The Death of Suicide
“I can accomplish anything if I just don't kill myself today.”
That probably sounds either melodramatic or obvious, but for most of my life, this lifesaving mantra has required herculean reserves of emotional stamina.
Normally, that whole “don't kill myself” thing is pretty low key, background noise accompaniment to the background noise of “you should probably just go ahead and kill yourself.” It's as annoying and ignorable as the tinnitus that I was shocked to learn is not how everybody hears the world. But the similarities end there. If I ignore my tinnitus, well. I can ignore it. If I ignore my depression and the voice that says “kill yourself,” pretty soon the voice that says “not today” gets smaller and weaker. One day, it might not be there at all. Even worse, it might eventually start saying “you know, that's not such a bad idea.”
If left untreated, depression can be fatal. Not only are people with depression at higher risk of suicide, we are also at risk of putting ourselves in compromising situations. From purposeful or accidental reckless behavior to letting your health completely deteriorate, depression can be physically harmful if it isn’t fought with all the strength and determination used against a physical illness like diabetes or heart disease. Because depression is a disease; it is not a choice or a personality trait or a way of life. This is not being emo. This is being unwell.
Chronic depression makes my life the ultimate abusive relationship; one that I can't leave without dying. It is like huddling in the corner of a cold, empty room under a loudspeaker announcing all of the sad, pathetic moments of my miserable little life. Every failure. Each disappointment. You are hopeless and worthless and invisible. You deserve your grief and your misery and your cursed existence. After every announcement comes the invitation: kill yourself.
But even when I've burrowed miles below rock bottom, I don't actually want to die. Still, my depression’s main job seems to be telling me that I do. Feasting on negativity, its tentacles push their way into every experience, every memory, every sensation as it doubles, then triples, then quadruples in size. It needs that negativity to survive – jealousy, panic, sorrow, terror - and actively encourages the brain to supply its nourishment. In this feeding cycle, sorrow or anxiety, anguish or panic, are all actually soothing. And, it’s in my brain, man. I thought I was the only one in there. My depression, at least, tells me that I am the one doing this to myself. And for years, I have listened.
Well, maybe I'm not listening as much anymore.
The therapist I started seeing a few months after Christopher Robin's stillbirth has been a partner in my recovery. She is gentle but firm and so far hasn't let me get away with skirting around my risk of suicide. And believe me, I try. Of course I still try, because part of depression's arsenal is the isolating sense of shame that makes discussing it physically painful. But she prods, and more or less, I open. Skittish, and with years of a bizarre attachment to the disease that I've known since childhood, my progress even under her careful guidance is slow and painful.
And, man. It is exhausting. Exhausting to have to keep saying no, I actually love living and my life is really fucking good, you bitch and please, please go away. It is exhausting to have to climb over depression before I climb over anything else. It is exhausting to convince myself that I can do anything, if I could only find a way to stay alive.
But I do need to say it, not only because it's true, but because I am still at risk of killing myself, even though it's not at all what I want to do. Sure, I'm at less risk of suicide than I have been at any other time in my entire life. I am stronger and more centered and feel far more positive than I have ever felt. In fact, being able to post this is itself an accomplishment of healing and progress. Yet, I am not cured. I am still struggling. Most likely, I will always struggle. Most likely, I will never be cured. This is not something I choose; this is something I am working to accept.
My only choice against my disease is to fight it. And like the fight against any chronic illness, the fight against mine is sometimes difficult, sometimes exhausting. But it is always worthwhile because if I don't treat it, my depression will thrive. But if I do treat it, then I will thrive instead.
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