This is a picture of me taken in March-ish 2000, at my university department's annual end-of-year celebration. There was much to celebrate: my classmates and I had just completed the final year of our program and would soon be graduating. I remember that as a fun night, as we danced and laughed and reminisced about our four years together.
The thing is, this is also a picture of a girl who desperately wanted to die.
This picture was taken during the worst period of my depression, when I would cry myself to sleep hoping not to wake up, and cry again in the morning when my wish hadn't been granted and I had to face another day. When I would hear about tragedies - a fatal car accident, a cancer diagnosis, a pedestrian hit by a bus - and wonder why it wasn't me. Wondered, if there was a God, why He didn't take me when I clearly wanted to go. Those poor victims, I'd think. They probably wanted to be here.
In this way I was, what I would call, passively suicidal. I courted death but didn't take the matter into my own hands. But I think that was only a matter of time. In fact, I would say that had I not received the right help when I did, shortly after this photo was taken, I don't think I would have been around 6 months later.
All this to say two things:
There's this idea some have, I think, that when someone is "really" depressed, it is obvious. That they're slovenly and distracted and crying all the time and not eating and failing their classes and missing work. And sometimes that's true. And sometimes someone will notice. And sometimes someone will do something to help. But often, all too often, depression hides its face and stalks in silence, slowly unraveling a person and a life bit by bit. Because to call attention to itself would be self-defeating. Depression plays a game of Statues: when someone's looking, it freezes and does everything within its power to remain undetected, something at which it is highly skilled, but as soon as backs are turned and you're alone again, it makes its move. Hush hush hush, it whispers in your ear when people are around. Don't tell. Then as soon as they're gone, it hisses: I will destroy you.
For depression to survive, it needs its victim to keep quiet. It's a disease that convinces its victim that it does not exist.
Think about that for a second. What a terribly vicious circle. An abuser who slaps you because you won't stop crying. A beast sharpening its claws while insisting you're not on the menu.
The girl in this picture who wanted to die got out of bed every day and got dressed and went to every class and got good grades. I don't think anyone knew, other than my partner at the time who was as supportive as you can be to a person who screams in your face and cries uncontrollably as soon as the front door is closed. I was once proud that no one knew. As a Drama student, I thought that the deception that I was happy and all was well was my greatest performance. But again, that pride was the depression talking. How can it keep playing if you throw the game?
Hush now, it says. Don't let them find out how terrible you are.
See, that's the crux of it, that's the thing that someone with depression is trying to keep quiet. The "truth", as told to you by a hugely persuasive voice that claims authority and who are you to argue because you are a horrible person who doesn't deserve to be here.
Which leads me to my second point. There's another idea that some have that suicide is selfish. I can understand why people say that. I can understand how those left behind wonder how their loved one could do this to them, could leave them in such pain.
I can't speak for those who have left. I don't know the particular brands of torment their minds created for them. But I can tell you that at the height of my illness, when suicide suited up and presented itself as my only saviour, this insidious disease was, in fact, telling me that taking my life was the only way I could redeem myself: I would save the world from how terrible I was. I knew that my family and friends didn't see this "truth" about me, but I believed that it was only a matter of time. I knew that they wouldn't understand, I knew they would be hurt, but I believed that I would cause them more pain if I stayed. Suicide was the lesser of two evils, my existence being the evil that was insurmountable. My one gift to the world would be to subtract myself from it.
So what then? How do you recognize this beast if it is stalking you? How do you turn in time to see it move? How do you notice that it has made another its prey, if it stays so silent? By no means do I have all the answers but I offer these thoughts for whatever small bit of help or comfort they may provide.
To the last point first, to those who could serve to help others going through this pain: Be kind. Not just when a moment presents itself but actively seek out opportunities to treat others, all others, with kindness. We could all do with more kind words and actions in our days, and for those being subjected to a steady stream of self-hatred, the need is great and your kindness may be the only little bit of it that they receive, or the only little bit of it that gets through. It may not topple the mountain but it may make the smallest of cracks. Invite those sitting on the sidelines to join in; whether or not they do, the invitation offers a connection and a choice, two things that can seem vastly out of reach. Get to know those around you and if you sense that someone might be in need of some help, talk to them and help get them help. Ask for others to support you in doing that, in finding the right resources. We have a responsibility to look out for each other.
To those for whom any of my story rang true, those who think they are worthless, who feel that all is dark: I promise you that there is light. Your dark thoughts are not you. You have been hijacked by an other that is self-serving. Once you catch it moving you'll be able to throw the game by seeing this beast for what it really is: a sheep in wolf's clothing. It is nothing without you. Which means you hold all the power.
This is not to underestimate the work to be done to get it off your back; it can be a difficult journey (for me, the journey included four years on medication and six or so in therapy, and I have to remain vigilant even now). But you can do it. There is love and support around you, and help available, and you are stronger than you think. If I accomplish nothing else with this website, with this life, I hope to stand in testament to the fact that you can make it through, and find peace and health and a life you love. And immeasurable amounts of joy. You deserve it.
And one day you'll look back and the darkness will serve only as a memory which helps the light shine even brighter, and the journey from there to here will have been the great emboldening of you.
And you may even find yourself on a sunny August afternoon pulling your car over on to the shoulder, hopping a fence into a farmer's sun-soaked field, spinning around until you're dizzy and smiling from ear to ear.
And feeling free.