|This contraption saved my life.|
I remember the day I planned to die.
It wasn’t all that different from any other day except that it felt like I would finally get some rest. I was so tired. I was worn down from pretending, from trying.
Depression starts off subtle, like a light sheet draped over your body. It’s annoying, but you figure you can shake it off. Each day it gets heavier, until it’s a thick, cumbersome blanket, weighing you down. That heaviness makes everything harder, even the little things. It obstructs your perspective and suffocates your joy. You can’t just shake it off. Sometimes, it feels like you can hardly breathe.
I was tired of living like that. I felt depleted in every way. Worse still, I felt like I was everyone else’s heavy blanket, burdening them with my problems that just wouldn’t go away. It didn’t seem fair.
So taking my life seemed like a good solution – the only solution, really. I was going to do us all a favour. I knew how and I knew when, and just knowing this made me feel lighter.
I went to school knowing it was my final day, and I was probably a little happier than usual. When I talked to people, I tried to drink it in a little, like a last meal. I was careful not to let anyone in on my secret, knowing full well they would probably try and put a stop to it. People can be so meddling, I thought. I needed the pain to end in a way I couldn’t possibly explain to anyone else. They wouldn’t get it. They weren’t inside my head.
I remember it all. I remember when the weight was so heavy that going on for even one more day seemed impossible. I remember thinking that reaching out for help was futile, that nobody could possibly understand, that the pain would never go away - ever. I remember it all.
I was at a friend’s house yesterday when news broke that the incredible Robin Williams had taken his life. He was a genius comedian, someone I grew up wanting to be. We shared a love for the stage, a love for making people laugh.
But I could see it from time to time, that pain in his eyes. I recognized it. I’ve lived active addiction, too. I’ve lived depression, too. And now anxiety is my gremlin, throwing wrenches into my every day.
“I have a good life,” I’ll remind myself on the really bad days. “Why can’t I just be happy?”
And I wonder if Robin, with the world as his oyster, living a life most of us can’t even imagine, asked himself the same thing. My guess is that he did. Mental illness doesn’t give a shit who you are. It doesn’t care if you’re somebody’s parent, or what you do for a living, or how high your property value is. It doesn’t care if you’re loved by tens or by tens of millions. It doesn’t listen when you take stock of all the good things in your life. It doesn’t respond to logic because it’s an illogical beast. That’s what makes it so terrifying.
I don’t often talk about trying to take my life. To be honest, it’s not something that tends to come up in conversation very often. But if I said that was the only reason, I would be lying. Shame is the other.
Mental illness loves shame. It fucking loves it.
When we don’t talk about mental illness, it can continue fester and grow in ourselves and in others. When nobody speaks out - when we don’t hear about other people coming out the other side of something insidious like depression – our brains don’t have the chance to think, “Hey, maybe I can, too.”
Shame keeps things hidden. It says,
“Don’t talk about that.”
“Nobody likes a downer.”
“People will think you’re weak.”
“They won’t look at you the same again.”
And sometimes I listen. I’m not proud of it, but I do.
I was saved by a phone call from a complete stranger. I’m not even kidding. On the evening I was going to die, the phone rang. It was my friend’s boyfriend. She had asked him to call me because she knew I was depressed and was worried about me.
I talked to him, this complete stranger. But most importantly, he talked to me. He told me about his dark place. He told me he had tried to kill himself. He told me how much better things were for him now, how he got help, and how the darkness had lifted.
I listened, and I cried, and we made plans to get together the next day. I did not try and take my life that night, and we struck up a friendship that saw me through the darkest part of my life. We’re still in touch today.
His kindness and openness saved me. To say I’m grateful he made that phone call when he did would be an understatement. He didn’t let his shame keep him silent, and I’m here today because of it. I have a rich and full life because of it. I’m married and raising three kids and toiling away in my garden and painting on big canvases and laughing with friends because of it. I’m here to write this because of it.
Depression can take hold of anyone. Suicide becomes an option far too often. There is help out of the darkness, but sometimes people need those around them to shine a little brighter so they can find their way. We need to be that light.
We need to talk about this shit more, you guys. It won’t bring back the incredible people we’ve lost, but it can save someone. I’m proof of that.
Let’s stop drowning in stigma and start swimming in hope.