This is one of those pieces of writing I have kept away from you because of this incredible pull away from ‘exposing’ myself in public. But I have come to learn that when the writing bug has truly hit you, it will create a time and space for you to share even your most intimate thoughts. In the right context. I published this piece online on Medium in June, I got about six readers and was secretly pleased. It wasn’t time.
With the tragic passing of Robin Williams this week I could not help but pull the piece from obscurity onto your world, with the hope that you will read and without judging contribute to the discussion on depression and suicide. I have close family and very dear friends whose lives have been altered permanently by suicide and depression and as I wrote this, I prayed that it would come out in just the right tone to allow them to read this and not have their pain made worse. Here goes:
I don’t know how I came across James Altucher, but I did. He’s one of those few people who’ve made millions of dollars, lost them all and still had the energy to make them all over again. And he had the courage and passion to write about his journey, in books and blogs.
One particular blog got my attention recently: “Seven things happen when you become completely honest”. He writes light-heartedly about anything. It’s not unusual to find a line in his work that says, “The last time I wanted to kill myself, I decided to….” Not many people can casually admit to ever having wanted to kill themselves, not on a public platform anyway. But he does, and he means it and he writes about it so others can learn from his experiences.
He says one of the seven things that happens when you become completely honest in your written work is people think you want to kill yourself because every blog or post is like a suicide note. That got me thinking. Why have I found it so difficult to put down on paper my struggle with suicide.
Wait, hang on a minute here. You haven’t let yourself fall into that trap have you? Thinking I want to kill myself? If you did, it’s ok, it’s a natural reaction, well almost because not many people bring up a subject like this in polite company.
James Altucher reckons suicide is treated like porn by most people. It’s not discussed often enough but when it is, there’s a lot of emotion and self-righteousness that comes to the fore. I mean, let’s face it: When was the last time you discussed porn. Almost never, because society frowns at people who treat porn as an everyday subject. Ditto suicide.
But sadly, we all know someone close to us who has taken their own life or attempted to. We all know the harrowing feelings that go with the guilt. Could I have done or said something to prevent this? Why didn’t they confide in me? Was I the reason?
I saw a little note on facebook recently that said “suicide is never the solution, it just gives the pain to someone else”. As someone who has fought this battle since I was about 10 I had an instant answer to that little note. Suicidal people are not rational, not in the normal sense anyway. Besides wanting to get rid of their own pain, they reason that they cause more pain to others alive than when they are gone. In other words suicide is chosen as a way out of what is perceived as an even bigger pain. Don’t try to reason it out, like I said, the rationality is not your normal straight forward kind.
Sadly, when the discussion of suicide comes up, there is always all-round condemnation of the person who did or attempted to. “I would never kill myself, life is just too good”. “It’s so stupid to kill yourself over a man/woman, I mean really? Just leave them?” “ There’s always a way out, all you need to do is talk about it”. “Suicide is the coward’s way out” and a whole lot more. Easier said than done. I’m certain the majority of people would be literally freaked out by a friend who comes up to them and says: “you know what, I’ve been thinking about taking my own life for a while now”.
“Please don’t talk crazy” you’d be tempted to respond. You would most probably be spurred into action by a lot of tears or some form of emotional breakdown. Not many people can manufacture an emotional breakdown so they can convince someone they really want to take their own life. So they normally just go ahead and do it, to spare themselves all the judgement and condemnation that society spews out.
Religion doesn’t help either. The condemnation there is double because one is regarded as having decided to play God. Worse still, heaven is supposedly not welcoming to suicide victims. So how does a well-meaning child of God raise such a matter and still feel holy?
I’m no psychologist so I will not try to talk for all people who have ever attempted suicide or even just thought about it. I just know what goes on within me and that’s what I’m sharing.
The intensity of the thoughts or ideation differs from person to person. Like I said above, I recall my first suicidal thoughts as having come about at age ten. I had done something I felt ashamed of and could see no way out of the situation. Yes, at ten. It all started as a silly feeling in my head. More like, would I feel all this shame if I was not here? And the idea grew. Like, honestly, if I wasn’t here, would I be feeling this shame and pain?.
