Author’s note: I wrote this piece two weeks ago. Then while re-reading it prior to publishing I had some reservations. My personal editor (aka my husband) also had some reservations about how it would affect other people so we decided to wait a while and see if we really wanted to publish this.
I’ve decided that I do want to write publicly about this issue. I apologise if it is disturbing, or frightening, or confrontational, or triggers emotions that are hard to deal with.
I can write about this issue openly now that I am past these horror days and now that I feel reasonably confident that I won’t experience them again, at least nowhere near the depths that I did sink to before. Thanks to an antidepressant and two mood stabilisers, and a team of psychologist, psychiatrist, very accessible and caring GP, fabulous husband and great friends!!
But I do feel that the population of the world fortunate enough never to plunge to these awful depths should have some understanding of the suffering that is out and about in the world, walking around trying to contain their sorrow and hurt. My favourite saying comes to mind:
“Always be kind. Every person you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
lease PLEASE remember that however impossible it feels, severe depression can be survived. It doesn’t feel like but just ask for help and let someone in! Tell your partner, your friend, your family, your colleague, a local doctor or go to the local emergency department. Tell someone; don’t suffer alone!! You know the numbers:
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Callback Service: 1300 659 467
Men’s Line Australia: 1300 789 978
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
Employee Assistance Program (employees of public hospitals): 1300 361 008
beyond blue: 1300 22 4636
Suicide Line (Victoria only): 1300 651 251
Suicide Prevention Foundation: 1300 465 366
So here we go!
Suicide. Death by one’s self.
We don’t talk about it enough.
It’s taboo. It’s avoided, ignored, swept out of sight.
There can be sense of shame about it. Some consider it selfish.
In some places and in some era’s it is and has been illegal.
Some insurance companies won’t pay out life insurance policies if a death is determined to be a suicide.
Yet, along the death spectrum a ways, people campaign for euthanasia, the right to kill oneself if life becomes physically unbearable.
What about when life becomes emotionally unbearable? Mentally unbearable? Somehow people never consider the rights of a person suffering in this way.
But this is a dreadful, terrible, awful way to suffer.
Why are we sympathetic to cancer patients with terminal illness suffering physical agony but don’t give the same thought to mentally ill people suffering emotional agony without relief?
And to some people there seems to be or is no end in sight; treatments that don’t work or take too much time to work, emotional turmoil with no relief, desperation. What then?
Personally, I don’t believe suicide is right. Morally, that is. I believe what the Bible says: thou shall not kill, including oneself.
But it was a whole different story when I found myself in the grips of severe depression and assailed with suicidal thoughts.
Suicidal wasn’t about self-harm and ending my life. Initially.
It was about feeling terribly awful in the midst of my perfect life, so awful that I didn’t know if I could survive, if I would ever feel good or well again and I just wanted a break!
It was about dragging myself through the motions every day and wondering if I would ever feel like every physical step wasn’t a tiresome chore. It was about emotionally forcing myself through the duties of the day, pasting a smile on my face and coping when I felt like crawling into bed and never coming out.
I wanted an escape, to step into a time warp that would take me out of my life for as long as it took for the depression to go away. Then I could just step back into my life and take off where I’d left off, minus the awful distress.
I wanted the escape, but didn’t know how to get it. I was on two antidepressants, an unusual combination and a bit risky. But that was what it took to get me feeling better and sleeping. To start with, but then I started having odd thoughts as my mood took a steep dive downwards, the first time I experienced what I would later find out was a mood swing.
What would happen if I just stepped out in front of the bus? If I just took one step out…
Would it hurt? Would I just die or would I be injured and gain nothing but more pain?
I’ve always been against the idea of committing suicide by using another person driving a vehicle. I’ve called it selfish. I’ve called it unfair and sympathised with train, bus, truck and car drivers used in this awful way.
Is this karma? To be wondering whether I would actually take that step? To be thinking not about the awfulness that the driver would experience, but to be wondering if I could be that person? Wondering if it would solve my problems? If it would just take everything away so I didn’t have to try to deal with it day by day by day.
I’ve always been nervous about people standing close to the edge at train stations. I’ve always been half-prepared to see something so awful that it would damage me for life.
But then nothing happened and this mental disease arrived, bit by bit. Maybe it was the anxiety in me the whole time, all these years worrying and thinking about such things.
This was my thought process, back then, before I went to hospital.
I could never jump in front of a train. I’ve read ‘Dear Miffy’ by John Marsden. I know what happens when a jump in front of a train is misjudged! I don’t want to be in a wheelchair or completely dependant on someone else.
I don’t think I would jump in front of a car; too small, more likely to end up alive and well with a couple of broken bones. So that’s out.
So that leaves a bus.
