Content Note: In this post, I’m going to talk frankly about suicide, suicidal thoughts and ideation, and severe or chronic depression. Please don’t read if these things are trigger points for you because I want you to take good care of yourself.
Anthony Bourdain’s suicide spurred a lot of thought about suicide in me–and pain. Actual pain for a man I had never met and hadn’t really thought about except tangentially over the past few years. Here’s part one of my thoughts and musings on the subject. Let me expand on these thoughts, starting with the last one: stopping the stigma surrounding depression and suicide.
There is still a lingering belief that you can conquer depression by pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. “Just think positive thoughts!” “There are people who have it much worse than you do!” By the way, this last one? Never say it to someone. Ever. I don’t care what the circumstance is, it’s a shitty thing to say regardless. Yes, it’s true someone has it worse, but someone also has it better. Plus, someone else’s suffering doesn’t negate your own. In addition, while gratitude for what you have is a good thing, it’s not helpful to have someone else scold you for not being properly grateful enough. And, again, it touches on my earlier points. We already know what we have to be grateful for. We already know whatever it is you think you’re telling us. Or conversely, there are plenty of people who have pretty rough lives. No, it may not be starving in a refugee camp, but that doesn’t negate that it’s still shit.
“Mind over matter!” “The mind can do anything!” The last is from a story I heard on NPR about someone who had to deal with a close friend dying by suicide (and had interviewed him about his suicidal thoughts before he (the friend) actually did it) and later, the brother of the friend who died by suicide as well. The friend’s therapist told him this, and I was appalled. Want to know my own therapist’s (my last and best one) take on this? When I was telling her that I felt I should be able to think my way out of depression, she said to me, “Minna, your brain is what got you here in the first place.” It was a light bulb moment for me, and while it didn’t stick around long, it did plant a seed that continued to flourish.
Side note: Drugs. There’s a disturbing trend for some people (both on the right and the left, for vastly different reasons) to decry antidepressants at the top of their lungs. Whether it’s because they’re ‘not natural’, ‘pushed by Big Pharma’, or ‘turn to God instead’, they need to STFU. I am not the person to go immediately to drugs, but I also know that they can help–they really can. I’ve been on three of them, all in the SSRI family–Prozac, Zoloft, and Celexa), and each one really helped me for approximately a year. Unfortunately for me, the effectiveness wore off, and when I tried them again, the result was disastrous. They actually made me suicidal, and I hastily had to get off them stat. By the way, a side note to the side note: During this period, I had a doctor’s visit. Because of the suicidal thoughts, I couldn’t eat, and I lost nearly twenty pounds in two months. My doctor, who was a fanatic about weight (side note to the side note to the side note: she was a fairly new doctor to me. I had to leave my last one for stressful reasons), noted approvingly that I had lost weight. I explained the situation and said it was because I was deeply suicidal. She faltered for a few minutes then quipped feebly, “Well, it doesn’t matter why you lost the weight as long as you did it!” I was shocked by what she said, and I never went back. Later, in retelling the story, I realized that she probably felt deeply uncomfortable by what I’d said and joking about it was her way to deal with the discomfort. This is a perfect illustration of what not to say to someone who is in a lot of pain, but it’s not uncommon.
I know it’s difficult to be with a friend who is seriously depressed. I’ve been both the depressed and the friend of the depressed, and while the former is harder, the latter is no walk in the park, either. It’s hard to see someone you love suffering so much without wanting to do something about it. In addition, let’s address the elephant in the room–a severely depressed person may not be the most pleasant person to be around. In addition to being self-destructive, they may lash out at anyone who is near them. Part of my own depression was pushing away people I loved and pursuing people who were incapable of loving me because deep down I didn’t feel I deserved love. I was never outright nasty to my friends, but it’s not uncommon. And, as in the case with any kind of relationship, the friend in question should not feel guilty about setting boundaries with their depressed loved one.