**TRIGGER WARNING** depression and suicide
I was scrolling on twitter and saw a tweet talking about how amazing it is to “watch your friends transform from dealing with depression to living a genuinely happy life”.
That tweet hit me because I definitely went from being depressed and suicidal to living such a happy, purposeful, joyous life. But then I started thinking about the friend part, wondering who exactly were my friends that stuck through it all or even knew me well enough to know the difference between depressed me and healthy me. I realized that depression caused me to lose quite a few friends and on top of that, for the friends that stayed, I really wasn’t that vocal about what I was going through.
As I was reflecting on this, I began thinking about all the attention suicide has been getting lately. Logic’s song about suicide with the suicide hotline as the title (1-800-273-8255), and the recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. How much people followed up those deaths by saying “check in on your friends”, “get help”, “mental health is important”.
And I began to think about how I never really told anyone about how sad, miserable, suicidal, and depressed I was. I felt like it was a secret. I was embarrassed about it and quite frankly didn’t know how to bring it up to anyone. I cried all the time. In public at the library, in campus buildings around other people, and always in my dorm room. I would be miserable, feel so hopeless and so alone. I really hated being alive. For the most part, I suffered in extreme silence. I had been dealing with this off and on since middle school and never really told anyone about it.
I saw a therapist for the summer after my freshman year, but I wasn’t really being that honest with her about my thoughts and feelings, so she wasn’t much help.I also had pretty high-functioning depression. So despite how I was feeling and where my mind would often go, I was still able to attend class and keep up with my grades. In that sense, I’m one of the lucky ones.
But things intensified. On a daily basis, I would somehow end up mentally spiraling out of control, thinking of all the things that made me worthless. One thought, one interaction, one little thing might send me down a rabbit hole of negative thoughts that always ended with the same conclusion: I’d be better off dead. It just wasn’t worth it to keep living because I was so miserable and I couldn’t find a way to stop being miserable, to stop feeling so empty. So alone. So unwanted. So messed up.
These feelings and my reactions never felt like anything I could control or had a choice about. I literally didn’t know what to do with my sadness or why I had so much of it. Later I would find out that I really wasn’t processing things in a healthy way mentally, I had a lot of toxic relationships and really didn’t understand how to value myself. These are all things I had to learn about and find healthier ways to cope with.
When I started feeling suicidal all the time, I finally opened up to one person. He was the only person I talked to about any of this. He was always there, but I also never got real help and it was a toxic relationship anyway. So that was no good.
It eventually got to a point where I would get so upset that I couldn’t do my homework. I couldn’t stop crying long enough to get my work done. I just wanted to die. The one person I talked to about this had finally had enough of the emotional labor I was expecting him to do. (And rightly so. He wasn’t a therapist and he was the only person I went to with this. That’s not fair for a loved one to take on). He said that if I didn’t go see a counselor right then and there, he wasn’t going to speak to me anymore. The thought of losing him, the one person I actually told about my depression, was enough to send me to the school’s counseling center.
I was feeling so suicidal and depressed that I couldn’t even fill out the paperwork because everything was so blurry from crying. I could barely see what I was writing. I finally was taken into a room with someone to talk about how I was feeling. I was so uncomfortable, I still couldn’t get myself to stop crying. The woman asking me questions (not even a real therapist) didn’t seem to get it and I just wanted to scream at her. I wanted her to find a way to take all of this pain away. I wanted her to make me better. Fix my brain. Make dying stop seeming like the best option.
After this meeting, I was told I had two options. To go to the ER or to enter intensive therapy. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t even control my own emotions, never mind make this decision alone. I left the office not feeling much better.
When I got back to my room, I ran into my roommate. I was crying and came clean about how I had been feeling and where my mind had been in terms of suicidal ideation. She tried to help, but I was a mess. We decided I needed to tell my mom what was going on. That was another tear-filled, uncomfortable, conversation but the relief that came from opening up about my thoughts and feelings was great.
