I need to start by putting in a trigger warning. People who are having a mental crisis or are easily triggered by thoughts and discussion about suicide or depression should not read this article.
For everyone, the National Suicide Hotline is: 1-800-273-8255. If you are having suicidal thoughts or feel you are at risk of hurting yourself, please reach out to someone for help.
I should also state that I am not a doctor. I have no medical training. So any thoughts I have about coping with depression are personal and should not be considered professional advice.
So now that everyone is probably sufficiently on high alert as to the topic of the blog, I will start with saying that I have never been on the brink of actually committing suicide. But as someone who has dealt with depression, sometimes severe, I can't say I've never thought about it.
With the recent high profile suicides of designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain, a very public discussion about suicide erupted.
And sorting through the thoughts, both sympathetic and angry, it's clear that people generally fall into two groups: people who understand and people who don't.
I don't want to get into the religious debate about suicide. I don't follow a religious practice so I have nothing to offer to that argument.
I'm also not going to delve into the very real connection between addiction to drugs and alcohol and depression. Addiction is not something I've ever really struggled with so while I can logically explain why people mask their depression with addiction, I can't offer any personal experience with it.
What I can offer are some personal insights on depression as I've experienced it, and hopefully shed some light for people who can't understand how easily people who suffer from depression can decide that suicide is an option.
For people who don't suffer from clinical depression, suicide must be confusing and scary. In general, our society puts a stigma on death. It's something to be feared and avoided at all costs. Just growing older has become something that we try to fight off with plastic surgery, exercise, supplements—even just our mindset. We are told to think of sixty as the new forty, because we are told that we should want to be younger. We should want to live forever.
But from my own personal experience, what depression has created for me is a world that feels difficult to live in. Depression makes everything about living feel complicated and it's as if I can physically feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. All my senses get heightened to the point where the only way to survive is to shut them off—to try and numb myself to my feelings as much as possible. But once I am numb, then the idea of living altogether becomes distant. Joy is numbed. Hope is numbed. The panic is numbed, but the feelings of sadness and hopelessness are still there.
When I am in a state of deep depression, I become my own worst enemy. My mind becomes a weapon that it uses against itself. Every moment of my life past, present, and future are broken down into little bombs that are used to break down memories of happiness, achievement, or hope.
And then my instincts of survival kick in and I start to try and fight my negative thoughts with positive thoughts. But that requires even more energy. I can find myself semi-comatose for hours simply trying to survive the battle that is being waged inside my mind.
The weight of my thoughts become so heavy that it requires all my energy to simply survive them. There's very little energy left to do things like get out of bed.
And during the times in my life when I have been severely depressed and still had to function, I have had to force myself to pretend to be a regular human being. I do things mechanically, using my ability to numb all my feelings to simply survive day to day.
But all that does is give my brain another weapon to use against me, reminding me that I am pretending, and that nothing I'm doing is being done very well. And the numbing effect can lead to detachment, where I feel as if I'm watching myself live my life. I can almost see myself outside my body doing things. But it doesn't feel real. And if nothing I do feels real, what am I doing?
Life becomes very confusing. And there is the constant push and pull of my brain telling me that nothing I'm doing matters, and the part of my heart that tells me that my husband and my daughter need me.
When I've been in the worst of my depression, my thoughts tell me that all I am doing is making people around me unhappy. It tells me that no matter what I do, nothing will make me feel better. There are times my brain convinces me that I'm not capable of doing anything. My brain tells me that no matter what I do, nothing will feel good and nobody around me will be able to be happy because I'm not happy.
And when I am in that place, then my existence feels pointless.
And if my existence is pointless, then my life is pointless. And if my life is pointless, then my death isn't significant.
And even more importantly, the mind decides that death would be a relief. Death is the only lasting way to escape myself. And death is the only way to release those who love me from the pain of having to deal with me.
In those darkest of moments, I truly do believe that my family would be happier without me.
And for those people who can't understand how people who are successful could be suicidal, you have to understand that depression makes everything a burden. Achievements become burdens. Success becomes a burden. Success means people expect more of you—there is more pressure to continue to be successful. Success means there are more people depending on you to continue to be the successful version of you. Success means that there is even more likelihood of failure.
I have been very fortunate to have discovered early on in my life that being a high achiever in a conventional sense wasn't going to be sustainable for me. I pushed myself to the brink of destruction when I was younger, and nearly burned myself out. It was only the love and support of my family that allowed me to step back. It's only now with the benefit of hindsight that I see I was on a path of self-destruction. But I didn't recognize it at the time because it seemed like being a high achiever meant I was a success.
But for people with depression, success can be destructive. Success adds to the feelings of failure because our successes don't bring us lasting happiness. Success brings more pressure to continue to succeed.
But when I was young, I didn't know what I was feeling. All I knew was that starting at around 15 or 16 years old, I was having difficulty getting out of bed. I was riddled with self-doubt—and I was exhausted. I felt as if I'd already lived three lifetimes. Because mentally I had lived beyond my years. Mentally I felt a thousand years old.
Now, with many years of experience, and with the help of medication, I find that I am able to manage my depression. I still have bad episodes, but there is that little bit of room between the depression and my heart that allows me to survive.
And I have learned to take it day by day. It's similar to the experience I have heard some alcoholics speak about their addiction. They never stop wanting to have a drink. Or smokers, who never lose the desire to smoke a cigarette. My depression is always there, lurking. I'm never free of the weight that depression adds to my life. I have learned to acknowledge that it's part of me.
And I've learned to not hide it. I've learned to not be ashamed of it.
By not hiding it, it takes some of its power over me away. The pressure to pretend like I'm not depressed made being depressed exponentially more difficult to survive. And I'm not embarrassed by my depression anymore. In fact, I've learned that by being open about my depression, it makes it easier for my close friends to understand me.
Because of my depression, I know my attitude towards being alive is not the same as it is for other people. I feel old and worn out. If I mentally felt a thousand over twenty years ago, you can imagine how old I feel now.
Simply being alive does often feel like a burden for me. But I work every day to acknowledge the joys I have. And I get pleasure from the joys that my friends and loved ones have. And I survive. I live.
I hope nobody reading this article feels sad for me. Honestly, I don't feel sad about my life. I think if I felt sad about my life, I wouldn't be able to write about it. I am extremely fortunate. I truly feel fortunate. I have an incredible family and I have had incredible opportunities during my life. Being depressed doesn't mean I don't ever feel happiness.
I life a very good life. And I recognize I live a very good life. For people who don't know me, my life looks incredible. And from my point of view, my life is incredible. But I do struggle with depression. It's just part of who I am.
And that's why I felt it was important to write about this topic.
Depression is not a logical thing. It strikes people of all ages, races, economic levels, success levels, so there's no way to know who is suffering. And everyone deals with their depression differently.
I'm hoping that sharing some of my experiences and feelings will help other people who may have had similar feelings feel less stigmatized by them. Or perhaps it can help people who don't suffer from depression understand the experiences of friends and loved ones who do.