The idea of not being ‘there’ stayed with me for a long time. Plus I was an emotionally fragile young person, I easily internalized pain. Whenever I was faced with a situation that seemed to offer no way out, I always reverted to thinking ‘not being there’ was the solution.
Somehow this idea of ending it all when pain surfaced got linked to my performance in life. And any perceived failure triggered the thoughts. I cannot remember the first time I actually thought an attempt through. Like think of a way to end it all and when. That only came later in life, in my late teens. I suppose it could be that by then I was exposed to things in life so even the ideation began to take form and shape. So I began to think of various ways in which I could end the pain. This is another thing that people get completely wrong in how they discuss suicide.
There are some bright sparks who like saying things like ‘If she was serious about taking her life she would have shot herself/thrown himself in front of a truck/drank stronger poison’ and some such nonsense like that. I know in my case it was important to me that I felt no pain. I’m generally averse to physical pain and whichever method I was to choose would include little or no pain.
And I constantly fretted over “what if I survive the attempt” question. The bright sparks above never consider that. Things always go wrong. Even in suicide. The one thought that I could never get out of my mind was how a certain girl ingested some poison and survived the attempt, but she went blind. I know it’s a completely irrational thing to ask you to imagine but try this: try imagining surviving a 10-storey fall or being hit by a truck and surviving or surviving a gunshot wound to the head. Highly unlikely but it could happen.
But the emotional pain from the depression grew stronger as I grew older. Pain stopped being a factor. So yes, even the painful methods were in consideration now. When the vortex of depression is swirling around you, escaping that constant pain becomes the only focal point. Funnily though, once decided, to end it all I mean, this calm came over me. It was like some pressure has been taken off. So you start thinking rationally but only as far as the attempt is concerned. Where am I going to do this? Do I leave a note?
I have always avoided going into how many times and when because I feel it detracts from the point I want to make. Whenever possible, wherever possible, don’t avoid talking about it. Also, either keep your silence or be kind when talking about recent suicide victims because you have no freaking idea who else is going through the pain as you senselessly declare: “only cowards take their own lives”.
The first time I sat down in a psychiatrist’s office and answered all her questions she looked at me and asked me: “Do you feel like taking your life right now?” I answered No because I didn’t. She said to me, “You are very lucky to be alive.” Medication and therapy followed. I’m still on the meds. Will be for as long as I live. The urge to go off them has been there before, but the knowledge of the pain that I went through without them is scary. So I take them like clockwork.
Do I still get the thoughts. Yes, but not as often as before, which was almost daily. Do I still get depressed, Yes, but I cope better now.
When I sat down to write this I had intended for it to be a light-hearted look at a difficult subject, and I could feel it getting away from me as I wrote. If it got you a little upset, believe me, that was not my intention.
As a caring friend you are probably thinking did this man ever attempt suicide for real. Did he get help? And just maybe, was it really necessary to share such a personal and maybe even shameful, embarrassing thing?
The answers to the three questions above are yes I did attempt suicide many times. And yes I did get help, and continue to get help. Which is the whole point of my sharing this with you. There are people like me who are born with a chemical imbalance that predisposes them to suicidal depression. And is it really necessary to share such a personal (and shameful secret), then you know it wasn’t meant for you, but for that one person who is going through a similar journey or knows someone who is. If just one of those people can read this and seek help, then I do not care about the shame( or your thoughts).
Lastly, should it be that you read this and were upset by how such a serious subject can be treated so light-heartedly, then my profound apologies to you. You obviously have been affected by suicide and are still dealing with it. My one lesson from all my attempts, nobody could have stopped me. It’s almost impossible to stop someone from committing suicide but I truly believe if we stop treating it like porn, a taboo subject, then we are well on our way to creating conditions where I could have just blurted out to my parents one day: “You know, I have always wanted to end my own life” and they would have sought help for me.
(PS When I read that Robin Williams was 63 when he passed I felt so proud that the man had fought this diabolical disease for 6 decades, and managed to entertain us along the way. Anyone whose thoughts are what a waste is selfish, imagine the pain he had to work through to entertain you.)
