The Far-Reaching Effects of Suicide

August 7, 2012

A member of my church committed suicide last month. I didn’t know him – his wife and I had some mutual facebook friends and I have probably met her but I wouldn’t have known him if I had bumped into him on the street. I wouldn’t have expected someone who was a total stranger to affect me like this but it has for a number of reasons. {If reading about suicide is not a good thing for you at this moment, by all means, don’t do it. Just thought I’d say that)

I have lost two people who were important to me to suicide. One was an uncle who was one of the most creative, loving, inspiration people I have ever met – when he wasn’t drowning in mental illness, drug addiction, and alcoholism. He tried for decades to get sober and hung himself when he was being sentenced for abusing his girlfriend. Obviously, this devastated our family, although it wasn’t really a surprise. He had a 14-year old daughter at the time. I was incredibly sad but not super angry, maybe because I wasn’t surprised. Mostly sad.

Another was a friend from college. We weren’t particularly close in the normal way but we were youth group leaders together and that creates a really special bond. He knew that I struggled with depression and he even knew when I was briefly hospitalized because of it. I think that’s why my main reaction was anger when I found out he had been diagnosed with depression for years and ended up taking his life. He wasn’t messing around either – he had it set up so that if the gunshot didn’t kill him, the fall would have.

I was heartbroken at this too, but also furious. He knew what I was dealing with, how dare he not let me know that he was going through the same thing! Not just for himself, but I would have felt a lot less alone. He was one of those people who gave and gave and didn’t let us know what he needed. I feel cheated by that – I didn’t get to know my friend like I could have and I didn’t get to help someone who helped me.

As someone who has been depressed enough that I wanted to die and fantasized about dying, other people’s suicides affect me by making me feel like it’s a possibility for me. there’s always been kind of a wall up – I know I won’t do it no matter how much I want to. I’m not always sure why, but I know I won’t. I’ve been through periods of self-harm but I knew it would never go that far. But suicides of people in my life make me think, “Oh, maybe it is OK. Maybe I could do it. Maybe that is one way out of the pain.”

Thankfully, I haven’t been in that much pain in a few years so I’ve been thinking much less about suicide. But I still tend to react when people talk about how selfish it is. Of course it’s selfish. You’re not thinking about anyone but yourself (except when your thinking is so twisted that you start assuming everyone else is better off without you), but there’s a reason for that. When people are in enough pain, I don’t think they can think of anyone else. I know I couldn’t. It hurts so badly – physically, emotionally, spiritually, in every way – so much pain that you’ve lost your survival instinct and are ready to end it all… I think depression IS inherently selfish because there’s just nothing left at all for anyone else.

I’m rambling because this is a hard subject for me, but there’s something that this bereaved family did that I think was incredibly brave. They told people what happened. In the announcement at church and in the obituary online, they didn’t say “suddenly passed away” or any other euphemism. They said that he struggled and he took his own life. I’ve been trying to find the words to explain why I think that is so important but I haven’t been able to. It’s the truth and that somehow feels honoring of him. It’s an admission that he was ill. And maybe it will make someone else feel less alone or get help? I’m not sure, but I think it was so brave to say.

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Anxiety

July 25, 2012

I made a doctor’s appointment for Friday, which is also my 37th birthday.  Going to the psychiatrist on my birthday is not really what I want to be doing, but it was the first appointment she had and I need to go.  the amount of anxiety I’ve been having lately is at a whole new level for me.  I find myself awake at night worrying about where I am going to go for Christmas (yes, I know it’s only July), who I’m going to carpool with to my friend’s wedding next month, when I’m going to be able to walk the dog, when one of my paychecks is going to come and if it’s too early to ask about it again, how I’m going to get the scratches out of the floor, if I’m a good enough dog owner, who’s going to take care of me when I’m old…Some of these are really important questions, some are not, but none of them is going to get solved in the middle of the night.  At the same time, I have random conversations repeating in my head, songs I can’t get out of my head, adrenaline running through my body, and a constant need to go to the bathroom because I am so nervous.  Needless to say, I’m not sleeping.  In fact, I was thinking about lying on the hardwood floor last night because somehow I was convinced, in my anxious sleep-deprived brain, that that would calm me down.

