What Suicidal Depression Feels Like

"The Crazy Ones" Press ConferenceI don’t know if you have noticed, but ever since Robin Williams died, I have removed the filter from my writing that keeps me safe of jaw dropping, disappointing head gestures, and all kinds of judgments that authentic writing invites. I just really don’t care anymore what people think because lives are at stake. If this brutal beast of an illness is strong enough to kill someone with the passion, determination, and genius of Robin Williams, than we must do everything we can to protect those who are more fragile. That means being brave and writing as honestly as I can, on a taboo subject so few people understand, even if it means getting disapproving stares from other parents at my kids’ school.

When I first heard about Robin’s death, my first reaction was this: “The poor guy sneezed.”

I know that probably doesn’t make sense to anyone who has never experienced severe depression. But if I can, let me try to translate the urgency to take one’s life into language you might grasp. Suicidal depression is like having to sneeze. The impulse can be so strong, that you simply follow your body’s command without thinking too much of it. You don’t think about your family or the reasons not to do it. All you’re feeling is an incredible itch to sneeze, and you’re certain that anything short of sneezing wouldn’t relieve you of the sensation.

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25 thoughts on “What Suicidal Depression Feels Like

  1. Excellent piece Therese! I completely relate …thanks so much for sharing your heart and soul. I too feel that in spite of all my successes and highlights visible to the public, the hardest thing I have ever done is made the decision not to complete suicide. I don’t like the word commit for that implies a crime…the word completing makes it truthful. Someone asked today, “what does depression look like”? It looks like the darkest clouds over your every thought, word or action, tormenting, suffocating clouds. They rain on you at will and are seemingly permanent and the thunderous noises are irrepressible. How do ride out storms? That’s an important question.

  2. I have suffered with depression, several times, having bipolar disorder, but thankfully have never been suicidal, so I cannot relate to what you describe. But I respect you, Therese, and your writings, so I tried really hard to imagine what you describe, that your hardest thing in life is to not take your own life, and that you envy those that have passed on – and it is really hard for me to “get” this concept. Because I am just the opposite, I don’t want to die. I really want to live, in fact I wish I was younger so that I would have more time left. I would be very unhappy if something struck me and my life was shortened. But, I believe you. I believe that what you say you are feeling and experiencing is real and if this is your experience, then you are likely not alone and others will be suffering this way as well, very tragically. The analogy of the flames, jumping from ledge to escape the flames as the lessor of the terrors helped me understand, it helped me “see” and sort of understand – that gives me the idea that this life must be pure hell on earth and you need to escape…. I wish it weren’t the way for folks and that help could come for them – sooner – not later – and in time – and a lasting effect – not short lived until the next great fall. Terrible disease. I commend you for your courage in writing about it and hope that others will take the time to try and understand as I have – it’s not an easy concept to grasp and that’s coming from a depression sufferer.
    Best wishes always
    Popsie

      1. I just saw your article and all I can say is you took the words right out of my head. I also have those same feelings and will be reading more on this. Thank you for making me feel normal.

  3. Two things jumped out at me re this essay. First, you allow your anger to emerge and drive your intent to bring good news to those afflicted with severe depression and suicidal ideation/impulse/intent/plan. In my view your expression of anger is a breakthrough or better a phenomenon that must spread if we are to all things possible to assist the afflicted.
    Second you write about the two types of people Walker Percy writes about (and you have written previously) which he called “Non-suicides” and “ex-suicides”. You and most suicidally depressed people are “ex-suicides”–people who have given serious reflection on suicide and chose to live knowing that any day from there on out they can change their minds. There is some sort of freedom that comes from knowing one is ready, willing, and able to suicide but continues to live.
    You have done a great job on explaining suicidal depression. More importantly, through your example you have empowered others by letting your anger come through. An Aramaic scholar once wrote that “Blessed are the angry….” was a more accurate translation than the “Blessed are the meek..” that made it into the big book. Thank you

  4. Thank you for writing this very insightful and detailed description of the feelings that people have when they are sufferers of debilitating depression. My mother suffered daily to the point of crippling her ability to parent. I 3 daughters all of which have sever depression. I wish that more would be said about this illness and that better medical would be available.

  5. Oh Therese, thank you for such candid remarks. I know, exactly, just where you are coming from. My depression has led to four hospitalizations…the stigma is great, and I have had to keep my illness to myself for fear of exposure of my “crazed mind”. The first incidence was in the 60s when the only answer was a “nervous breakdown” brought on by “my weakness in handling my life”. The ultimate outcome of my tragic life is the passing of genes to my only daughter who took her life at 42, leaving three young children. I continue to wrap my own diseased mind around “why” “why” even though I had the same questions about myself. Her one attempt, before the final act, gave some insight into her state of mind…just as you have described in your article. She could not describe her position or thinking patterns…did not remember the means in which she attempted such. She actually died the first time, but remarkably recovered…was okay for about two years and eventually complete her determined act. My guilt lies in the fact that I did not recognize her dilemma…even being there myself, not able to explain the pain. So, I go on..determined to prove that my state of feeling and desire to die have nothing to do with losing my precious child. Will we ever ever dispel this stigma??? How many Robin Williamses and daughters will have to lose life? (By the way, I have written a book..before Robin William’s death…about my daughter and her struggles that started in childhood…and of my own dark holes. It has not been published, maybe someday.)