Life is funny. Not the ha-ha-ha comical kind of funny but the funny you don’t always want. Funny because just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, something happens that quickly dispels all notions of you having mastered this ‘life’ thing. It brings you down to earth, sometimes rather rudely so. And in comes the ‘stay-positive’ brigade, ‘if you conceive it you can achieve it’. Really? I’m just kidding, you can achieve it, but still life is funny like that.
I’ve shared with you about my ongoing personal battle with clinical depression, how I have made great strides in challenging and overcoming the illness, as well as activities I’ve now taken up that I could not previously pursue because of depression. Although I believe I’ve got a handle on it now, every now and then the heaviness of mood that goes with the condition comes on despite the medication. And these subdued moods have the effect of convincing you that it’s nothing to write home about. It’ll wear off soon, just stay with it. But I think it is something to write home about because if not dealt with, it can lead to other darker things.
There are difficulties though. Some of these I’m only learning now. Because I want my battle against depression to succeed, I’ve found I want to appear well to other people, all the time. Relaying my true mental state to others seems very much like pity-seeking behavior which I personally want to avoid at all costs. But I’ve also found that if I’m going to portray a true reflection of my search for a workable balance I need to let you know that even on treatment there are days or periods of time when I don’t want ‘to mix with people’, when I wish for some mental silence. There are times, like now, when I wish I could be away from my everyday life. This is difficult to explain to people but it is exactly how it feels.
“Tell no lies, claim no easy victories”, Amilcar Cabral said in the context of a national revolution but I’ve found this applies equally well in a battle that has the potential for a relapse. Such is depression. I have chosen to be open about the effects of the condition on my ability to carry out my daily activities and I was just thinking the other day that I would not be totally honest if I only gave you the stories of success and exclude the battles I’m still fighting. These battles are important because all too often I’ve been discouraged from trying out new adventures because the condition convinced me I cannot reach the standards already set by other survivors. I recently heard a radio talk show host refer to a celebrity depression sufferer as the poster girl for depression. I just got the sense that although that sounded like a compliment, it’s not a mantle that would rest easily on the shoulders of one still learning how to deal with the condition.
Poster boys and girls exude all that is positive about their chosen brand. The wide smile, the confident ‘I’m-in-charge-and-I-know-it’ look, that’s hardly what a depression survivor would want to convey. Whilst a poster girl or boy would give the message that ‘depression can be beaten’, I personally think it would be more important to convey the message that yes it can be beaten, but the victory will not always be poster-boy/girl material. Sometimes, despite the medication, the heaviness will come. The urge for social withdrawal, the self-doubt and the irrational fears will present themselves.
When the feeling that I’m on edge comes, I don’t fight against myself like I used to in the past. That, I have discovered, is the most futile of all human exercises, because you can never win a battle against yourself. Indeed, history is littered with stories of men and women who took on themselves and ended up in the gutter, defeated, high, drunk, broken down or even more scary, just going through life in ‘quiet desperation’. When the darkness threatens, I try to order my thoughts. Sometimes just a to-do list for the day or week reduces the unnecessary anxiety that comes with feeling ‘disorganized’. Remember, it’s not that the disorganization is real, no. It’s just an unsettling feeling of impending doom. So ‘ordering my thoughts’ helps me in taking it one day at a time. The darkness comes with a feeling that tomorrow will be just as dark, yet, from experience I know tomorrow can be totally different depending on how I deal with today.
The heavy moods can sometimes be lifted by a change in focus. This is tricky, I’ve found. It’s easy to change what you choose to focus on but your surroundings won’t necessarily change with you. These unchanging surroundings can defeat your well-meaning efforts to change your mind’s focus. A personal example. This might sound a little bit weird but it’s true. Just after graduating varsity I went through a long-ish job hunt. About a year to be exact. At the time I had no knowledge of clinical depression at all or even that I suffered from it. I took every job rejection letter that came very personally, especially in cases where I felt I had done enough to secure the job.
