On Suicide and Depression

I’m sitting at Starbucks and looking out the windows at the gray sky, feeling the wind on my cold fingers when someone opens the door. It’s a depressing morning. I’m lost in thought about a kind, lovely woman I know and her 18 year old son who killed himself when he returned home from his first semester of college last month. I’m lost in thought about the 8th grader at my kids’ school who killed himself in the fall. I’m lost in thought about a friend who lost her brother to suicide 5 years ago

I’m lost in thought about what it feels like to not want to live anymore. To believe something with all your heart that isn’t true, that your loved ones would be better off without you, that if you had real courage you would kill yourself and be done with it.

I’ve felt those things. I’ve believed those things. I know what it’s like to live outside of reality and truly feel like suicide is a viable and sensible option. I know what it’s like to not want to live. I know what it’s like to feel so tired and over it and completely DONE and without any spark of joy in your life. Life can seem so tiring, so without purpose. I know what it’s like to feel like you are actually MORE awake to reality now that you understand how ridiculous it is to be living and striving and caring and hurting when there is no point to any of it. You will die eventually anyway.

I survived my journey through that broken reality that my brain created. I read about suicide, I read about depression, I worked on getting better, I was trying to escape from my broken reality so I could return to my life and live it. Somehow I managed to always keep that thread to sanity intact enough to remember that no matter how much I wanted to be done with life, I couldn’t transfer my pain onto my loved ones. I didn’t truly feel and believe that truth, but I remembered that I once did and that was enough to keep my feet planted.

As I wrote that last paragraph, the sun came out and shined on my face. It’s still cold out, it’s still windy. But that sun felt so good. Then it disappeared again and I missed it. Then it came out again. And now I feel it fading away behind the clouds yet again. I can’t help feeling that this is exactly what depression is like in my life. It comes and goes. I can learn the conditions in which it tends to develop, just like a meteorologist can try to understand and predict the weather. But neither of us can change what is. Both of us can feel as if our knowledge is control, but that is an illusion. We can’t control it, and if we get lost in our false sense of control we can forget to prepare ourselves for when the inevitable happens.  I don’t want to be the meteorologist that doesn’t have milk and bread at home when the blizzard hits. I want to live in immense gratitude and joy when I am well and I want to be prepared if (when) I am unwell. I want to fully experience the moments when the sun shines on my face and the days when it doesn’t and all I have is the hope of sunnier days ahead.

What is completely tragic is the suffering that is literally inescapable for those who end their lives. It might have been a well-planned end of life. It might have been a completely spontaneous decision made more dangerous by the availability of a gun. It might have been the end to a lifetime of suffering or a brief moment of suffering. It might have been planned with ruthless “logic” or occurred in a fit of emotion. There is no one truth to suicide or one solution. It happens and it leaves a gaping hole in the world. It blows people apart, a nuclear bomb that incinerates everything that was. And we can’t figure out how to prevent this. We can’t figure out how to bring the invisible suffering into the light and bear it together. I’m 41 years old and I am still figuring out how to invite people into my suffering and ask for help. I feel lucky that my worst depressions didn’t occur when I was young.

What I can do is talk to my children honestly about what depression can say to us and how to hold onto that thread of truth that suicide is never the answer. I can’t control any outcome and that is terrifying. But I can talk and be honest and hope that makes the slightest dent in the fractured reality of depression for someone else.