Humanity

He Told Me I Was Flatlining

*Warning: This post discusses depression and suicide. Please read with discretion and an open mind, and if you are in crisis please call 911 immediately.

This post is written by a friend who suffers from clinical depression. This very brave and courageous piece is written from her very dark place, as she struggles to reach the light. Please support her on her journey, and show her all the love she deserves.

He told me I was flatlining and he was right.

I was only 28, and I was dying – at least on the inside, in my mind, in my soul. In reality, I already felt like I no longer existed. I was no longer able to experience any extremes in emotion. I could barely remember what it is like to feel real joy or anger or grief. There is only a sense of emptiness that never leaves; a deep sense of loss, about everything and about nothing. The only pain I felt was the effort of trying to exist, trying to smile every day, pretending to be normal so no one would worry about me.

That’s what is so strange about depression. At least for me. In reality, I had nothing to feel sad or empty about. My life was great. Ok – maybe not GREAT, but certainly not terrible! I had a loving family that was always there for me when I needed them. I had great friends, pets, a decent paying job, the ability to travel. So what the hell did I have to feel so bad about? Well, nothing…and EVERYTHING…all at the same time. But the sadness, the emptiness, was never about my life. I had a good life…I just didn’t want to BE alive.

Yup – CRAZY!!

And I still am.

To anyone looking in, I have a wonderful life. I have a loving, supportive husband, a wonderful child and step children, exceptional parents, own my own business, have a beautiful home…and yet I am barely functioning. Today I have forced myself out of bed. Trying to commit to getting work done. And then I just sit, staring blankly at the computer. I get up, go downstairs to do some work there, and I stop. And I stare. And I turn around and go back upstairs. And I sit. And I stare. I pour another cup of coffee, light another cigarette and try to push myself to be productive. Except right now, being productive means committing to staying alive. That’s about as much as I can muster. I’m not even sure when I showered last. Four days ago? Which isn’t so bad I guess, since I went seven days without one last week.

I told on myself two nights ago. I asked for help from friends. I picked another giant fight with my husband so that he will leave. I have been doing it for weeks now, and I have suddenly realized that what I was doing was mimicking what I have done before. I have also planned my son’s summer so that he is barely home. Currently, I have sent my son off for two weeks to my mom’s house. I know I am getting closer each day to the final battle. I am getting to the point where I am freeing myself of relationships and obligations. The last part to go will be the guilt. I am preparing. And so I left and went to a friend’s for help.

And ironically, the same friend who recognized the signs of suicide and stopped my attempt 14 years ago was here to kick me in the ass again. She understood that my struggle is not with my husband – it is with myself. She knows that I am most afraid of being seen as weak, and that I put on a front that I am well. She reminded me that those living with depression are not weak. The ones who stay and fight the demons in our head are the strong ones. Asking for help takes more courage and strength than giving in. And so, I am fighting my demons today by writing.

Depression can be akin to torture. It comes at you in increments. It wears you down. It makes you weak. It confuses you and lies to you and sometimes it even seems to stop – but only briefly, while it laughs at you for having hope, and then it starts its torments again.

It can be easily hidden at fist. There are ways to excuse what’s happening inside you: “It’s just stress. As soon as this big project is over, I’ll be better”; “I’m just tired, I just need to get more sleep”; “It’s the season: Once spring comes, I will feel motivated and alive again.” You tell yourself to just keep smiling on the outside – eventually the inside will catch up.

It can start as a little annoyance – like the hiccups…irritating, but tolerable for a short duration. If it is dealt with early, sometimes it can be minimized, even paused. If it is not dealt with early, it can be likened to water torture – the kind you see in the movies: There is a wet cloth over your mouth and nose, making it more difficult to breathe, but still manageable. Then, someone is steadily pouring water over the cloth. You must struggle for air when the water stops, inhale as deeply as you can with a rag over your mouth, and then hold your breath for the next round of water. You force yourself to keep breathing when you can and hold your breath for as long as possible in between until the torture eventually stops. Surely it will stop! You convince yourself that at some point the torturer will tire, and you will win…eventually you will be able to breathe freely again.

Except, the other alternative is that you drown. Depression CAN kill you. For some of us, we lose the will to hold our breath any longer. Drowning becomes our only release from the torture and the torturer that lives within us that we can never fully escape from. And, we get to finally feel a sense of control over something – we get to decide when to stop holding our breath. Ultimately, some consider THAT winning – our final “FUCK you” to a brain that will forever find new ways to torment and torture us.

