Depressed people are faking it

Yes, you read the title right.  No, it wasn’t clickbait.  And yes, I mean it.

Depressed people are faking it.  Every.  Fucking.  Day.

I fake it.  Your best friend fakes it.  The guy at the psych office fakes it.  And every single other person with depression is faking it.

And some of us are so fucking good at faking it you’d never be the wiser, no matter how smart you think you are, and no matter how in tune with us you think you are.  We are masters at this game.  You’re maybe just a little confused about what it is, exactly, we’re faking.

Cause it’s not the sadness, or the numbness, or the anger or the paranoia or the self-loathing or the lack of confidence or the lack of joy.  Nah, it’s not the tears or the beating ourselves up.  It’s not waking up and wishing we didn’t.  It’s not the persistently nagging, pessimistic thoughts that have claimed our heads as home.  Nope, unfortunately, all that stuff is pretty real.

Instead, we fake the rest.  The other stuff.  The normal.

Like when you’re stuck in a slump, balled up on the couch feeling sorry for yourself.  It’s hard to find the energy to even say a word to your significant other, and suddenly someone knocks on the door.  The lights are on; they know you’re home.  So you have no choice but to open the door and fake it.  And god damn, do you do it well.  You amaze yourself every time, because who is this person, and why couldn’t I find her five minutes ago?

It’s the same at work.  You sit in your car in the parking lot, taking your last chance to breathe alone.  You don’t want to be here.  You want to be home, in bed, alone, forever.  You almost stayed home today, but you forced yourself to get this far.  So you go.  And when you walk through the doors… you’re different; you’re okay for now.  Why couldn’t I be okay before?

It’s when you go to the grocery store, or order your coffee, or when you have to make a phone call.  You don’t know where it comes from, but somehow there seems to be a living soul inside your normally empty body.  You hear yourself speaking clearly, laughing along and being a social being and you just wish you could be that way all the time.

So why can’t you?  Why is it so easy sometimes and so hard as soon as the circumstances change?   The second your visitor leaves; as soon as you’re finished work; right when you hang up the phone; walk out of the store – you’re back to where you were.  No more faking it.

It’s weird, because in those moments I sometimes almost forget I’m faking it.  I ride the wave as long as I can, but eventually I crash.   And usually once I do,  I am completely depleted.  It’s like going out for a joyride and not noticing you’re running on empty.  And then – BOOM, it’s over.  You’re out of fuel.  You crash and burn and it takes a lot to get you going again.

I fake it a lot.  I do it to get by.  It’s necessary for survival.  I can’t change how I’m feeling, but sometimes shit has to get done.  I can try to muster up the courage on my own – I can try to psych myself up to go out into the world.  Some days it’s no problem at all.  Other days, it’s impossible, and it won’t happen unless it has to happen.  So, I fake it.  I’m really good at it – I’ve fooled a lot of people.  And you know what?  I’m not the only one who does it.  I bet you know someone who’s been fooling you, too.

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Love won’t fix it

It’s funny that even though I know nothing is just gonna come and fix me right up, I hold onto hoping that something will.  Like love, for example.  Because aren’t we taught that love heals all wounds?

Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.

There’s a scene in the movie, “Shopgirl” where Claire Danes’ character reaches for some type of medication, only to find the bottle empty.  She holds it in her hand, observing it, contemplating.  Ultimately, she smiles, puts the empty bottle down and carries on with her day.

Later, we see her lying in bed, ignoring phone calls for days on end.  She looks sick, tired and miserable.  Basically, she mistakenly thought the new love in her life had cured her depression.
(It happens to the best of us.)

A while ago, I met someone incredible.  A soul to match my own – the cherry on top of my heart.  I met someone who both grounds me, and lifts me high into the clouds. No one has ever made me happier.  The sun really does seem to shine brighter – the world genuinely does look more beautiful to me now than it did before I met him.

And guess what…

I’m still depressed.

I only lasted about a month and a half without an “episode”.  I managed to live in bliss, unbothered by the demons, for exactly 39 days.  And then, they broke through. At a party.  With my new boyfriend’s family and friends.  Yay!!