One rejection letter took me to the edge, and I thought this it, no more of this stuff. I had taken to opening these letters in the bathroom as I ran the bath water, so by the time I started bathing I was pretty down(I can’t really remember why I chose the bathroom but I guess it had to do with the need to handle rejection alone, a sure sign of depression). I eventually got a job, a good one at that. What I didn’t know was that my association of rejection with running the bath water would stay with me for a long time. There are times even today, fifteen years later, when I catch myself lost in thought as I take a bath, focused on the negative that’s to come. Exactly the same thought processes that I used to go through with every rejection letter. I’ve had to actually take a conscious approach to taking a bath, hard to believe I know, but it’s true.
I have chosen to change that association by kneeling down and praying before baths. This is easier to do when things are going ok, but when the darkness threatens, my being sometimes wishes to just wallow in the heaviness. It’s what I did for years so even though it’s not a good thing to do, it’s what my subconscious knows to be me, so if I don’t pay attention it’s what I end up doing, giving in to the melancholy moods.
Another trick that I’ve learnt is to do my pick-me-up activity. Years of depression can leave you with a very thin catalogue of activities that you enjoy that can lift your mood. Sometimes, even those can be ‘perverted’ to defeat their purpose. One thing I thank God for always is my love for reading. I read everything, newspapers, magazines, books, blogs, fiction , non-fiction, the lot. I never noticed it before but often-times, when depressed, I would look for comfort in a book. Sadly, your brain is not very discerning when you are depressed, so even this pick-me-up activity could end up enhancing the depression if you happened to be reading dark material. The idea is to choose a pick-me-up that actually works for you. Movies, TV and other media might help temporarily but I find you are not always in a position to do any of them, especially if you work.
I guess what I’m conveying to you is that this battle against this sometimes diabolical and debilitating illness is not always straight forward. I’ve debunked the notion of “happy pills” in my own life because although I’ve found anti-depression medication to be absolutely necessary in my case, they don’t make you “depression-proof” as my clinical psychologist likes to say. I find they serve to give you a fighting chance where you previously thought you had none. They serve to give you a better shock-absorption system, allowing you a longer and more considered reaction time where you would have previously gone straight in to the pits of depression, sometimes with no discernible way out. But “happy pills”? I don’t think so. You, as a person, remain solely responsible for injecting the “happy” into your pills, or life.
I was heartened by a certain response I got to the blog post “That Was Then”. Where I thought I had not necessarily conveyed what I had set out to do, a response came that a reader was encouraged to think about ways of dealing with their continuous “foul moods”. That’s the magic of reading and writing for me, sharing thoughts that until you put down on paper were your private preserve. Thank you for reading mine.
Last week, in an exchange with a newly met friend on Facebook, I let slip that I had not explored writing before because of a small little voice in my head that always asked me: “Who do you think will read your stuff?”. It got me every time. This little voice always waited for me to have a new and exciting idea before it reared its ugly head. Like the one time I wanted to take up running a couple of years ago, it simply asked me if I knew anybody in my family who ran. I was stumped. Got me again. I could never win against this ugly little voice. I know what you are thinking, why didn’t you just ignore it, I ignore mine all the time. Or as some people would say, I don’t have strange voices in my head telling me what to do or what not to do. You do, but you may be part of the blessed section of the population that has a positive little voice, one that tells you nothing is impossible, that you are always in charge and you are the captain of your own fate.
Let me start with a disclaimer before going any further, I am not a psychologist or trained as such. What I’m going to share here is based on my own life experiences, what scientists would refer to as anecdotal evidence. The reason I want to share this is because over the past year or so I have come to learn that the little voice I referred to above may actually be so much a part of you that you cannot overcome it without either the help of others or without accepting its presence.
