A while ago, I was prompted to write about a place I had been, I chose to write about my experience inside depression.
It’s dark in this place. The kind of dark that paralyzes every muscle and weighs heavy in one’s lungs. It presses in on my ears with its silence, causing them to ring. I want to scream, but my mouth won’t open. Every joint and ligament is tense, waiting to spring into action. The very marrow in my bones struggles against unseen restraints. Sweat collects on my forehead from the effort. My head spins as my breathing grows evermore shallow. I’m on the verge of implosion, though, from outward view it probably seems like a quiet collapse. It is not quiet. The shrieking pain of it all pushes blood from my ears. I am dying. No, I realize. My fate is worse. I’m a prisoner here. Fear has me in his clasp and laughs at my timorous attempt to escape. Hot tears pool in my ears, not blood, though the volcanic pulsing there would suggest otherwise. Exhausted, and despite my reluctance, I tumble into restless oblivion. It would be many years before I realized: there is no escaping one’s own mind.
Depression is a beast that not all of us have the strength to overpower, nor the stamina to outrun. It's a darkness that not all are equipped to vanquish, a pain so deep it's hard to know where exactly it ends and healing begins, mostly because the pain never fully ends. It's always there, ready to pounce at the first sign of vulnerability.
I've read just a few things today about suicide, the tolerant, the compassionate, the unforgiving, and the black-and-white viewpoint. And I appreciate and can agree with almost all of them. Yes, depression is a disease. It is horribly disabling. Yes, life is a choice. Absolutely, we have a choice about whether or not to continue our fight, whatever it might entail. And yes, I believe that taking a life, even your own, is a sin. Perhaps, most importantly, yes, I don't have all the facts and even if I did, I'm not Robin Williams (or anyone else that has committed suicide) and I can't pretend to be an adequate judge of his decision.
I am, however, a recovering suicide-fantasizer.
I spent all of my teenaged years suicidal. I hid it well. I laughed, I was chipper and helpful and fun. I was bubbly and silly and easy-going. And I was so heavily sad that I often wanted the whole world to end . . . or at the very least, swallow me up. There were days when the shame of my longing for death became so heavy I could scaresly breathe. I waited for someone to notice, for someone to scoop me up and take over for a while, to take care of me because I couldn't do it anymore. No one noticed. I never understood why they couldn't see the pain in my eyes.
It was eight lonely years of planning and never following through, hoping things would be better tomorrow. I clung to the tiniest fragments of hope, literally, for dear life. I felt like a coward, not because I frequently wished for death and dreamed of how to make it a reality, but because I couldn't go through with it and end my misery. Even in suicide, I was a failure.
Depression isolates, demeans, and imprisons its hosts. Like a parasite, it feeds on one's worst fears and vulnerabilities. It warps reality, deflects love and cuts you from the inside out. It tells you there is no antidote for the poison it stuffs into all the recesses of your mind. Actually, it tricks you into believing there is no poison, that the truth is that you simply are that pathetic and unwanted.
That's the difference between sadness and depression: Sadness robs you of happiness for a time; Depression robs you not only of your happiness, but also of who you are and of the assurance that you are loved, even when you have a multitude of people pouring love into you. More than that, depression robs you of the hope of regaining both your individual and inherent value and the healing balm of your relationships.
It's taken me decades to overcome my suicidal tendencies. I still struggle with depression from time to time and, if I'm not watchful, it takes me over and keeps me in bed or in a zombie-like haze for days at a time. By choice, I have never turned to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate, but I feel it's safe to say that in many ways I am a recovering addict because underneath it all depression is what drives addiction and what addicts have to fight off in order to escape the lure of the next high. And even though I don't escape through highs or lows of drug abuse, I do escape, usually through books or food or by crawling deep inside my own body. I'm terribly good at disassociating, pulling away, from the world around me. I have to monitor myself, practice self-care and allow myself to be loved. I have to choose to live in the glorious light of the Son and not allow myself to be swept away in the darkness creeping around in the corners of my mind.
In short, I have to fight every damn day to stay engaged and to be present. I have to choose to live in hope, to work for happiness. And I do. I'm able to because I have a great support network--my husband, my children, my siblings, my family, my friends. To them, I say, thank you. I love you. You enrich my life with joy.
Please continue to love me back.
In the words of Elder Jeffery R. Holland:
"Whatever your struggle, my brothers and sisters—mental or emotional or physical or otherwise—do not vote against the preciousness of life by ending it! Trust in God. Hold on in His love. Know that one day the dawn will break brightly and all shadows of mortality will flee. Though we may feel we are “like a broken vessel,” as the Psalmist says, we must remember, that vessel is in the hands of the divine potter. Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed. While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental, and kind."
*you can find the rest of Elder Holland's address here