It started with me tickling my tickle-phobic boyfriend, and thereby knocking a full drink over.  I didn’t know it at the time, but he hates being tickled. He quickly jumped up from his seat, drenched in some kind of alcohol.  Naturally, his initial reaction wasn’t filled with sunshine and rainbows – he was a little irked.  And me, being the overly-sensitive snowflake I am, sunk into myself, embarrassed and worried this was the end of our relationship.  (I have a special ability to imagine the absolute worst possible outcome in any situation.)

So, I excused myself to another room and proceeded to cry like a lost child.  I argued with myself, accused myself of all sorts of things, called myself plenty of names.

After cleaning himself off, Stephen joined me.  We hugged, we talked, I realised I overreacted – he wasn’t going to leave me over spilled milk (or beer) – and that everything would be okay.

Define, “okay,” I thought.  Because are you really okay with being with a ticking time bomb?

Up until that little freak out, I was thinking there was a chance that maybe I had been cured.  I had been feeling so good and life seemed so perfect.  I was checking in with myself daily, keeping track of how I felt and thanking the stars for every single smile.  I couldn’t imagine things not being perfect anymore.  Especially since I was happy for a reason – not ‘just because.’   I was SO IN LOVE.  Infatuated, even.  Not only with him, but with life.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was already in a good state of mind when I met him- but the butterflies, and that giddy, schoolgirl crush somehow snowballed into a complete rewire of everything in my head.  I was suddenly overjoyed and incredibly optimistic.  I can’t even begin to explain how it felt to feel that good.

So, in short, I can certainly see why someone would put off refilling their prescription.  It’s easy to imagine yourself being happy forever when you’re so blissfully in love.  I had already been through the game of medication yo-yo though, so I kept taking my pills despite sometimes thinking I might not need them.  And honestly, although it was a little embarrassing, I’m glad that little incident happened a month into the relationship.  It was a gentle reminder that I wasn’t suddenly invincible; I’m still gonna lose my balance sometimes.

Now, this post is not to say that love won’t make you happy.  It will.  I mean, it certainly should!  Especially at the beginning of something new, when things are fresh and exciting.  What I mean is that it’s easy to get lost in the moment and make decisions without much consideration.  Just remember it’s important to take proper care of yourself – regardless of how you feel.

Oh, and it’s been a year, so I guess he was right when he said things would be okay. 🙂

mrrogersss

Recognizing your ‘normal’

This is something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember, and I know I’m not the only one.

It’s not all that surprising – when your mood changes, your thoughts, opinions and feelings are bound to be affected too.  And when that’s something that happens around the clock, without notice, it gets hard to pinpoint who’s the impostor and who’s the real you.

Sometimes I’m a pessimistic, angry, inconsiderate witch who says horrible things to the people I love most.  Other times, I’m the kind of person who makes handmade gifts, sends random messages of encouragement to a friend, or buys coffee for the person behind me at the drive-thru.   There are days I wake up in a loud, smiling, energetic mood.  And then there are the days where I am nothing but a silent blob, breaking code only to cry.

So which one is really me??

Obviously, I’d like to say it’s the generous, happy-go-lucky girl who can do no wrong.  But I have to admit that’s not the case.  It’s hard to pinpoint where (if) Becca ends and depression, mania, schizo-shit, what-have-you, take over.  And it’s easy to say, “this isn’t you,” to someone who is depressed. But is it true?

I know I’ve heard it before and I certainly didn’t believe it when it was said to me.  And even now, in a ‘sounder’ mind, I don’t really agree with it.  Of course it’s me.  Who else was it if it wasn’t me?

Don’t worry, I’m going to elaborate.

I’ll start by saying my overwhelmingly dark days have been drastically reduced.  I’m still on a rollercoaster, but for now, the big loops and turns are behind me.  I haven’t had more than 3 consecutive days of hell in over a year.  Coming from someone who used to get stuck in black holes for months at a time, that’s a serious improvement.

In my personal opinion, I am my depression/mania/schizo-shit, and my depression/mania/schizo-shit is me.  I know this goes against what I’ve said in the past, and it certainly goes against what everyone tells you about your depression not defining you.  But I’m just trying a different approach because the other one simply doesn’t work for me anymore.

