Many moons ago when I was mired in a deep and chronic depression, I was contemplating suicide. I didn’t talk about it much, but I did mention it to my BFF. I’ll never forget what she said, though I haven’t quite followed her advice in the meantime. She said, “Don’t kill yourself yet. Give yourself a year to do whatever the hell you want and then see how you feel about it.”
Of course, she wasn’t advocating that I kill myself–far from it. She was trying to reframe the depression that had me feeling like complete and utter crap on a daily basis. Her point was that if I was going to kill myself (and, again, emphasizing that she was not advocating for it in any way), I should go out with no regrets. Her suggestion was that I make a list of all the things I wanted to do, do them for a year, and then see how I felt then.
Unfortunately, I was too far into my depression at the time to actually follow her advice, but I find it on my mind now that I’m in the midst of another depression. It isn’t as severe as the last one, and I’m very aware that it’s external rather than internal, but it’s still rather debilitating. There are several small things I need to do (new glasses, tire change, get a new insurance card), and I keep saying I’ll do it tomorrow, next Monday, etc. Rationally, I know that each one is no big deal, but they seem almost insurmountable in my mind.
I’ve written before how much energy it takes to do anything, let alone anything outside of my comfort zone. It’s easy to think someone with depression is lazy, but that’s because it’s hard to gauge the energy depleted from the outside. When I go to taiji, for example, I start thinking about it the night before. I remind myself when I’m leaving after running through my agenda for the day in my mind. Then, the next day, I have it in the back of my mind the entire time I’m doing whatever else leads up to the actual departure. Then, I get up at the assigned time, go out for a quick smoke, get dressed/shower/brush my teeth/go to the bathroom/do what needs to be done before leaving. I grab my weapons bag, my water container, my canvas bag (for the co-op), and my purse. Then, I place everything in the car just so, pull on my sunglasses, put on some lip goo, before finally opening the garage door.
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.
I have struggled with depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem all my life. I don’t remember much of my childhood, but the memories I do have are mostly negative. I remember walking home from elementary school, my stomach in knots. There was a much older girl* who would wait for me to pass by, then she would taunt me as I did. I have no idea why she got off on picking on me, but I dreaded the three blocks I had to walk home from school. She wasn’t there every day or even most days, but in some ways, that made it worse. I never knew when I’d see her, which meant every walk home was a chore for the first block. I don’t know how long this went on until one day, I just burst into tears as she yelled whatever it was she chose to yell my way. She immediately stopped making fun of me and wiped away my tears, saying I had pretty hair. She didn’t bother me after that, and to this day, I have no idea why my crying affected her so much. Thinking back, my guess would be that she had an unhappy life herself and took it out on me. My crying reminded her that I was a human being and not a punching bag. Alternately, she might have thought she was teasing me good-naturedly, that we were buddies of some sort, and was mortified when I started crying.
I didn’t have many friends in elementary school. I was always the weird kid who’d rather read than play. In addition, I grew up in the suburbs in Minnesota in the eighties, so I was one of only a few nonwhite faces at my school. I don’t remember many instances of outright racism except the occasion chant of ‘Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these’ with the accompanying pulling of the eyelids, but nor do I remember many overt expressions of friendship, either. I was a lonely kid, fat, awkward, highly intelligent, and hiding a dysfunctional home life. I felt like an outsider for so many reasons, and I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to be friends with me. I wouldn’t want to be friends with me if I weren’t me, so why should anyone else? I spent as much time in my own head as I possibly could because I hated the world around me. I was seven when I realized I would die one day. It simultaneously terrified and relieved me. I couldn’t imagine being alive, and, yet, I couldn’t imagine living for very much longer.
Like many people, I consume social media on a daily basis–mostly Twitter with a healthy side of Facebook. Several years ago, my brother pushed me to join both, and I resisted with all my might. “I don’t like people!” I cried, digging in my metaphorical heels. After he pestered me for a week or so, I reluctantly gave in. I started slowly, just dipping my toe in the social media pool. After a few months, however, I was all in. I started tweeting and Facebooking with abandon, enjoying the freedom of saying whatever the hell I wanted whenever I wanted. In the beginning, I spent more time on Facebook, posting the results of all the FB quizzes I took every day. Believe me, I was fucking annoying with that shit. Then, for whatever reason, I gravitated more towards Twitter, probably because I got heavily into politics after Obama’s election, and Twitter is more real-time than is Facebook. In addition, someone on Facebook reported me for ‘inappropriate content’, and my account was temporarily suspended.* I hopped over to Twitter and didn’t look back.
At first, Twitter was like crack to me. I was a heavy user, and I felt as if I was involved in a community. I mostly followed people who were into politics because that’s what my passion was at the time. It was exciting to talk about these issues with people from all over the world. Then, after PBO’s reelection, I started to sour on Twitter. Why? Because most of the political talk wasn’t an actual discussion–it was the same old people saying the same old thing. No matter what PBO said or did, people would react in the same way they always did, depending on who they were. Conservatives hated everything he did, of course, and wanted to see his birth certificate, too. Progressives were never satisfied, always wanting PBO to go further than he did. If they were feeling generous, they said he was a good Republican president. If they weren’t, they called him an Uncle Tom and worse. PBO stans thought he couldn’t do anything wrong. Any criticism against him, they declared it was because of racism or Republican obstruction. I’m a huge supporter of President Obama, but that doesn’t mean I think he’s perfect. There are things he’s done/not done that I’m critical of, and I think that should be OK. What I realized, however, is that the people who were complaining about W. being a dictator weren’t mad because he was one, they were mad because he wasn’t their dictator. So, the people who voted for the angry black man** were furious because he meant what he said about trying to work with Republicans.