We all know that as children the adults around us put a lot of things in our heads. Things that should have been preparing us for successful adulthood. Some adults are just plain mean or bitter and put things in those innocent little heads that should be punishable by a jail sentence. Some adults just don’t know any better. So they poison the little minds along with their little spirits. Unfortunately, in some cases, our emotional make-up is such that we internalize the negative to such an extent that the little voice in your head only makes sense when it’s talking negative.Also, in certain cases, such as mine, the little voice is able to take a negative comment or experience and magnifies it such that it overshadows everything else. This little voice can grow so big it can form a couple of other little voices like itself. A committee if you like (Martha Beck’s invention not mine). Before you know it you cannot do anything new without consulting it even though you know the answer will be negative. And it grows more powerful still, it reinforces every answer it gives you with evidence. Real-life evidence. So you want to take up running, it says. Remember you were always last in your school runs? The humiliation you felt inside, the laughing classmates, really? Do you want to go through that again? Nine times out of ten you’ll back down. Or at least I did.
That little voice can actually be the most cruel voice you know. It’s one thing to be dissuaded from doing something new by evidence from your past but it’s quite another for that little voice to agree with all the negative people you’ve ever met. Those mean relatives who told you it’s ok that you can’t do something because you are not the same as everybody, the teacher who asked you why you think you could ever be a pilot, that boss who asked why you are interested in career planning, do you want my job one day? The little voice that says each one of those people were right, I mean look at you, you can never do anything right. That’s just plain cruel.
Perhaps the cruelest thing it can say to you is every success you have achieved could be achieved by just about anyone, so yes, forget it, you’re not special. You got an A+ in that test, it was a fluke. You’re in the top ten of your class at school, wait till your final exams they’ll sort you out! Oh you passed, with a distinction? Varsity will show you. And sure enough in your first term of varsity you fail that crucial test, disaster! That little voice was right after all. What was I thinking? What made me think that I could defy ‘my’ little voice, it’s been right all along.
I read or heard somewhere that ‘my’ little voice is referred to as my “generalized other” in psychology, an audience that you have that you are always aiming to please, or failing to please. The thing is, this generalized other is part of you, part of your make-up as a person and until you learn to answer back when it talks you are in for a very sad ride this side of heaven.
I’m learning to deal with my little committee of voices one day at a time. One warm day in January last year I laced up my three-year old running shoes, which still looked new because they’d been underused. My little voice said are you really going to do this? I said yes but only in the evening when nobody’s watching. I ran and after about 500metres I stopped, my chest was burning, those five or six strangers that I ran past were looking or watching I thought, I continued walking and started running again after a short rest. More burning in the chest. The little voice said I told you so, I deliberately ignored it and continued. That evening I did about five kilometers. The following day every muscle that could hurt in my body did hurt and the little committee of voices seemed to be celebrating in my head.I ignored them and followed that run with another run two days later. I subscribed to a running magazine and started referring to myself as a runner, at least in my head.I bought Tim Noakes’ Lore of running. My little voice was cowed, for probably the first time in my life I could send it running for cover. Three months later I did my first 10k race and I haven’t looked back.
The trick that I’ve discovered is I need to actively talk back to it. To do that I need to to be aware of it. This little voice is so crafty it can talk to you in whispers, especially if it thinks it’s found its own little corner in your being. So I’m finding I have to consciously work at replacing it. Yes, it’s possible. Otherwise I would not be telling you about the eight half marathons and a full marathon that I’ve completed since talking back to that cruel little voice in January 2012. And when it said my first 10k race was a fluke, I was driven to do more, to run further. Instead of wanting to go back to my childhood and confronting all those adults and my former bosses, I get back at them by talking back to this little voice. I enjoy taunting it, ok maybe that’s a little bit more information that you need right there but yes it’s possible to overcome it. I’m still a work in progress. There are still numerous little members of that committee of voices that I need to confront.
Like the ones that keep telling me that celebrating my birthday is perhaps just a little too inwardly focused. Those little voices made it impossible to enjoy simple things like birthday gifts or even compliments. If like me, you feel every compliment you receive is undeserved, and people are being insincere when they compliment you then perhaps it’s time you started talking back to your own little voice. Tell it, like I do, that you are special because God says you are.
