Anthony Bourdain died today. He supposedly took his own life. Twitter is now a flutter with threads on suicide, mental health, reaching out, etc. It has me in my feelings, so I’m writing to bear all about my own struggles with mental health.
I think it is so easy for people without depression to make assumptions about what will or won’t help people with depression. Like humanity in general, people come in all different shapes and forms, and I think depression may be the same. But for me, personally, a lot of what people throw out there as ways to help with suicidal people isn’t at all helpful. I don’t know what the solution is, but “reach out”, “call the suicide hotline”, “get help” aren’t helpful when a person is in the depths of suicidal ideations.
I’ve suffered depression since I was a teenager. I go through cycles, where twice a year I am just unreasonably depressed and don’t want to do anything. It lasts for about two weeks to a month, and then life resumes as usual. Prior to having children, I would just allow myself to shut down. I’d skip classes or call into work, just lay in bed and sleep it off. I chose not to take medication because I didn’t want to have to be dependent on it. I was foolish that way.
When I had my first daughter, my depression got worse. Postpartum depression and sleep deprivation brought me to a point where I was making plans. I spent hours each night trying to get my daughter to sleep, and as I was stuck in the dark with her, I thought of ways to make it all stop. Giving up sounded so much easier than dealing with the bullshit I was dealing with. It was at that point that I got into contact with a doctor and got on medication.
Not all medication will work. I was on Zoloft first, and that medication made me seriously insane. I was rolling around on the floor, putting my feet on walls, and I couldn’t get myself to stop. It was bizarre. But I changed medication, and I was good for a while. When I got pregnant again, I stopped my medication because it wasn’t approved to take with pregnancy.
The day my second daughter was born, I asked my midwife for a new prescription for Prozac. She refused to do it. I don’t even remember why, but it was stupid and I was absolutely pissed off about it. It took me several months before I got bad enough again to reach out for medication.
One of the side effects of Prozac is increased suicidal thoughts. For me, it takes about two to three weeks before those side effects subside. But I was also struggling to remember to take it, so I kept having to start over, kept having those increased suicidal thoughts.
It got bad. Real bad. I was so depressed, so sad, so apathetic, so ready to just be done. But I didn’t want to leave my kids without a mom. I thought about taking them with me. Taking my husband with me. Those stories you hear about whole families dying in murder-suicides… you realize that maybe this is why. Life gets so hard, and you just don’t want to have your family suffer too… so you make a command decision to let no one suffer. I don’t condone it, but I get it.
January 2017, my apathy for life reached such a heightened point that I had to do something. Run away? Take my life? Take everyone’s life? I was desperate. I needed something, anything. I shaved all my hair off. Two feet of hair, gone. It was liberating, but it didn’t solve the problem that my brain was still broken. Is still broken.
Two months later, I hit that low point again. It’s hard to care about getting better when you just want to be done. If I hadn’t had a family, young children to care for, people who cared about me and people who relied on me to care for them, I might have gone through with it. But I didn’t. Instead, I called a mental health place to ask for a psychiatrist. I figured that’s what I needed to find the best medication for me.
I wasn’t suicidal at the time I called, but a week or so before I had been. That’s why I was calling. I didn’t want to feel that way anymore. It was past time to find a new medication. The woman on the phone asked those screening questions:
“Have you had any suicidal thoughts in the last month?”
“In the last week?”
“Do you have a plan?”
“What kind of plan?”
I am ashamed to write this. I don’t want to hurt my children. It is the last thing I would want to do. They’re so young and beautiful and so full of life. But the plan involved them. Them first, then me. I have no guns in the house. My plan involved a bathtub. Just a thought, though. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t watch them struggle. No way. But it was just a thought.
I shared, because I wanted to be honest. I thought that would be the best thing to do. They wanted to get me in that day. I couldn’t, because I had no ride. They made an appointment for the next day. But, being depressed and sad and uncaring, I didn’t get my sleep-deprived ass up in time to drive my husband to work. So I called and rescheduled for later in the week at a time where I knew I could make it. But I guess that wasn’t good enough for them. They tried calling me, but again, depressed, I didn’t answer.
So they sent a cop to my house.
