Last weekend I was walking around feeling, well, down. Sorta moody. Bummed out, if you will. So I took to social media to describe my temperament, explaining that the day hadn’t gone well and I was…
She was very young when it finally claimed her life. It had gone undiagnosed and untreated for many years. Self-medication made it better some days. Some days, it made it worse. Finally, her family took her to a doctor for help, but it was too late. She was dead within the year.
It is very much the same for all of us, regardless of the illness. You play out the same scenarios. You walk the tightrope of hope, trying to maintain balance in the midst of the inescapable truth: You are powerless. Your insignificance in the mean face of death is overwhelming.
You hold their hand and fight your tears. You stay up late, sitting in the kitchen when you should be in bed. You jump at the phone. You mull over the details with friends. You question the doctor. Are they doing everything they can? Are they doing it right? Could someone else be doing more for them? You count your blessings. You count each day. Then, you count each minute. Before you know it, you’re holding your breath for each second.
When the seconds stop, the funeral is unremarkable. The pain so evenly distributed over every inch of your body that you can hardly feel a thing. The food there tastes like sand. If you have the energy to tune in to what anyone is saying, then it is unfathomably inconsequential. You can’t believe you spoke that way, some unimaginable amount of time ago. You are sure you will never speak that way again.
The sort of condolences bestowed on us, the grieving loved ones, are many and they are truly empathetic. Even after all this time, they are warm and heartfelt. It is this warmth that drives the lump into my throat, the inevitability that a perfectly well-meaning person will inquire about how it happened. The lump will bob and choke, while I explain to them that she killed herself.
I watch as the shift takes place: They furrow their brow and click their tongue, the same reaction from everyone. What had just a moment before been perceived as the tragedy of an innocent death becomes the report of an insidious crime. Suddenly the blame shifts, as if every death is a crime scene and the only one of us unaccountable is God.
In order to help those suffering from mental illnesses such as depression, we need to begin acknowledge that falling victim to a mental illness is as irreproachable as falling victim to any physical illness. Imagine marching into battle knowing in the event of your death, instead of being remembered for your bravery, you would be condemned in your failure to prevail. We need to understand these victims are not committing acts of violence against themselves on a whim. We need to recognize they go to battle every day, and each day that they are still standing is a victory.
We need to accept their realities are their own, and not shove our own realities down their throats. Those of us who choose to enrich our lives with the power of positive thinking, we need to understand it is chemically impossible for others to do the same. Would you ask a friend battling another illness to try harder? Would you suggest maybe they go get a hobby, get out more and enjoy the sunshine? Would you suggest these things might cure them? Would you ever make them feel they were somehow responsible for the ultimate outcome of their illness?
Suicidal thoughts are as real and as harmful as the cancerous cells that infiltrate our bodies and claim our lives. As is the case with cancer, there is a chance the victims of mental illness will respond well to treatment and learn to live again. On the other hand, like cancer, it can fight them until they lose all fighting strength. Whatever the illness, the bottom line is this: it may take our loved ones from us. They will often go violently. They will leave us with what feels like intent.
Don’t do your loved ones the injustice of believing this lie. Their illness has already robbed them of a life, but don’t let it taint their memory in death. We don’t want to apologize for them anymore. Some of us won’t because we feel they have nothing to apologize for. Some of us can’t because we can’t forgive them ourselves.
Please, stop asking us to apologize for them. Don’t ask us to remember them for their ultimate defeat. Allow us to remember them for each day we spent with them, each memory a lasting victory.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
I write about Suicide
Is there a time when you should give in and let someone commit suicide? When you’re suffering, should you ever just commit suicide?
Dear Mum and Dad,
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have this voice in my head. At first it was just a whisper, sneaking in late at night when it was quiet. But the voice got louder and spoke to me more and more over the years. It makes me doubt my every action, it makes me agonize over every word I speak. It tells me I am stupid, it calls me a failure, it tells me I’m annoying and it tells me you hate me. Sometimes the voice is so loud and I feel so exhausted I can barely move. When I ask the voice what I should do, it tells me to hurt myself, it sees some busy traffic and it tells me to run in front of it, it sees that knife and it tells me to hurt myself with it. The voice was so loud and so persistent, I saw no end, I believed everything it said. I became so sad, I eventually stopped feeling anything. The voice became “helpful” then — it helped me make a plan. It tricked me into thinking the only way to make the voice disappear, was to also make myself disappear. However, that’s when the other voice would also speak.
This other voice made me see the future, it made me see all the detail, it made me see all the pain. That voice would save me, but that voice also plagues me. Voice number two has a physical form, much harder to hide. It clouds my mind, it stops my brain from functioning, it makes me feel sick, it causes me feel physical pain. This second voice is no friend, it makes me scared of everything. So welcome to my mind, where three voices battle. There is the depression, it floods my mind with painful thoughts and memories spontaneously. Then the anxiety, the voice of panic and overthinking. Then, somewhere in there is me, who just wants to be happy.
I know this sounds silly, but the hardest thing I do each day is just getting out of bed. I spend all night agonizing — sometimes it’s depression giving me a highlight reel of every painful memory, other times it is anxiety racing around my mind, listing everything I need to do. At some point I eventually sleep, sometimes even without nightmares, but when that alarm goes off I feel so exhausted. I can just about deal with that — coffee helps — but then anxiety and depression also wake up. I panic, I think of all the things I need to get done today, I imagine them all in my mind. I’m scared of not finishing, scared of failing, and then depression tells me I shouldn’t even try. So I lay there for a while — powerless, exhausted from the nightmares and panicking about the clock ticking, plagued with the fear of failure.
Eventually I force myself up and try to focus on just one little task. The voices quiet down and I gradually get on with my day. Some days I’m not so lucky. Some days the depression wins and I lay there for hours and hours, doing nothing but thinking about how pathetic I am. I tell myself I will fix it tomorrow, then the panic and the pressure increases and that night’s sleep is even worse, so the next day is even harder. That cycle just continues and the voices get stronger. But don’t fear, because I understand the voices are not me. I don’t know where they came from, but I know they’re not my words.
That is what makes me better now, why I seem happy. I try my best not to listen, and some days I am really strong. I push it down with dreams of the future, of a life where I might one day be happy. I know how to fix myself now, I know I will beat this. However, I need you to understand more than anything that everyday is still a battle for me. It may seem silly to you, but for me this is all so real and so difficult. So when you say I am lazy or weak or pathetic you cut deep into my wounds. You make me doubt everything I am trying to do, and you become just like those voices. As well as shouting at me, telling me to snap out of it, telling me the voices are my fault, you might as well be a part of my illness too. You may forget your words or your actions, but depression takes great satisfaction in storing it and playing it back to me. I don’t expect you to fully understand, but can you please just accept this is happening to me? That alone will make me ten times stronger. That is all I need from you.
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