It’s a journey that I’ve started and know I must see to the end. I have no idea what the end looks like but I know the only voice in my head will be that of God telling me I did well in replacing that committee of voices with his. I end this with a Facebook status update that I made earlier this month. This status update represented me silencing yet another member of that little committee of voices , the one that kept me from writing, the one that asked me: “who do you think will read your stuff?”: Thank you so much for reading this far, you just helped me put that little devil to flight!
That Facebook status update:
I got back on the road last week after a long break from running. Damn, I missed the feeling. Yesterday, I started thinking about why I run in the first place. When I run, I get to know that I am more than the world has led me to believe. More than anybody can declare me to be. See, there’s a person that God intended for each one of us to be. A person not afraid of anything or anyone, rather, one looking to live life, and live it “more abundantly”. After six or seven kilometers on a good run, that person comes out and takes over my being. He’s free from fear, he dares the distance to come at him and he knows he can be anything he wants or desires to be. At that time, I know that God lives and I’m praising him through my running. The run, in essence, becomes an exercise in praise. For me, every run still represents a triumph over everything and everyone who ever thought I cannot achieve more than they set out for me. The most amazing thing is that in conquering ever-increasing distance I become bolder, with my body and intellect knowing that I can run further. Whilst the mind knows there is a limit to how much more I can cover in terms of distance, my being, that’s the inner me, the real me enters a realm where anything becomes possible. That is the realm of possibility not based on what anyone else thinks or wishes, rather based on what I’ve achieved in a field I never even thought possible. From zero to 42,2km in fourteen months. My Redeemer lives.
(Phew! I can write, and a few kind people read my stuff. What more do you have to say for yourself? Never mind this, it’s just me talking back to that little voice)
Today’s blog is an attempt at a personal breakthrough. I’ve mentioned previously that clinical depression is a subject very close to my heart. Right now, as I write this blog, I’m feeling a bit down. Not because anything’s happened. No, just feeling down, with the accompanying lump in the throat, I don’t know why that happens but it does, the lump stays there, uncomfortable and almost painful.
I know what you might be thinking, a bit down, we all do from time to time, so what’s special about your feeling down? Come on, get over it? Just think positively, say a few affirmations/confessions and all will be well. I’m afraid to disappoint you, I know how valuable I am to my family and others, I know God made me fearfully and wonderfully, believe it or not, I’m trying really hard to think positive. The lump just seems to grow bigger, the mood darker. Like I’m fighting myself.
The difference between what I’m feeling and what everybody else might feel on their ‘down’ day is they may actually think themselves out of it, they probably have a reason for their down, someone DID or SAID something to get them feeling that way. But I just simply went into this ‘mood’ if you want to call it that. All by myself.
A few years ago before I knew what it was, this slight mood change would probably have led to the start of a downward spiral into a really dark place, truly resenting everyone and everything around me. I would start thinking about how things are looking so bad in my life. How I have failed myself and others. And yes, I mean, is it really worth it? This life thing, I mean.
That might sound just like some sort of emotional weakness or imbalance. Some people can just sleep it off and wake up feeling a whole lot better. You may even give yourself a little pep talk, one or two affirmations and you’re on your way. Back to your good old self. Well, not me. Or anyone suffering from clinical depression for that matter. If I attempted to sleep it off, I’d wake up where I was or even worse.
Just opening your eyes causes you to regret the day before it even starts. The heaviness becomes physical. It takes a real effort to be pleasant to anyone, even your wife and kids, my reasons for being alive. In fact, let me just wait till they’ve left for school before venturing out of the bedroom. The shoulders feel heavy, so you feel slumped and in your attempt not to give your mood away you make a real effort to not look hunched or defeated, and a sense of fear about anything you do or think of prevails. But you try, a joke on the car radio might elicit a little laugh from you. And do you notice how everybody just wants to cut in front of you in the traffic, I mean really now?
Someone’s indicating to change lanes just a little ahead of you. Indicate all you like but I’m not giving way, no, never! Oops, I didn’t say my morning prayers, maybe that’s why. What difference will it make anyway, I’m so far down the road a prayer won’t make a difference, I mean I just swore back at that terrible driver a few seconds ago, I cannot be talking to God in the same breath. So no, I won’t pray, not right now. Let me just get through this horrible day, maybe a little TV in the evening will do the trick, a soccer game maybe, yeah, that’s a good idea, only, I have these twelve hours to kill before then. Why do I feel so afraid?