Or an overdose. But I know that the medications that I’m taking are relatively safe in overdose. They won’t kill me. I’ll maybe sleep for a while then wake up back where I started. With the added stigma of having tried to kill myself!
I don’t want that for me, but mostly I don’t want that for my husband. I don’t want to leave him with the bill, so to speak. He doesn’t deserve a life of questioning what went wrong, where could he have done something or done it differently, of blame. He doesn’t deserve any of that. No one deserves that. So I came to this: I can’t do any of those things. I have to keep on going, to keep trying, to keep fighting. Because I can’t do that to him. But it’s so hard!
Another day I got to thinking again: what if I just jumped off these rocks into the crash of waves breaking? Would it hurt? How long would it take? Would someone rescue me? Would it just be easy and instant?
What about sharps? One of my horrors is paper cuts to my eyelids, no idea why! But I’m always super careful around knives and I hate blades, which is why I now wax instead of shave; I’ve cut myself enough times as a total accident to give away shaving! And our knife set is new and super sharp, but I don’t think I could ever do that.
I don’t have a gun and I wouldn’t know what to do with it.
What about painkillers? I don’t have any above supermarket strength and I know they don’t work in overdose, it’s just long slow painful illness of liver failure that can take forever and is a terrible idea. Or bleeding, also slow and awful, not at all a solution.
I’m not great with heights, I just know I could never make myself jump.
So, all out of ideas.
And that’s how I came to be in my doctor’s office at midday on a Monday, bawling my eyes out.
The doctor asked me, have you had any suicidal thoughts? Yes, I sobbed.
Do you have a plan to harm yourself? No, because I can’t think of a way that would work! Sobbing harder and harder.
If I let you go, can you promise me that you won’t hurt yourself? I don’t know, I think so but I’m not sure, I feel so terrible! Sobbing, and sobbing, and sobbing!
A terrible, awful point for me in such despair and not even able to come up with a good way out. Still believing that it’s wrong, but needing so badly some relief! Just a few hours off, just a day of rest from the hurt and chaos in my mind!
Which I did get, later. I took a Valium on the way to the hospital, they gave me another one in the emergency department a few hours later. I slept then, for a few hours. That was just what I needed. But then I woke up and they wouldn’t keep me. As desperate and at the end of my rope as I was, they sent me home.
With 2 temazepam, double the usual dose of this sleeping pill. Which gave me another 8 hours of absence until I could come to terms with going on, dealing with a new day, another battle, keeping on keeping on. Until they could send members from the outpatient psychiatry team to visit and help me.
And then they started the long path to bring me back to today.
Starting new medications, changing doses, scrapping that one, starting another one, altering, fiddling, trying and failing and trying again in the long haul to now, a better day.
Today it is 77 days since I was in the emergency department of my local hospital (author’s note: written two weeks ago). Not the hospital I work at, another one near home. I could never have gone in that state to work and shown any of my colleagues the face under my usual coping face.
77 days. None of them spent working. All of them spent here at home. Making tiny steps of progress, going backward, coming forward, a couple steps one way, another few the other way, teetering backward and forward on the scale from deep depression to hypomania and somehow, at long last, feeling like I’ve settled in the middle around a place that I could call home, somewhere around about “normal”.
My husband in fact thinks maybe I’m better than “normal”. He sees now that maybe I’ve never been as good as I am now.
Sure I still get tired, and have the odd afternoon nap. But I’m more productive, I’m more energetic, I’m more engaged, I’m enjoying life, I’m driving a bit, I’m shopping a bit, I’m doing the dishes occasionally, the laundry sometimes, making the bed some days, hosting visitors rarely, doing day trips every now and then, actually living my life 🙂
We know there will still be days that are further toward one end of the scale or the other. The aim of all the treatment is to not go so far toward either end. My personal goal is to never ever in my whole entire life get anywhere near as deeply depressed as I have been. I don’t ever want to see the shape or colour of that place ever again!!
But we’re living life, and enjoying life! That’s something to be deeply grateful for every day. We’re alive, and relatively well, and life is good! Well, better anyway. That’s something.
I want to live life to the fullest. It’s a cliche, but that’s what I want. My aim is to enjoy every day that I can enjoy because depression is not ruling my life with it’s inability to enjoy pleasure, or it’s sadness, and hopelessness, and pointlessness.
Now ruling my life is just…life. Just life. Getting less complicated, more predictable, more fun! Yes, it takes an solid dose of antidepressant and a good going dose of two mood stabilisers/anti-psychotics. It takes weekly visits with my GP and psychologist, and fortnightly visit to my psychiatrist. It takes good doses of friends and hobbies and enjoyable activities. Who cares? What works, works and I have no argument against that!