At the same time, I don’t want to tell anyone because I feel like I’m a horrible person who doesn’t deserve friends.

Fortunately, if there is a fortunately in all of this, I have been dealing with this mess for long enough and gone to enough therapy that I know there’s something off in my brain and that at least most of this stuff isn’t true.  And I can look back at my writing and see that fairly recently, I felt really good.

The unfortunate part is that this may mean more trial and error with meds. I tend to need new meds every few years and that is expensive, inconvenient, and sometimes terrifying.  I never know what will work, what will cause side effects, what will make things worse, and what will only work enough to make me think that this is as good as it gets for the rest of my life.

And this is what I get to do on my birthday.  I’d appreciate prayers – the last time I had meds adjusted in a major way, it worked out really well.  Chances aren’t great that it will work out that well again, but here’s hoping.


A Sunken Place

July 2, 2012

I was looking up the word “depressed” because I feel like it’s overused and doesn’t really convey want I want it to convey.  I realized that there are different things I want to convey at different times.  Sometimes it’s that I’m absolutely at the edge of the pit of despair and that I can’t remember anything being OK, ever, and that I’ve lost all hope and am swallowed up in darkness.  Sometimes it’s just that something heavy is pressing on me and everything is harder.

One of the definitions I found was “a sunken place or part; an area lower than the surrounding surface.”  That’s how I feel today.  Lower than all the surrounding surfaces.  Sunken.  I got into bed this afternoon even though I wasn’t that tired.  My dog came in the bed with me and we took a nap.  Then I woke up – still not tired – and just couldn’t get up.  Couldn’t read, couldn’t get up, couldn’t make a phone call.  I wasn’t crying and sad, but I felt like I was in a sunken place – sunken into my bed and unable to get up.

I did get up finally, but it took a lot of effort and I felt like I was sleepwalking. Fortunately I had some dinner plans with friends which helped and I feel better now.  But all these episodes are reminding me of how this can come on when I don’t expect it and frightening me, because I’ve lost decades of my life to this and really don’t want to lose any more.


A Bad Day

June 25, 2012

I don’t know if it’s the medications not being stabilized, or my ex-boyfriend getting married this summer, or half my family being unemployed, or just generally being lonely (or whatever else trigger can bring on depression), but today has been bad so far.  It was fine in the morning and then as the afternoon started, I just got more and depressed and couldn’t figure out why.  It got to the point where I was working on the computer while crying, which I used to do a lot.  I have work to do and I need to get it doe, and I used to be so depressed so much of the time that I couldn’t let a little thing like wanting to not be alive stop me or I’d never function again.  So I do as much of my work (or driving, or whatever) as I can while crying, and then when I’m crying to hard to wear my glasses any more, I go lie down and hopefully fall asleep.  That’s what happened today.

I don’t know what to do when this happen and I just wish I had some other kind of disease.  I know someone with diabetes who always posts on Facebook or Twitter when her stats are low (or high?  I don’t really know how diabetes works), and she gets encouragement and acknowledgment of how hard that is to live with.  When my friends have a bad cold or mono, or if they break a bone, they can post that on Facebook and people offer to bring soup or drive them to the doctor or walk their dog.  And I have people who would do that too.  But I can’t put this kind of stuff on Facebook.  “Can anyone bring me soup because I’m sad for no reason?” “Can someone come sit in my house because I need company but I can’t get in the car?”  “I feel worthless, can someone come visit me please?”  All of those things would help, but I can’t put them in a public forum.

