I have been medicated for chronic depression since I was 18: at least one pill every single day for years. It doesn’t sound too dramatic, but it is a constant red flag that there is a monster down there somewhere, just waiting for me to let down my guard. The original medication that I was on had a lot of side effects, one of them being lack of a sex drive. I liked the medication a lot, but sex was something that I had to consciously focus on in order to get anything taken care of. So, I asked my doctor to switch me to something new in hopes of finding that part of myself again. What followed was the darkest days in my entire life.
Around day 4 I sat in the no-man’s-land between one pill wearing off and another pill not yet working. Every day was a battle to stay alive. On day 6, I posted this online as both a small manefesto and a suicide note:
“The Misery Snowball: A Positive Feedback Loop of Sorrow, Loneliness, and General Self-loathing
Breathe in and let it out. No really; just try it. Now try again. Now take a deep breath in and hold it.
Hold it for as long as you physically can, giving as much attention to holding your breath as you can while you continue to read. Your eyes might start to water. Your face will flush, and your stomach muscles will begin to involuntary spasm in an attempt to force you back into a regular breathing pattern. It hurts. Most of you have already let out that breath. You couldn’t hold it any more, because you don’t want to die.
I don’t want to die either. Just as we fail to appreciate a lungful of air until we are without it, so too do many fail to appreciate the joy they have around them until it’s too late.
Presently, I am switching medications for anti depression, and as I wander in the no-mans-land between my previous medication beginning to wane and my new medication not yet beginning to take effect, I wonder how many other do not understand the plight of someone with chronic, clinical depression.
Though I elected for a change, I’m terrified of what the next couple weeks have in store for me. It’s a feeling in my guts that is probably all too familiar to some of you. It’s that feeling you get when you dangle your toes off a high precipice. It’s the suspense before the explosion. It’s the turning of the screw.
Depression is so often related to drowning, and for good reason. When someone you know falls into a spell, voluntary or otherwise, know this:
They are terrified.
As we tumble into the churning tide, we know what the future will be for us. We know we will have to struggle. We know that, honestly, there is no hand that will reach into the depth to yank us free. We know that the moments in which our heads breach from the wake, if even for a moment, are some of the sweetest we have ever known. We also know some of us don’t come up once they go under.
That’s what we fear the most.
Sadness. Loss of appetite. Drowsiness. Loss of libido. Feelings of hopelessness. Thoughts of self-harm. All these things come to mind when you mention depression, but they are merely symptoms. They are not the grim beast that stalks us day in and day out. And all of these side-effects, trickle down to fear. We are afraid. We are afraid because we are trying to be killed. We are being hunted by a murderer only vaguely dissimilar from ourselves. When we wake up, we know that every waking moment of our day will be spent trying to survive, trying to outwit, outmaneuver that phantom that creeps in the narrow corridors of our thoughts.
We don’t sleep. we don’t eat. We don’t enjoy the same things we did before. We don’t feel the need for sex. Those things are secondary to any man or beast compared to the instinct to survive. For some, their battle to live is also the thing that leads to their demise. They are like rabbits trying to release themselves from a snare, only to strangle themselves in the throws of attempted freedom. They never break the surface of the water.
Every suicide we see, we see a reflection of ourselves. Because each time we brave the deep abyss, we know full well we may never make it out.
This is not a call to action, nor is it a PSA for suicide prevention. If anything, just know that every stranger that you pass could be just below the surface wanting no more than a single breath of air, struggling beneath waves that threaten to surmount them every day. Do not be the hand that holds them below those waters. Their struggle to escape the murderer inside them will probably last the entirety of their lives, and they know it. Don’t be the one that compromises their chance for a moment of escape.
Depression is not sadness or fatigue. It is not loss of motivation or numbness. It is the fear that when you are beneath the waves, you just might not have the strength to swim.
I wrote that, got home, and crawled into bed with my now ex. Like the nights before, I curled into a ball and cried. I’m not sure how other peoples’ body reacts to grief, but I shake. I get these tremors that leave me knotted up and twitching; it’s not my favorite activity in the world to say the least. That particular night, I wanted to touch the woman laying beside me one last time. I just wanted the last thing I did on this world to be feeling the warmth of another person. I reach out my hand, and my fingertips make contact. Then I press my palm in between her shoulder blades and slide my arm around her side.
She stirs and turns her head, “You know I get too hot to sleep when you try to do that.”
I got up, walked to the couch, and sat there until morning came. I was too depressed to even feel like I deserved to make the choice between living and dying. When I look back, it’s hard for me to even see that person as the same person I am now. That’s not because I am ashamed of that person or that I feel like that person was weak or disgraceful. I look back in wonder. That me “braved the deep” and stayed there for as long as he could just to find some scrap of treasure. He found nothing and still chose to come back up even though he would be returning with empty pockets.
That person, as dumb as it sounds, is my hero and quite possibly the bravest man I have ever known.