Embrace Whatever Keeps You Alive

Perhaps the saddest irony of depression is that suicide happens when the patient gets a little better and can again function sufficiently.

In the past five days, I’ve lost two friends to suicide. 

And I am shocked. Even with my own struggles in the land of depression, it is horrifying to learn that people who seemingly have so much fall to suicide. I know better than that, and I still think it, so I can’t imagine how many thoughts run through the heads of the “normal” folks, the ones who very luckily don’t deal with the invisible monster of depression. I went back and forth with writing this, sharing something that is so personal, but in the end, I think it’s important to know that depression is something that doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care about your race, gender, age, socioeconomic standing, or cultivated Instagram feed. It can hit a empty nester mother of four as easily as it can hit a sixteen year old kid working in a gas station. No vaccine, no preventative action. It just is, and it is a motherfucker. I haven’t shied away from writing about suicide and its stigma in the past; however, I’ve never really shared anything personal about my own struggles with depression, and right or wrong, I felt as though now might be the time.

Shrinks will tell you that anything that keeps you alive, however stupid or minuscule you think it may be, is not a stupid thing. I can’t speak for everyone, but of all the people I’ve spoken to who are afflicted with depression, there’s always a tiny flicker of suicide in your head, even if it’s something that you aren’t actually considering. In the height of my depression, I can remember sitting in the floor, thinking about the tremendous heaviness of life. I found myself staring at Louie. He started licking my foot, and in that moment, I knew that, no matter what, no matter how, I had to keep fighting and moving forward. That fluffy moron was my lightbulb moment. That little dog loves me so much, and I knew that if for some reason, I wasn’t around, he would be so confused and lost — and that broke my heart. My dog pushed all of those flickers back into the deep recesses of my brain, and we stood up and made a conscious effort to put one foot in front of the other. 

Another time, I actually took all the advice and called a hotline. I did the thing that, when someone commits suicide, everyone posts about on social media. And then I decided to put one foot in front of the other again. Not because of anything the person on the other side had to say, but because they put me on hold and never came back. I found that so funny that I hung up and just went to sleep. Every once in a while, you can find humor in your own misery, and that (counterintuitively) turned my entire night around. Even though I didn’t ever truly consider it, even having it in your head can be an overwhelming thought.

Suicide is not a blot on anyone’s name; it is a tragedy.

—Kay Redfield Jamison

In the wake of suicide, two sayings bounce around —

  1. Depression is a liar.
  2. Suicide is selfish.

Here is the thing: when people say depression is a liar, they’re right. Depression lies, but it can be so, so convincing. It can convince you that you’re a burden. That you’re worthless. That the people you love would be so much better without you because your simply being drags them down. That’s why, when well meaning people say to “call someone” or to “reach out” when you’re feeling the weight of living, it doesn’t resonate. You can’t reach out and burden someone again when you already feel, right or wrong, that your existence is too much for them to handle. You just want to be very quiet and very small and tune everything out. People with depression end up alienating themselves for a reason, and it is usually because we feel our presence is exhausting (and to us, it is; trust me, we tire of our own bullshit, too).

And selfish? No, suicide is not at all selfish. Let me tell you, suicide is the opposite of selfish. In the minds of anyone considering it, it’s an act of love. It’s mercy. It’s relief from being shackled to a train that cannot stop derailing. I don’t want to romanticize suicide by any means, but I won’t vilify it either, and I can attest that, while your own personal reprieve from the pain of the world is a welcome thought, most people don’t consider suicide because of themselves. It’s not weak, it’s not selfish, it is sickness.

When you succumb to suicide, you die of an illness. // hard stop.

This is icky, and sharing it makes me feel sick, but in the aftermath of this week, maybe it’s important to share. Everyone struggles. Absolutely everyone. Maybe they struggle in different ways and at different levels, but each and every person you encounter has their own issues, even those you might not expect. I don’t tell you any of this for back pats; that I was able to open my eyes and see clearly where others might not. You simply make a promise to yourself to get through today. Just make it from pillow to pillow, morning to sleep. Then you wake up and make the same promise again. I’m very fortunate that those darker moments are in my past, but make no mistake, I labor under no delusion that I’m “cured.” Suicide breaks my heart. No one has everything, despite what social media might say. We all have our demons, they simply come with different names. Don’t judge someone because he struggles differently than you.

If I can tell you anything, I’ll tell you this: as trite as it may sound, it does get better. The sun rises, the pain returns, the mind games commence again, but it will get better. You are cherished and valued, and your life, no matter what you may think, is not a burden to those who love you. This was all a very long time ago, and I’m very happy that my thoughts are clear and my head is better.

And in case you need to hear it, you are loved.

You are worthy.

And I sure like having you around.

*If you or someone you know is struggling, help is available. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or if you get put on hold, you can contact me.

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