On depression and suicide

A little over a year ago now, I was seriously thinking of suicide. It was well beyond any bout of depression or panic attack I’d ever felt before. There was no perceived misdeed or responsibility I was trying to escape. I was working with my doctor to change medications, as depression medicines tend to lose effectiveness the longer you are on them. I ended up deep, deep in a panic state, barely able to move and shaking uncontrollably, my mind unable to focus on anything but how I could make that panic feeling stop. I also knew, amidst all this, that I had to be sure whatever I did would actually kill me. No cutting, no car wrecks. Pills were too hit and miss. It’s partially due to that need for surety that I managed to get through it at all.

That and my wife.

No, I don’t mean that thoughts of my family and what would happen to them had saved me. As I said, I couldn’t make myself even think about anything but the pain and panic, praying that it would just end. I mean that even though she was struggling to care for three small children and has always had as one of her major fears that I would die, she made sure I was not alone. She did her best to help get what aid we could get, helping me through it, even though an end didn’t seem in sight. Through a combination of support, counseling, and medication, we made it through.

As a society, if we talk about suicide at all, we treat it as if it’s one monolithic thing. We don’t want to talk about it, we know it’s there, and so we don’t like to put any more thought into it than we have to. From my experience, suicide comes from one of two sources.

The first is like this episode I had, where there may not be particular reason, just an overriding need. This tends to need medication to help, with counseling to watch to make sure the medication is doing what it should without creating side effects it shouldn’t. Suicide here tends to leave more questions than answers, as people wonder what they could have done, what burden they could have helped lift, what they might have said without thinking. The problem is that there is very little they could have done. There is no “choose to think positive” or “just snap out of it” that would help. The person was sick, and needed medical help. They may have had shades of this illness before, or it may have been the first time, but it is still an illness. Unfortunately, it’s an illness we don’t like to think about (or sometimes even believe), so we’ve let go the resources we have for treatment. There is no support for getting a debilitating disease that requires weeks or months away from work and life to try and get in control.

The other is from a build up of problems where it feels like the world and everyone you care about would be better off without you there. This type needs more counseling than medication, working through the problems to help remove or mitigate the issues weighing life down. Unfortunately, support for this is just as poor. Some believe that you just need to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” or “not take the cowards way out” without even thinking about the reasons that might be involved.

I’m very grateful I had my wife and resources to help, including a job that had the flexibility to work with me during that time. I worry for those who do not have these resources and mourn with those who have been left behind through this. No amount of platitudes will help. It’s hard. It hurts. If it (or anything else) has triggered your own feelings of despair and thoughts of suicide, get help in any way you can. There is no right way in getting help for this. Grasp onto whatever slim reed you can manage, be it family, friend, coworker, or even a stranger on a help line. You don’t have to do this alone.

In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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