A Truce With Life After Death A harrowing year of job loss, breakdowns and survival

| Photo and artwork by Joe Livernois


Related Coverage: Mental health more critical than ever

By M Dawn Sherman

On March 17, 2020, the boatyard staff was called to an impromptu meeting on the yard. It was right after lunch, early in the pandemic. We’d sort of been hearing vague rumblings about COVID-19 and possible shutdowns of businesses, but I don’t think any of us thought it would have an impact on a boatyard in Monterey. It was surreal to hear that management had determined to limit operations and that most of us would be laid off temporarily.

They would keep a skeleton crew of essential workers (a new phrase we would learn during the pandemic) and the admin would shortly have paperwork to guide us in applying for unemployment insurance. It was then announced who would remain. I was not among them. I was deemed unessential at a job I had worked at for almost three years. It was a job I loved, which had changed my life and brought me out of a very dark place I had been in since a suicide attempt in 2017.

I went into the shop, sat on the floor and started crying. I went home early that day, paperwork in hand, assured that this was temporary and I would be the first to be called back.

Four days later, I received a text message informing me that my layoff was permanent. My position had been eliminated.

I had already started the year under a huge amount of stress. My 19-year-old daughter decided living on the Peninsula was too expensive and she moved to North Carolina. I had to move into a new place, a house-share situation with someone I did not know. I turned 50 at the end of March, by which time we were on complete shelter-in-place orders. It was a milestone birthday, and I felt very bad about not being able to celebrate. The stress was aggravated by several weeks because the Employment Development Department was processing a backlog of claims. People were being laid off everywhere. I was without an income, I was alone and I was frightened.

I had a breakdown and went into a mental facility on a 72-hour hold.

'I tried to adjust to everything, totally confused and kind of manic because I desperately wanted to fend off the fear and uncertainty of the world at the moment.'

Fortunately, my new housemate didn’t seem to be bothered by this and was actually very kind. Spring turned into summer … I tried to adjust to everything, totally confused and kind of manic because I desperately wanted to fend off the fear and uncertainty of the world at the moment. Terrified of the virus.

I bought a hammock. I bought a nice bicycle and some workout gear. I spent time riding the bike, working up to a good 20 miles a day and exercising in my nice back yard.

Then the day drinking started.

Boredom and monotony. I have various mental health issues, including a personality disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, depression and suicidal ideation. The weather started changing and the light shifted and I never do well with seasonal change, so I became less and less interested in exercising and more and more interested in dulling my increasing anxiety and stress with alcohol.

I tried remote therapy and psychiatry. I was on antipsychotics, the meds kept changing, the doctors kept changing, I gained an enormous amount of weight, my panic attacks increased and I could barely function.

After four months, I stopped the therapy and the meds. Winter set in. I was lonely, unmotivated. I am an artist; I paint but I had no desire to confront a blank canvas. I was panicked every day, considered admitting myself, but was too afraid. I experienced claustrophobia, as well as a new trigger — the wind. A windy day could throw me into a complete panic.

A close friend of mine died unexpectedly in his sleep. I became afraid to sleep, afraid to put my face in the water in the shower, afraid of the wind, afraid of people. I continued to drink … earlier and longer. Then another friend died. I started feeling shaky and weak and sick. I started drinking at noon, or even earlier on some days. Weeks of that. I was drunk most of January. I knew I had developed a dependence on alcohol and I hated myself for being weak, but I could not get out of the cycle.

I had another moment in which I considered admitting myself for a 72 hour “vacation.” I gained 40 pounds. I didn’t care. I didn’t shower for days on end. I cried nonstop.

'I didn’t survive my own suicide in 2017 to have a pandemic ruin the rest of my life.'

I was fortunate to have a bubble of safe people that would come sit with me or talk to me on the phone or send me messages and chats on social media. Saving grace.

I saw people posting on social media about the Pandemic Wall. I understood. I understood I was not alone. I had so much support over the few months I was such a mess, it was time for me to get my act together so I could be a support.

I share my feelings and experiences very openly on social media. It helps people. It helps me. I cannot be a force of positivity if I’ve given up.

It’s been a year, a gnarly, upsetting, insane, stressful year, and we’re not done. So I am currently getting a handle on my drinking and returning to my bike rides. Taking my vitamins. Getting decent food into my body. Each day I feel a bit better. I’ve got a long way to go yet. But I hit that Pandemic Wall and now I gotta climb over it.

There is another side to all this. I know the wall is high, but there’s help along the way: steps and safety nets and ropes and ladders and friends and loved ones, all climbing that wall.

I didn’t survive my own suicide in 2017 to have a pandemic ruin the rest of my life. I made a Truce with Life after my death and I will stick to it. I can help people. I am a survivor. There’s no wall that is impenetrable to me.

Exhausted as I am, I will persevere and do better, every day, so I can be strong for others. Come what may, I will continue to Live my Truce and regain my hope.

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M Dawn

About M Dawn

M Dawn Sherman grew up in Pacific Grove and has spent most of their life on the Monterey Peninsula. M is an outspoken advocate for suicide awareness and LGBTQ rights.

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