*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:
Immediate Crisis Support, CAMH: