September is Suicide Prevention Month, September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day, and the Sunday through Saturday surrounding that day are considered National Suicide Prevention Week. Organization and individuals the world over spend this time trying to raise awareness, reduce the number of suicides that occur, and get help and hope to those that desperately need it.
Depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts are deeply personal; no two people will experiences them in the exact same way. However, we may share many of the same feelings and issues. There are many misconceptions regarding all three afflictions, and the fact that it is so taboo to speak of them allows those myths to continue. Those that know me personally know of my passion to speak about depression. That has not always been the case. Until 2013, after a high school friend’s death by suicide, I was too afraid to be honest with anyone outside of my close circle about my struggles. Now, I strive to break down the walls of silence that contribute to so much suffering and death. Depression and anxiety ARE manageable. Suicide IS preventable. As long as we are willing to talk, and to listen.
With that in mind, in 2014, I wrote a series of essays I called my Five To Stay Alive posts. They were originally published as Notes on my Facebook page, one for each day of National Suicide Prevention Week. In these essays, I shared my own experiences with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, as well as the tools I use, tips on how you can support a loved one who struggles, links to available resources, and inspiring stories/videos. I believe these five pieces may be the keys to keeping you or someone you love alive. Who knows? They are just my stories, things that have helped or inspired me, and I don’t want to be silent about this ever again.
I thought it might be beneficial to republish these pieces, here on my blog, during National Suicide Prevention Week. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a new campaign this year: #BeThe1To. They recommend taking the 5 following steps: ask, keep them safe, be there, help them connect, follow up. Perhaps what I’ve written can help with that. My hope is that my posts might reach someone who needs them, at the right time. Or they might help someone else reach out to someone they love, to let them know they care and they are listening, so that they can be the one. That’s my goal, at least, and I thank you for reading.
My Experience: I’ve spoken with many friends about my openness regarding my depression. It’s was a coming out of the closet type of thing for me. Perhaps coming out of the darkness would be more appropriate. However you see it, it was therapeutic for me. At the same time, I still held back. In part because some aspects of my depression are embarrassing… humiliating even. The other part is because my depression still tells me I need to hide away. That if people saw me for who I really am… well… that would be the end of friends, love, etc. So I decided to facing those fears head on. I’m not looking for sympathy or for anyone to feel sorry for me. I just want to help anyone who reads these words and recognizes themselves in them. I want to say we’re not alone.
My husband once told me that his mind is a dangerous place to be. That was something I could identify with. I can literally lose myself in my mind. Lose any sense of who I really am, and get sucked into the vicious picture painted of me by my darkness. The only way to stop this, for me, is to talk about it.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline started a campaign called “Suicide is preVENTable”. I think it is fantastic. We live in a world where we are bombarded with advice like, “Look on the bright side,” “Don’t dwell on the negative,” “Count your blessings,” “Complain less.” The list goes on. So many of us with depression retreat. We depress. We shrink and hide and stop sharing ourselves. We believe that no one wants to hear it. Or maybe I should just say I. I feel like that. It’s not the way. Talking, writing, sharing, opening up… it takes me further and further from the darkness and gives me lifelines to hold onto.
So I’m going to write. Since I began opening up about depression, many of my friends have opened up to me as well. It has helped me feel less isolated. Less alone. Less like a damaged freak. It’s wonderful when you are able to identify with someone else. I recognize myself in others, and it soothes me. My hope is that by writing and sharing with all of you, anyone who is struggling may have the same experience. My hope is also to help myself, because I’m not entirely (or even close to being) selfless.
Today, I want to focus on sadness, and how that is not my depression. Someone that has not dealt with depression may think that I’m a human version of Eeyore, feeling sorry for myself with a raincloud constantly over my head. That’s not my depression. My depression is a Pandora’s box of negative emotions, the strongest of which are fear and self-loathing. I identify with some of the information found on Wikipedia regarding Major Depressive Disorder, “Major depressive disorder…is a mental disorder characterized by a pervasive and persistent low mood that is accompanied by low self-esteem and by a loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities… A person having a major depressive episode usually exhibits a very low mood, which pervades all aspects of life, and an inability to experience pleasure in activities that were formerly enjoyed. Depressed people may be preoccupied with, or ruminate over, thoughts and feelings of worthlessness, inappropriate guilt or regret, helplessness, hopelessness, and self-hatred.”
I’m afraid of making mistakes, making a fool of myself, and of failing myself or others. I know many people have these fears, but mine leave me gasping for air and incapable of moving at times. I have these fears because I don’t believe I’m good enough. I have these fears because I believe I’m a fuck up that is just going to screw it all up. I believe that I am incapable of succeeding in anything. I believe my darkness. This is what it tells me. And my darkness has been with me since before I can remember. It is the voice I have heard more than any other. It’s taken a long time to realize that it lies to me. It’s taken a long time to realize that I’m in an abusive relationship with my darkness/myself. I am a battered woman, and it’s my own punches that have been thrown. In October 2013, Anne Theriault wrote a piece for Huffington Post, Ten Lies Your Depression Tells You that accurately described some of the lies my darkness tells me.
As with many victims of abuse (even self-inflicted), I also have a poor sense of self-worth/self-esteem. I don’t think I’m pretty, I don’t think I’m worthy. I never have…. But I’m working on it. I’m learning to build my self-esteem from the ground up now. At my lowest, I hide away. I don’t want to see anyone or do anything. Before having my daughter, I could stay in bed all weekend. Thus would begin my cycle: stay in bed, avoid everything, lay there and think about all the things I should be doing, start to feel guilty/bad/overwhelmed, go to sleep. Repeat. Not a lot of self-help there, which brings me to…
My Tools: The first tool I ever used to battle my depression was therapy. I was twelve when I first started therapy, and I’ve gone off and on all of my life. However, it was only as an adult, when I made the decision to go myself and I really committed to the process (including finding a therapist that was right for me) that it started to make a difference. It’s not the only tool I use, but I WOULD NOT BE ALIVE TODAY if it wasn’t for therapy. I truly believe that.
How To Give Support: There are wonderful websites and blogs that have tips for giving support to your loved ones. Here are a few of my favorites:
Resources: When I began therapy again several years ago, I worried about how I could afford it. Then I found a low-fee clinic with a sliding scale counseling program that serves individual adults and children, couples, and families, through both licensed and intern therapists. There are many community mental health centers, and both the National Council for Behavioral Health and SAMHSA can help you find an affordable one in your area.
Share It Forward: I saw this piece some time ago, and it has stuck with me. I posted it over and over on my Facebook page, to bring the point home. There was a time when I would say I suffer from or struggle with depression. Now I know better. I LIVE with depression. And I’m not ashamed of it. Kevin Breel’s Ted Talk, Confessions of a depressed comic, taught me that.