I was lucky the first time – because my friend recognized the signals I was sending out the night I had planned to take my life. She caught signals that I had not intended to send. I was in the stage of giving things away and tying up loose ends – so that I could release any lingering guilt that had kept me from going through with it until that day. I certainly didn’t feel very lucky when it ended up with me in hospital for two weeks under suicide watch. My father told me later, that his most painful moment as a parent was when he visited me in the hospital the day after and saw in my eyes that I was angry that I was still alive.

That is when I met Dr. B. The one who told me I was flat-lining. He was the hospital Psychologist that I was assigned to see after I refused to continue with the hospital Psychiatrist that had done nothing more than prescribe pills that I would not take, and kept wanting me to talk about my break up with my boyfriend. He was convinced that was the precipice of my would-be attempt. IDIOT! How can someone that is supposed to be so well educated on depression be so fucking stupid?? I was freeing myself from relationships and responsibilities. I had known for months that I was going to take my life. I just didn’t want it to mess up anyone else. The guilt over how it would impact my family and friends was the only thing keeping me alive during that time.

I knew that suicide was the most selfish thing a person could do. I had learned that it was a ‘permanent solution to a temporary problem’ – at least, that was the motto I was going to use in the suicide awareness group I had tried to start at my high school – right after I had been selected by the staff to become a peer councillor, and right before I quit school at age 16.

By age 28, that ‘temporary problem’ still existed for me and it had exhausted me. I just didn’t have the will to fight my torturer any longer. My brain was not my friend. I was tired of fighting it. I saw no purpose for my existence. Actually, I saw no purpose for any existence, human or otherwise. What the hell was the ultimate purpose? Children starving, rape, murder, incest, cruelty to animals, kill or be killed mentality of all life forms. WHY? What was the purpose of life? What was my purpose? There was no way for me to stop children from starving or being abused. I could not control draught or famine in the third world. I could do nothing to eliminate the suffering of others. I couldn’t even control my own brain!

I had endured a few traumas in my life, but nothing really more than the average person, at least from my perspective. My conviction to no longer exist was never served with a side helping of “woe is me”. It was never about feeling my life was terrible. There were never any day dreams about who would miss me and who would come to my funeral. I knew I had a good life. The problem was I could not enjoy it. Joy did not exist for me, regardless of how hard I tried. To me, THAT was selfish. I was taking up space and resources in a world that meant nothing to me, and I meant nothing to it. I was very pragmatic and practical about it.

Life had become a constant battle. Not a daily struggle, but hourly if not every minute. I had done my best to win. I got up every morning (well, most mornings) because that was what was expected of me. People always commented on my cheery disposition and my ability to get things done, so I had continued to do what they said I was good at, and until age 28, I had fooled everyone in to believing I had life by the balls.

I had moved out on my own at 15, quit school at 16 and worked full time. I then moved to another city 3 hours away with my boyfriend when he started college. I found full-time employment at Speedy Muffler and was the only girl working with them from Belleville to Gatineau. When I chose to go back to school at 17, I was living in a 3 bedroom house we rented with a roommate. The fridge was full of beer and chicken wieners, and I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to. But I was responsible about life. I was committed to proving my mother wrong when she prophesized that I would end up on welfare with two children by the age of 18. I responded with “Fuck you – watch me GO!” and was driven by the need to prove that I could be successful at this illusion everyone referred to as “life”.

I went back to school after working two jobs for a year. I became president of my high school, was on the championship volleyball team, in the drama club, was an honour roll student, voted valedictorian, taught English as a Second Language to foreign student during my spares, organized fundraisers and spirit events and assemblies and was chosen as a ‘leadership student’ responsible for giving workshops to other students on leadership skills. I lived on my own and continued to work two or \three3 part time jobs at any given time so that I didn’t have to collect student welfare. My high school councillor who oversaw the Student Counsel became upset with me because I refused to give up on a campaign that she didn’t feel would be successful as it would take too much of my already taxed time. She knew that I was burning the candles at both ends. She told me that if I continued to try to do everything I was doing, that I would end up failing at all of them. My response: “Fuck you – watch me GO!” And I succeeded at all of them. She shook her head at me at the end of the year when she handed me my diploma, and called me an ‘eternal optimist’.