Subconsciously, I think being told “this isn’t you,” ate away at me for a long time.  People used to say it to me a lot, especially when I was stuck in a cloud.  I was hurting inside and I didn’t know why.  They wanted to help, so they told me that’s not who I was; this sadness isn’t the bubbly Becca they knew. Eventually, I think it got to the point where I started to believe it, but not how they intended.   It made me feel like I really had lost myself, and that I wasn’t ever coming back.  Becca was gone and depression took her place.  And as much as I didn’t want to believe I had turned into this broken down piece of a person… I had.    I had been beaten down by my own psyche, and I was so afraid at the fact that I didn’t even know myself anymore.  I tried to remember who I was ‘before’, and I couldn’t do it.   I had no idea who I was with or without depression.

A whole lot of love and support has led me to a different thought process.

All of this is me.  All of these traits are who I am.  And that’s fine.

On my bad days, I am me.
On my good days, I am me.
On my ‘normal days’, I am me.

In short, my depression is me, and I am my depression… but I’m a lot of other things too.

I live, act, feel and love in extremes.  Unfortunately that means sometimes I lose control.  It means that some people can’t handle me.  It means that sometimes I’m hard to understand.  It means that sometimes I hurt people.  But it also means I love with an exploding heart.

I’m done fighting my own image.  I am who I am as I am.
Trying to separate pieces of my identity is tedious and unnecessary.
This is who I am, and I’d rather just deal with it.

Depression with a happy mind

 

My pal “depression” and I have been acquainted for quite some time now… but that doesn’t mean I fully understand it.

I feel like my depression is constantly evolving and once I feel like I can finally recognise its effects on my body and mind, something changes and I have to re-evaluate it all.

For years, my depression had a huge impact on my mood and overall happiness.  I hadn’t learned how to rework my thoughts, which allowed my less-than-ideal living situation to really wreak havoc on my state of mind.  I cried a lot.  I contemplated suicide a lot.  I felt like I was at a loss; nothing was enjoyable, I absolutely dreaded everyday things, and my future looked like a dark and cold tunnel of nothingness.

I certainly had good days – even weeks – strewn throughout the years of misery.  But, despite that, feeling so down for so long led me to believe my depression was a sentence to eternal sadness.

I equated depression with feeling sad.  I used it as an excuse.  I stopped noticing the triggers.  Whenever I felt sad, I blamed it on my depression.  I excused myself from learning to recognise and regulate my emotions and slapped that label on instead. I gave myself a free pass to sadness, because a big part of me genuinely believed it was inevitable.  Essentially, I let myself be sad because I was afraid of failing to be happy.

I’ve since realised that my depression is not always to blame.  And, on top of that, my depression does not always (or only) manifest itself in misery.  I’ve practiced taking a step back and not immediately blaming depression for my normal reactions to everyday situations.  Am I feeling sad because of my depression, or because something sad just happened?  

Does this mean my depression is never to blame? Absolutely not.  But, by trying not to use it as a crutch or an explanation so often, I’ve learned to take more control over my mind.  Recognising and accepting that I am sometimes sad due to events, and not solely because my mind is chemically imbalanced, has loosened the grip I felt depression had on me.

On top of all that, things are going very well for me.  I am feeling the happiest I’ve felt in a very long time.  I am surrounded – both physically and virtually – by fantastic people and a whole lot of love.

… But I’m still depressed.  

It still affects me in other ways.  It attacks my body when it can’t attack my mind.  I have to push myself harder to find motivation.  I still feel exhausted and want to stay in bed for days – not because I feel anxious at the thought of people, but because I am so tired. And sore.  I get headaches.  I sometimes have to remind myself to eat – and fight the nausea as I try to feed my body.

For a while I didn’t realise these were the effects of depression.  Of course, when I thought about it, these were all things I experienced back in the days of my miserable depression, too.  I just didn’t realise it without the sadness to accompany it all.

I’m always learning something about the power of my mind – as well as the ‘illness’ which has made it its home.  And this last little while has really put into perspective just how invisibly versatile depression really is.

I don’t know

Am I happy, or am I manic?

I can never be quite sure. Am I genuinely excited about this, or is this an impulsive decision, masking itself as my ‘destiny,’ convincing me it’s what I’ve always needed to do?

I follow my gut. I follow my head. I follow whatever I feel I should – but I’m so often wrong.

