(hi, consider this a HUGE TRIGGER WARNING because I’m talking about depression and being suicidal in here, so if that’s going to trigger you, stop reading NOW)
(also, if you’re going to make a comment or joke about “lol hashtag triggered” you can go run a marathon barefoot over a course of wet food while seaweed tentacle monsters caress you and whisper “moist” in your ear over and over)
I love the Travel Channel, and when I stayed home with Sam–past the point where he needed constant attention and holding every hour or so–I watched a lot of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Between him and Andrew Zimmern, I fell even more in love with travel than I had when it was a regular part of life for me, years and years ago (read: before I had to pick up the tab, thanks Mom and Dad).
They had two disparate styles when it came to approaching the same thing: engaging with the culture of a place in a way that American tourists rarely do. Andrew Zimmern, whose shows still take up a LOT of Travel Channel real estate (I think he’s got three at the moment: Bizarre Foods, Delicious Destinations, and The Zimmern List), tends to respond to 99% of what he encounters with a desperate attempt to be nice about it (the 1% includes some pretty mundane foods, like I think oatmeal is one of them). He’ll say things like “this has an earthy flavor” and I’m 110% convinced that he means “this tastes like poop, but you’ll never catch me saying that.”
Anthony Bourdain, on the other hand, had a delightful snark about him that made him so relatable, never really with a cruelty behind it but rather with an undeniable love for the foods and cultures he met. Sometimes, it sounded like he was less punching down or up but rather punching a mirror, which is… honestly, way too relatable from the position of someone with depression and a snarky sense of humor. Self-deprecation is a good suit of armor, I think.
So the weird thing about being suicidal is that until you hit a moment of crisis, it’s not sitting there with a gun in your hand all the time or a bottle of pills just waiting to be swallowed. A lot of the time–most of the time–you just live with it until something pushes you over the edge and you either get help or die. That’s why so many times, when someone kills themselves, the people around them are shocked and talk about how they never saw it coming: being suicidal becomes such a part of the big knotted lie that is depression that you end up just seeing it as background radiation.
Because until you reach a moment of crisis, it’s not a desire for something active so much as it’s just a passive thing; you don’t so much want to die or kill yourself as you want to just stop. Depression isn’t misery, at least not in the sense that most people understand it…
(much less Kathy Bates, for one thing)
…it’s nothingness. It’s like those foggy, overcast days when the clouds are white and the fog is white and you can’t see 50 feet in front of you or behind you or above you. It feels like neverending bleakness, like all the excitement and happiness and even sadness and anger have just been drained out of everything, and all you really want is for it to stop. It’s relentless, and my god, relentless nothingness is its own special kind of torture. Sometimes, you nominally look forward to things, like woo, yay, going to the beach today, but because depression is an actual chemical imbalance and disorder, even those rare changes don’t really break the monotony, because your brain is too broken to see it.
When I was first coming out of it, I described it to my therapist as wishing I could take a vacation from life overall. Not just my life but life overall, because I couldn’t see things being better or different anywhere I went. And the trouble was, of course, that while I’d have been fine with a temporary vacation, the only way to escape life overall is to die, and that’s a permanent thing.
When that’s your mindset, it doesn’t take a lot to push you from passively not wanting to live anymore to actively wanting to die. I remember for me, it was just one really shitty weekend that pushed me into the crisis where Kyle stepped in and sat there while I made the call to my doctor for an increased dosage of my medication and the call to my therapist for an appointment. That weekend, it was things that were stressful and sad, but in retrospect, really not worth wanting to die over: my grandmother was nearing the end of her life, we were in a tight spot financially, and I think I was having trouble finding a pair of jeans that fit.
Silly things, but I was in a really bad place, and when I was getting dressed to go and say good-bye to my grandmother for the last time, all I could think about was how hey, I have a life insurance policy, so if I died, all of Kyle’s financial problems would be solved, and he and Sam would be okay. Like some wicked little Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life was whispering in my ear, “You’re worth more dead than alive.”
