Like most of the nation, I’m still reeling from the recent suicides of fashion designer Kate Spade and television personality Anthony Bourdain. Last week John Hall and Kathy Emmons had me on their Pittsburg radio show to discuss my recent post on Kate Spade, to try to make sense of both losses, and to talk about where we go from here.
I couldn’t help but go back to those days when I experienced the kind of despair that convinces a person that taking his or her life is truly the only option.
I remember standing in line at the grocery store doing “death math,” when you add up all the ages of your ancestors’ deaths to determine how long you have to go until you arrive at a natural death, when you can “respectfully” be spared of your suffering and avoid leaving a mess for others to clean up. I came up with the age of 76, which meant I had 32 years to go.
By the time I got to the cashier I was bawling. The thought of enduring one more day was sheer torture, let alone 32 more years.
From my car I called a good friend and mentor.
“I can’t do it, Mike,” I muttered through my tears. “I can’t hold on any longer.”
“Don’t think about tomorrow,” he said. “You only have to hang on for five more minutes, or five more seconds if that’s too long. One foot in front of the other. That’s all.”
The People Who Saved My Life
Mike saved my life that day, as did other friends and family members at points throughout that harrowing year. Whenever I reached a breaking point and lost the stamina to fight the cruel beast another second, there was someone to pick me up and carry me until I could trust gravity again and put my feet back down on the ground.
I remember my sister-in-law showing up with my favorite green smoothie, sitting with me on my back patio while I cried. I remember the beautiful pink roses that my editor sent me when I felt like an utter failure of a writer. I remember the daily texts from my swim friends, checking in to make sure I was alive. And then there was my husband, who simply held me for months on end, consoling me much like an infant with severe colic.
I am alive today because of those gestures of kindness.
Not only did they fill the aching cavities of my soul with love and acceptance, they gave me hope – the ultimate antidote to suicide. These people could see past my sadness and my sense of worthlessness to the person I really was, and afforded me that perspective, as well. For a few moments each day, I became more than the pathetic shell of a person that my depression had convinced me I was. I could see my symptoms for what they were.
What It’s Like To Be Suicidal
It’s difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t battled intense suicidal thoughts just how difficult it is to preserve your life when you’re in that state. Having just swam 4.4 miles across the Chesapeake Bay with strong currents and cold temperatures, I can make the comparison that completing that swim is like lifting a paper clip compared to the energy you expend in surviving a day when you are suicidal. Ignoring the loud command to stop your pulse is like resisting the urge to sneeze when you have a gnawing itch. It’s counterintuitive to say the least.
Not taking my life is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done and probably will ever do—including an emergency C-section that was started before the meds kicked in and giving a commencement address to 4,000 people. If I don’t accomplish anything else in my life, I will consider myself a success because I was somehow able to persist through that ominous darkness until I could see the light again.
But I don’t take full credit.
Suicide: A Community Problem
I believe suicide is a community problem, not a personal problem. I fully realize sometimes there is nothing we can do to influence a person’s decision. But so often there is. We are just too uncomfortable to go there. If you know someone who suffers from depression, risk the awkwardness to be there for her. If you recognize suicidal signs in a loved one, be the one who saves his life.
Hope: There Is Always Hope
Thankfully I haven’t done death math in a long time, and when I do think about growing older, it’s with the hope that I’ll be around to see my grandchildren graduate from college. I’m excited about my new job, passionate about helping people with depression and other chronic illnesses find a path to healing. I have hope once more in my life. Lots of it.
Now I can clearly see that I didn’t so much want to die, as to be relieved of my pain. As soon as the pain subsides – and it always does – you are able to experience joy again. But we all need reminders of that. Especially in those critical moments.
With a little bit of kindness, we can save lives.
If you are having thoughts of suicide: Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com for a list of additional resources.
I LOVE this. Been begging my loved ones for years to non-judgmentally support our dear, long suffering daughter. While she does maybe get more love than the average chronically depressed person, there is still so much inability to understand, to muster up patience, to try to look ar life from another’s perspective. Why is it sometimes so much easier for people to give support to strangers than to people closest to them? Thank you Therese for all your wisdom and insight and vulnerability.
I’m so happy for you, Therese, that you’ve made you’re way to the other side. Is it possible for you to share what helped you? I realize that one person’s solution may not work for the next, that we’re all unique. Thank you for continuing to help and be a shining light for all.
Sure, Mary. Will follow up in another post. Keep on keeping on.