How many times have I found myself curled in a ball, looking back at my recent decisions, dread and regret filling my mind? How many times have I ‘come to,’ only to realise I had been blind and reckless – for god knows how long? How many times have I been certain of myself and what I was doing – until one moment… I wasn’t so sure anymore?

I don’t know. At least that never seems to change – I DON’T KNOW.

I feel like I don’t know anything. “I don’t know” is my trade mark. “I don’t know” feels like the only thing I do know.

I don’t know what I’m doing with myself. I don’t know the person I am. I don’t know where – or who – I will be tomorrow… let alone one, two, five or ten years from now. I don’t know where my gut will take me, and I don’t know if I’ll regret it or not. I don’t know what colour my hair will be. I don’t know whether I’ll be wearing a smile, a frown, or numbness. I don’t know whether I will be cold or warm. I don’t know. I really don’t.

I’ve been on a roll the last few months. I met the love of my life. I’ve been reconnecting with old friends. I have a fun, well-paying job. I’ve been happy. I’ve been strong and energetic. I’ve been working on myself and figuring out how to tackle my goals. I’ve been setting plans in action, gearing myself towards success. I’ve been focusing my energy on myself and the important things in my life.

Once things start rolling, though, I always seem to bail. I freak out. I back up and jump far away from the fire.

Just like I did today.

I had big plans for today. I’m not going to go into what, exactly – but I had big, life-changing plans to get started on. Today. At 9am.

Well, 9am came and went, and here I am in bed.

Nothing’s changed because I won’t let it.

Why won’t it ever go away? Why does it always linger?  And why do I always stop fighting once I feel it taking over?

It’s nearly noon on a Thursday, and I’m curled up in a ball. I’m stuck here. I’m free to do whatever, but I feel glued to my bed.

So many parts of me are afraid – afraid I’ll fail, afraid I’ll give up, afraid it won’t be what I want.

Afraid I won’t be what I want.

I was hoping love would cure me – although I knew it wouldn’t.

I was hopeful. When I met him, life seemed genuinely perfect, and everything felt so easy to conquer. Now that the euphoria has faded, my once-optimistic mind has skipped realism and jumped straight back into critiquing every negative aspect of everything in the world, making a miserable pessimist out of me.

It’s only been a few days, but those few days feel like they’ll last forever. The rational part of me knows that isn’t true, but that part of me is very small right now – a tiny voice, trying its best to be heard amongst the big, scary mean guys. I don’t want to believe I’ll fall back into a depression hole, but when this bed feels so soft and warm, it’s hard to leave its cushion in case I do.

Be a Firefighter

A couple of weeks ago, I was discussing the heavy subject of suicide with a new person in my life.   The best description of suicide I have come across is a famous quote by David Foster Wallace – a writer who, sadly, ultimately lost his own battle with depression.

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

― David Foster Wallace

What I take away from this quote – and what I shared with that dear person – is that no one can possibly know the depth of another person’s agony.  No one will ever know how hot that fire is without being in it.

This dear soul, however, like many, had a tendency to call suicide selfish.

How can a person be so concerned with their own pain, that they’d just end it all, leaving all of their loved ones behind and transferring that pain to their still-beating hearts?  Leaving them with the guilt that they couldn’t make them happy enough – a guilt they’ll carry with them forever.  Don’t the suicidal think of others?

This isn’t an uncommon opinion by any means.  And it isn’t a nonsensical one, either.  Of course suicide could seem selfish when you look at the surface.  The suicidal are leaving everyone behind.  Everyone who is left behind will be left with pain and guilt in their hearts – forever. 

But what if we go deeper than the surface?

What if we try to understand that the suicidal are so consumed by that hot fire, that they feel like nothing can save them?
What if we try to understand that the suicidal have looked for every way out, but the smoke is blinding them?
What if we look at their jump as a way to notice the flames, instead of resenting them for trying to save themselves?
What if instead of placing blame on them for not being able to escape alive, we work to fight harder to save the ones who are still trapped?

I’ve been in that fire.  I hate that damn fire.  It gets unbearably hot.  I couldn’t focus on anything but the heat.  I was too overcome by being burned alive – from the inside out – to even consider anything else.

