Please note, this post discusses a sensitive topic. If you are sensitive to discussing suicide or depression, please take this week off from reading Any Little Way and rejoin us next week. Additionally, this post is NOT advice for someone who is currently going through depression and/or thinking about suicide. This post is for people to connect better and encourage one another, regardless of whether or not they know someone going through depression. If you are slogging through depression or thinking about suicide, please know that you are a beautiful person, no matter what you may think about yourself and to please just keep going one more day and then one more day and then one more day. Never give up. And particularly, GET. HELP. if you need it. In the United States, you can call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255) or you can text NAMI to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.
September is Suicide Prevention Month, which is very important. Many of us have a connection to suicide, given that 41,000 people commit suicide every year. This number tends to increase after high publicized suicides, such as after Anthony Bourdain’s and Kate Spade’s deaths this past summer. Their deaths were highlighted even more because this CDC report came out in a gruesome coincidence almost immediately afterward, pointing out how suicide is on the rise. Sadly it seems, more and more of us come face to face with the sadness and loss of a suicide and that’s one of the reasons why it’s important to focus on awareness all year long – and not just after the fact.
This post was initially started right after Bourdain’s and Spade’s deaths as a slightly different take on suicidal thoughts. My social media was flooded with reminders to take care of mental health, to check on friends, the need to remove the stigma of depression, and happy notes that we are all loved. There were so many posts flying around Facebook reminding people to check on their “strong” friends; that money, fame, and professional success do not guarantee happiness; reminders to talk to one another; and reminders that suicide is terrible. These things are all nice enough, but they’re similar to saying, “Our prayers are with you” – it sounds good, people really do mean it, and it almost never leads to any actions. While I’m all for reminding people that appearances can be deceiving and that anybody is susceptible, we need something more concrete that might help other people. I also highly believe that it’s the little things that matter more than big gestures.
The Whispering Thought in My Life
The idea of suicide is insidious. It sneaks into your head and fills it up, like a cloud of gas takes up all the available space. You can still function, but the thought is always there, whispering in your ear that everything can go away and that you won’t be miserable anymore (occasionally, it screams at you). I know this because I’ve heard the whispers and the screams a couple of times in my life. Thankfully, I’ve been able to fill my head with other thoughts, put some armed guards in place, and am in a good spot right now. It’s still hard for me to talk about the dark side of my life and I tend to use euphemisms because it’s difficult for me to acknowledge that I have seriously thought about ending my life. But I’ve been there, which makes me confident in speaking up and using this new platform to talk to those of you who may be lucky enough not to hear the whisper.
While I haven’t dug through the research, I know firsthand that there are different kinds of depression. The kind that is shown on TV, in movies, and discussed mainly seems to do with lethargy and people feeling a sense of hopelessness. In many cases, it’s often very hard for them to even get out of bed. It’s wonderful that people going through depression can see that out there and recognize that they are not alone. However, there is at least one other kind of depression. One kind is sort of an existential crisis – we eat and breathe and sleep day after day only to end up alone at the end of our lives after really not doing much in the grand scheme of things, so what’s the point of it all? Another kind is feeling absolutely worthless, that you screw up as many times as you take a breath each day and each new screw up is bigger than the previous (regardless of how it actually is). Saying you feel worthless is different that saying that life is hopeless. Hopelessness is more external in that that life in general is not worth living or that a certain situation will not work out, while worthlessness is more internal in that my specific life did not contribute anything to anybody else’s life. I never once worried or felt stressed about money or success. There was never a point when I felt like my life was ruined and that there was no point in living because my life would never amount to anything. Instead in my case, I felt worthless, like I added absolutely nothing to the world. There aren’t words to express how utterly worthless I felt and I don’t want to try because, frankly, it’s depressing. Unfortunately, my sense of worthlessness went beyond depression and that little whisper was constantly in my ear, telling me it could all be over. I struggled off and on for several years, occasionally getting help and occasionally not. These days, I am vigilant about my perspective on the world and hyper aware of any little thing that could send me sliding back towards that whisper because I know how insidious it is. It’s snuck in twice and I never want it to sneak back in.
Two Things I Wish More People Knew About Depression And Suicide
Over the years, I have spent a LOT of time thinking about my depressed and suicidal thoughts. While I am working on advice for anyone who may be struggling themselves, I’m not yet comfortable publicly sharing that side of myself yet. If you are going through something or want to know more, I am more than willing to discuss my coping mechanisms privately. However, there are two things wish more people knew about depression and suicidal thoughts, so I am starting with that.
