My latest depression bout loitered in my life for months. I just got out of it. In bouts so long, whether I’m really low, scary low, or even feeling fine but haven’t yet shaken the bout, it’s easy to find the state of depression permanent.
For me, I even know and recognize the words “it gets better.” Even in the very worst moments I share with no one, I can remember “it gets better” and believe it. However, I do not find it comforting. My answer is always about how it will get better, but it will get worse again. My depression is chronic. I don’t know what would have to happen in order for me to shake it from my life–the only thing that has come to mind has been a brain transplant. Unfortunately they haven’t figured out that organ donor process yet.
SO, it gets better. It gets worse. It gets better. It gets worse. And that up-and-down, that promise of how I’ll be wanting to die again, that’s what makes me wanna go down that road.
My depression causes strain on my relationships, as you can imagine, and there’s usually a kind of debrief that my girlfriend and I do when a bout concludes. The debrief is usually inspired because I have not been a great partner in those times, and there’s some learning opportunity there. Well, this time, my gf asked me to write a list of things to try when I’m sad to help feel better. It feels impossible to do anything like that, especially at its peak, but she reminded me that having a list available will not hurt me, even if I never use it.
So I made my list today. It’s kind of a perfect day for it because the sun isn’t out, and I’ve been kinda melancholy all day, but I’m not deeply depressed so I can still think straight, including trying to think of ways to feel better.
I wrote the list on a small whiteboard I have in my bedroom. It has 7 ideas, all of which have proven useful in the past. With the extra room on the board, I wrote down three messages, and I’d like to tell you about them. I haven’t thought of depression in these ways before, so they represent a fresh perspective about living through my bouts. I distantly respect cliches when I’m doing well (there’s a reason they’re used so much – they’re familiar! And relatable to many! And they make idioms accessible to people who didn’t study literature! be nice!), but when I’m NOT doing well, someone says a cliche reminder of why I shouldn’t die and I recoil like a depressed asshole. These things feel less cliche to me.
Note: some of the things I say below get a little dark, so please note that I will talk about suicide and depression with more concrete detail than I usually do.
Here are 3 fresh ways I am looking at my chronic depression:
EVERYONE IS A BUS DRIVER
One of the things that always makes me feel better (but I’ve chosen to not add to my aforementioned list) when I’m suicidal is researching how I would go about it. I understand that may be difficult to hear. My therapist says that’s pretty common and gives suicidal people something they can DO and feel like they’re more in control.
A big reason I haven’t actually executed suicide (ha, is that a depression pun? wow, I’ve gone too far) is because there is not a good method that meets all the requirements I have. For example, it’d be ideal if it didn’t hurt a lot. Another example, most prevalent to this topic, is that there’s no method that will make the discovery of my body better for anyone else. Can you imagine walking in on someone’s death? Yeah. I won’t say anything else about that. I can’t think of a single way (and I’ve put far too much energy into this) that makes the moment of death/discovery of death easier on anyone else.
A method that will never be on my list of death options is jumping in front of a bus or a train. My empathy is too high, even when I’m insane, to consider jumping in front of a driver or conductor. They would be killing me by merely going to work, being at the wrong place at the wrong time. They would never be the same, maybe live with understandable but completely undeserved guilt for the rest of their lives. I could never ever do that to someone because of my internal misery.
And my therapist is like, “ok that’s nice but any other method is the same. It wouldn’t just be the bus driver. It’d be everyone around you, whether they saw it happen or not. Trauma is widespread. You should know that better than anyone.” And she’s right. There is no method that lacks the trauma on someone else like that of a bus driver. The ‘bus driver reason’ when I’m at my worst feels so real, so tangible like nothing else. But, in the end, everyone is a bus driver.
DEPRESSION IS CAMPING, NOT TAKING OUT A MORTGAGE
Depression’s bouts have been compared to a few different things, I think the most common one being diabetes. You always have it, but it gets way worse once in a while, and sometimes there isn’t a clear reason why.
To me that’s not really helpful in the moment. Plus, I’m grateful to not have diabetes, so I cannot compare my depression experience to that very well. And while I’m at the lowest, it doesn’t seem to make me feel any better to be like, “ope, it’s worse and we don’t really know why and also I’ll have this forever.”
Something I thought of today is that depression bouts are much more like camping trips.
Camping trips are varied in distance from your home, intensity of ‘roughing it’ vs ‘glamping,’ how long it lasts, if it rains during your trip, and if you have enough firewood. You’re gone, you’re probably going to see too many spiders, and then you come home, shower off, find a new gratitude for running water, and go back to your life.
When I think of having depression all my life, I feel hopeless. If I get into a bout, and I can think of it as, “Oh, I am camping, and I have a State Park pass so this is how I get my money’s worth,” maybe it will be easier to see as temporary.
Depression and being suicidal is not taking out a mortgage. I already own the house, and it is me, and my mental illness is just when I get away from it.
LIVING IS AN ACT OF KINDNESS
I’ve resented ‘having to live’ when I’m sad. I’ve heard people say before that suicide is selfish, that the person doesn’t think of others when they take their own life, and they should be ashamed (if they were around to feel emotions).
I fuckin hate that judgment, and it’s been hard in the past to articulate exactly why I hate it so much. Cuz it’s like, yes, I’m thinking about myself a lot but usually through a lens of “my loved ones shouldn’t have to deal with me.” I’m thinking of bus drivers. I’m trying to think about what words I can say in a note I leave behind that will bring some comfort. (spoiler, there are none. but I do think of it).
And so I survive every bout, and it feels very unfair because why is my existence so hard when other people can exist without trying, and maybe even wanting to live 100% of the time? (I cannot comprehend that btw??) And I’m the selfish one if I fail?
So, I’m going to try and take the “suicide is selfish” thing and frame it to something that is actually helpful. Living through every bout of depression is an act of kindness. It is the peak selflessness, because although others will never understand the death you dodged from your own self, you still do it. And a lot of acts of kindness aren’t really all about recognition for your selflessness. If you want credit, take it up with spirituality, but you surviving your violent mind makes sure everyone around you avoids pain. Years of pain! And suicides often trigger other suicides. You’re somehow saving lives when you save your own. It’s a thing of incredible graciousness.