After discussing this quote, the fire, my own thoughts and experiences, I got a very simple response,

“That’s why we need firefighters.”

And then I realised that sometimes, it really can be that simple.

And then I remembered as I lay there choking on the smoke, contemplating freeing myself and jumping into that cold air outside, a firefighter came and saved me – many times.

Once it was my ex-boyfriend, pulling a tired/drugged out me from the bathtub that was lulling me into an endless, fireless sleep.
Once it was a teenager on the internet, talking to me when no one else was.
Once it was a pair of paramedics, watching me protectively as I lay quiet in bed, almost at my end.
Once it was a toddler, obliviously smiling at me on the platform as I considered a deadly jump.

I have made every attempt to turn my negativity into positivity – to look at all the pain I’ve been dealt with, and the ways I’ve learned to cope – and bring that new positive perspective into other people’s lives.  I have learned to fight my own fire – with and without the help of others – and it’s my job to spread those lessons around. 

So.  This is my request to you reading this:

Be a firefighter.

Be a positive energy.

Be a smile.

You might never know how many fires you fight – but I can assure you, you will win at least one.

And isn’t that more than enough already?

Why I haven’t posted in over a month

I haven’t had health insurance since I left to go on my backpacking trip in April of last year.  Before my insurance expired, I refilled all of my prescriptions. Even though I had gradually reduced the amount of medication I was taking – to make the supply last longer – as happens, it eventually ran out in the summer.  I didn’t refill it until this January, when I was at the doctor’s,  paying out of pocket for a completely unrelated reason.  While I was there, I figured I’d ask how much I would have to pay for my prescriptions without insurance. To my utter bewilderment (not to mention pure joy), it costs less than 60 euros for a 3+ month supply. Wow.  I had been expecting a bill of several hundred euro, which is why I had been putting it off for so long.  Naturally I got both prescriptions refilled and began taking them again the very same night. Relief. Remember, I’ve been on the on/off medication train several times.  Sometime last year, I finally accepted – and embraced – my meds, and their power to help me.  I wanted them back.

So why haven’t I posted about this, considering how relative it is to my whole journey?

In mid January, I posted about self harm.  What I failed to mention was the fact that I cut myself the same night I wrote the post. I didn’t want people to know.  I want to give people hope, an example of things getting better. I want them to read my words and imagine moving past this negative stage and back onto happiness.  I don’t want them to read my earlier posts of improvement and good times, only to then see that I’ve failed again. Because naturally, with a depressed mind, seeing me fall means there’s no hope for them either. That’s not the message I want to send.

Anti depressants are not instant fixes.  They will not make you better overnight.  In fact, often times, they’ll make you worse before they help you at all.  But once you get past the initial tough stage, it becomes worth it.  You can feel again.  You can think again.  You can get yourself out of bed again.  You can socialize again – hell, you want to socialize again.

That rough spot began in early January for me, and lasted until about three weeks ago.  I wrote that post, felt like a hypocrite for not telling the real story, and just left the blog alone. A little while later, I got a comment on a post, simply asking me if I was happy.  I couldn’t bring myself to respond. I didnt want to lie.  But I also didnt want to tell him the truth – that no, I wasn’t happy.  At least not right then and there.  So I just ignored the comment. And the blog altogether.

And then, soon after, the rough storm turned into a sunny afternoon with a beautiful rainbow. I felt better.  Again, I had one of those “it’s working” moments.  It’s funny how it sneaks up on you – gradually, you improve, but it happens over time and it’s hard to pinpoint when things got better.  And then, one afternoon, I was sitting on my kitchen floor, listening to Sia and drinking a chai.  And I smiled to myself because at that same time mere weeks before, I had called in sick to work because the thought of leaving my bed left me feeling  crippled.  I noticed how far I had come, and how calm I felt, and I smiled again, happy that I was back.

I haven’t posted because the first couple of weeks were spent feeling sorry for myself, while the remaining ones were spent surrounded by friends, good food and fantastic fun. I was so busy enjoying everything that I never took the time to write.

So, to the person who asked me if I was happy: 

I’m not happy everyday. Sometimes, I go days, weeks, even months, being unhappy.  I have times where I want nothing to do with being alive. I have times when I’m angry at myself, or the world around me. I have times where life seems pointless, and happiness seems fake.

