Wednesday, August 20, 2014

On Depression (Trigger warning: depression/suicide)

The tragic death of Robin Williams has garnered a lot of attention for depression and other mental illnesses. I loved that man, and many of his roles really touched my life. (My favorite being John Keating from Dead Poets' Society, especially toward the beginning of the movie when he quotes Walt Whitman.) I mourn his loss, which leaves the world a little darker, and hope his family can find comfort and peace.

I've written fairly candidly before about my struggle with depression, with the focus of that post mainly on my experiences surrounding David's pregnancy. There are numerous posts circulating the web now, some focusing on the clinical aspects of mental illness and depression, some reaching out in solidarity and comfort, and some...well, some horrible, awful posts that decry suicide and depression as being selfish. I won't link the worst offender because I really despise the writer and don't want to give his blog traffic, but suffice it to say, it was an awful post that left me fuming. Livid. Enraged. And I don't lose my temper very easily these days.

After Robin Williams' death, I posted this status update on Facebook with a link to a really great article: "As someone who suffers from clinical depression and has, in the past, contemplated suicide on more than one occasion, I agree wholeheartedly with this article. I'll greatly miss the light and laughter Robin Williams brought to this world."

The article I shared was this one from The Guardian, which really does merit reading.

I'm pretty up front about myself and the struggles I've dealt with throughout my life. Mainly because I feel it's important to be authentic, but also because so much of what I've dealt with (abuse, depression, miscarriage, etc.) seems to be a taboo topic that people acknowledge but no one really wants to talk about. Well, I'm talking about it. I'm talking about it because while I know myself well enough now to reach out for help, most people who suffer from depression don't have the resources I do. Because no one should have to suffer in silence. Because depression is an illness, not a choice. Because it is real, and it is dark, and it is often completely devoid of hope.

Because it kills people.

It's pretty common for survivors of abuse to deal with depression (for what I think would be common sense reasons). Looking at my own experiences, I can list off some of the biggest issues for me without pause: the physical abuse I suffered and the scars it left, being abandoned by my biological mother who should have protected me, being abandoned by my biological father who could have taken me in, being in foster care, being teased and bullied for years by my peers and the occasional college professor, body image problems, abusive relationships...the list goes on. That's just the tip of the iceberg.

I mentioned on Facebook that I've contemplated suicide more than once in the past. It's true. Several times as a teenager, including one near attempt that was prevented only because my mom arrived home from a shopping trip much sooner than I expected. I was quite literally holding the knife to my arm when the garage door went up (and yes, I knew to do it the "right" way, as I truly intended to die and was not crying out for attention). Just after moving home after getting out of my horribly abusive relationship with a fiance, I was working at a new St. Louis Bread Co.  A branch of my bank was just across the road, so I would usually take my paycheck over during my lunch break. Those first couple of weeks back, more than once I found myself gauging the distance from an oncoming vehicle and wondering if they were driving fast enough to kill me if I jumped in front of the car. I never jumped, mainly because I was terrified I would survive it. During my PPD after Amy's birth/while pregnant with David, I never actively contemplated killing myself, but often thought longingly of death and how nice it would be if I could just go to sleep and never wake up. How much better it would be for my family if I could just die quietly but they could somehow save David. I was always a bit disappointed when I woke up alive in the morning.

I don't talk about this stuff to get sympathy or pity. I talk about it because, to the outside world and even to my family, this is probably news. Difficult to believe, especially since I worked so hard to appear normal. I didn't want to be a burden on anyone. I still don't.

And therein lies the key, at least for me, for suicide caused by depression. It's not really about me, or it doesn't feel like it is. The times I've thought about killing myself, I've considered it because I didn't want to be a burden anymore. I felt like one. I still feel that way sometimes. Because when it's bad, my depression is all-consuming. There IS no light at the end of the tunnel, because there is no end of the tunnel at all. The tunnel doesn't even exist. It's a whirlpool, deep and black and inescapable that just sucks you down. It's a pit of quicksand that pulls you further in the more you struggle. Unavoidable. Inescapable. Inevitable. There is no way out...or at least, that's the way it feels at the time.

For one frightening moment, put yourself in that position. Just try. Imagine that sinking, penetrating blackness. Imagine being unable to see an end to it. Imagine that you recognize the strain your depression puts on your loved ones. Your husband. Your mother. Is it real strain or are you imagining it because of your depression? Impossible to tell, because to you it feels real, and that's all that matters. Reality is skewed. Your thinking is skewed. Maybe, like me, you can tell something is wrong. Maybe, like others, you can't. Imagine being able to only see things getting worse. Imagine the feeling that you're dragging down everyone around you, and you can't stop. You *know* that eventually, they will all be miserable like you are because how could they not, with you around? Eventually, they'll get tired of having to deal with you but they'll continue out of a sense of obligation, because they love you.

They'll be trapped, just like you are, because of you.

And THAT is one way depression kills. Because as miserable as you are, you do not want to put others through what you are dealing with. And at some point, it becomes the logical conclusion--only your death will prevent them being sucked into the quicksand with you. And it would be far better for you to die than to pull them with you into despair and agony.

And in your mind, your illogical, irrational, skewed way of thinking, that makes absolute and perfect sense.

Do I think and feel that way right now? No. My depression seems to be pretty cyclical. I'm on an upswing right now. I feel pretty good about life and myself. I have strong coping mechanisms thanks to the years of counseling. I have a strong support system. I've made sure those closest to me know what to look for in my behavior in case I miss a warning sign. I have resources at my disposal should I need additional counseling or medication again. Because of how my depression works, I know to ask for help when I need it. But most people don't. Most people don't feel like they CAN reach out. It's great that a dialogue on depression has opened. It's great that people are posting the number for the suicide hotline all over Facebook. This discussion NEEDS to happen. Awareness needs to increase, and the taboo surrounding mental illness needs to disappear.

Maybe that can start with me.

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill'd with the foolish,
...--What good amid these, oh me, oh life?

That you are here--that life exists, and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

(Walt Whitman)

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

What will your verse be?

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