The road to recovery
DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS "I stabbed myself seven times," says Barbara Heigele Banditelli, describing what was the lowest day of her life.
Barbara Banditelli remembers the day she wrote her farewell note to family.
On Sept. 11, eight years ago, depression and prescription drug addiction had smothered her last ounce of mental strength. She felt she simply couldn't go on.
"I wrote a note to my husband, family and friends, stating I was ending my life," said the Tamaqua mother of two.
Nobody saw it coming, not even medical professionals.
Banditelli recalls telling her psychologist everything was going just fine.
But it wasn't.
For reasons still unclear, Banditelli took those daring, final steps to leave a world which was, for her, fraught with pain.
"I said 'I love you all. You all tried to help me but I just can't deal with all of the drugs and life anymore.'"
And then she did the unthinkable.
"I laid a tarp on the cellar floor so there wouldn't be a mess for my husband to clean up. Then I took a knife from the kitchen and started stabbing myself."
Banditelli plunged the long blade deep into her chest, trying to reach her heart.
"I stabbed myself seven times and kept pushing the blood out."
Ultimately, she collapsed.
"I remember my husband and twin sister finding me lying on the floor. He yelled to Erla to call 911. Next, I remember being lifeflighted."
Clinging to life, Banditelli remembered hearing nurses aboard the helicopter saying "I can't believe she's still living."
Turns out, Banditelli had done considerable damage to herself.
She punctured a lung, broke four ribs and just missed other vital organs.
At St. Luke's University Hospital-Bethlehen, Banditelli woke up tethered to all kinds of machines, still not understanding what had happened.
Yes, she had plenty of reasons to be sad, like many other folks.
Her mother, Shirley Stolbov Heigele, passed away young, when Banditelli was only 3.
"My dad always said she was never the same after giving birth to my sister and me. They set up a bed in the living room and I remember we were allowed to see her for only five minutes at a time."
At Tamaqua Area High School, Banditelli wasn't particularly satisfied and didn't enjoy studying. She felt she didn't fit in.
"I always had low self-esteem. I felt like I was the black sheep of the family."
But she doesn't cite any of that as reasons for her depression. She just doesn't know.
In any case, she began a long road of hospitalization for physical healing, followed by institutionalization for mental rehabilitation.
There were plenty of setbacks along the way.
In September 2011, she learned she had a brain aneurysm and had to undergo extensive surgery.
She also was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
Today, at age 58, she's still recovering and learning. But she has begun anew.
She talks about her experience in order to convince others that help is just around the corner, even if you don't know why you're depressed.
Banditelli doesn't want anybody to go through what she had to endure.
She sometimes feels medication might've been responsible for pushing her over the edge. But she just doesn't know.
"I was taking seven Ambien to go to sleep," she said.
She sought help from a psychiatrist. But he put her on more drugs.
"I was on 13 meds a day."
The drugs, essentially, put her in a stupor.
"I sat in the house for seven years."
Even worse, her thought processes were altered and she was no longer herself.
In fact, she was at her lowest point on that day in the kitchen. She looked at a knife and sensed the presence of what she perceived as the devil.
She still can't figure out what happened ... whatever might've been happening in her mind. But at this point, it doesn't matter.
In some ways, the attempted suicide saved her life because it started her on the road to better health.
She knows the demons are in the past.
With support of her loving husband, Joe, nicknamed "Bandit," and loving brothers, sisters and friends, Banditelli slowly weaned off the majority of the prescription drugs.
She started taking an interest in things. She soon began to discover beauty in all that surrounds her.
For instance, her brother presented her with a piece of decorative glass as a gift. The small gesture sparked her interest in colorful Depression glass, very popular in the 1920s and '30s.
The array of brilliant hues in antique glassware lifts her spirits, especially during bland winter months when the landscape is dark and gray.
She's also become fascinated by Swarovski crystal and the incredible rainbows of reflection it casts when sunlight hits it just right.
Banditelli has regained her strength, both mentally and physically, and is devoted to helping others.
That's why she decided to step forward and tell her story.
"We must talk about this serious disease," she said. "If you're depressed, please seek help. Don't be afraid to talk."
She said one of the most important things is to open up. Tell everybody about your feelings of depression. Don't be afraid or ashamed to ask for help.
Banditelli offers counseling to others in treatment, in crisis and in recovery.
"I have a list of 20 or 30 people. I call them regularly and I keep a journal," she said.
She is convinced the road to better health is there for people who seek it. But you must have the will to make it happen.
That's the crux of her message.
"You have to want to get better."
And Banditelli wants to show the way.
In a sense, she's been to hell and back. And now it's time to use her experience to protect others.
"I'm doing things to help people. That's why I was put on this earth," she said.
"This is my mission."