  6. Therese,

    Thank you for addressing this. I have struggled with suicidal ideation ever since I was ten years old, which is a total of fifteen years of living, yet not living fully. It’s such a touchy subject, nobody wants to say the wrong thing, and because of that nobody really addresses it.

    I carry around a list of reasons to resist suicidal ideation, which is falling apart because of all the ways it’s been folded, read, crumpled, scribbled on.

    I’m so impressed with the way you try so hard to maintain balance and improve your life while struggling with those thoughts. Usually whenever the thoughts hit me, I get so apathetic and hopeless that I just lay in bed, become a vegetable, and don’t have the energy to do anything that might get me to a different place. I’m hoping that in participating here, I might one day take a page out of your book. Your efforts are so inspiring to me. Someone commented on another article, I forget what they said, how it makes them feel to see that you try so hard and yet still have struggles. But I feel like, the effort in itself when you feel badly is in itself a huge miracle and a victory. Getting out of bed and showering and getting dressed and facing the day when you want to give up is sooo huge.

    Please don’t give up, please keep trying, and please keep writing.

    Lindsay L.

    1. Lindsay, you are NOT alone in the apathy and inability to get out of bed. Life feels so overwhelming, it’s hard to find the energy to even brush my teeth. I am amazed at what Therese is able to accomplish!

  7. Hi Therese,
    It is through your truthful admissions that I am now a regular reader. I admire you, your truth, your courage to write, and the way your pain is expressed so clearly and intelligently. No one, no thing, can take away the battle that rages inside, the seemingly endless struggle of a mental illness, but it is often lightened by sharing with others who also get it, who also experience it.
    When I read your posts I learn to trust what you are saying is true, because you say the things are hardest to say, you say your truth despite what people want to hear. I feel like the average person wants to hear you say that yourself and people like Robin Williams can overcome depression and that it can be managed perfectly, they want the underdog story with success at the end so they don’t have to be scared.
    I feel less alone because of how truthful you write. I believe, I share many of your struggles and thoughts, and somehow, that lightens the shade of my dark.
    Keep going.

  8. I feel that sneeze a lot. Ive felt this way since I was around 8. I tried to “sneeze” my 1st time at 8 then 5 more times after that. I recently felt it 4 days ago after someone I dearly loved passed. Trying so hard to not let it take over me but sometimes breathing feels so cruel and unmanageable. I think when you love with everything you have it just makes the break that much harder. I can’t help but love without boundaries but its who I am, I just need to face the pain to experience the love.

  9. Thank you for speaking the truth. I don’t talk about it much but more since this tragedy. I’ve tried to complete several times. It’s not that I want to die, I just don’t want to hurt anymore. The flames get close and they burn. I carry on like nothing is wrong. Some people see through. Today as much as I want I can’t leave the house. I have tears in my eyes thinking of how to explain to my 20 year old son why I can’t drive 45 minutes to visit him at college. I don’t want to do this anymore.

  10. I am not online commenter but I just saw this post and it describes EXACTLY how I feel/have felt. Thank you so much. I am sharing it and hope others will be helped as well. It is something rare to be so understood on a taboo topic.

  11. This was absolutely poignant. You’ve touched on things I’ve never been able to form into cohesive thoughts and understandings to others or perhaps even myself. Like “The most difficult thing I will ever do in my lifetime is to not take my life.” That simply is everything, my truth. Having to make lists of why I should live, the reasons to live for and for me it’s living for my sister. She’s my world. I’ve always been the strong one my entire life, probably too strong. Having to be there for others and pick them off the ground. I just turned 30 and diagnosed with clinical depression. My entire life I’ve felt this way, emotionally abusive mother, alcoholic father, divorced parents didn’t exactly help in it all. But I’ve always tried to lead a positive life, suppress the depressive thoughts never let anyone know I had this side of me. It was no ones business. But the last 6 months have been the hardest. It’s overwhelming at times, paralyzing and dark. I disliked going to a psych which is funny because I am graduate student prepping to be a psychologist. I should know better I kept telling myself. Follow these guidelines, work through it. Never giving myself some slack that it’s beyond me these thoughts & feelings. Friends who I pushed away desperately trying to understand, their positivity on their pedestals making me even more resentful and distant. Those that have never experienced depression have no idea how tightly it grips us. How that “sneeze” you refer to would feel so good if we just did it. Anyway, what I’ve been trying to say to you is thank you for your raw truths and blushed cheeks. I appreciate your words, and you.

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