Everyone one at work is just on my case. Why won’t people just do simple logical things, what’s wrong with everybody today ? “You look so sad today, you stressed?”, somebody asks with a little chuckle. “None of your business!” I retort,though I don’t say it out loud. “Ag, just a little headache”, I lie without flinching. Stress? What does he know about stress, the next person to say that to me is gonna get it, I swear. “Why are you so slow in serving us, don’t you know about customer service?” says some gum-chewing, headphone wearing, little teenager who’s just discovered all about “my rights”. No you didn’t just say that, No. Before you know it it’s a screaming match, you are aware you are overreacting but you feel justified, she started this after all. What a nerve! And it’s only nine o’clock in the morning.
You know what, that’s it, I’m not doing anything I don’t want to do today! I’m not. Trouble is, there is nothing you want to do. Nothing! Won’t the day just end already. I hope I’ll be able to watch the game in peace today, I mean it’s the Champion’s League final. They don’t come any bigger than this but I have this feeling of fear that won’t go away, even my gut feels upset, and this lump, this damn lump in my throat won’t go away. Maybe some gospel music will lift me, if I could just get a little lift. But what, I don’t drink anymore so what now! At least I made it home.
“We need to talk”, she says in a playful way, unaware of the turbulence that you’ve had to keep a lid on the whole day. Your little piece of salvation is TV and now this! The Champions League final gets underway in three minutes, you just nod and nod and agree to make it all go away. I’m missing the game, what have I done to anybody, someone please tell me! My team’s losing already, see if only I had watched the first half, like that would have made a difference!
Take those feelings and multiply them by a week, two weeks, a month, add regret about perceived past failures, financial instability and failing to connect spiritually. That’s what it used to be like.
BUT THAT WAS THEN…
Now I know the lump in my throat signals a mood change for the negative. I listen out or look out for possible triggers. Am I anxious about my child, am I worried about slow business? What exactly is causing this? Half the time I can’t pinpoint the trigger. But Now I know, it’s not who I am, it’s simply a mood change. The fear is a result of that change in my body and mind, have I taken my little pills? I have, ok, this isn’t the end of the road.
I don’t need to listen to the radio when I drive home tonight, that kind of bad news I cannot handle, how about a Crefflo Dollar or Joyce Meyer podcast. That sounds ok. Oh, and because I know it’s not me, I don’t have to worry about the future or tomorrow. My mood tomorrow will probably be different, if it persists I’ll see if I can’t call a friend. Yes, that’s a brilliant idea. In fact how about a run, damn I’m already looking forward to this evening, the TV can wait, I want to pound that tarred road, and I’m looking forward to reading that new book I bought… I can also spend a few minutes catching up with friends on Facebook.
And if that doesn’t work I’ll ask my clinical psychologist why, she just seems to have it all figured out, or at least she helps me figure it all out. She helps me to live. Yes, I’ll ask her why when I see her, but I may already be ok and writing about it before I see her. I need my church cell group so much, to hear the Word. Oh, I’ve been asked to share the Word, my cell group leader thinks I can share. Isn’t God wonderful? I see a broken me and he sees an instrument he can use. I’m looking forward to more of this, when I share, there’s this confidence that I know doesn’t come from me, but it’s there, it makes me feel like I’m not a depression sufferer, no I’m not, I’m a survivor. I’ve survived it and lived to tell the story, and so can you.
And my personal breakthrough? Did I achieve it? I would like to think so. I just wrote a blog when every inch of me screamed No you can’t do it. I’ve never done it before, writing when I’m down, but I’ve done it now. Hopefully my run this evening and some Word will set me right. I look forward to tomorrow.
There is a “shame” that comes with knowing that you are not like everybody else, that you need a little pill or pills to be the best you you can be. It shouldn’t be the case. That shame seems almost built-in. It stops you from doing something about your situation, it stops you from seeking help. It also stops you from talking to others about it. I suppose it’s a bit of a stigma, like people will ask, you need a psychologist to survive, pills, you can’t handle your own emotions! And a whole lot more, “you are stressed”!
