That’s an awful lot of people, but I never expected to become one of them. I have always been known for my sunny, cheerful nature and natural ease in social situations. Neither was I an anxious person. How could someone like me become so anxious and depressed I actually contemplated taking my own life? The truth is I don’t know the answer. On paper, there’s nothing in my life that could make me feel this bad. I have a good marriage, a job I love and am financially secure. I have a decent group of friends and time to indulge in my hobbies. But some of the resources online that talk about depression are less than helpful.
“Focus on the positives,” they say. “Think of all the good things in your life.”
But that doesn’t make me feel better. It makes me feel worse because if I concentrate on the good things in my life, I feel selfish and overprivileged. Other people have far worse problems than I do. The truth is depression is common and is not always situational (e.g. a response to trauma or a bereavement). And the thing about depression is it lies to you, tells you you’re worthless and a burden and it’s not easy to ignore its insidious voice.
So after months of trying medication after medication, I was getting progressively worse to the point where I had completely lost hope. The crushing feeling of despair that things were never going to get better was overwhelming, and what had been fleeting thoughts of suicide suddenly crystallized into a plan. I even had the music I wanted to play. It was a stupid and dangerous plan, one that could have inadvertently hurt other people and it was that thought that stopped me. I had no desire for anyone to be hurt because of me. Instead, I called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline3 (1-800-273-8255, or text the 2-letter abbreviation for your state to 741741).
I was in my car in a parking lot and they told me to stay where I was until the crisis team found me. The police showed up and asked me a few questions before taking me off to a crisis center for evaluation. At the crisis center, I was handcuffed to be taken inside. My shame and humiliation, already at a high level, increased dramatically.
Inside the crisis center, it was a chaotic scene. Most of the people there were either drunk or high. The staff were nice but seemed harried and overstretched. Eventually, I was assessed and referred to a local hospital for inpatient treatment. The whole thing took hours and I got no sleep that night. The next day I was distressed and scared and nobody was telling me what was happening. My husband was desperately trying to get in contact with me but they had my cellphone and nobody would tell him anything or let him see me. I understand why, but it was very difficult for him.
Despite the rough beginning, it was exactly what I needed. Enclosed in this cocoon where the outside world could not penetrate, I could concentrate on myself for a while. I spent about a week in the hospital, and now I am out again, I’m looking at the world with new eyes.
Maybe you’d argue I’m oversensitive, but every time someone uses suicide hyperbolically in casual conversation, it hurts me. My throat clogs and my eyes burn. Because now I understand what it means to truly want to die.
If someone you know (or a celebrity) dies by suicide:
Don’t say you never expected it. The truth is, you have no idea. Some people, like me, are very good at faking it.
Don’t tell a suicidal person they have so much to live for. It’s not as helpful as you might think.
Don’t call suicide selfish. I used to think this but that’s because I didn’t understand. A depressed person often believes their death would be beneficial to the people in their life because they feel like a burden.
If someone in your life has depression:
Be supportive. That means being understanding if they don’t want to socialize, or aren’t feeling chatty. Be willing to listen if they want to talk, but don’t ask them how they’re feeling every 5 minutes.
Encourage them to seek help. There are resources out there, although they’re terribly overstretched. Reference 3 can help you find local resources.
Things have gotten better for me. My psychiatrist has added another medication, I’m going to start attending group therapy as well as my weekly individual therapy sessions and I’m going to try transcranial magnetic stimulation4. The new medication is already helping, and I’m investing in some wellness measures as well. I’m grateful to everyone who has been helping me. It’s still a daily battle and I’m a long way from winning this war, but now at least, I have hope.