To the Friends and Family of Someone Living with Depression
I can’t tell you how many suicide notes I’ve written over the years. I mean, there was the first one on the night I attempted suicide for the second time nine and a half years ago. I found that one a few years ago tucked away in a polka dot notebook I had forgotten I had. After reading it, I took the letter with me as I went for a drive to clear my head; tearing it up, and then throwing it out the window as I drove, trying to leave my past behind me.
There have been others, too. My “In Case of Fire, Break Glass” safety net. When you live with suicidal thoughts, you’re always on edge, wondering if you’ll make it through this day; wondering if today is the day the demons you’re fighting take over and win.
It’s not that I want to be writing suicide notes. Trust me, there are a million other things I’d rather be writing. But, it’s almost a compulsion; an obsession. It’s like, if I don’t get the thoughts out of my head, they’ll eat me alive. I write them because I don’t want to have to use them. When the storm hits, and the levees break, and I’m not sure I can stay afloat, I write them — word by word, line by line, feeling by feeling — taking what I feel and trying to put it into words is the closest I’ll ever get to having a superpower.
Then, when the storm passes, when the waters recede, when the sun begins to shine again, I delete them from my phone; I rip out the pages of the notebook — erasing evidence of the pain I was in; trying to leave the feelings of despair and hopelessness behind; trying to transition to happiness and joy.
But life isn’t black and white like that: if depression is black and joy is white, then I live in shades of gray because for every suicide note I’ve ever written, I’ve told at least 10 jokes. Because if writing is my way of staying afloat, telling jokes is my way of quite literally pulling myself out of the water. Also, I’m a Bills fan, and sometimes the only way to make it through a season of watching them pluck defeats from the jaws of victory is by making jokes.
Here’s the thing about life: it’s full of contradictions. Sadness and joy coexist at the same time, in the same soul. On some of my darkest days, I’ve laughed the most — like deep belly laugh, laugh so hard tears come out of my eyes, laugh so hard, I throw my head back, hand on the neck, eyes basically closed. And it’s this sudden change from utter despair to deepest joy that reminds me I am alive.
I’ve been having a hard time lately.
So, here’s what you need to know: there are days, many days, when it’s hard for me to get out of bed, when the weight of the world seems too much to bear, and when I am standing and singing worship songs one minute, and then collapsing and sobbing in my pew the next. These are also the days when I am reminded of happy moments. And these happy moments are enough to keep me putting one foot in front of the other. Until they’re not. Because they’re just that: moments. Beautiful, but fleeting. If you combine enough of them together, sure, they can shine like the sun, illuminating the future standing in front of me.
But here’s also what you need to know: I can’t build armor strong enough to protect me from what’s going on inside my head. And neither can you.
And it’s frustrating: for you and for me. It’s frustrating because you ask the question: “What can I do?” but what you really mean is “What can I do to fix this?” And therein lies the problem.
You can’t fix this.
I can’t fix this.
Medication and therapy can’t fix this. All they can do is make what I’m dealing with more manageable. They can make the sun shine a little bit longer, stave off the darkness a little while longer, but they can’t erase it.
Neither can you.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t DO anything. Because, yes, you can’t do anything — not in the way you want to.
But, if you ask the right question, you can still DO something.
“What do you need?”
What do I need? I need support and encouragement and love. I need hugs and laughter and to cry it out. I need someone to sit there with me while I work through it on my own. I need someone to listen while I talk it out. I need to know I have people in my court, on my side.
So, no. You can’t fix it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything.
Somedays, I’m so weak and hurting and broken, I feel like death is the only way out. I know it isn’t. There’s a difference between what I feel and what I know. I’m coming to understand that both of them are valid. I have to give each of these parts of me a voice. Let them say what they have to say.
The hardest part of life is admitting our weaknesses because we all want life to be perfect, and we try to portray it as such. I’ve come to realize that pretending life is perfect is doing a disservice to yourself. We have to be honest with ourselves and each other.
The hardest part of the last few years has been not ignoring what I’m feeling, telling people what’s going on in my head, being honest with you all about the struggles I’m facing. And yes, it’s been scary because people have gotten annoyed with me for sharing, frustrated because they see that I’m struggling, and they feel helpless, and some have even told me “Facebook is not the place to tell people what’s really going on.”
Maybe it’s not.
But I can’t hide behind a status. I believe in honesty.
I believe in recognizing our own weaknesses and giving the darkest parts of ourselves a name: depression, anxiety, PTSD.
And right now, I’m oh so very weak. But sometimes it’s in our weakest moments that we find the strength to reach out, to ask for help.
And I’m so glad I did.