Once overcome though, you know you need to share to help others.
It took a little miracle for me to realize what this condition was, I still wish the miracle had come many years earlier. God works to his timings not ours. I share my thoughts and feelings so you don’t have to wait for a miracle, get help.
Below I share some of the telltale signs that you may be depressed: I ignored mine for years, learnt to live with them. Sometimes I think part of the devastation one feels from depression comes from all the energy spent trying to look and sound ok for those around you. The British comedian Stephen Fry says he did a TV show once and was laughing with everybody but inside he felt, I just want kill myself. Here’s that list:
DEPRESSION HATES THE FUTURE, with a passion. I think because one is in a depressed state, planning for the future becomes painful, a trigger even. Where do you think you’ll be in 10 years time? A popular “motivational” question becomes a taunt. If I could answer that when depressed I would tell you I can’t see past today and you want me to play Nostradamus? A depressed person literally lives one day at a time.
DEPRESSION LOVES DARKNESS, Literally. You just want to keep the curtains drawn, windows closed. With a reasonable supply of food, you don’t want to even venture outside. The retired British footballer, Stan Collymore, became an instant object of derision on the internet when he said he would spend a couple of days indoors(curtains drawn) when depressed. Ignorant people think money solves everything and as a well-to-do personality he had no reason to be suffering from clinical depression.
DEPRESSION HATES POSITIVE TALK, when depressed, every inch of you feels like a failure. A friend or family member might give a suggestion that you try something, change your job and all you feel is so they already see that I’m a failure. You resent them. Positive suggestions feel like pity, which in my case, I couldn’t stand.
DEPRESSION HURTS, emotionally that it is. I’ve said to people that half the the time I walked around with and unending sense of loss. So you just feel emotionally hurt and drained all the time.
DEPRESSION HAS A VERY SHORT FUSE. Like me you may have built a very solid outward defense, a look that covers the turbulence you have inside. You are always on edge but you work so hard to let it not show, what helps you is you withdraw from people unconsciously so your underlying anger at everything and everyone keeps hidden. People bother you. But when you do lose it, even you know it’s beyond your control. You see red, literally, and you shout down or even bully the poor shop attendant and demand to see their manager’s manager. Thing is, when calm, you always feel remorseful.
DEPRESSION LOVES RISKY BEHAVIOUR , Anything to feel just a little better than you currently feel. I’ve always had a soft spot for drug addicts and alcoholics. Not because I was ever one, but because I believe half of them got hooked onto their substance trying to escape their depressive state. Like I said it hurts and you are tempted to drown out the pain. My ‘anti-depressant’ of choice was alcohol. Had tragedy not intervened I shudder to think where I would be(the pain of a death in the family gave me the crisis I needed to make a change). If after taking your ‘anti-depressant’ you always engage in risky behaviour that you regret later, then your anti-depressant is masking something else, depression maybe. I don’t know who said but I thought it’s a wise observation: if you find you have a reason to drink then don’t. Deal with the reason first.
DEPRESSION, LOW SELF-ESTEEM AND LACK OF SELF-CONFIDENCE THRIVE TOGETHER. I don’t really know which leads to which but I know that where they occur together any sense of self-worth is eroded. You feel you know nothing, are worth nothing and can do nothing about it. Except maybe end it all. I’m not a psychologist but I would bet my bottom dollar(or Rand) that all these stories of people wiping out their whole families and then themselves have all these three at the same time. Remember, desperate people do desperate things.
There are many things that depression does to people, but the worst of them all is the inability to connect with your Maker,a spiritual drought. When your whole being knows that you have a caring God who wants only the best for you , it’s easy to identify Depression as an illness apart from your being. But when you don’t, depression can take away your last way out of your emotional hell, spiritual connectedness. So Now, unlike back then, when I feel far away from the Most High, I know it’s time to start living each minute consciously, paying attention to the smallest detail, ensuring that tomorrow is different from today.