And then, overall, above everything; all of the negative; all of the days I want to die, are the days where I am so, so, so incredibly happy.

After living in a dark, cloudy mind for so long, the sun seems to shine that much brighter once it finally does come out.  I feel the joy a million times over. I revel in it. I spread it. I sing at the top of my lungs in crowded – and empty – bars.  I cook (and also order, let’s be real here) delicious food with friends. I look forward to going to work, and planning fun activities with the toddler I am so lucky to take care of. I smile. I laugh. I make a fool out of myself. I have fun. I am happy.

Of course, sometimes that euphoric feeling is nothing but a manic phase. Sometimes I even have to ask myself, “am I happy or am I manic?” And I can never really know for sure. But it doesn’t really matter. The fact is I feel the joy and that’s enough for me, as long as I keep myself in control.

Any mental illness is a journey.  Every journey takes a different road, or takes a different turn.  Keeping up with yourself is important – checking in with your thoughts, keeping track of your feelings and major events. It helps to understand yourself when you can look back at what you’ve said, done, or felt, and view it with a different part of you. That’s what this blog is to me. I try to be as honest and open as possible, and then I go back and read through things later on.

So. To conclude, this rollercoaster ride is still going.  I’m buckled in tight, and I’m not getting off any time soon. 
I’m going to enjoy the ride as much as I can, when I can.  And I hope you do too.

Why do you self-harm?

I have scars on my body.  Proof of the things I sometimes wish weren’t true about me;  constant reminders of the many times I’ve slipped up and let my demons take the reigns.

I have scars on my legs, my arms and my torso.  Some are tiny, faint little lines.  Some are big and texturised.  Some were made with a knife.  Others with a razor blade.  Some with broken glass.  One, with a broken hair clip.  Some of them bled a lot. Some of them barely bled at all. 

All of them were self-inflicted.  None of them were meant to kill me.

I used to hide my scars at all costs.  I didn’t want people to know I had cut myself.  I had a story for each scar; a made up explanation for how it got there. 

The one on my wrist? I was climbing a tree and scratched it on a branch.
The one on my hand? I didn’t realise there was a knife in the soapy dish water.
The one on my side? I scraped it on a rock while swimming in the river.

After a while, though, there were too many scars and not enough stories to pair them with.  And, eventually I grew to accept the scars – and myself – and the potential whispers stopped bothering me.  I stopped hiding. 

When I started this blog, I decided to take every possible opportunity to talk about mental health issues.  What better way to get people talking than to expose the evidence?

Sometimes I catch people looking and I know they want to ask, but are afraid to.  Sometimes I get supportive comments, or people share their own stories with me.   Sometimes, I get questions.

Not everyone understands the concept of physical self-harm. I’ve noticed that some people even have a hard time differentiating between self-harm and attempted suicide.  For example, after discussing the scars on my legs being from self-inflicted cuts, one person said, “Why would you cut yourself there? That’s not going to kill you.”

When we take part in something and know it very well, it’s easy to forget that not everyone has those same experiences.  So when that person indirectly told me I was bad at suicide, I was just surprised they didn’t realise suicide had never been my plan in the first place. When I drew the knife across my thigh; when I cut my wrist with that broken hair clip; when I sliced my side open with a razor blade – I wasn’t doing it to end my life.

But why on earth would a person intentionally hurt themselves?  Being a person who has self-harmed since I was a young teenager, this is a question I never really even considered – it’s just what I have always done.  However, I realise there are several people in the world who – thankfully – simply never had to know the answer.

  While I can’t speak for everyone, I can speak for myself.  And to me, the answer seems simple.  Why do I hurt myself?  To feel the pain.

“But why do you want to feel pain? Do you like the pain?”
No. I hate it.  It hurts. And most of the time it leaves an ugly scar.

“If you know it’s going to leave an ugly scar, then why do you still do it?”
When I’m in a state of mind poor enough to self-harm, the thought of a lasting scar doesn’t bother me.  In fact, I feel like scarred skin represents me better than flawless skin in these moments – the skin should match the mind.

“Are you trying to kill yourself?”
No.

“Then I don’t understand.”