I list the ‘accomplishments’ above as an example of how easy it can be to fool others, and yourself, even at a young age, that everything is ok. I expect that many people that live with depression could tell a very similar story of their ability to look normal, even highly successful to others. And that being extremely ‘productive’ is just one of the ways we battle against our inner beast. What the school councillor, and everyone else around me did not know was that I HAD to do all of those things. I HAD to stay busy at all times so that I had a PURPOSE. Idle time was terrifying to me. I knew I could not be alone with the monster in my head. It was much stronger than I was.

And so that was how I fought my beast until the day I had intended to end my life at age 28. Being busy didn’t ward off my tormentor any longer. My brain had snuck its way in to the busy time as well. It knew I was a fake and it called me on it regularly.

I had a plan, but was having a very difficult time with the execution of it as I had intended to go to a hotel room, so that no family member or friend would be faced with finding me. Problem was, I hadn’t considered the date, and every hotel that I called in a 40 Km radius was booked! It was the weekend before Valentine’s Day, and while that date literally had not been any influence in my agenda to end my life, it was certainly screwing up my plans! I had been working toward this for months, with no specific date in mind. The day had picked me. I awoke one morning totally at peace. It was a strange feeling. I was numb, I no longer felt any emptiness or any sense of confusion or guilt. I knew it was TIME.

Since I could not get a hotel room, I altered the plan and prepared to do it at home. The worry of who would find me and guilt over how it may affect them was no longer enough to delay. It was TIME.

I was stopped before I could execute. My ex came in to the apartment after his sister called him to tell him she was worried about me. Apparently I didn’t seem right to her on our earlier phone call. I was numb. No anger, no fear, no surprise, no joy. Just numb. He called 911 and when the officer arrived she asked me if I was going to hurt myself. When I said I didn’t want to be here anymore, she asked me if I would go to the hospital. I responded “No.” When she asked me if I would hurt myself if they left I wouldn’t answer. They restrained me and took me to the hospital.

Looking back now, I guess I can kind of see why the psychiatrist thought that it might be about a break-up, I mean, seriously, who wouldn’t, given the coming date and that it was my ex that found me? But this was not a cry for help. I wasn’t crying out to anyone. I was finally at peace knowing that I was taking the final step to end the fight with my monster. I was going to win. I had the power to kill the beast. It couldn’t torture me anymore if I didn’t exist. And now that power had been taken from me. The beast had won – I was being forced to fight it once more. So, I went through my therapy, convinced everyone I was back to normal, and was released from the hospital, with a requirement to continue therapy.

Dr. B is a very smart man. He didn’t treat me like I was fragile. It did not take him long to figure out that this had nothing to do with a broken relationship. It was me that was broken. I didn’t know how to experience emotion any longer. I was out of hospital, but I was still flat-lining. He did not push medication – he knew I wouldn’t take it. He pushed experience instead. I joined his experiential group therapy class, where he helped us to access ourselves again. Where we were forced to confront things that invoked emotion for us and to actually welcome the emotion and learn how to embrace it. I was learning to allow myself to feel. I was fighting the monster in a new way. We learned that we didn’t have to put on a show for anyone anymore. But I did anyway, because that was what they needed from me. As long as everyone thought I was ok, they would stop worrying about me. I convinced myself and others that I was stronger than my depression. That I did not need medication.

And then I went to Africa to volunteer for a month – and it helped, for a while. Except anyone who lives with depression knows that it is just a matter of time before it ends up owning you again. I went back to my old way of fighting it – I got back to being really busy. I kept a smile on my face and convinced myself that I could kill it with kindness and a positive attitude. I would force myself to by happy.

I tell myself that I am not afraid of anyone knowing I live with depression. I’ve even told a few people in the last year. But I am terrified of anyone knowing that I am weak, so I hide the depression and pretend that I’m ok. They won’t be able to see it behind the busyness, the smiles, a few beverages and some giggles.

When others are around I have an easier time fighting. When there is a purpose, when there is someone watching, I can even get out of bed and make things happen. But most of the time I am alone with my monster, and that is when I am most afraid.

I am not afraid to die. I am afraid to live.

I know the things I am supposed to do to help get through it, but I have no motivation to do them. I have entered the self-loathing phase, because my fucked up brain is winning. It’s laughing at me now for even trying this long. How pathetic of me to think that this could ever be a fair fight – that I might have a chance at this.