I’ve heard depression described as feeling like drowning, but you can see everyone around you breathing and they think you’re breathing too. Finally, some people knew I wasn’t breathing. I needed help breathing.
*This is where things began to change. When I sought out help. This is crucial*
I left school to go home. Well, my mom came and got me actually. It’s really hard to see your mom so upset about your own sadness. To blame herself for it. I didn’t know how to tell her it wasn’t her fault.
Shit certainly did not get all better at once. But even admitting that I was depressed and suicidal felt good. At least people knew. At least they could help me find resources to find more help.
I went to a treatment facility. You know how awkward it is to try and tell doctors if you’re a danger to yourself? like, I’m not really sure. We’ve made it this far but uhhh, yeah I do pretty much wanna die. Soooo.
They determined I didn’t need to be hospitalized or supervised but would need to go to full-time treatment. So I started that. I went for a few days. It was like a camp but for adults. We did some art projects, obviously talked about our feelings, but also started to talk about what triggers us, how we schedule our days, what we do to take care of ourselves, which relationships are healthy for us, learn about coping mechanisms, how brains work, etc.
It seemed like it could be helpful but I had a big decision to make. If I continued the therapy, I’d have to drop out of my semester. I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to fall behind or somehow never go back to school and never get my degree. So I made the decision to go back to school on the terms that I would find a therapist and seek out a psychiatrist.
So I found a therapist. She reallllly helped me break down my thoughts, understand where they come from, and gave me better coping mechanisms. If you don’t know, depression and anxiety (what I was diagnosed with) literally affect your brain and your body. It’s a chemical imbalance in your brain. You need treatment of some form. I started on an antidepressant medication and this helped repair the chemical imbalance in my brain and keep my mood level enough for me to have a chance to practice what I was learning in therapy. There’s NOoOoOoOoOo shame in seeing a therapist or taking meds for your mental health. I encourage you to do what you need to do for your health!
So “recovery” or whatever you want to call it definitely wasn’t linear. Some days I felt better. Some days I was still suicidal. Some friends used my mental health against me. Some didn’t want to hang out with me because it wasn’t fun to be around someone who was sad all the time (I know right? lololll I didn’t even wanna be around me). There was a lot I needed to work through. One major thing that helped was getting out of toxic relationships. This didn’t happen overnight. But eventually, it did.
I went to my therapist at school for about a year and a half and was on meds for a little longer. Some people close to me really were frustrated because they just couldn’t understand, and I get it. It’s really hard to explain to someone why you want to die. It’s not really that I ever wanted to kill myself. I just didn’t want to be here. I couldn’t handle what I was going through and I needed a way out of the pain. Luckily, I spoke up enough to get the help I needed.
Depression brought me to some of the darkest places that I never want to go to again. From time to time I worry that something might set me back and I could slip back into it. It’s one of my biggest fears because being depressed feels like hell. I occasionally have nights where I slip into that depression-type thinking, but I’ve learned how to cope. I write, I get up and move, I get out of the house just to go prove to myself there is life outside. I text a friend and tell them I’m not doing well. I walk myself through my thoughts and pinpoint the trigger of these thoughts and address that issue.
Now, when amazing things happen in my life, like travel or great accomplishments, or feeling so incredibly loved, or when I feel like I have a true purpose in life and that I am making my dreams come true, I’ll think back and realize I almost ended it all. I almost prevented this girl from experiencing all those beautiful things. And I’m grateful I got help, that I got better. I got to watch myself go from being depressed to living a genuinely happy life. I hope more people can, too.
If you want to help someone who is depressed or dealing with suicide, just be consistent. Build relationships with your loved ones where you’re comfortable enough to be vulnerable, where you notice when things are different with them. Not everyone will tell you when they’re struggling. It took me so long.
But maybe the more we talk about it, the more we include emotional literacy in education, and provide access to mental health treatment for everyone, the sooner we can end the stigma and the sooner we can all be healthy, happy people.