My heart ached with the news regarding the suicides of Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell. I started writing this post then and walked away. Now Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have committed suicide so I face this page once again. As is always the case, blogs, tweets, articles and radios chant, “Please get help.” And my response is, “People who have never been depressed just don’t get it.”
The energy it takes to fight these demons is enormous. We fight them and fight them and fight them. Then one day, we realize the fight is never going to end. The monsters will always return. It is a disease much like cancer. It eats away at you. You either can’t feel anything or you feel everything ten fold. You are exhausted. You fight it by telling yourself, “It’s the depression. These feelings aren’t real. It will pass.” You wait it out. Time and again. Until you finally ask yourself, “Does it even matter?!?!” You are cut off from feeling things so your only motivation for staying alive is seeing that others love you and you do not want to hurt them. But, to be honest, you hate them a little bit for not just letting you go.
In my latest struggle with severe depression, I found myself operating like a robot. Just trying to get through every day, hoping maybe the fog would clear tomorrow. It never did. I knew I needed to get help. I tried to get help. I did exactly what I was supposed to do. Research psychologists to find the right one for you. So I researched. I contacted them. I was told they weren’t accepting new clients. I researched again. I contacted again. I was again told they were not taking new clients. I did this again and again for six months. All the while sinking deeper and deeper into a world of black and white, live or die. I personally know of seven people, not including myself, who have been suicidal within the last year. There is an epidemic right now.
I even contacted the employee assistance program thinking they could find someone better than I could. They couldn’t. After three days of them researching they were only able to identify two professionals taking new clients and one of them was an hour away. It felt like I was trying to get help and the universe was giving me a great big, “FUCK YOU.” I had insurance. Great insurance. I was trying to get help. Yet, I couldn’t get it. It seemed like the only way to enter the process was to check myself into a mental ward. I wondered to myself, what about all those people who’s depression had already numbed their resolve to push through this? Those who were weakly seeking help but for whom the desire to die was stronger? Those who were just so tired they couldn’t cut through the bull shit? How many of them have survived? Recent headlines reveal many have not… With many more not making headlines, I’m sure. I was strong enough to be asking the right questions. I was trying to get the help I needed. I didn’t feel like I needed to be locked up for my own safety. Why was that seemingly the only way to get help then? It felt like I was begging for help. Eventually, I found someone local but I was her last new patient until 6 months out, at least.
It has been an incredible and eye-opening experience.
“Please get help.” Sure. But from where?!?! And how?!?! The professionals are overwhelmed with an epidemic of depression. Even with insurance, it is exceptionally hard to get in for help. You are pretty much out of luck if you have no insurance. I have no idea how to fix that but the system is broken and it needs to be fixed. We will continue to see suicides and violent crime until mental healthcare is easily accessible. I scoff at the phrase “please get help” when it is just thrown out there and left wherever it landed. Depressed people are too tired to deal with this system. One does not go it alone with cancer. Imagine having a heart attack and someone says, “the defibrillator is over there, go get it.” Only the depressed person can do the work to heal but they probably need help getting the ball rolling. Keep checking in and insisting they get help. Stress how important it is to keep trying when the system doesn’t seem to want to let you in.
With the insistence of my husband and friends, I came to realize medication was necessary for me. I knew all the tricks of the psychology trade so to say, all the coping techniques they teach you, and they were not enough to bring me back to, well, ME. I had gone through three pregnancies and all the hormone changes that entails. Apparently, it messed with my brain chemistry as well. I was terrified to start the medication because it came with the warning: May cause thoughts of suicide or cause existing thoughts to worsen. At that point, I was at least stopping to think, “Do I really want to kill myself?” Would the medication push me so far down I would stop asking that vital question? Luckily, they are helping. The past few months have been brutal and yet I have been able to cope. I just have to hope they continue working. And if they don’t, that I have the wherewithal to seek help yet again.
I do not know Chris Cornell or Chester Bennington. I can’t say I know what they went through or what kind of professional help they had. But oh how I can empathize with their pain, their struggle and their defeat. We do know we love you and you love us. We do know that our absence would create heartache. We do know that our deaths would leave an unfulfillable void. The burden of the illness is just so great that we wish you DIDN’T love us, that our absence WOULDN’T cause heartache or a void. We are so encased in the depression that we wish we could just sacrifice our bodies in the hope for peace. Imagine it as if we carry a giant boulder above our heads. It continually presses down until we are hunched over. It presses down upon us until we are either crushed or we have found a way to extricate ourselves. It is not like a real rock you can just lay down. It has grown into our skin and has become one with us. Extricating depression is like removing a tumor deep within the brain. It requires expertise, precision, caution, time… And follow-up.
If you want to be productive, urge your loved one to get help, then follow-up until they do. Make sure they know you love them. Find ways you can help them get help. For instance, I needed someone to watch my children so I could research doctors and make appointments without the constant interruptions inherent with kids.
I suffered with depression for a year, maybe more, before I even mentioned it to anyone. I remember holding my youngest child, cognitively knowing how wonderful my life was but not being able to FEEL it. I realized this was never going to go away. So what was the point of fighting? It is like living in a flood plain. You can only rebuild so many times before you move away. The older generation of depressed people know how hard the battle is to get out of depression. We’ve been there, a few times, and it is easy to doubt whether we have it in us to do it yet again.
I write all this in the hope that it might bring some understanding to those who have never suffered from depression. I write even though I suspect the chances of that are slim to none. I also write for those still struggling with it… The clouds always part. Sometimes it is interminably long but they do. The storm may or may not return but we need to carry on. We do. We just do. Those times in between. They ARE worth it.
As I am prone to do before publishing, I seek feedback from other people. My husband asked me, What would you have said to Chris, Chester, Kate or Anthony had they called you on the day they ended their lives?” The first thought that popped into my head was, “They never would have placed a call.” I guess this is the point I am really trying to drive home, if you are on the ledge, you do not want to get help. You want to carve distance between you and your loved ones so you can slip quietly away without harming others. I think the most effective thing you can do is help them bridge the times in between. Make sure they know their death would be excruciating. Make sure they know you love them. Make sure they never forget you are there. Never let them forget they are connected to life.
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