The darkest side of depression.
Updated: May 14
Considering the topic discussed here and the nature of people's sensibilities today, I think I must provide some sort of disclaimer. This article contains my opinions and observations. I can only speak to my own personal experience and, in no way, am I making a declaration or recommendation on treatments. The discussion of depression, anxiety, and suicide may be a trigger for some people. Please stop reading here if that's you.
While considering whether or not to launch a blog, I did a lot of research on them. Not only did I focus on the mechanics of it, trying to understand the jargon, etc., I also Googled blogs about tiny trailers, camping, hiking, etc. as well as depression and anxiety. I knew that, given my topic, my blog would require me to bare my soul, as it were, and divulge some of my struggles. Needless to say, there are many people out there trying to find their way in the darkness and quite a few are blogging about it. Most of them appear to be doing so as a coping mechanism and not expecting anyone to really read them, much less expend an effort to make some sort of contact as a show of solidarity. With the exception of the professional resources, most blogs on the matter appear to be online personal journals offered as a virtual outstretched hand to others who are at various stages in their journey into the light.
Of the many blogs I viewed, I found one to be very impactful. It stuck with me. It's titled, "Funny thing happened on the way here..." and is relatively new - May 2019. The writer is named Todd and appears to reside in the D.C. area. He also appears to be quite successful by most people's standards. Yet, back in July 2017, Todd had a really bad day. That day, he chose suicide as his coping mechanism. The blog is well written. But, it's a very difficult read. It provides a good insight on how people view mental illness and suicide and a very methodical explanation of what it can look like from the inside out. He goes into great detail about the feelings that led up to that fateful day. Obviously, as is evidenced by his being around to write about it, he changed his mind. His writings about the event post-attempt are even more insightful and relevant.
Although norms are changing and discussing depression and anxiety has become more common and "acceptable," discussing suicide is still considered rather taboo and certainly polarizing. Besides the societal issues, there are also religious implications (which I won't even begin to address this day). Although its impacts are far-reaching, the decision to resort to suicide is a very complicated and personal one. Personally, I have an opinion or two about the matter. I believe that even though our humanity connects us, we are all individual beings. We should be in charge of our own lives and that includes having the ability to shut it down it if that's our desire. After all, no one can live your life for you, and they certainly don't have the capacity to feel what you feel when you're feeling it. However, most people, as well as Todd, consider suicide to be a selfish act. I think that depends on the reason for it. On the one hand, I believe if you have a terminal or severely debilitating illness, and you're facing a future of overwhelming pain and suffering, then you should have the ability to "check out" on your own terms when you're ready as long as you're making that decision from a place of clarity and sound mind. If there's any selfishness in that instance, it resides with those who are willing to deny someone the option. It's very easy for them to make a decision on some else's behalf as they don't have to endure what's to come. I do find it interesting that we feel we have the right to make the choice to euthanize an animal to spare it from pain and suffering, yet we won't allow a human being to make that personal choice for themselves.
On the other hand, I don't believe that suicide chosen to escape from a rectifiable and often temporary situation should be encouraged, especially when it's made under the cloud of depression. It's quite documented that depression "clouds the mind," and any life-and-death decision made while in that cloud is most certainly not based on reality. When you're in that level of darkness, it's virtually impossible to see the light. Thankfully, we have a suicide prevention hotline, which is one of the reasons Todd is around to tell us his story. However, sometimes a hotline isn't enough. At those times, those friends and family who are left behind will certainly struggle to find meaning in the aftermath. Fortunately, not everyone who suffers from depression and/or anxiety will contemplate suicide. Although there are many different risk factors that can lead to it, research has shown a strong link between depression and suicide. So, it's important to be educated and aware.
As for Todd, I'm glad that he survived that fateful day and chose to share his story. Normally, I hate the cliché, "Be thankful because someone always has it worse than you." Besides being overused, I think that phrase disrespects the feelings and vulnerability of the person exposing their feelings. Besides, we're not in a pissing contest about who feels worse. It's all relative. However, sometimes the realization that someone's suffering is greater than yours can redirect your negative self evaluation into more positive actions. It is well documented that in the act of helping others, we help ourselves. According to an article in Psychology Today, "Whether we are the ones providing the emotional support or the ones seeking it, the 2 most common ways to help others regulate their emotions are through acceptance (showing empathy by validating their feelings) and reappraisal (helping others think about their situation in a different way). A recent study from Columbia University has revealed that when helping others navigate their stressful situations, we are enhancing our own emotion regulation skills, and thus, benefiting our own emotional well-being." Besides it being a cathartic action for him, I believe that Todd has chosen to share his story in an attempt to help others.
One passage in Todd's blog that particularly resonated with me was, "Often, I read some bullshit article about how going for a walk or getting coffee with a friend will help you out of depression and while that may be true for mild, periodic depression, you wouldn't suggest that for someone with cancer. Someone that lost a job or a loved one, sure. But someone struggling with serious mental illness, they need real help." Having stood on that precipice before, I can certainly concur with that assessment. Depression occurs at many different levels and in many different layers. It's consistently inconsistent. I don't believe there is just one "treatment" that "cures" it. Instead, I believe it's a combination of treatments, sometimes a culmination of treatments, and, certainly none of them are a one-size-fits-all solution. As I think back on my limited writings in this blog, I certainly hope that I haven't given the impression that a simple walk in the woods will make it all better. Nothing is farther from the truth. But, I do believe (as I am proof) that interacting with Nature can be a soothing balm for a recurring deep and painful wound that is depression.