And that cop spent hours trying to tell me how much I matter, and how “clearly you wouldn’t let this house get so messy” if I was mentally healthy (um excuse you?). He forced me to call my husband and demand that he come home. He threatened to take me to the hospital for mental health evaluation. I was so embarrassed and angry. I managed to convince the cop that I wasn’t suicidal, I just wanted different medication. I told him I had rescheduled, and he called the facility to confirm. He seemed a bit annoyed himself that they didn’t bother to tell him this information when they had him come out. But whatever. He didn’t take me away from my home, but he did hold me accountable for going to that appointment. Which I would have done anyway.
It is so difficult to talk to non-depressed people about suicidal ideations. They don’t get it. So I don’t talk about it. I keep it to myself, and I suffer silently while putting on a face of… well, ok-ness. I’m OK, just a little sad, but inside my brain I am constantly battling with those thoughts. I think the brain has multiple parts of thinking, and the area where the suicidal thoughts permeate is right next to that part of logic that says, “you don’t really want to do that.” You argue with yourself, constantly, on what the better choice would be. And sometimes, sometimes… there’s a longing to just. be. done.
When you talk to nondepressed people about depression, they want to fix it. Or they want to pity you. They want to tell you the cliches of how much you’re valued. I shouldn’t call them cliches, but it kind of is. For me, it’s not what I want to hear. I don’t know what I want to hear. It isn’t, “I’m sorry.” It isn’t, “Oh no!” It isn’t, “How can I help?” I think what I want to hear is just…normal stuff. Like the sort of thing you’d conversate about that kind of shows that there’s a future in store. Things like, “How are things progressing in (area of interest)?”
When I’m depressed, I just want to be left alone. Which is probably the worst thing to do when depressed. I don’t want to be pitied over. I don’t want confirmation of being valued or whatever else. I definitely don’t want the police called on me. When I’m at my worst, the last thing I would do is call a suicide prevention number.
When I was 14, I was on the very edge. A knife held to my wrist. I had been talking to a friend on AIM about it, and she talked to the guidance counselor at school, who then pulled me out of class. I was so angry. She did right, but it just made me not want to ever talk to anyone about it. I don’t want to be subjected to that.
I read today someone suggested that if you’re with someone who is depressed is to just sit and be silent next to them. I think I would appreciate that. I think that’s where I would find my value. That even at my lowest, you’re not there to fix me. You’re there to be with me. To make sure I’m ok, and that I don’t do something stupid. That would take a sacrifice on the part of whoever was with me, to be there and be silent. It would probably be hard for that person. But at least in my silent suffering I wouldn’t be alone.
I think, ideally, it would be nice if someone else could advocate for a person with depression. To go out and get that medication. To talk to a counselor on someone’s behalf. To have mobile counselling so that the people who cannot even get themselves out of bed could at least be seen at home without having to go through the grueling task of going out into a world that isn’t kind to the depressed.
I have an appointment later this month to talk to my doctor about new medication and getting into counseling. This is something I’ve decided I’m ready for, and before this moment I wasn’t ready. I don’t think I’m a strong person. I’m quite weak minded. But I might be stronger than others. I have managed to keep on keeping on, despite the multitude of times I’ve thought about doing otherwise. In all honesty, and I believe this to be true in this moment, I don’t think I’ll make it to old age. I think that darkness of my mind will take me out prematurely. I’m hoping the new meds and counseling will quell that feeling.
I certainly will never stigmatize any person – rich, poor, successful, just getting by, anywhere in between – who chooses that moment when they’ve decided it’s just too much and they have had enough. Life is hard. It is so hard. Especially for anyone who has depression. It’s amazing that we have the fortitude to power through it. Truly amazing. The brain can be such a dark place. It is so convincing of awful lies that we know, in our heart of hearts, to not be true, until it gets to a point where it can overwhelm that logical part of us.
This is all just to say there isn’t a magical “one size fits all” solution to depression and other mental illness. Everyone is different, and what would work for me isn’t what would work for someone else. It took me a long time to figure out what was best for me, and even now I’m not even sure what would be best. I still need to find a counselor who meshes will with my values, who will talk to me in a way that won’t make me feel guilty or ashamed or angry. Medication helps, but I still feel there needs to be some adjustment to find what will work just right for me. At some point I’ll figure out how to eat right and exercise and get solid sleep and all the other ‘simple’ things that make dealing with depression easier but is hard to get started when you’re in the depths of it.
Life is hard. Living with depression makes it harder. You do what you can to survive.