The best explanation I have is this: 
Self-harm translates the confusing, sad, angry feelings I’m unable to disect into a physical, tangible and understandable pain.  I can look at it.  I can control it.  I can understand why it hurts.

Not everyone who self-harms is suicidal.  Sometimes, it’s just a release.  If I’m feeling overwhelmed and angry and upset and I don’t know why and I can’t calm myself down, cutting brings me back to reality.  I see the blood and I’m reminded that my heart is still beating; that I’m still breathing; that I’m still living. 

Suicide ends your story, while self-harm just leaves a mark. 

I’m not condoning cutting, or any other form of self-harm.  As much as I understand how “helpful” it can feel, I realise it is in no way a good thing.  Unfortunately, though, it can be addictive. Self-harm is something that I’m still fighting with; it’s something I always revert back to when I fall down the tunnel.  It’s a battle I’ve yet to win, but one I won’t give up on.

The cuts I make will soon stop bleeding and close up – the skin will scab, then toughen with a scar.  The crippling thoughts lodged in my mind are just as temporary – they will change, and I will be okay.  When I forget that, the scars are my reminder.

Suicide: a How-To Guide

I came across a website today.  It’s all about suicide.  It provides a range of information – statistics about suicide; what causes it, who commits it, how they commit it. I read further and discovered several pages discussing the various suicide methods. There is even a table compiled, listing the fatality rate of each method, along with expected time required for death to take place and the amount of pain thought to be experienced from start to finish.  To my horror and disbelief, I also found a detailed guide on how to successfully off yourself using each method.

This website was one of the first to come up in a Google search for depression and suicide.  I imagined a person at their lowest stumbling upon this; a website to help them select whichever method seemed to best suit their death wish, and all the information required to implement their heart-breaking plan.  The worst possible form of “help” I could imagine for these poor souls.

It made me angry.  Livid. Why on earth would someone provide the world with information on how to end their own life?  How does this person sleep at night, knowing their words might have been (arguably) responsible for someone else’s death?  What in the world possessed them to create such an awful tool?

I continued reading, and I changed my mind.

On top of the how-to-suicide-guides, I found unbiased, factual information regarding the likelihood of failure (and potential lasting health implications) for each method.  For the particularly gruesome suicide styles (such as firearms, jumping in front of a train, or hanging), there was a section outlining what someone would be exposed to upon discovering the body – how it would look, the trauma the person may experience, and the clean-up they may have to do.  There were statistics, references and resources listed at the bottom of each page.

The website is written by a person with a history of mental health struggles and suicide attempts.  He shares a brief summary of his story on the website, carefully separating fact from opinion.  He describes his own suicide attempt, and his honest and raw thoughts upon realising he failed, “I woke up I don’t know how many hours later – it was still light on the same day … feeling like shit, and being bitterly disappointed I was still alive.” These words took me back to some of my own dark moments.

It’s not at all uncommon for a suicide attempt to fail.  “For every successful suicide attempt, there are 33 unsuccessful ones. For drug overdoses, the ratio is around 40 to 1. In fact, if attempting suicide, there is a much greater chance you’ll end up in hospital alive, with either short or long term heath implications, than dead.”

The author goes on to summarize these facts into one eye-opening statement:  “The first thing you should be aware of if you are trying to kill yourself is the odds are against you.”

On top of the suicide statistics, I also found information on the reality of mental illness.  The writer makes a comment many of us have likely heard before, comparing cancer to depression – both are real, diagnosable illnesses that have the potential to be deadly. He shares some referenced facts to show just how true that statement is, “According to the American Association of Suicidology, major depression is the psychiatric diagnosis most commonly associated with suicide. The risk of suicide in people with major depression is about 20 times that of the general population.”

To compare, the chances of developing and dying from cancer (of any form) in the United States is an average of 22.83% for men, and 19.26% for women. 

This information seems daunting at first glance – as though major depression were a death sentence, much like cancer can be.  Fortunately, the next paragraph presents us with statistics that prove otherwise, “The risk of someone suffering from an untreated major depressive disorder trying to commit suicide is around 1 in 5 (20%). However, the suicide risk among treated patients is around 1 in 1,000 (0.1%).”