May is National Mental Health Awareness month. Yes. There's a month for everything. A designated month for issues that must, in reality, be faced by the day, hour, minute, and year-round. At first, the commercialism of it bothered me. But now, I realize that designating a month for this or that can actually help to call attention to the issue at-hand, put a human face to it, and solidify the efforts of those dealing with it, which can provide energy reserves and resources for the year-round struggles. Even if you don't struggle with a mental health issue, I hope you will take the time to educate yourself on the matter. There's an excellent online resource at www.save.org that provides education and guidance for those impacted by depression and its darker side - suicide. Whether you know it or not, you've been touched by someone who has a mental health issue. There's also a really good chance you've been touched by someone who has contemplated suicide. Worse yet, you may have lost someone to suicide and be struggling with coming to terms with it.
As I mentioned, depression comes in many forms. As important as it is to define what depression is, it's equally important to define what it isn't. It's not being sad about not getting enough "likes" on your social media or that the first date didn't turn into a second date. According to an excellent article in Healthline, "Sadness is a typical emotion and expected in situations of loss, change, or difficult life experiences,” she says. “Depression is a condition that exists without triggers and lingers to the point of needing treatment. Depression is more than occasional sadness. Depression involves periods of hopelessness, lethargy, emptiness, helplessness, irritability, and problems focusing and concentrating." With the increased awareness and "acceptability" of depression has come an increase in self-diagnoses. The term is now assigned loosely and without an understanding of its impact. Unfortunately, it has now become trendy to be depressed and/or anxious. People publicly proclaim it proudly without the confirmation of a professional diagnosis. Some wear it like a badge of honor. It is anything but that. And those people who use it to simply gain attention do a great disservice to those people who are truly suffering and struggling just to survive. It takes a great deal of strength to reveal a mental illness...to live with it. And many suffer in silence for years for fear of humiliation and of being ostracized. Although bringing it into the light can certainly afford many people the opportunity to seek support, trivializing it will have the opposite effect. Unfortunately, now, I fear the novelty of it will only serve to minimize the seriousness of this illness and will force some people, who truly need help, not to seek treatment. I hope I'm wrong. This is a serious illness that can have deadly consequences.
This last year has been difficult for all of us. The impacts of COVID have changed many of our lives forever. There is a cloud of uncertainty over humanity now. We all have much to feel sad about. Many people understandably feel hopeless. Given the circumstances, all these negative feelings are completely normal. Everyone needs to be able to voice and process these feelings in a healthy manner and in their own time. As we emerge from this dark chapter in our lives, many will process the sadness and move past it. Many will not. For those with true mental illnesses, the darkness will not pass and the despair will linger, as it existed before this event. They may not voice it, but choose to suffer in silence. When I speak of depression here, I speak of those people who will remain in the shadows because theirs is not a malady that can be willed away.
"Be kind. Don't judge." is a well-worn sentiment that you can find splashed on Instagram and Pinterest pages galore. It's printed on mugs, bags, etc. So much so, we've almost become blasé about it. However, there's never been a more important call to action when it comes to mental health. It's so easy for people to judge and make armchair assessments, especially after-the-fact. It's normal for us to try to find some logic and rationale in what we consider irrational actions or behavior. Stop trying. It's not about you. Understand that for many people, it just IS. Rest assured that the person suffering with a mental illness is heaping plenty of judgement upon themselves. They are not weak. They are in pain and living with a sometimes debilitating disease. They are not broken. You don't need to fix them. They're not asking you to fix them. You can't fix them. You can love them. You can support them. You can educate yourself so that you can be there for them in a meaningful way. As is evidenced by some of the surprising celebrity suicides, the signs can be very difficult to recognize. Some people are very adept at donning the mask, allowing them to avoid the stigma associated with mental illness and to appear "normal." Although it's not a panacea, education can arm friends and family with valuable skills to help them recognize the signs of a potential problem.
I don't have all the answers, but I can speak from my personal experience. If you're suffering with depression or anxiety, don't do it in silence. Reach out. Contact a friend, family member, spiritual advisor, or medical professional. Join a support group. Write a journal or a blog. Volunteer. Get outside. Find a creative outlet for the pain. I know the first step can be excruciatingly difficult. But, you can do it. It will be a continuous struggle, and some days will be better than others. Some days, you'll remain "under the rock." There is no shame. You are not broken. You're just different. It's okay to not be okay. You ARE loved. YOU'RE NOT ALONE!
If you're contemplating suicide, CALL THE HOTLINE AT 800-273-8255. Someone is there for you 24/7. Reach out. Talk it out. YOU'RE NOT ALONE!
It's one step at a time, but let's keep walking towards the light together.
“We are not all in the same boat...we are all in the same storm“ - Damian Barr