When I look back to the time when my life long depression started abating there’s things that happened by accident and things that happened as a matter of course that lead me out.
There’s precious little relief in being free of depression even in the second year since I was last suicidal, most of the time when I think about it it’s with tear-inducing astonishment at how bad it was or with fear that it’s returning.
And when I’m afraid there’s a checklist and a routine that I go through. Have I eaten well, have I slept, taken my vitamins, exercised, is anything hanging over me, am I isolated, have I connected with a friend lately, have I floated, am I over-exposing myself to negative things, etc and then if I’m really still lost as to any reason for my feelings I’ll journal about how I’m lost as to any reason for my feelings.
Four or five times I’ve written the words Depression Day One when a night has been so bad that I think I’m at the top of the spiral again and between the checklists and journals I’ve never written Day Two.
Listening to the Jocko Podcast yesterday he was talking about depression and he reiterated what he said on Rogan and a few other times that he doesn’t honestly know what it feels like to be suicidal so maybe he can’t help but he’s going to try.
I know what’s it’s like to be suicidal and I’m fully aware how most of the time no one can help. Signals bounce off the depression force field and become distorted. Attempts at help can really hurt. Meanwhile we want help but chastise ourselves when we think about seeking it.
So I know I can’t fix, I can’t save, but I can look back at the things I’m glad happened and the things I wished had happened sooner and maybe leave a bit of a road map.
The very first step and probably the very hardest is stop protecting other people from your depression. Caring about other people seems like a lovely thing that should help with depression but it doesn’t, not now. There’s boulders rolling down a hill to crush you and all your friends and you’re trying to prop them all up at once. You tell yourself you need to stop thinking about yourself so much and start truly caring about others. Depression triage step number one is you stopping the boulder that’s going to crush you because if it does you can’t stop all the others anyway. You can save people one at a time starting with yourself but you can’t save everybody at once.
And yes, this will feel incredibly selfish. Mostly because everything feels incredibly selfish to you. Having depression feels selfish. You’re telling yourself over and over that while you want help you don’t deserve it because your problems aren’t really real, it’s just that you’re a loser.
Well losers need help and no one deserves anything anyway so put that voice away.
You’ll tell yourself that this will make everyone else think you’re even more selfish than they already do. It’ll make everyone hate you, finally and completely and they’ll all talk about it all the time.
You know what? Everyone thinks everyone is fucking selfish. And your friends do occasionally fall into a conversation about “You know what [Your Name]’s problem is… blah blah blah misunderstanding and oversimplification…”
This is why your friends can’t help you. They think you just need to get over yourself. The problem is you think that too and you’re trying. You’re ready to get so far over yourself you take yourself out of the life equation. You can’t get anymore over yourself than suicide.
Remember that this is triage – dealing with the worst wounds first. Doctors deal with gunshots before broken toes. You’re planning to kill yourself and your friends are, at worst, annoyed. You get to come first even if the broken toes don’t like it and you don’t like that they don’t like it.
The only way to deal with that is to get better. No amount of trying to save them from you before you save yourself is going to help; you’re just going to dangle the friendship further and further over the cliff if you keep trying to do that.
I know you think you need to suck it up, and you think everyone else thinks you need to suck it up, but you’ve been sucking it up, you’ve sucked it as far up as it’ll go, you can’t suck anymore – your lungs are bursting. You need to exhale.
So step two of depression triage is to get away but don’t isolate. Go out of town, go stay with acquaintances not friends or family. Get away from the suicide stimuli, the group of judging eyes or sympathetic glances, get away from offers to talk about it.
So often when I was depressed I’d end up standing helpless on street corner wanting to throw my phone in the sewer and disappear into homelessness. Everyone, including me, was audience to the story of my depression and all other possible endings had been narrowed out til only suicide was left. It was the only thing that made sense for us, that would solve all our problems.
Like I said – solving just my own problems and not (as I perceived) everybody’s problems with me felt too selfish. But if I could just vanish, just end the story as far as everyone else was concerned then on my own away from the center of the vortex I could get better.
And it works. There was a trip to BC that really helped me and later I did choose to be homeless for a while, by couch surfing rather than wandering off into the night from the bar.
One thing I wish though is that I’d paused life rather than stopped it. I walked away from everything and just left life in pieces. It’s probably possible to feel a clean break and some distance without leaving a mess too big to come back to.
But hey, there’s lessons in my accidental successes and in my deliberate failures.
The thing is when you’re alone at home you can isolate and really fuck yourself up but at someone else’s house, especially someone you don’t know well, it puts you on your best behaviour. You keep yourself tidy, meals are scheduled and shared or you go out solo and try new places for lunch. Just having someone say “What do you want to do about breakfast?” makes a huge difference. Because what you want to do about breakfast is sleep til noon and cry but around someone who doesn’t know that you’re like hey, if there’s eggs…
Just find a place or places to decompress, places without loads of hanging boulders and overly meaningful glances. Like staying at hotel if you could. Or, and this is sincerely occurring to me right now, a hospital or rehab if you can/need to is probably great.
But a trip is probably best. I had friends when I was kid check themselves into the psych ward and I thought it was just terribly vain.
And third, to wrap up cuz this is going long, think of yourself as an athlete. I think there is a time and place to be a journalist of your won despair (obviously, as I journal about it) but don’t force yourself to do it constantly. An athlete mindset will get you eating right, keeping to schedules, tracking aches and pains and seeking treatment and most importantly – being an athlete isn’t about being happy and fixing everything. Real athletes train on rainy days, lift when they’re sore, lock on diets, it’s about results not pleasure and that’s such a relief when you’re incapable of feeling pleasure.
If your goal is I just don’t want to be miserable anymore then you’ll never achieve it. If your goal is to run faster that’s not only attainable and trainable with lots of handy advice and community out there – you can use your misery to help get you there. Your threshold for what is suffering is so much better than other people’s and you weren’t using it for anything. Now you can. You can turn those feelings into progress and progress will weaken the grip of those feelings.
Then you’re triaged. And if there’s any other survivors see what you can do. If not, at least you can look at yourself in the mirror and say you did what you had to do to save the most lives possible.