I sent text messages to a couple of people, but again, there’s a lack of understanding.  These friends would come in a second if something physical happened to me.  If I needed money and they were able, they’d give it to me.  They’re good friends.  But they don’t understand why I feel so bad (neither do I) and they don’t understand that I can’t control it and that it can be SO BAD.  One is legitimately super busy and stressed and texted with me for a little bit but I don’t think she could have done much more with everything going on and I understand.  One said I was welcome to come to her house – which is 30-45 minutes away and I’m not sure I could drive to the corner store right now.  One said that I could call her if I needed, any time. I’m sure if you haven’t experienced it, you don’t know that I am not only functional enough to drive, I am not functional enough to make a phone call, and I’m barely functional enough to type. I didn’t try anyone else because I couldn’t handle it, not because I thought they’d be unhelpful, but because I started believing that I’m not worth their attention and love and care.  I’m so ashamed of being depressed.

There haven’t been that many bad days recently, although they seem to be getting more frequent.  I’ll probably be fine tomorrow, or mostly fine.  But getting through today feels like more than I can do by myself and every time I have one of these days, I get more scared that all of my days will be like this again.


The Medication Dance

June 19, 2012

As anyone with a “mood disorder” knows far too well, medications can be difficult.  I think even most doctors will agree that it’s a lot of trial and error – and when you’re talking about your mental health, “error” is not what you want.  I started on Prozac when I was 20, almost 17 years ago.  Since then, I’ve had a series of medications regiments that worked somewhat – I was so used to being depressed, that I didn’t realize I had only gone from severely depressed to mildly depressed – for the next 14 years.  Finally, after a pretty major breakdown which involved an emergency room visit and an outpatient program, I got put on a medication which actually brought me up to not being depressed – a whole new level for me.

After 3 1/2 years of being pretty stable, my doctor and I decided it was time to address the fact that one of the medications might be giving me some anxiety.  I tapered this medication down very,very slowly, and was fine, mood-wise, so I even allowed myself to think for a minute that maybe one day I could be medication-free!  (probably not going to happen).  Although I was not depressed, I started having more trouble sleeping, so we decided to re-introduce that one slowly.  Frustrating, but it made sense.

Well, even though I’m on THE EXACT SAME COMBINATION as I was a year ago, it’s not working well.  I’m anxious and I’m crying easily and feeling sad and lonely.  I suppose some of it could be external but it coincides perfectly with putting that one medication back in.  It’s known to have anxiety as a side effect, so that makes sense, except that was on it before!  And I suppose the depression could have followed from the anxiety.  Or my body chemistry could have changed.  I don’t know but it is frustrating and discouraging.  And I am really not wanting to do trial and error again.

This also freaks me out because even one day of anxiety/depression can catapult me right back into what it feels like to be in the pit of despair, not able to get out of bed and not able to see any hope in anything.  I’m not even close to that but these little pills might be all that’s standing between me and that situation and that is truly terrifying.


Boredom

June 5, 2012

I had a hard day on Saturday.  I had a difficult student in the morning, which was fine (I love the difficult ones) and then a dog training session, so I was pretty exhausted by early afternoon.  The plan was to take a shower, take a nap, and go to San Francisco to have a mellow dinner with a couple of friends who I haven’t seen in a while but really like and don’t get to see often enough.  I really liked that plan and was pretty invested in it.  It felt like the right amount of alone time vs. work time vs. social plan. So when one of those friends canceled just a few hours before, I was kind of thrown for a loop in a way that I haven’t been in a while.  She said that she had dinner plans and was sorry but hoped she’d see me soon.

First I was  confused – dinner plans?  But the three of us had dinner plans! It was over text message so who knows what details got left out, but I started feeling pretty hurt.  She had just confirmed these plans the day before so why was she canceling them now?  Then I just started feeling sad, again, in a way that I haven’t in a while.  I took a nap but instead of waking up and going somewhere, I woke up and just felt aimless and lost and scared.  it felt like that old feeling that I’d get when I’d leave a social gathering or someone would leave my house and I’d realize that I was alone with myself without a purpose and it felt like I was falling into a pit – there was an actual physical feeling of falling (maybe that’s why I didn’t like roller coasters).

