For one reason and another, depression and suicide has been a lively topic among my internet friends of late. Opinions, as they do, vary from those who rage at the suicide for taking the coward’s way out through various reactions including my personal one: there but for the grace of Something go I.
You see, I’ve fought depression much of my life. Consciously… probably since I was around 15, which is when the delights of narcolepsy entered my life. I didn’t get diagnosed for another 20 years, which meant I spent 20 years chronically incapable of fully waking up while being chronically sleep-deprived – one of the interesting quirks of narcolepsy is that the most restful kind of sleep simply doesn’t happen.
Unsurprisingly, sleep-deprivation-induced depression followed not long after.
Now, I’m not claiming that every person who suicides – or every person who gets suicidal – feels the way I do. In the same way that the same dosage of any psychoactive medication acts differently on each person, each person’s personal demons vary, sometimes a lot. But one thing I am sure about is this: if you haven’t stood on the edge of that precipice with something telling you to go ahead and just lean forward, and it will all be much better, you can’t understand what drives someone to it.
Me, I externalize it. A lot of people with depression issues do. Partly because it helps to keep a grip on reality, when you treat depression-induced thoughts as originating from somewhere else, something else. If you can convince yourself they’re not you, you can fight them. If you can fight them, you can… well, you can’t really win, because they’ll always be there waiting for a moment of weakness, but you can keep them away for a little longer, a day at a time. Sometimes, a minute at a time, or a second at a time.
It’s not that rare with authors – our brains are already broken in interesting ways – but it’s uncommon for one to write them into their fiction in a way that perfectly encapsulates what depression is and what it does to people.
Let’s start by clearing up one thing. Sadness, grieving in response to a loss… that is not depression. It’s sadness. Grief. It passes with time, and even at its worst there are moments of joy and hope. Depression is not like that. Everything is poisoned.
J. K. Rowling is describing depression when she describes the Dementors and their impact.
Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you.
This is precisely what depression does. There is an absence of hope, an inability to believe that there can ever be anything positive in your life again. That isn’t sadness or grief, and it isn’t necessarily expressed by tears.
This is how it was for me.
I was dead inside. I could fake being “normal” in small doses, but I couldn’t keep it going for long. There were a crapload of other things going on in my life and I was completely overwhelmed by it. More than that, I could tell that my issues were causing problems for my parents and siblings – this was before The Husband came onto the scene.
The periodic thoughts that would drift in whenever I let my mind go enough – that it would be easier all around if I simply didn’t wake up in the morning – started to happen more often, and gradually got more detailed over a period of several months. I didn’t tell anyone: why would I burden anyone with any more of my problems? It was just me being stupid, after all. (I should add that I was on prescription antidepressants while this was happening and had been stable on that medication and dosage for several years).
It felt as though there was this other presence sitting on my shoulder, using my mind to think thoughts I didn’t want to think, and getting stronger all the time.
I remember several times where I’d sit in my car punching the dash and muttering, sometimes damn near screaming, “No.” Never more than that, just “No.” And all the while the whole plan to take myself and my problems out of the way of everyone I cared about rolled through my mind as if I wasn’t even there.
Fill up the car, get myself some hose that would fit over the tailpipe and be long enough to get into the window, then go to the storage units down the road and get myself a garage-sized unit. It didn’t matter that the check would bounce, because all I had to do was drive in, set up, and go to sleep in the car. By the time anyone thought to check, it would be too late.
What stopped me was the cat. Her Royal Fluffiness, Miss Shani. You see, I believed that if by some miracle the check didn’t bounce it would be at least a month before anyone suspected anything. I genuinely believed my parents would not miss me or bother to check on me when I didn’t answer the phone. But I knew the cat would be locked in my apartment with no food or water if I didn’t keep coming home to her.
So I held on. A day at a time. A minute at a time. A second at a time.
I held on, believing that there was no hope and no future. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life (and this is coming from the woman who drove from Houston to past Philadelphia with an untreated broken ankle, who upped stakes and moved from Australia to the USA to get married). I sincerely hope it will remain the hardest thing I ever do in my life.
Obviously, I clawed my way back from the brink. It was a close thing. Looking back, I think one more crisis would probably have tipped me.
The point, though, is this. When you start believing that you’re doing your friends and family a favor by getting out of their lives, it’s not you talking. It’s the demons. The depression. The Dementors, if you will. They’re sitting there on your shoulder whispering these lies into your mind because they feed on despair and exist to turn everything around you gray and hopeless. I don’t give a shit what the actual physical explanation is – this is what it feels like. I’ve heard so many, many similar stories from others who have been there and found their way back to a world where they can hope and find joy to think that it’s unique to me.
If that’s what your mind is telling you, it is lying.
It’s not you.
It’s the demon on your shoulder trying to destroy every good thing in your life.
Fight it. One day at a time. One minute at a time. One second at a time.
Because you don’t know what life will bring, but it’s a lie that nobody will miss you.