I know I am not a good wife. I am lucky – because I have a good husband who pretends not to see my weakness and does not call me out when I get nothing done in a day.

I know I am not a good daughter, or sister, or friend. The battle has made me selfish. I isolate myself so that they will not know. If I spend too much time with them, they will figure out what a mess I am.

Worst of all, I am not a good mother. I try to convince myself that I am, even if I can’t always get out of bed or figure out what to make for dinner. Good thing he is so easy on me. He’s happy with a tuna melt and raw veggies and milk. He gets the nutrition he needs, but never in any specially prepared meal. How can I call myself a mother, when I can’t even be motivated to take my child to the park or swim with him in our pool?

My motivation for not killing myself is the knowledge of what it could do to those who love me, but most of all, what it could do to my son. I know that he needs me, but it takes much effort to believe that he wouldn’t be better off with someone who loves life to guide him. I hide my depression from him, but I can’t model what ‘joy’ looks like. I have passed our family condition of mental health disorders to my son. The one thing I wanted to do well more than anything else was be a good mother, and I failed him on conception. He suffers from general anxiety and is highly prone to develop childhood depression. How can I leave him alone to struggle with his own monster? He will need help. The problem is, how do I help him fight a battle I am losing?  If I die, I leave him to fend for himself with his monster. If I live, and I am not strong enough to fight two monsters, then I still fail him. Either way, we both lose.

So, this is my cry for help. I am afraid of waking up one morning very soon, knowing that it’s TIME.

….He told me I was flat-lining and he was right. And 14 years later, I still am.

 

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please get help immediately. Call 911 or Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000.

Suicide Hotline Ontario:
http://www.suicide.org/hotlines/international/canada-suicide-hotlines.html

Immediate Crisis Support, CAMH:
https://ontario.cmha.ca/mental-health/services-and-support/crisis-support/

11 thoughts on “He Told Me I Was Flatlining

  1. Please don’t give up. You are worthwhile. You are beautiful. You are special. Your son needs his mama and if that’s what it takes to put one foot in front of the other every day, hold onto it.
    Please, please consider meds/ herbs/ whatever it takes to get better. When I had postpartum depression/anxiety, Zoloft saved my life.
    And read TheBloggess.com if you don’t already – remember that Depression Lies. It tells you all of the wrong things.
    Love to you.

  2. How brave of you to share your story. I personally have never dealt with depression, however my mother suffered from depression for many years following my parents divorce. It is so important to people to know that there are people out there that want to help them.

  3. Thank you for your words and for your honesty. Know that I so relate not only to your words but to the apprehension to share. I can tell you so many stories about the causes for my depression but this is about you, not me. I will say this and it is only my opinion and only my way of coping. If you can take something from it that helps, please, do so. If not, that’s ok, too. There is no “cure” for my depression. There is no class, no chant, no affimation to repeat daily, no pill to take, nothing to make it all ok. I’ve tried it all. Therapy was a huge help for me and after five years, finally reached the point where I live a fairly happy but normal life. I have learned to dance with my partner, Depression. Sometimes our steps are closely intertwined, requiring forethought and planning which is often difficult whilst actually dancing but over time, he has mastered my steps and I, his. Other times, our dance is easy flowing, no thought or planning required, just a familiar sway, back and forth with a little dip thrown in from one of us occassionally. It seemed the more I fought him, the worse it got, a series of jerks, uncoordinated and awkward movements, unpleasant not only for us, but for any audience members whatching. After some practice, and accepting that he was a life partner, I decided to accept this and now that I am not fighting all the time, it’s not only a relief which allows me time to breathe easily and rest better at night, but it has allowed me to just “be”. In a time where positivity is trending and every other article I see is about POSITIVITY, BEING HAPPY ALL THE TIME, STAYING UPBAEAT and that we are supposed to be blissful every minute of every day or there must be something wrong with us, it is at times, a bit harder. I believe that the molecular makeup of our tears of joy and tears of sadness are different for a reason. We are meant to feel all of our emotions, not just the good ones. Apparently, that is “in” right now and many of my dearest friends have taken it upon themselves to foist this philosophy upon me (yes, because the love me) but I finally told them to just stop. I’m not them. We all have stories to tell and all deal with hardship but in honesty, mine was a much more difficult path. I want no pity, I just want acceptance for who I am and if that means I have to be “positive” all them time, well no. Just no. I am in no way trying to to diminish your feelings or experiences and when I say I know your brand of “torture” I promise you, I do. I guess I am just saying that sometimes we just have to let go, accept it, and learn our own dance moves to get through each day. For some, medications help and to them I say, take them! Do whatever works for you to feel ok within your own skin. Just try and realize that the goal is not to be happy 100% of the time. For people like us, the goal is to find the best way to be able to love ourselves and those that are important to us any way we can. Not bliss. The fact that your story was so detailed, unedited for a damn word count, and so brutally honest lets me know you have been mastering your dance with your partner for a long time now. You know him well. He knows you well. For me, it was just a matter of ending the struggle and trying to move with the flow instead of against the tide. I hope some of this makes sense to you in your journey to find your own way to cope. Know what the others here have said is true. We see you, we feel you, we care about you, even love the part of you that you allowed us to know today. We are all around you. We are here. We are listening and your story, your dance, moves us. Take good care. Mary

