Coming out of the Closet About Suicidal Depression
by Billy Arrowsmith.
I decided to “come out of the closet” about suicidal depression on Facebook when Robin Williams died. It went better than I thought it would. My friends were extremely supportive. This is what I posted…
Hey, friends! Today I want to talk about suicidal depression. Every time there’s a big suicide in the news, I see a lot of conversation that makes me concerned. It seems like depression is a problem that lots of people don’t understand very well. I’m sorry this is so long, but it’s an issue that’s very close to me.
I see people say things like “It was the coward’s way out” or “he threw it all away over nothing.” You should understand that depression is extremely real to people who are struggling with it. It’s an illness. Your brain isn’t working properly, the same way a broken limb doesn’t work properly. Instead of being unable to walk, you’re unable to process positive feelings. You’re constantly in a state of sadness, or anger, or fear, or self-loathing. This is a lifelong condition for many people. You can develop coping strategies, but there’s no real “cure” or universal answer. If that imagery is not helpful, it’s like having goblins in your brain. It’s like fighting an enemy every single day that you can’t see who makes it impossible for you to be happy. It doesn’t matter that you have all these nice things and people who love you, because you physically can’t enjoy them or anything else. That’s a really hard way to live.
It hurts me when I hear people with depression described as “weak.” They have to be strong and brave everyday, just to leave their house or have social interactions. These are people fighting a war that makes it difficult or painful to do very basic things. It is tragic when someone dies fighting that battle, but it is not shameful.
The second thing I want to talk about is dismissive solutions. I LOVE that treatment for mental illness is becoming more socially acceptable.
However, it seems like some people think the conversation ends at “Get help.”
“If only he had gotten help!”
“Why didn’t he get help?” “
Why didn’t he dial H-E-L-P on the phone so the Helpers in the Help Van could take him to the Helpatorium?”
It is absolutely important to tell people “get help.” It is sometimes a little patronizing when it’s coming from people who don’t understand how hard that is. I’ve seen this taken to a very nasty place, where people say things like “it’s his fault for not getting help. Why should I have sympathy?” If you’re struggling with depression, I want to stress that seeking help absolutely should be the most important thing in your life after basic survival necessities. If you’ve never struggled with depression, I want to stress that seeking help can be MUCH harder than you think it is.
I have struggled with suicidal depression for most of my adult life. I called the suicide hotline back when I was delivering pizzas. It is not a magical fix-everything service. They told me their nearest facility was further away than I could afford to drive on my gas budget. I’ve tried talking about depression to most of my friends. I’m fortunate to have some great people in my life, but I’ve lost a lot of relationships because I was open about depression. There are people who don’t understand, and they get angry at you when their misguided attempts to help don’t work. There are people who just slowly back out of your life because talking to you makes them sad or uncomfortable. I don’t blame these people. It is very difficult to deal with someone else’s depression. That’s nobody’s fault, but it makes depression very isolating.
I’ve tried to get professional help many times. I’ve had doctors who were helpful, but we couldn’t afford them. I’ve had doctors who were unhelpful and made things worse. I’ve been put on medications that made me better for a little while. I’ve been put on medications that messed me up so badly I couldn’t leave my house and had to switch high schools.
This is not even getting into how hard it can be emotionally to seek treatment. You have to be able to admit your deepest problems to yourself, and talk about them articulately with total strangers. I don’t know a lot of people who can do that, even without depression. It is very difficult to seek any sort of treatment at all when you honestly don’t like yourself and don’t believe you deserve to get better. I’m not telling this as a sob story to try and garner sympathy. I just want people to understand that everybody struggling with depression has stories like this. We almost never talk about them because we are trying to pretend to be normal.
I hate when posts like this are all criticism, so I’ll try to leave with something helpful. You have so much more power than you think you do to help another person. Even when you don’t feel like you’re making a difference, the smallest acts of kindness can really touch people in unexpected ways. You probably don’t understand depression. That is okay! We appreciate it when you are honest about not understanding. We’re sick of people telling us they understand when they don’t. You don’t have to understand. You just have to believe us.
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