I recently discovered that the brother of my first and oldest friend committed suicide.
Suicide leaves loved ones left behind wondering what they could have done differently, regretting things they may have said or never said. His death absolutely floored me.
I went onto his Facebook page and saw condolence messages of love and sorrow reiterating the same sentiments: he was special; he was loved; they wished they’d let him know that more.
I hardly knew him and his sister and I had been estranged for decades. Why then, did it hit me so hard? The answer is simple: I relate.
Until recently, I contemplated suicide for months; I wished for death more times than I care to admit. And then, someone goes and does it and I know how hard it must have been, how desperate he must have felt, and it devastates me. I know his pain intimately.
Last winter, I broke down in my osteopath’s office. He rushed me off to get a Chinese herbal anti-depressant. They worked for a bit but ultimately the relief didn’t last. A month or so later I broke down again during a Reiki treatment.
I don’t take antibiotics or similar drugs and am not fond of Western medicine, but I knew I needed help. After 14 years, I found myself back on the ‘good’ stuff: Good ol’ fashioned chemical anti-depressants. Heart breaking in some ways, yes. But, they’ve really helped. While I still wonder about the pointlessness of life, I’ve stopped waking up each morning wishing I could get hit by a bus.
In my experience, anti-depressants have not made me numb, although I sometimes wish they would. They haven’t made me space-y or out-of-sorts in any way. All they’ve done is given me some space in my mind: to think, to breathe, to move forward moment to moment, day to day. Do I want to take them forever? Of course not. But is the alternative, suicide, better?
If I could actually commit suicide, the truth is, I would have already. So while in my case depression may not be deadly simply because I don’t have the courage to do it, depression is nevertheless a deadly disease.
I know first-hand the stigma surrounding anti-depressant medication. I’m consistently confronted with well-meaning people telling me that chemicals are not the way. Would they say the same if I had cancer, or any other similarly life-threatening disease? Would they tell me not to take the available treatment?
Why is there such a stigma around anti-depressants? I believe it is partly ignorance. People believe that “They will make you numb,” “You won’t feel anything anymore,” “You need to deal with what’s going on.”
I hear what they are saying and, believe me, I’m trying. I’ve been “working” on myself my entire adult life. I am not afraid to face myself; I am not afraid to go in to the darkness. I’ve experienced the so-called dark night of the soul at least once and come through it stronger, calmer, more at peace.
Depression is not that. Depression is a disease. I sent a message to my brother to tell him about the suicide. My last text read: “Can’t believe how devastating this is … depression is so hard core. I wish people would get that!”
And, I do. I’ve told a few people I’m depressed but the truth is, aside from one or two, no one really gets it—which leaves me feeling worse. If I was as physically ill as I’ve been mentally, people would be falling over themselves to help me. But because it’s mental and the pain isn’t obvious, I’m left alone, feeling judged for not just getting on with it already.
How do I explain it to them? What are the “right” words to use so that I will be understood? To be honest, I’m not sure there are any because, for each person who suffers from depression, the reality is different.
So what can we do? The response is not simple; there is no magic fix. Despite this, I still believe there are things we can do. I still believe in the power of love, generosity of spirit and kindness.
We can listen. We can choose not to judge. We can decide not to pretend we have any idea what the person is going through. We can opt not to tell them what they “should” be doing. If it helps, although we may not be able to see the physical manifestations, we can treat the person with the tenderness and kindness we would a really sick friend.
Most importantly, what I learnt from reading the messages on this young, inspiring man’s Facebook page: we can tell the people in our lives how much they mean to us—how loved they are. We can let go of judgment and practice acceptance. We can stop pretending our lives are as they appear on Facebook and Instagram. We can get real with each other and learn to share more than just the positive. Life is full of ups and downs, and this delusion of positivity we force ourselves into revokes our humanity; it is not authentic.
Perhaps we could say: You have issues; share them with me. I will listen. I don’t need you to be positive. I need you to be you. I will love you and support you regardless of how you feel, regardless of your choices (particularly when they aren’t the ones I would make). I won’t tell you the nasty judgments that have unwittingly found their way in to my head—they do not serve you or me. I will simply be there. If you need more, ask for it and, if I can, I will give it. I will be there for you through all the highs and all the lows and everything in between.
Author: Bianca Marks
Editor: Caroline Beaton