7. Learning to Thrive

7. Learning to Thrive

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Learning to Thrive

Life is not merely to be alive, but to be well.

~Marcus Valerius Martial

“No, Haylee! Stay awake!” my roommate and best friend Izzy screamed at me. “Promise me you won’t fall asleep!”

I groaned at my friend, wishing she would be quiet and drive a little less like we were in a Grand Theft Auto game. My body sunk into the passenger seat like a dead weight. Izzy didn’t know what to do. Her words were slurred to me, but I knew she was sobbing.

Next thing I knew, she was calling my stepmom. “Haylee took a bunch of pills,” she said through sobs. “Um, I don’t know. I think a lot.” She hung up the phone, pushed harder on the gas and cried to me, “Your dad is going to take you to the hospital.”

I was now slouched over the center console. Everything was getting dark. I could see Izzy’s panicked face. I could make out the tears streaming down her cheeks. She fearfully glanced down at me and sobbed, “Why would you do this to me, Haylee? Why?”

The last thing I remember from that car ride was my drowsy response, “Because maybe Jameson had it right.” And then I blacked out.

The doctor said I was lucky. In my head, I was anything but. My vitals were somehow strong. My heart rate returned to normal. My stomach burned and ached as I slowly came back to reality. But I was angry that I had survived. I was angry that I was now being held captive in a hospital hallway lined with crying and groaning patients. With my dad at my side and my stepmom dabbing at her tearful eyes, my doctor asked the most important question, “Did you intentionally try to overdose, Ms. Graham?”

I shook my head no, and said that I’d just had a headache.

My dad looked over at me. “Tell him the truth. Tell him what you told Izzy.”

I rolled my eyes, feeling like everyone was being overdramatic. “That my friend had it right.”

“Her friend killed himself a month ago,” my dad explained in a venomous tone, as though he resented Jameson for planting the idea in my head.

The doctor nodded slowly, now understanding. His eyes burned into me. “You thought he was right about suicide, so you tried it yourself.”

And something about his words — perhaps it was the truth in it all — got through to me. I slumped over my knees, held my face in my hands, and sobbed so loudly that it silenced the nearby patients in their beds. Everyone watched me, slightly surprised by my sudden confession.

Then, between my hands, I cried, “And it wasn’t the first time, either.”

I soon was confined to my own hospital room. In four hours, I would go to the nearest psychiatric hospital to be committed for three days.

What had I done? I hadn’t thought about how my death would affect other people.

For hours, I lay there silently, alone and afraid, like a child sent to her room to think over what she had done wrong. A kind nurse named Randy tended to my every need. For an hour, he even let me spill my heart out. I told him how unstable my life had been for the past ten years. I told him how my mom used to date men who were either drug addicts or expressed anger with their fists. She and I had struggled in extreme poverty, where scrounging for pennies just to have food became the norm and a good day was when we had lukewarm water for bathing.

Then, I confessed that by age fifteen I had already tried killing myself twice. Randy listened intently as I explained that for four years, self-injury was my stability and my razor blade gave me a different kind of pain I craved. As soon as I graduated high school, I battled alcoholism, promiscuity, and for months was addicted to cocaine and crystal meth. Then my dear childhood friend pressed a gun to his temple and took his own life. That was the last straw and was when I decided to end it all with the eleven pills that I swallowed with a bottle of NyQuil.

By the time I was done, I was out of breath from my sobs. Randy observed me quietly and after a few minutes, stated, “It sounds like you have had to learn how to survive. But that’s not what life is about. Don’t just survive anymore, thrive.” He gently held my arm. “Forget the past, forget the bad things that have happened, and learn to thrive. Promise me you’ll try and do that.”

With tears running down my cheeks, I grabbed Randy’s hand. “I promise.”

For three years, writing was my outlet from the very dark world I lived in. By 2013, I was an official author with four completed full-length novels. So when I was admitted into the psychiatric hospital, I found my outlet and wrote a diary of my experiences. In just three very scary and revealing days, I learned more than some people learn in a lifetime. The nurses within those walls scolded me for what I had almost done, telling me to appreciate the life of grace I had. The friends I made there encouraged me and most of all, showed me how blessed I truly was.

So, on my third day, I left with the motivation to create a life worth living. I had many apologies to make, bad habits to break, and several relationships to rebuild, but I restored myself, stopped using drugs, and grew into a better person. One year later, I’m still an author, selling my four novels online while also managing a music-based nonprofit and a charitable hat company giving back to hospital patients. I live in a stable home, am surrounded with wonderful friends, and I have finally tasted the happiness I’ve always searched for. I no longer survive. Now I live a beautiful life not just for me, but also for the friends who encouraged me during my darkest hours at that hospital. I fulfilled my promise, started over, and finally learned to thrive.

~Haylee Graham

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