In the wake of the devastating loss of Robin Willams to suicide from depression, I am re-posting this. It was originally written and posted for World Suicide Prevention Day 2012. We need to take the stigma and judgment out of mental illness, and the first step in doing that is talking about our experiences.
Have the conversations.
I have been suicidal in my life.
At the time, I was so desperately unhappy that I just simply wanted it to stop. All of it. I just needed it to stop. I just wanted to float away into the blackness, and let the dark swallow me up forever. Just. Stop.
I was a mom at the time. Yes I was. Single mom of three beautiful, loving little girls. And every time before that that my depression had gotten really bad, I was drowned in sadness, but I had never wanted to die. Or if the thought flickered across my mind, the fact that I had three kids to live for pulled me far enough out of the mire that I could deal just a little bit longer.
But at that point in my life, I was so sad, so overwhelmed, so drowning in debt, and so alone with all of it, that I just wanted out. And I wanted out despite the fact that I would be leaving behind three kids.
I can remember lying on my bed and sobbing, thinking about what it would do to my kids, how they would feel. They would be left with no mother. That meant they’d be raised by their dad alone. No mother with whom they could have that female relationship, that warmth, that understanding, that closeness that only a mother can provide. Relationships with dads are different – not better, not worse, just different – and my kids were used to having both. Ripping one out from under them would be devastating to them.
I can remember mentally saying goodbye to my children.
I can remember trying to make peace within myself for feeling so selfish that I had to kill myself instead of sticking around for my three kids. Trying to make peace with the tumult and despair it would wreak in their lives. And I was just overwhelmed with immense sadness for them, the lives they would have to learn to lead, motherless.
I felt sad that I would hurt my parents so badly. They had already survived my brother’s drug addiction a few years earlier, an experience which almost killed them, I think. They had watched him slowly killing himself, unable to make him stop, and it almost did them in. And here I would be serving them up the same thing. Less painful maybe, just a little, because they wouldn’t have to watch it unfold as a long drawn out process. It would just be over. But still, I knew it would crush them, and I felt guilty about that.
Friends? Sure, I’d leave friends behind. And they would feel sad. But they would get over it eventually. Their lives would go on. That’s how life works. Some of them even understood depression enough that, while they would be sad, they would GET it. They’d understand.
In no way did any of those things make me feel less like ending my life was the only thing I could do to make my own emotional pain stop. It was the only control I had left.
I was drowning in my own sadness, and at the same time, I was so incredibly detached. It was like I was watching the whole thing unfold from somewhere outside myself.
I guess somewhere inside, a glimmer of rationality still existed. None of the way I was feeling was an attempt at garnering attention. Nobody else knew how bad it was. I never told anyone…not at that point. So it was only my own rationality that made me decide – still, so detached – that I should probably seek help, because otherwise I would die. Quite literally.
And I knew I didn’t have long.
I called the counsellor I had seen over time, but hadn’t seen for a while. I trusted her implicitly. Thank God I had that option in my life, or I wouldn’t be here now.
She got me in immediately.
We started at once a week, but rather quickly, she had me coming twice a week. That schedule went on for a couple of months. I saw her for years.
She knew, and she didn’t judge, that I was living on the precipice of life and death, unsure and really quite ambivalent about which way I was going to teeter.
She saved my life. Unquestionably.
I was so tired. So tired of dealing with all the shit in my life, of which there was no shortage. So. Incredibly. Tired.
I don’t even remember how I came back to the land of the living. I know that pretty quickly I talked to my GP and started taking anti-depressants. They worked…sort of. (It wasn’t until years later that I was diagnosed with bi-polar II and put on mood stabilizers, which has made the anti-depressants more effective.)
But beyond that, I was so tired, and so disinterested, I have no recollection of how I came out of that dark pit. I remember snippets of the process only, not the process in its entirety.
I remember calling the Suicide Prevention Hotline once, at the behest of my counsellor. We’ll just say that I think most people there are trained better than the person that I talked to on the phone. It’s an invaluable resource, and I although that experience was rather awful for me, I wouldn’t hesitate to try it again. And I have no doubt it has saved lives.
I remember a few phone calls in the middle of the night with two particular friends. Both of whom understood depression on a very first-hand basis. And both of whom knew and understood my life.
