked to me to keep me awake and probably remembers much more of that night than I do. Apparently the ER doctor was rude to me. I'm grateful I was so out of it to not pick up on it. I remember the words, but not the annoyed malice behind them.

"Why did you mix alcohol and your sedatives?"

"I was sleepy. I just wanted to go to sleep. And I was sad."

"Every girl over 20 around here is sad."

Obviously I survived because I'm writing this to you right now. But it's not due to much of anything I did for about eight years. It was everyone else. It was Tim and Anne who let me sleep in the guest room. And Jennifer and Lydia driving me to the hospital after keeping an eye on me for two days. It was Bob and Christine and Lois and Mike and Ginger and Steve and Olivia and the entire staff of The Bakersfield Californian who routinely saved me from myself by insisting I take time off, sometimes by force other times willingly, and who worked with me, never abandoning me as a friend and employee for all those years. But most of all it was Christina and Michelle who acted as my family when I was far away from my own. It was them who first confronted me and had an intervention for me in 2003. It was them who fed me, paid my bills when I couldn't pay them, listened to me talk for hours, entertained my stories, tried to cheer me up, who dragged me out of the bed and out of my house, who drove me home when I was too out of it to drive anywhere. Who carried me when I couldn't carry myself.

Both of them, separately, were fueled both by their love for me and the fact that they were future ministry. Both went to seminary and continue to work in the church with constituencies in need -- the sick, the dying, the poor and at-risk youth. I can't say I always believed as strongly as they did, but it did not hurt to have two people compelled by the love of Christ to make sure your eyes opened the next day. 

I can never pay the people I met in Bakersfield back for what they did for me. Not Janet, who worked with me for years to get me properly diagnosed. Not Jake who listened to me talk for hours about my screwed up life. Or AJ or the set of brothers who were my upstairs neighbors, my understanding landlord or all those theater kids. 

But I can never thank Michelle or Christina enough for all they did. Even though we're all apart now and don't talk or see each other as much as we used to, I feel still connected to them in my heart. I have a bond with them that cannot be broken. If they ever need me, I'm there, whether we spoke just yesterday or haven't spoken in years. I will be there. Not just because you were there for me, but because I love you.

Thank you to everyone who saved my life.

For "In celebration of ...," I'm writing about friendship in honor of every woman I've ever been friends with, especially my"besties." Whether we were friends forever, grew up and apart or fell out tragically: Yolanda, Erica, Marla, Tiffany, Brandy, Christina, Michelle, Dorothy, Toya and Yesha -- this one is for you.

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Reader Comments (7)

Beautiful post. Thank you for your poignant and honest writings, as always.

March 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMimi

As a mental health practitioner, thank you for your candid comments about your struggles. It helps to reduce the stigma the more we discuss it openly. BTW--- Do you understand the lyrics in the Elton John song? Someone saved my life tonight, "Sugarbear"???

March 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTony

Thank you for an amazing article, even though I am not bi-polar, depression looks, feels and acts the same way and you remind me to thank the people in my life who when I was slowly imploding with crying jags unable to deal with racism at work and being single at 38 (when I was supposed to be married by now), and building a business that was hard and needed me to be on and continuously happy. I got help, I got meds, I got my life together, I got married, I raised kids, I got divorced and was STILL happy, I got to know myself in midlife and most of all I got to be myself and be cool with it. You are brilliant, beautiful and a gift from God Danielle, keep writing and reminding us. Peace

March 21, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbdsista

@ Tony

"Someone Saved My Life Tonight" is about the time when Elton John as still a closeted homosexual and was about to marry a woman. Distraught and confused over it all, he'd planned to kill himself until a friend (the someone in this song) intervened and convinced him to let his fiancee go (she's the butterfly) so he can "sleep with himself tonight" and be free from this burdensome obligation. I always imagine that "Sugarbear" was the pet name for the woman he was supposed to marry since throughout most of the song he's talking to her directly, letting her know the relationship is over.

Thanks for the kind words about the story.

March 22, 2013 | Registered CommenterDanielle Belton

This was a beautiful post. You made me look up old friends that I have not spoken to in years.

March 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMary

Thanks for your comments and this beautiful story. Lots of love and gratitude. Always.

March 24, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergrateful

Beautiful post Danielle. Thanks so much for writing it. You are a very good example for those who suffer with mental illness and the folks who support them - not only because of your talent and success, but also your willingness to speak openly and honestly. I shall remember this and use it as an inspiration for clients to motivate them, encourage them to share and create a support network. I will also share it with people who need to know there is hope for people who struggle with MI to live and live their dreams, and that if we tackle the challenges together there can be positive outcomes.

March 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie
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