With the attention to depression that has engulfed every source of media since Robin Williams died this week, I am shocked at the wide variety of responses. Depression is one of those things that you can’t really understand if you don’t have experience. Sadly so many do know. Having depression is more than the sadness everyone feels now and then dealing with disappointments or heartbreak. Even grief as horrific as it is, isn’t the same as having chronic depression. It is sort of like saying you understand what it feels like to have a broken bone when you have a bruise. Just isn’t the same.
For me seeing posts that proclaim it as a choice or threaten that those who lose their lives to suicide will “burn in hell for eternity” since it is “the worst sin”, are completely useless and just prove how much that person doesn’t get it. Must be nice to live in that ignorance of what it really feels like. Sincerely hope you never feel what it is like, but please wake up. For those of use fighting through the disease, threats don’t really help at all. The feelings are real & it is more than just an emotion to “get over”. The chemical imbalances and physical changes that happen in a depressed brain are helping science better understand what causes these feelings. Maybe one day it can be prevented. But a “choice” it is not.
One of the biggest criticisms I see has been that the person acted “selfish” in taking their life. Rest assured that selfish is probably not anything that crossed their mind. When you are that deep into the darkness, many times you feel that continuing to be a burden to everyone is selfish. You rationalize that once you pass, family & friends will probably grieve or maybe won’t even miss you, but they will move on and be able to live without having to deal with your difficulties. When you are in that mind frame, you don’t realize how much you do mean. You don’t think about how it will realistically effect those around you. You just want freedom from the pain and hopelessness. You NEED to make it change. So selfish? I don’t see that. Maybe the people who are overly dramatic and are threatening to kill themselves in order to manipulate others have lead to this belief, but people who are truly dealing with deep depression most often don’t even tell their closest friends that they are planning to let go. Since you really can’t tell what someone really means, you have to take any threat seriously, but don’t feel like you could have prevented it if it does happen. Trust we want to make life easier, even then.
As someone who has looked down that tunnel a few times & is grateful that I haven’t made the transition from the darkness into the light I can only say what works for me.
For me the following are key to keeping me on track:
• Reaching out to professionals, trying what they suggest in treatment & getting informed about what I am dealing with. They help you to see that you are not alone & even better is the acceptance that what you are feeling it isn’t your fault. It isn’t a choice to have. How you deal with it can be a choice.
• Staying consistent in taking my medications as directed & updating them when needed. This can be a biggie! At time you just want to be better & cured. There are physical reasons for depression and refusing to treat them has consequences. Maybe one day you won’t need the help, but til the bone heals you will need crutches. If it means taking them for the rest of your life, but feeling less depressed, isn’t it worth it?
• Take time for meditation. Relaxing quite time. Let the mind rest. It does help, even if you do feel goofy while starting out.
• Sleep. Which sucks since it is one of the things depression screws up many times.
• Having something to look forward to in future. For me this is huge. You need to know it isn’t always going to be the same old same old when that familiarity isn’t a happy one. 5ks, Panthers football games & even a family vacation to Disney help me get through.
• Family & friends – especially those who understand that me needing time alone or feeling depressed isn’t anything personal. At times it is great to be with people who value you when you don’t value yourself.
• Being able to express myself in ways that feel right for me. Creatively. Make something to be proud of, work thru emotions to release & at times a distraction is helpful to pass the time.
• Recognition that it will feel better & yes it will be tough again. That doesn’t mean I am screwing up or losing ground. Just the nature of what I’m going thru. Remembering that this is a cycle that will change helps even if it is very hard to remember in the moment. Time does help most times to get us back to the moments that are easier. Still we need to realize that if we get down again it isn’t a failure. We haven’t lost ground in our battle. It just happens. Not our fault & probably unpreventable, but if we got thru it before, hopefully we can get thru again.
• For me I have a 3 day rule. With most big decisions that will effect my life, I give myself 3 days. If I still think it is the best choice for me after 3 days, then I go with it. Yes even with suicide. Spoiler… death by my own hand has yet to feel like the right choice for 3 straight days. If even for one moment you feel a smidge of joy or like life is actually worth living, you have to start the 3 days again. Again time many times brings clarity.
Being able to reach out has been vital for me. No one has the power to save you or end you, but you. Getting a second opinion on such a huge decision does help. Different perspectives give insight into what you are dealing with when you aren’t seeing clearly due to the fog of depression.
Saying it gets better can be great to give hope but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it gets bad again. That is life with depression. Have to get thru the best that we can.
Judgment doesn’t help. Threats don’t help. Saying it is selfish because you transfer the pain isn’t valid. Many times you are hoping to save them the pain of being a burden. So adding on agony to someone who is already so low is just cruel in my eyes. I know people mean well, but I guess anything can be rationalized given enough thought, still doesn’t make it right.
When someone is suicidal, your opinion of what they are dealing with doesn’t prevent or halt them dealing with it. So don’t judge. Be there. Let them know they matter. Let them know you understand life is hard right now but there is a lot to love about it too. Focus on the joy and the highs instead of keeping them focused on the lows.
How you react matters but ultimately it is their battle.