- The main clue that I was depressed/suicidal might have been that I actively tried not to talk about myself. If I talked about myself, I knew that it would be hard to pretend that everything was going well. I also didn’t want to depress anyone. I became a master at turning the conversation away from myself and trying to keep the focus on the other person, letting them talk and talk and talk without saying much about myself. It was also incredibly easy to do because people like to talk about themselves and because I put up a good front when I’m desperate. From the outside, I look like your stereotypical basic, happy girl and, even at my darkest, I was still out and about, still smiling, still active. The first time I went through depression, I eventually made an off-hand comment to my college advisor about depression that she caught and held on to like Way Pup with a tug toy, and she referred me to a therapist who helped me work through some of my issues. The next time, I recognized my own issues and went to see a school-provided therapist for a few months. The third time, I had more experience and so was able to mention to a few people that I was going through depression. Every single time, I felt small, worthless, dark, and unhappy on the inside; on the outside, I smiled, laughed, did my work, talked with friends, and did all my normal activities. And almost nobody had a clue.
I am not unique in this. I’ve noticed one of my friends actively not talking about herself and I don’t let her get away with it. She tries to avoid talking about herself, saying things like, “Oh, my life is unexciting. Let’s talk about you more.” or “I want to hear more about what you’re doing.” No. I hear that and insist we talk about her. Every time, she ends up confessing that she’s having a rough time. Thankfully, this same friend has taken steps to improve things and is living a better life now. That said, she did the same thing I did and avoided talking about herself for fear of betraying herself and for fear of bringing me down.
- While I unconsciously dropped little hints that I was depressed, I was hypervigilant and never ever ever ever ever said anything to indicate that I thought I life was pointless or was completely worthless and therefore thought my life had no value, in other words, that I was suicidal. This was for a couple of reasons: 1) I knew, if I said anything to anybody, that would give them the chance to prevent me from acting and I needed to retain that control. 2) I didn’t want to be placed under supervision under any circumstance. For some reason, I was (and still am) petrified of being labeled suicidal and being committed. So, while I was at my darkest, there was 0% chance that I would have ever revealed I was suicidal. For some reason, nobody seems to talk about this. While I may not be an average person, I cannot be unique enough to be the only one who has felt this way.
Four Things You Can Do Besides Posting on Social Media
There are a few things you can do beyond posting a pretty image to your Facebook wall about how mental health is so important and reminding all your friends that you are a resource.
- Reach out to people, through text, a phone call, email, direct message over social media, in-person visit, carrier pigeon, whatever. Start by saying ‘hi’, “wanted to check in with you”, and genuinely ask how they are doing. If you notice that they keep deflecting the conversation away from themselves, that’s a potential red flag. Don’t give up – keep asking them questions about themselves until you get a good feel for how they’re really feeling.
- Hug someone. Looking back, my most depressed times coincided with a lack of physical touch. As a result, I make a point to hug people who I know may not get much physical touch. This is usually based on developing a friendship with people first, but it doesn’t stop me from asking people if they would like a hug if I sense that they need it. 100% of the time, we both feel better.
- Don’t be positive all the time. Or at least, don’t always pretend that things will work out. If someone feels that everything is hopeless/pointless/worthless, you don’t have to argue with them. In fact, arguing that life is beautiful may be counterproductive.
- Occasionally text your friends that you think they are a badass. You can even copy this text: “Hi! Just wanted to let you know that I think you’re awesome and a total badass! I’m so grateful that you’re in my life. :)”
- Let people know that you care. When you reach out to them and they start deflecting, persist in asking them about themselves. Getting someone to talk helps get them out of their head.
Go Forth And…Make Them Talk
Thank you for reading this post. There is so much more that I could say on this topic, but I’m going to save it for a later post. Plus, you’re all fairly busy, so the post needed to end at some point or nobody would read it and it’s possibly the most important post I’ve written to date. It was a hard post to write and probably a hard post to read. Hopefully though, you’ve come away with a sense of how you can help others in your life. And if you are struggling with depression or suicide, please know that you are not alone. And please know that I am always available to listen, whether you’re an internet friend or an in-person friend or a complete stranger (seriously, listening and empathy are two of my greatest strengths. Cleaning and punctuality are not, but listening and empathy are). Depression and suicide are devastating…and unnecessary. Whenever you talk to your friends (or, really anyone), pay attention. Even the strong ones stumble sometimes and we all need someone to lean on.