  4. I so appreciate you sharing your story. There’s no magic words any of us can say to make it any easier on you but please know – we are here, we are reading – and we care. 🙂

  5. I read over your story and it touches me to the very depths of my heart. I want to write something awe inspiring so astounding that it makes you stop and go wow. But feeling alot of the same feelings that you are feeling I know it won’t happen. No matter how much people tell you that you are a brave, strong, loving, wonderful person it’s so hard to see yourself as that. So instead let’s look at it a different way. Because no amount of praise we give you will help fight that demon. Every day you wake up you won. Every day you get out of bed is a win. Every time you fight that moment makes you stronger than a person who can lift 400 pounds. Everyday that you tell yourself today is NOT the day makes you Superwoman. It isn’t how we compare ourselves to the accomplishments of others. It’s the little things we do daily, even if it’s something as small as changing out of pajama’s. I pray that you will see yourself in a new light and know that asking for help is NOT a weakness but a strength. It’s a strength to keep fighting for not only yourself but your loved ones. Your son will see you struggle with your depression and it might help him with his knowing there is someone strong in his life. There is NEVER any shame in saying hey I NEED HELP! Even if that help comes in a small little pill that helps bring the sun out. Please remember in the words of one of my favorite actors who is also vocal about his depression. Always Keep Fighting.

  6. This is such an amazing article, and my heart is heavy for this brave woman. I think it’s so important to shed light on the fact that depression is not always something that comes from a “down on your luck” type of season in your life. Sometimes, it hits when, on the outside, things seem to be going ok.

    Thank you for sharing this story, and thank you to your amazing friend who was strong enough to share her feelings. They are powerful, and eye opening.

    I pray that your friend gets the help she needs so that she can begin to heal. I hope that she can someday realize that she is a good mother, friend, wife, etc. in spite of her depression. Just the fact that she is willing to write this and continue to hold on speaks volumes.

    I will be sharing this piece, I just know it will strike a nerve with so many people!

  7. You are so incredibly brave and strong to have shared these words, I have lived this reality too. But I promise you that there is hope, you just have to never stop fighting it. You ARE stronger than you think! For your sake and the sake of your son, I hope you find your way to a better place. You are not a worse mother for having gone through it, you will have been a wonderful mother for setting the example of persevering, asking for help, and speaking out. You can find your way out of this, never lose hope! <3

  8. Oh, dear lady, you ARE a good mother. You are beautiful and brave and your love for your son just drips off the page. Look at what you just did: you told your story and have let light shine in on the darkness that can feel so consuming. By writing these words, you just told Depression “Fuck you – look at me GO!” You are proving that you are exactly the mother your son needs. He will know he is not alone.

    YOU are not alone. Depression is so damn hard, but it can be hard to explain to those who have never experienced it for themselves or in someone they love. But those of us who know? We see you. We are in your corner. You are one of us. We know you are a survivor – with every breath you take, you are making a brave choice. Thank you for using your voice to share your truth. You touched my heart and I am confident you will touch the hearts of others.

    You are seen. You are loved. You are worthy.

  9. Wow, what a powerful piece. Thank you for sharing your friend’s story. I hope she has the support she needs to breathe again soon. Her words are so powerful and important…and she is too.

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