I’m a day late with this. Apologies but it’s taken some time and considerable effort to write. If you were anywhere near social media yesterday (10 September) you will know it was World Suicide Prevention Day, an event that’s intended to raise awareness about suicide and the surrounding issues.
For those who don’t know, depression, GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) and social anxiety have been almost constant companions throughout most of my adult life. I’ve had periods of feeling suicidal more times than I can count, though thankfully I’ve never made it past the planning stage thus far. Over the years and with lots of therapy I’ve learnt some coping mechanisms that although don’t alleviate my symptoms by much do help to get me through those very dark times.
Given my history, I feel I have a perspective on this that some may find useful. Keep in mind that while I don’t mind talking about these things at all, I don’t think I’m very good at explaining how exactly it effects me. I had wanted to make my own small contribution to raising awareness by writing something here, but I also wanted it to be a meaningful contribution and not just an empty social media echo. That said, I really wasn’t sure where to begin. There’s a fine line between actually doing some good and coming across as insincere (see much of social media), pathetic (how I usually sound when attempting an explanation of my own experiences) or worse, patronising (see social media again).
I happened to be on Twitter yesterday (which happens less and less these days), when one tweet in particular stood out to me.
Anxiety & depression is like being scared and tired at the same time— Depression Notes™ 📄 (@depressionnote) September 8, 2018
It’s the fear of failure but no urge to be productive
It’s wanting friends but hating socialising
It’s wanting to be alone but not wanting to be lonely
It’s caring about everything, then caring about nothing
It really resonated with me and it brilliantly explained some of the symptoms I experience very simply and in so few words. Being able to explain these issues in that way is a gift, all credit to the people behind @depressionnote, they’re doing an outstanding job. Not only have I experienced all of the things in that list regularly, they often occur all in the same day. Hell, sometimes they all come together in the same hour!
I thought I’d try to expand on that list by adding some lines of my own. So, to me, depression and anxiety is…
- Looking and sounding fine from the outside but feeling like you’re in hell with the hounds on your tail on the inside.
- It’s having ambition(s) but no confidence to carry out said ambitions.
- It’s being excited about the future but also not being able to imagine a future for yourself beyond the moment you’re in.
- It’s desperately wanting / needing a job but not being able to hold one down for more than a week or two, if you even get past the application / interview stage.
- It’s loving / liking someone but being unable to express that love no matter how intensely you feel it.
- It’s knowing that doing certain things will make you feel better but not feeling able to do them, even if to most people they’re very simple things (like showering).
- It’s feeling creative but having no energy to be creative.
- It’s thinking that you’re fine and coping but actually you’re very, very ill.
- It’s wanting friendships but not being equipped to maintain them.
- It’s not wanting to draw attention to yourself but crying uncontrollably in public.
- It’s laughing one minute but sobbing hysterically the next, sometimes repeating the process several times in a day.
- It’s knowing that you’re in a rut but feeling utterly incapable of getting out of it no matter how much you want to.
- It’s wanting to talk to people about how you’re feeling but knowing that you won’t because of guilt / other people not understanding / not being able to find the words (and countless other reasons).
- It’s seeing your prime minister writing platitudes about SPD but knowing that she is a major contributing factor to there being very little real help out there.
- It’s being convinced that you’re “cured” when you have a good week or two but realising you may not ever be when the next low cycle starts again.
- It’s being at rock bottom, finally gathering the corage to ask for help but being treated like a child / not taken seriously by the medical profession.
- It’s being a naturally caring / emotional / humorous person but feeling absolutely nothing at all apart from an all encompassing numbness.
- It’s talking to people and getting along with them really well but having a brain glitch and saying something completely inappropriate.
- It’s wanting to contribute to things but not daring to because you know at some point you will fuck up and let people down.
- It’s having a thirst for knowledge but mental illness has completely screwed up your ability to remember things.
- It’s feeling utterly drained and exhausted but being unable to sleep.
- It’s wanting to explore the world but not being able to leave your house for months at a time.
I could add more to this but I don’t want to turn into a not very interesting dissertation so I’ll stop there.
Of course I don’t experience all of these things every single day of my life, and I do have good days (weeks if I’m very lucky). A good day for me is a mix of the two, where I can acknowledge what I’m feeling and let it go, knowing that thoughts and feelings are fleeting things and will eventually pass. My thoughts do not define me. A bad day is being devoid of all feeling, barely capable of getting out of bed and if you do make it that far the only other thing you manage to do is sit on the sofa staring (but not really watching) mindlessly at the tv. A really bad day is being unable even to talk because your whole mind and body feels frozen, incapable of any sort of motion.
When you have enough bad days, unsurprisingly your mind can turn to thoughts of suicide. If you’ve never experienced depression it’s really very difficult to understand what that is like. I don’t blame anyone for this - I don’t know what diabetes or schizophrenia feels like either. But it can make it hard to explain, for me at least, though I’ll try.
Imagine the worst day of your life. Now imagine having days like that for weeks and sometimes months with little to no respite. It’s terrifying and exhausting and often feels as if there’s no end to it. Then imagine how lonely it is to feel like it’s a problem only you can solve or that it’s your fault, but you just can’t see any way to a solution. It’s a very hefty weight for anyone to carry and we are, as they say, only human. These are the times when suicide is driven to the front of your mind. Any time your mind drifts you begin to question if your absence would really matter, if ending your life is the only way to be free of the relentless anguish.
I feel extremely lucky that I’ve never actually gone so far as to attempt suicide. I’ve come very close in the past, breathtakingly close. Others tragically aren’t so lucky (and a fair amount of prevention really is down to luck - chance conversations etc.).
I’m not here to offer advice as I’m no psychiatrist, but what I will say is this. When I’ve been in those suicidal periods in my life, sometimes what’s pulled me back enough to stop those thoughts have been really simple things. A hug from my husband, a phone call from my Mom, a conversation with my daughter, playing an online game with my Dad, talking to a stranger online, or even just seeing a child smile on the street.
If you know someone is going through a tough time, don’t be afraid to talk to them. It might feel a little uncomfortable at first (what’s a tiny bit of discomfort in the grand scheme of things?) and it’s not a guarantee of a cure by any means, but there’s the possibility that it can make an enormous difference. I won’t presume to tell anyone precisely what to talk about - everyone is different and my experience of depression won’t be the same as somebody else’s. However, so long as you set out to be supportive and non-judgemental, any conversation is better than none. Often what helps is that sense of connecting with somebody and the reminder that there are people who care.
P.S. In case anyone is worried, as I write this I’m fine. Today is mercifully a reasonably good day. I hope there are other people out there having good days too.