I remember a conversation with someone I thought would be a good go-to person, and all they had to say to me was, “Don’t worry, it’ll all get better.” In hindsight, I realize they just simply didn’t understand where I was coming from, and didn’t have the tools to deal with it. But it was crushingly disappointing to not get the kind of support I needed (actually talking about stuff rather than just trying to avoid it and make it OK) at a time when I trusted very few people enough to open up.
I also remember, in that same phone call, being handed off to another friend. He wasn’t someone I would have chosen to talk to about this stuff. But because it was already underway, I did talk to him. And I remember that he was amazing. He didn’t say everything would be OK. He wasn’t scared away by the murky depths of my panic and fear, my sadness. He was willing to take the ride with me, talk about whatever needed talking about, and more than anything…he was willing to listen. To just be in the shit with me for a little while. To just be there with me. He was amazing.
I know that somehow I came out the other side. I stopped being suicidal. Eventually.
There was only ever one subsequent period of time that I had suicidal thoughts, and they weren’t what I would call “active.” I knew how I could (I had a cupboard full of narcotics, pain killers, and a bajillion other things that, combined, would surely do the trick) if I chose to. And I knew I had it in my back pocket if I really needed out. But I never quite got to needing it.
Since that first suicidal period of time (and probably prior to), I have struggled with what the doctors call Major Depressive Disorder, as well as what was subsequently diagnosed as Bi-Polar II. I’m worse in the winter than I am in the summer, always. I’m on a consistent diet of anti-depressants and mood stabilizers, which are better than nought, but I never really get to “OK.” At best, I function at about 50%.
It’s icky. I try really hard not to complain, but it’s icky.
But I do know, without a doubt, that life has been a better choice than death for me. Me, alive, has been a far superior choice for the lives of my children than me, dead, would have been.
And I have learned that nothing, NOTHING, is permanent.
All the shit that was so overwhelming at that time…since then, lots of it has shifted. Some of it has come and gone. Some of it’s still around, it just doesn’t have the same impact on me as it did then. NOTHING IS PERMANENT.
That one IS permanent. You can’t undo it. Maybe you go to heaven afterwards, maybe you go to hell. Maybe you reincarnate as a dung beetle, or maybe you reincarnate as the King of Siam. And maybe you lie in a hole in the ground until you turn into worm food. Whatever happens after you die, you stop living this life. That much we do know.
And although there are moments when that feels like the best thing that could possibly happen, it’s not.
What if you hold the winning lottery ticket in your pocket, and the draw happens the day after you take a cabinet full of pills? What happens if your true love is on a plane headed your way right as you hold the gun in your hand? What happens if all the joy, all the blessings, and all the love are right around the fucking corner? You’ll never know if you don’t stick around, if you don’t put down the razor blade.
And now I know, first hand, it’s possible to stick around. It’s possible to make it, and not drown in your own sorrow and hopelessness.
Yes, it takes help. You better believe it. The biggest hurdle is that we tend to suffer in silence. People can’t help you with what they don’t know is happening.
But there are more people in your corner than you can imagine.
Pick up the phone. Call the Suicide Prevention Hotline. Talk to a teacher. Talk to your friend. Hell, talk to a stranger. Your priest, your doctor, your lover, your sibling. Open your heart. Take a chance. Why not? If you’re planning to check out anyway, what do you have to lose?
There are lots of valid reasons for feeling suicidal. There are no not-valid reasons. If you feel it, it’s valid.
But you have to know there are people that will be so in your corner, it’ll make you cry tears of gratitude one day.
Take a chance, find your people. Find the love. I did. And I’ve never regretted it. Not once.
Start here. Whatever you’re up against, whatever your challenges, know that I am sending love your way. I’ve felt that despair. And now I can feel the love. I’m sending it to you. In big, giant, shiny waves.
Love. Hope. People who believe in you and will help you figure it out.
The money will come. The bullies can fuck themselves, and karma’s a right haughty bitch. The stress can be managed. They’ll forgive you. You’ll do it. And there’s help finding your way.
You just have to ask.
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. How are you showing your support?
More information is available here: http://www.iasp.info/wspd/