So, this confirms that a depressed person has a 20% chance of falling victim to suicide, much like the average person has an approximately 20% chance of dying from cancer. The fortunate difference for those who fall into the former category is when depression is properly treated, the suicide risk factor is greatly diminished. 

The author writes in a way that is completely open: not encouraging, but also not directly discouraging, a person from committing suicide.  He writes in such a way that his readers are forced to take a step back and view suicide objectively; everything is to the point, and nothing is personal. 

While this website does provide information which could be used to end one’s own life, it also offers a refreshingly realistic and matter-of-fact discussion about suicide.  It allows suicide to be seen as the epidemic it is in today’s world, instead of hiding away from the reality we should not dare deny.  Instead of simply saying “don’t do it”, this website informs about everything that goes along with suicide – before, during, and after – to allow a person to really think strongly about what it is they are considering, opening their eyes to what suicide really entails, without attempting to persuade them one way or the other.

Suicide is a taboo subject, and the majority of articles online don’t go into too much detail – especially avoiding descriptions of how a person can successfully commit suicide.  One can assume this is because people are afraid of planting dangerous ideas into already unstable minds.  So, instead, they stick with the “just don’t do it” approach, which seems safe.

What this approach fails to acknowledge, however, is that suicidal people are often so desperate that they are willing to try anything, and simple discouragement is therefore not enough to stop them.  Many suicides (attempted or successful) are done impulsively. If a suicidal person can’t find the information they are looking for at their moment of desperation, they will try whatever they think might work.  While their uneducated attempts will rarely result in death, there is a good chance they will experience other negative side effects – anything from superficial scarring to permanent brain damage.

The website I found today takes an entirely different approach – one I had not seen before, and one that is nothing short of controversial.  It takes the suicidal back to a child-like state in a way; offering explanations for everything from how to get things done, to what to expect in the (statistically likely) event of failure.  Instead of shunning away the notion of suicide, this website embraces it and creates an educating and empowering environment, allowing people to make sound decisions, rather than impulsive ones.

This website challenged my perspective on suicidal discussions and how we should approach the subject as a society.  Simply saying “no” without laying out the reasons why – in an unbiased, educational way – is a sure-fire way to lose the attention of a potential suicide victim.  This website shocked me into wanting to read more, and opened my eyes to the fact that there are many ways to help someone.  Sometimes, we need to shock people into realising what they are considering before we can expect to open their minds enough to truly help them.

For those of you who are interested, the website I have been referring to can be visited at:
http://www.lostallhope.com

Cancer statistics found at:
Lifetime Risk (Percent) of Dying from Cancer by Site and Race/Ethnicity: Males, Total US, 2009-2011 (Table 1.19) and Females, Total US, 2009-2011 (Table 1.20). 2014. Accessed at http://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2011/results_merged/topic_lifetime_risk_death.pdf on December 27, 2015.

This is a picture of depression

image

On Saturday, I asked Nick to take a picture of me.

I was low that afternoon. I was sad. I was anxious. I was angry. I felt overwhelmed by nothing specific, yet everything all at once. I felt every emotion intensely at one moment, and I was completely numb to the world by the next.

At one stage, I had managed to pull myself out of bed and into the kitchen. I was standing there for a few minutes, talking a bit with Nick, when I noticed myself dropping to the floor in tears.

I was losing it, falling into myself.

This is a scene he has witnessed a hundred times before – and one he will likely witness a hundred times again. There I was, lying on the floor, looking sad and pathetic, crying my eyes out.

And then I saw him seeing me.

And he was looking down at me with nothing but compassion in his eyes.

And so I asked him to take a picture of me.

Because I saw him looking down at me and I saw the pain I was feeling mirrored in his expression. I saw him seeing a broken person; a lost person; a sad and fragile person. I saw him acknowledging me. I saw him validating the demons in my mind. I saw him feeling everything with me.

When I saw him seeing me, I saw just how much he understands. And I understood why he does.

This is the very scene that I fought for years to hide. This is the part of me that I never dreamt of exposing to the world. This is the person I was ashamed of being. This is the darkness I didn’t want to admit I was afraid of.

But this isn’t a picture of me. This isn’t a picture of the person I am. This isn’t a picture of someone crying on the floor.

This is a picture of depression.