On Attempting To Understand Suicide And Depression
A beautifully penned, albeit tragic, piece from personal experience that deserves a read.
(Ed Note: Rory woke up to this news and wrote this piece a few weeks back.)
The first thing I did this morning was read a suicide note.
At some point during the night a friend posted his last words to social media. The many people who cared about him spent today scouring the island looking for him, desperately hoping to find him before he made the worst decision possible. But it was already too late.
We weren’t especially close. I knew him through the freediving and spearfishing community and we’d shared beers and laughs on more than one occasion. He took a picture of me that I had printed on a large sheet of aluminum and hung on my wall. I offered to pay him and he refused the money. He was funny and talented and I did not know he battled depression.
I’ve learned a lot about depression over the last few years. I’ve learned that it’s not just, essentially, sadness. I’ve learned that it attacks its victims in a manner which the rest of us cannot, truly, comprehend. It is vicious and painful and devoid of logic and it can steal away the ones we love in the blink of an eye.
I’ve learned that when the rest of us attempt to help we all too often make things worse. “Have you just tried being happy?” “Look at the bright side of life!” “Get some exercise. That’ll chase away the blues.” “How can you be depressed when there are rainbows?” “Go for a surf. That’ll cure what ails you.”
They’re tone-deaf sentiments that come from a loving place. They do not help, they will not heal. They can only silence those who are looking for assistance. It can turn them inward, create a fake exterior. They fester inside, privately, so as to spare themselves the anguish of failing to fix themselves through the simplistic options we put forth.
These are lessons I learned by doing everything wrong as the person I love most in the world fought her own battle against depression and suicidal ideation. “Our life is awesome. What’s your problem? Just go for a walk or something. Stop crying, it doesn’t fix anything. Everyone suffers. Just suck it up.”
She came clean upon my return from a trip to Nicaragua. She’d taken the next step from ideation, had made plans for her end. She’d taken out a life insurance policy, had kissed me goodbye at the Lihue airport expecting I would never see her again. She’s never told me why she didn’t go through with it. I’m not sure I’ve ever asked.
In the aftermath I blamed myself. What could I have done differently? How could I have helped? If I only knew what to do I could stop it from happening in the future.
The hardest part was learning I was worthless. That there was nothing I could do. No amount of advice, or love, would make a difference. I simply could not relate to what she was experiencing. Because depression is not a simple problem. No amount of aphorisms or cliches or well-meant advice will help. Depression is an unseen terror with a million faces that steals our loved ones in the night.
Too many feel that there is shame in mental anguish, that looking for help is a sign of weakness. That if one simply perseveres the problem will fix itself. That those who suffer from depression should hide their pain and fix themselves.
It is not. It will not. They cannot.
We say that suicide is selfish. That those who take their own lives deserve scorn for the pain they leave behind. That if they’d just held on it would’ve gotten better on its own.
It is not. They do not. It cannot.
There is no one cause of depression, and there is no single solution for it. But depression can be treated, managed, kept at bay.
It requires professional help. That help may take the form of therapy, or medication. It may take time to find the treatment that works. But it will, in the end, and it’s more than worth the effort.
While your illness may be telling you that no one cares, I promise that we do.
If you’re dealing with thoughts of suicide:
If someone you care about is at risk, please start with the following links:
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