When I was a little kid, I would get so upset when I was bored.  Kids never like being bored, but I would get really distressed and panicked.  I don’t think the adults in my life knew what to do – why would a child be panic-stricken and terrified by boredom, and not just annoyed?  Especially a child who learned to read at 3 and had hundreds of books.  They would argue with me that I couldn’t possibly be bored – I had all these books!  And toys!  and a little brother and sister! And art supplies!  I understand their confusion now.  I’m sure I was bored sometimes, but these times when I was complaining wasn’t because of boredom.  It was because of depression.

I think that many people see depression as just sadness and miss the terror underneath it.  It’s not just sadness, it’s sadness that is a wild animal trying to kill you or that is a terrorist trying to blow you up.  All the time.  Only you don’t care because being alive and scared and sad and hopeless is so much worse than the thing just finally getting you.  I wasn’t bored; I was falling off a mountain but I never landed.  I just kept falling and falling.

This started again on Saturday.  It was pretty mild but I think that all the years when it wasn’t so mild have scarred me.  I think if I didn’t have my history and I felt like I did on Saturday, I would just say I was a little blue.  Or tired.  Or unmotivated.  Instead, I was almost paralyzed.  I kept thinking of it in terms of being bored, just like I had when I was 7 or 8, but I wasn’t bored.  I was probably experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder and I was panicking.

Fortunately, a different friend just happened to have time to meet me for a late dinner.  she is someone who knows all these things about me (and has had her own periods of depression, although not for decades like I did) but I didn’t tell her what was going on, just that I needed to get out of the house.  As soon as I did, I felt better.  Not great, but better. And it got better throughout the night. The weekend overall turned out to be an OK one.  Again, not great, but OK.  Not too long ago, I would have thought about going to the ER because I wasn’t sure I’d be safe at home.  Or started thinking about who was going to take my dog because I didn’t deserve to have anything good and I had incredible overwhelming guilt about being in charge of another living creature when I was so undeserving..  This time, I had a mediocre weekend.  Definite improvement.


Having it Out With Melancholy

February 8, 2012

If you’ve never read this poem by Jane Kenyon, do it.

I was thinking about this poem the other day because there are so many parts that I feel like were written just for me. Someone showed it to me in college and I photocopied it and carried it around for years. I just recently thought of it again (how exciting that depression hasn’t been on my mind as much!) and had to search for it. I’d love to hear what other people think of it and which parts strike you.

For me, the first section is far too true. I have had some form of depression for as long as I can remember. I have very vivid memories of waking up before kindergarten and wanting to be dead. Nothing bad was happening at school but my family was a mess and I was not happy being alive. Kenyon says:

1  FROM THE NURSERY 

When I was born, you waited

behind a pile of linen in the nursery,

and when we were alone, you lay down

on top of me, pressing

the bile of desolation into every pore. 

 

And from that day on

everything under the sun and moon

made me sad — even the yellow

wooden beads that slid and spun

along a spindle on my crib. 

You taught me to exist without gratitude.

You ruined my manners toward God:

“We’re here simply to wait for death;

the pleasures of earth are overrated.”

 

I only appeared to belong to my mother,

to live among blocks and cotton undershirts

with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes

and report cards in ugly brown slipcases.

I was already yours — the anti-urge,

the mutilator of souls.

 

“everything under the sun and moon made me sad.”

That was true for me for over 30 years.

I was also struck by:

 4  OFTEN

 Often I go to bed as soon after dinner

as seems adult

(I mean I try to wait for dark)

in order to push away

from the massive pain in sleep’s

frail wicker coracle.

 

And

 

6  IN AND OUT 

The dog searches until he finds me

upstairs, lies down with a clatter

of elbows, puts his head on my foot.

 

Sometimes the sound of his breathing

saves my life — in and out, in

and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . .

 

The whole poem is still hard for me to read – and I have been “in remission” for three years now.  I don’t remember the despair in a visceral way anymore but I remember it.

It’s like when you have a really bad bruise and you get so used to it hurting when touched.  For the first few days after it doesn’t hurt, I still expect the pain.  I think that’s where I am with depression.