Struggling With Depression

I have known several friends who have died, as you say, through suicide. I think of it as being killed by depression, the same way we say "the cancer got her finally". We always hope for a cure but I consider that it is for some of us a chronic condition with regression and reoccurrences. I stay on guard at all times for signs and symptoms of its return. It has a mortality rate higher than many cancers.

I am glad that my husband feels more comfortable with my risk of suicide. I am always aware that it lurks in some deep synapses in the back of my brain and remains a true risk. My last occasion when it reared its ugly head as a reasonable option was about 4 years ago. I have lived with it and survived it so long that I have, as a gift, the knowledge that I can survive and that it is worth holding on for a while to have relief finally come. I am aware that sometime it may not come and that I will lose my strength to fight.

My doctor considers it a psychosis. Maybe it is. At the time, my interpretation of my life feels as completely true and real as it does right now as I type this. It IS real. My brain is recognizing those synapses as being as legitimate as when I hear the TV or see my dog jumping. If I feel in danger from someone chasing me, I have to run and shout for help. This feels as real as that would, as real as a nightmare does while one is in it. Sometimes, at its depths, just like in a nightmare, it is an impression that "this isn't real", there might be some other truth. But it is like, I think, the panic one feels being held underwater as a joke. At some point, your body and brain take over, and almost uncontrollable panic comes. The need to "survive", to get out of the situation, to get air, becomes overwhelming. But in this case, getting air or finding relief becomes surviving the situation by dying. Gasping for air underwater, one dies. In a strange way, suicide is an overwhelming fight response which most people who haven't been there interpret as a flight response. We're not "chickening out". It becomes the only way to survive intact.

Your son Keith is a survivor; he fought for his identity in the only way he knew how at the time. And, in the same way that at the time one is struggling for the surface and gasping for air, you could not be on his mind then. It had nothing to do with you, what you could have done, ever did, or might do. In fact, at times, it seems true to the sufferers that we are saving those we love best from having to live with the torture of our disease, with the hurt we may cause them. We are saving them. Letting them go on with their lives. Freeing them from us. I know that it makes absolutely no sense to the well, but it honestly does to us at the time.

It takes a great deal of courage, love, and strength to suicide. Don't ever think of Keith as weak. Sometimes the easier way is just to do nothing, to live in despair forever. We all know people like that, who seem to be determined to be miserable and to make everyone miserable around them. We are people who have known happiness, who have felt loved and valued, who recognize that life can be good. The despair comes from a belief, a bio chemically induced "trip", that it can never be so again. Depression kills. It robs of us of the ability to love ourselves enough to live; to think logically; to interpret the world correctly.

Some of surviving or not is luck, just the moment of convergence of a particular time, opportunity, and the disease. But a lot of it is knowledge. It can save us and others. The knowledge of what depression is, of who else lives with it and how, of how many "right ways" there are and no "wrong ways". That treatment and drugs and publicly admitting to it and talking about it are no more "shameful" than about diabetes or cancer, and may in fact ease someone else's pain, maybe even save a life.

My illness was a shameful secret until I was well into my 30's, since even as a nurse, I never met people who seemed to be depressed for "no reason" like I was and who seemed to be able to do everything in life successfully, at least to others, except live with themselves and find life possible, much less pleasant, without a huge struggle every day. Then I met a few other people that I saw as successful, smart, capable people with no reasons in their lives to be depressed or suicidal and yet were at times, and we began to talk. I began to understand that it was not something I chose, that I was not alone, and that it was something I had been living with for years and in fact managing well. I had a disease and there were things, objective things, I could do about it. But it must still have something to do with a weakness of mine.

Then in 1985/6, John became so ill suddenly with depression and anxiety that he was hospitalized. No one could have been more capable, admirable, and strong than he, in my eyes and many of our colleagues. Maybe it could happen to the good guys too. As he became well, even still while in hospital, he began to speak openly to his colleagues about what was happening. My shame disappeared. We both became very open, and, for me at least, I take great pride in surviving it so far. I feel that my illness is now a gift in many ways. I am stronger for it. I take my drugs which allow me to feel moments of joy and often a great deal of contentment and gratitude. I self-medicate with friends, food, wine, dogs, books, and sometimes retreat. There is still a lot of pain, but I consider it to be equivalent to others living with chronic back pain or severe arthritis. I can help others. My personality, knowledge, and abilities challenge others when they denigrate people who have the disease or try to cope with it. I'm right in their face, inviting them tell me I'm a wimp or a loser. I try to be an example and I try to be as open as I can.

Carol and Dick, your openness, your web site, your gift of sharing, I guarantee you, has meant a huge amount to many people. For nearly 20 years I have been very involved with many people on both sides of the suicide issue, and I have known times when the smallest phrase, the tiniest gesture, the meeting of the eyes, a touch, being willing to listen yet again to the same stuff, has made the difference between rescuing someone's day and not.

Jane