(WE DO, IN FACT, HATE YOU, MR. POTTER)
Which is, of course, the nature of depression. It’s a liar and it fucks with your perception of reality. Everything gets filtered through a brain that’s starving for serotonin and, because of that, can’t conceive of a positive world. It may be true that a person is loved and appreciated and adored, but their brain can’t hear or understand that, because the way it’s been warped and changed keeps it from seeing truths.
That’s why depression doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor, black and white, male and female, gay and straight, trans and cis, old and young. Certain populations may have higher rates of dying from depression, but I’m pretty sure that’s because certain populations are more likely to experience those moments of crisis without having a way out than others. And that said, even the most privileged person of all can be lost if they don’t reach out when that moment of crisis hits.
And that’s another danger of it: depression’s absolute deadliest effect is that it prevents you from reaching out for, oh, any number of reasons. I imagine that, in the case of the many celebrities it’s stolen from us, it gave them the lie that they had no reason to be depressed, that they had everything and that it wasn’t worth bothering someone over, and that fed into the larger and louder lies that depression feeds you all the time: you’re worthless, you’re terrible, you don’t deserve, you can’t, you won’t, you aren’t.
A friend of mine posted, in light of all the talk about depression and suicide, that it’s important to keep that deadliest lie in mind. It’s SUPER important for people with depression to know that they can reach out and get help at any time, that they aren’t weak for doing so, that resources exist to help them; but it’s also important, in light of that deadliest lie, to check in on your friends and make sure they know that they can be honest with you if they’re in a bad spot, because that bad spot is telling them that they’re worth more dead than alive, that their loved ones will be happier without them, that things are always going to be this way.
It’s what saved me, honestly. I’m terrible at acting happy when I’m in a downswing, and when I had that worst downswing, I was almost never alone: Kat lived with us, Sam was always with me, Kyle worked from home one day a week and was home all weekend, and my mom stopped by regularly. The three adults in the picture noticed I was acting worse than usual and intervened; Kyle stepped in and made me get help, knowing that depression lies, and I would have tried to go it on my own without him. And as for Sam, he helped me stay alive to the point where Kyle could intervene, because for however else I felt, I couldn’t let my baby deal with losing me (in that way or any other… the latter of which gave me anxiety, but hey, good news, the medication that treats my depression also treats anxiety!).
What should you glean from this?
As well-intentioned as it is to say “talk to me, reach out to someone, if you’re in that place of crisis,” sometimes, you have to be the one to do the work. Sometimes, a person is so lost that they can’t even conceive of reaching out for help, so it’s important to check on people, if you know they have depression or have struggled with suicidal thoughts in the past. Even something as simple as sending someone a message on Facebook or a text saying, “Hey, I just wanted to see how you’re doing?” can help.
Handle those moments of crises delicately. You don’t need to have on kiddy gloves or to beg them to live, but give them something to look forward to out of that moment, something tangible with a definite time frame, something that will pull them out of that moment of crisis long enough to get the help they need, whether it’s because you hold their hand as they make the call or not. I remember reading one story about someone who was pulled out of a moment of crisis because a friend messaged them to talk about the new Star Wars movie coming out (this back before The Force Awakens, when the last thing we had was “I love you like I’m blind” and its ilk).
(very dark times)
(I can’t 100% guarantee that this works, but it’s a strategy I’ve seen touted pretty often. And awesomely enough, Deadpool–the comic book–did a really great bit about this sort of strategy a little while back)
The big point is getting someone out of that moment of crisis, throwing them a life float so that they can get into the boat and get to dry land. It’s a mental health CPR, if you will, that doesn’t necessarily solve the underlying problem, but rather gets a person stable so that they underlying problem can be solved. And sometimes, you do need to help them take those next steps and make them call people and do what they must to get well again.
So reach out to your friends, and if you, yourself feel like you can’t go on, take it from someone who’s been where you are right now: there is hope. There is a tomorrow. You can be well. You can find joy again. You can see the fog roll away to reveal sunshine and rain and thunderstorms and snow and everything in between. You will have sunny days again. I promise.
SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE: 1-800-273-8255