In a recent email exchange with a certain family member about mental health (ok, my mental health), it didn’t take long before finding myself in familiar and somewhat frustrating territory.
With feeble attempts to illustrate how clinical depression is so much more than just “having the blues”, I Googled articles on the subject, forwarding anything I could find that would help explain my brain.
After a few minutes, I receive the inevitable reply thanking me for sending the information, in assurance they understand a bit more. But the amount of truth to their statement is directly proportional to just how much I believe it.
This hamster wheel of grasping for vindication (for my thoughts and behaviors when treading the waters of despair) exhausts me – yet again – and I’m left alone to shut my computer down and accept the facts when it comes to mental illness: some people will never get it. And who can blame them? It’s my crazy-coated DNA, and I barely understand it myself.
But just because the people in our lives are unable to fully grasp why we can’t get out of bed (or take a shower, do the dishes, take the garbage out, or do laundry for days on end), doesn’t mean they love us any less. And to be clear, when we are in the throes of this utter darkness, it’s not that we physically can’t do those things – it’s that we won’t. We’ve lost the ability to give a shit.
Whenever I feel the clouds roll in, I’m reminded of the quote from Franklin Roosevelt:
When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.
It’s a fabulous idea, tying a proverbial knot to our hope and clinging to the very fiber of its existence. But what do you do when all you can think about is taking a machete to the rope so you can simply…let go?
When it comes to our own mental health, we really have nothing to compare it to other than what’s between our own ears. All we know is all we are. For some of us, it’s completely normal (I hate that word) to think about taking our own lives. Whether surviving divorce (any heartbreak really), the loss of a loved one, losing our job, struggling with money, or anything else that tears you up inside, it’s natural (for some of us) to get caught up in the idea that “life would be so much easier if I just didn’t wake up”.
I’ve had that thought, and it aint pretty. Nothing suffocates your soul more than the feeling of losing control of your happiness.
So we isolate. Turn off our cell phone, unplug the lap top and wrap ourselves in agony. In a strange way, our pain is comforting – we can finally stop trying so hard, and just give in and fall into that black hole of self-pity and suffering. Ready for irony? The double-edged sword with clinical depression is that we amputate ourselves from the world at the exact time we feel so all alone. We are too deep into our loneliness to see that reaching out is the one thing we need to do. Or worse, the “I don’t give a shit” vibe is on auto replay, and we’re left alone to wallow.
I’ve written about my personal experience with State of Mind, and the emails I’ve received in response have been overwhelming. A great reminder that for anyone who is suffering, we are NOT alone. It’s a fucked up place to be, but even through our wanting to let go, the knot is there in the form of community.
And where there is community, there is support. Where there is support there is love. No matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise.
One of my favorite authors, Augusten Burroughs, explains suicide in a way I never imagined:
“If you believe suicide will bring you peace, or at the very least just an end to everything you hate – you are displaying self-caring behavior. You are still able to actively seek solutions to your problems. You are willing to go to great lengths to provide what you believe will be soothing to yourself. This strikes me as optimistic.”
Isn’t that delicious? The basic fact that we want to end our pain, says it all. We don’t really want to take our lives. We just want a different one. And you are worth finding a way to make that happen.
There’s a reason you are still here. You may not feel it. You may be too exhausted to give a shit right now, but trust in this.
So while it can be frustrating that our loved ones may never fully understand, there are many of us that do.
You are not hopeless. You are not alone. And you are loved.
*This post is in no way meant as medical advice. If you or anyone you know is suicidal, please contact the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255, or dial 9-1-1 (in the US). Outside the US, please refer to the International Suicide Hotline.