In light of the recent deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, almost everyone is talking about suicide. We all have our own opinions and our own takes on suicide and depression (though suicide doesn’t necessarily have to mean the person was struggling with depression; there is just a pretty good chance that was the case). I’ve already told you all how I feel about suicide being considered selfish (for that, see: Depression is like…) so this post won’t address that. I think I want this post to be more personal.
It’s important that we put a face to mental illness. But here is the thing I really want for people to take from this blog, there is no single face to depression or to any other mental illness. There is no one type of person who dies by suicide. I think this is why it always comes as a shock when beloved actors, actresses, artists, authors, and musicians die by suicide.
People have this misconception about what happiness is and how to attain good mental health. It’s just that, though, a misconception. It doesn’t matter if a person has 10 followers on social media or 10,000 followers. It doesn’t matter if they have the 2.5 kids, a spouse, a house surrounded by a white-picket fence, and the “perfect” job. It doesn’t matter if they have $10 in the bank or $1,000,000. It doesn’t matter if they always smile or they never smile. Looks can be deceiving. And depression/suicidal ideation doesn’t care. It doesn’t care what you have and what you don’t have. It doesn’t care what you’ve been through or what you haven’t. It doesn’t care about your so-called good life. Depression does what it wants. I know this because I’ve fallen prey to my fair share of depression. I’ve experienced the soul crushing weight of suicidal ideation. I’ve even tried to take my own life.
Most people when they look at me they see someone who is successful, driven, intense, mysterious, a little broody (but not in a bad way). When they see my scars, they can see I’ve struggled. But, generally (with the exception of my boss when I actually was not suicidal), people don’t assume I’m at risk for suicide because I am what the mental health community likes to consider “high functioning.” I can be in the deepest depths of my despair and I am still going to get up in the morning, roll out of bed, take a shower, and go to work. I might even manage to smile several times throughout the day. If you’re real lucky, I’ll crack a few jokes. If I am being real, my life is good by most people’s standards. I have several degrees. I had a salaried job with benefits. I’ve got solid friendships, a good support network. I’m able to pursue my dreams with a pretty significant amount of certainty that things will work out. But it hasn’t always been this way (and even though it is, that doesn’t make me immune to suicidal ideation). I have been overcome by the woes of life. I’ve been convinced by my inner critic. And that’s how my suicide story goes.
I was always a broody teenager but despite that I was active in school and life. I was in band and choir. I won awards. I played softball and won trophies. I was in pageants and ranked top 10 during my worst performances; I won when I was on top of my game. I was even a cheerleader for a while. I dated the quarterback of the football team. Total cliche. In the midst of all of that I was constantly contemplating the purpose of life. I would lie on my floor at night, listening to my parents fight, and I would wonder if anyone would miss me were I gone. I’m not really sure how I got where I ended up but for weeks I pillaged the medicine cabinet, researched the different drug interactions. If I was going to do this, I would do it right. One day, I decided it was time. I took as many pills as I could hold down. I was counting on the interactions to make the difference. Somehow I was found out and transported to the emergency room. They did their thing and put me under a 24 hour psych hold. A day later I was left to return home, to return to the place that drove me to attempt suicide in the first place. I never received help. And my mother’s position that suicide was selfish ensured that if I ever were feeling suicidal again, she would never know.
A few weeks after that first attempt I swallowed a bottle of NSAIDs. I promptly projectile vomited those up, so that didn’t result in another hospital visit. A few weeks after that, I took some more pills and tried to cut an artery. I obviously did not succeed. I didn’t ever try again in my teens, not after several failed attempts and not after I realized those attempts would neither garner me help nor provide the escape from pain I so desperately sought.
Resigning myself to the reality that I was stuck here, I threw myself into other unhealthy coping mechanisms. The cutting got worse. I was drinking, having careless sexual encounters. I thought if I couldn’t kill myself quickly, at least I could expedite the process. At 13, I had resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t live past the age of 30. Here I am coming up on my 30th birthday. And I know, there is no reason I should be alive, because I was living as carelessly as possible.
When I went through my X phase, it did kill me. I was clinically dead. I died on willow street and was revived on willow street. Every time I drive by that road, I’m reminded of the friend who saved my life, literally. As much as I wish I could say that experience renewed my zeal for life, I won’t; that’d be a lie. I cannot tell you the number of times I have overdosed only to wake up the next morning thinking, “fuck!” Because it didn’t work. I struggle every.single.day! Some days are more of a struggle than others. Some days are good, like today. I have hope for the future. Others, not so much, I wonder what’s the point. I think I am a burden. I’m afraid I only drag people down. I am just a gray cloud. I can’t see beyond the pain.
Those days are the reality of what it is like to live with persistent suicidal ideation. It is like the option is always there on the table. The inner critic is always lying in wait, eager to pounce on the opportunity to tell me how I’ve ruined my life and how I ruin the lives of everyone I encounter. Most days I can see through the bull shit. Most days I know that isn’t true. But it just takes one day for the inner critic to get the best of me. I’m constantly on the precipice. And I don’t tell you that to scare you or worry you. I really am okay. I tell you because you should know that I am not the only one. No one’s story is going to look exactly like mine. No one’s inner critic is going to say exactly the same things. But so many people are struggling. So many people are on the precipice. So many people whom you’d never imagine had any reason to struggle. Except that’s the thing, none of us really knows anyone else as well as we think we do. Everyone has secrets. Everyone has struggles they’re unwilling to share.
The best thing we can do for each other is to be there, to assume that every person you encounter on any given day is in need of love and encouragement and compassion. You never know when your smile or a kind word or your phone call or your text is going to save someone’s life. Don’t put it on the other person to reach out. If someone is on your mind, tell them. Take every opportunity you have to tell people the positive impact their presence makes in your life. If you love someone, tell them and show them regularly. The only way that people stop suffering in silence is through connection. We are wired for it; we need it. We need other people. So be someone for somebody. And please, please don’t assume that just because someone is in therapy or on meds that they’re okay. That isn’t an instant cure. It isn’t a magic button. They still need your support, probably even more so.
Just love fiercely with your whole heart because you never know…