I have followed your work for some time, and you seem to be doing so well now. It would help so much to hear again your day-to day success or struggles. We are able to research ourselves studies and experts findings, but it is the real daily in the trenches I miss you talking about. Unless you are finally free- and then tell us that!!!
Thanks Susan. I will try to do a better job of that. I am not free from struggle but i am able to live around the struggle. I will follow up with more detail. I think it’s a combination of things, mostly coming to terms with my condition and accepting that it will always be there.
I am pleased you have had so much support Therese . I struggled for many years with suicidal thoughts.
My story is different re friends and family and even the medical profession at times. My best friend turned against me accusing me of being all sorts of things. And I asked her – does me suffering from a mental illness mean I am a bad person?
Kindness goes along way to help. If someone was kind to me it made me want to cry.
And I felt in great debt to them.
On a funnier note. I once went to see our local clergyman for support as I was having really bad suicidal thoughts.
When I got his house he invited me in . He began to tell me he was really depressed and had been contemplating suicide. We talked at great length. I left feeling rather short changed. We moved. But a few years later when I met him at a friends house he told me I had saved his life that day.
So I felt pleased I had been able to help him through my own despair.
Kindness is free and a little bit goes a long way !
Wow…LOVE that story! As deeply depressed and in need of support as YOU were that day, his pain surpassed yours. So amazing that you were able to have a life saving conversation with HIM while in the dark depths yourself. You must be an amazingly strong person.
Dear Lesly, I think people who suffer with depression are strong people and have a lot of emphathy.
Look at Therese. She helps so many people whilst battling so many demons herself and finding ways to keep going.
I read a book once about people who are depressed are usually strong people who take too much on and keep going.
Yet we are often seen as weak . I think for me it’s the anxiety that make it worse as it can exclude you from being able to get out the door, join a group ect
Emphathy is one of our skills and depression seems to bring emphathy to the whole world. And it’s hard to take on so much.
One has to remember sometimes to be compassionate and kind to ourselves. I have watched other people who I have supported move on in their lives and often wondered why I couldn’t.
Thank you for your kind comment. I will treasure it. Lizzie
I’m sorry for the lack of support. I’m glad you were there for someone else.
You are an angel,thankyou.
Please let me know if you know about any medications that worked for you with depression and anxiety. I have tried many to no avail. Please help.
So happy you are doing well, so happy! You help many and offer hope — great hope to others. You have been through so much and am so thankful Life is Good for you….and may it continue that way.
I need all the comments about medications. I have tried so many with no help. All suggestions would be helpful. Thanks so much
Hi Joyce I too have tried many antidepressants. Escitralopam worked for me. But I had to start at a very low dose. So I took the liquid form. Starting at one drop and building up to five as recommended by my psychatrist . But five was too high and I ended up taaaking two drops.
It really helped with the anxiety and eventually my depression.
Venlafaxcine was also very helpful but at the time I took it I couldn’t get it in liquid form.
Alongside it I did a lot of cbt.
Nothing is an instant fix as you know and it can be very frustrating. For me it was finding the right psychatrist who was willing to listen to me about my reaction to medication and take me seriously.
What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another.
I wish you good luck in your journey . Lizzie
Are you still taking medication? I am about to try liquid, and am a bit (lot) apprehensive. How did it feel when it began to work?
I am still taking a small dose.
Individuals react differently to medications.
Some people can take high doses and not have a reaction and others do.
Taking medications can be scary if you have tried a lot.
But I wouldn’t be scared of starting will a low dose.
It is useful to have a friend, member of your family or doctor to talk to if you feel a bit anxious when you begin a new medication.
Take things slowly and build up gradually.
I think sometimes ( and this is my personal view) that we often take a sledge hammer to crack a nut!
But I am a highly sensitive person.
Little steps and building up slowly. I wish you luck.
Remember there is always hope and light at the end of the tunnel. Lizzie
Today I finally think I’ve made some progress in an area I really needed it. Hopefully, the mistakes I’ve been making with my attitude and lack of faith in this area won’t need to be repeated. I’m grateful for my faith, my angels and for your always kind and wise words!
[…] You’ll find plenty of examples of individuals thriving while living with bipolar disorder. For instance, Jennifer Marshall was hospitalized four times within five years, including a hospitalization for postpartum psychosis after her son turned 4 weeks old. Today, she’s a mental health advocate who founded “This is My Brave,” a non-profit that uses storytelling to stop stigma and save lives. One of my favorite writers, Therese Borchard, founded the online depression community Project Hope & Beyond, and continues to pen breathtaking pieces like this one. […]