This was originally posted on December 30, 2013 as a Facebook note. I have made a few minor edits from the original to improve some wording, but there’s no change to the content. It was with this post that I realized I might have a few things to say that others could benefit from reading, and so, after a bit of time to ponder potential content, this blog was born.
The essence of this post has been on my mind for quite some time, but I keep hesitating about posting it. Because some people might be surprised. Because some people might make inaccurate assumptions. Because some people might recognize the anonymized versions of themselves and be offended. Or feel guilty. Or just generally hate that they are in the story even if nobody else will know it’s them. The thing is, this really needs to be said, and it’s more important than whatever probably irrational anxieties I have.
This summer, a television actor shot himself. It doesn’t matter which one, as this has happened many times before, will unfortunately happen many times again, and the reactions always seem to be the same: “But so many people loved him!”, “But nobody knew there was anything wrong!” My reaction to these reactions is always: “Maybe no one told him.”, “Maybe no one was listening.” Hard to believe with the famous actor? Okay, so fill it in with “a boy from my school” or “a woman I work with”. It might still be a little hard to believe, as you may be that person who admired the boy’s articulate answers in literature class, or always saw how chipper the woman was when she arrived at work in the morning. Did you compliment that boy? Did you ask that woman how she was doing and genuinely want an answer, not just “I’m great, and you?”?
Humans do not just get a hangnail and decide to kill themselves over it. Maybe that hangnail (real or metaphorical) happens, maybe it’s even the very last in a long string of things going wrong before the suicide actually takes place, but suicide happens when there’s simply no hope left at all. Do you realize how long it takes to completely lose hope? Do you realize what tiny acts can reignite it? Sometimes people have struggled with depression or other mental illnesses for years – decades even – before all the hope is gone. Sometimes, life circumstances simply are bad enough to create depression that wouldn’t otherwise exist. Either way, we’re all fighting to survive another day, and some of us are just losing the fight.
I do not remember life before depression. It sounds overly dramatic, but it’s the truth. I didn’t always have a word for it, but I can look back to at least middle school and see it with that amazing 20/20 hindsight. This is not to say that I’ve spent 20+ years doing nothing but wallowing in misery. This is true for all depressed people and probably a big reason that everyone says “I didn’t know there was anything wrong”. We’re very good at hiding the bad times. Get a little quieter, act like we’re too busy to socialize when really we’re hiding out in a blanket fort eating comfort food and crying inexplicably. Above all else, keep our lips zipped about the very shameful act of not being happy and grateful about every positive part of our lives, and not appreciating the life lessons in every negative part of our lives.
This past year has been one of the worst. I say “one of”, because I frankly have had so many really crappy years that it’s impossible to choose one. As these cycles always go, life was looking up. Nothing terribly bad or dramatic had happened in some time. I had plans for the future. I had great friends. There are generally 2 to 3 years of rebuilding and gaining hope that life might actually work out, then the next disaster hits. This is not to say that there’s no depression in that time…the depression is always there, hovering, making it take many times more effort to get through than it would for the average person, but at least I’ll be coping. Then suddenly everything starts to go wrong. Things will spiral until that teeny flame of hope is nearly extinguished.
This year began with my job finally starting to really suit me and be truly enjoyable. This year began with plans to move to a new city, with more opportunity to go out and explore, and near family that I do not see nearly often enough. This year began with a compliment that made me almost regret these plans to move. This year began with a truly close friendship that was actually with someone I got to see face-to-face on a regular basis. Things were downright rosy.
A few months into the year, the rosy outlook disintegrated. Plans to move were halted due to mom’s health. I lost the job, and the friend. The friend was actually my boss, and I’ve already heard the “you deserve it for becoming friends with your boss” judgement. Let me say that I fought against it for years, but we were eventually closer to equals than to boss/employee, despite my title and pay not reflecting that fact. She was the one who initiated the step into actual friendship. So while some may disapprove of my friendship choices, I must point out that “you made a stupid decision” is not a very helpful thing to say to someone who is clearly hurting.
As it turns out, losing the job and the friendship turned into losing basically all of the benefit of having worked there. I won’t deny that I’m still bitter. I won’t even deny that I still go in the bathroom of my current job on breaks and cry over the fact that I’m there instead of at the job I loved, despite the many aspects that made me grumble. Imagine spending 3 years of your life meeting people, building friendships and business relationships, gathering experience for your resume, and then having one person take it all away from you, like those 3 years never happened. Oh, except for the fact that you remember them and can’t stop going over and over it all in your head.
Now imagine that simultaneously you have to contend with a family member’s medical issues, and with removal of any hope for a major positive life change you’d been planning for well over a year. Sounds tough? Oh, and you’ve spent 2/3 of your life struggling with depression. Gee, it would be nice to go for coffee with a friend, or exchange some long e-mails to sort out some of your thoughts. What if no one is listening?
I had to tell myself every day for months to keep fighting, that this thing was not going to beat me, that I was not going to let an evil ex-friend ruin my life. Oh wait, I still loved her and didn’t think of her as evil. I had to keep putting myself out there, trying to contact people, arrange dinners, nag when I was being ignored. I think most people find that to be a lot of effort, even when they feel good. Well, it didn’t work. I am again not being overly dramatic. I sent e-mails, texts, and Facebook messages to dozens of people, giving them plenty of time to respond before sending followup messages. By plenty of time, I mean up to 2 weeks despite seeing that they were online daily. The vast majority of people have never responded, even though it has been 6+ months. Some I gave up on, some I continued to contact occasionally and still get no response.
I sent postcards from vacation. I sent Christmas cards. I don’t expect people who otherwise don’t send cards to suddenly do so in response, but a quick “Hey, thanks for the card! How have you been?” on Facebook would be nice. I tried to make plans with people who repeatedly cancelled. I tried to make plans with people who were really busy, and didn’t seem to understand that seeing them for 15 minutes in a place convenient for them would be enough. I called someone I haven’t seen in years, but who I’ve always thought I could someday contact if I really needed to talk. He didn’t call back.
People, if this is not a hope-extinguisher, I cannot tell you what is. It’s one thing to contact a friend and have them not respond for several days. It’s one thing to have plans cancelled once because something urgent came up. If you’ve never had this happen dozens and dozens of times over several months, I’m sure you probably don’t understand how completely isolated, rejected, and unloved you would feel. If it happens enough, even the responses you do get stop helping, because you second-guess whether those people actually wanted to contact you. If so many people didn’t, you’re probably just that unlovable and the responses you get are out of pity. Eventually, you’re not going to bother reaching out at all, because it hurts less than the inevitable silence.
Obviously, I’m still here. I’m not going to be one of those aforementioned suicides, mainly because I’m too stubborn to die. But I’m still hurting a lot, and most of it is about things I have not discussed with a single other person, because there was no one to discuss them with. Please, if someone is reaching out to you, answer. If you get busy and it takes a week, start with “I’m sorry I was busy”. If you don’t know what to say, stop worrying about it being the perfect response and just respond. The content truly doesn’t matter. If a friend wants to make plans and all you have is the 15 minutes you’re on break at work, see if she can meet you there. Or if you need to run errands, maybe she could keep you company while you do it. If you have been admiring someone, for whatever reason, pay him a compliment. No, you can’t magically erase someone’s problems or cure depression, but the fact that you cared may very well keep that person alive just one more day, and that one more day may be the difference between getting help and losing the battle.