Saturday, September 10, 2016

True Confessions.

Yesterday was National Suicide Prevention Day. I wanted to write something, but didn't really have any words to say. I still find suicide a really tough subject to talk about, even though I spend a lot of time in the mental health world and have been in therapy for about two years now. The fact is, even though I write articles about my experience with depression and even a whole damn blog about it, I still find it incredibly difficult to tell friends when I am feeling depressed. I think part of the reason is that I can't really think of a time when I told a friend I was struggling and had a truly supportive response. Sometimes people said nothing. Sometimes people wrote long messages back saying they were so sorry but then never followed up to ask how I was the next day or didn't back up their words with actions to show they really cared how I was doing. The sad thing about that is that I think those things are the most effective methods of suicide prevention: letting people know that you matter.

I've never attempted suicide, but I have considered it. I've imagined doing it, I've written about it in my journal, I've wished more than anything that I could have the courage to do it in those long, dark hours of unspeakable loneliness that come after everyone's gone to bed and you know no one will answer their phone for you of all people. When you're depressed, your entire mindset shifts in a way beyond your control. It's like someone put a black and white filter over your eyes. The future becomes bleak and hopeless and your life becomes worthless. You, in your mind, are a burden to other people. Doubly so when nobody seems to want to answer your texts and you know that if you told people what was really going on in your head, it would be a troubling burden to them.

It's hard to admit that I've thought about suicide. I've always avoided admitting it to my counselors and psychiatrists; I would either obliquely allude to it or avoid saying anything at all. But sometimes I wish that I had just told someone straight and square: "I feel like I don't matter and I want to end my life. Will you please talk to me so I can make it through this night and not do anything stupid?" My counselor said to me recently that when you are having trouble getting people to listen to you, you need to say what you want in a different way to get that person's attention and get them to see what it is that you need. I'm amazed by how difficult that concept is for me; the thought of flat out telling a person what it is I want or pushing for my own needs to be fulfilled makes me cringe and want to hide.
"Depression", a painting I did in art therapy. (Property of These Dark Cafe Days)

About a week and a half ago on September 1, ironically the beginning of National Suicide Prevention Month, I had a brief out-of-the-blue relapse back into depression. It may not have lasted long, but it was shockingly strong. I think there were several things that brought it on: school had just started so I was physically and emotionally stressed and overwhelmed which led me to start having my night-time panic attacks that keep me from sleeping, which tend to lead to depressive episodes. So I think all of the stress chemicals from that caused a chemical shift in my body. But I was also very distressed over a topic that has long caused me an extraordinary amount of frustration and pain: friendship.

Now, I don't know everything in life, but from what I've heard over the years, friendship is not supposed to cause you this kind of pain. But I was feeling so lonely and upset because two friends in particular from my old school don't seem to reciprocate my dedication to our friendships and come across as aloof when we talk and don't open up and constantly send mixed messages. I've wanted to just break off these friendships, in fact, I've tried to, but they would reach out again one time and then I would think, "Oh, they are interested in being friends!" And get involved again. But I only end up frustrated. That's the reality.

Anyways, I was really dwelling on these relationships, probably unhealthily so, and then as my body chemicals shifted into depressed mode, I got even more upset and lonely, not knowing how to fix these friendships or let my friends know what was wrong. Then as I felt sadder, I felt even more isolated because I didn't feel like there was anyone I could share these feelings with. I told one friend and he only wrote back a short sorry. I texted other friends casual messages saying hi, hoping someone would answer so I wouldn't feel the increasingly heavy weight of being all alone in an empty house, thinking about how much I hated being here.

Nobody answered.

I started to think about swallowing all of my pills. The next morning when I woke up and it was raining, I fantasized about crashing my car on the way to school. The weight of my loneliness was more and more unbearable and suffocating. And it really seemed like nothing could happen in my future to make life worth living. And there I was - a person who nobody wanted to text back. Maybe the world really wouldn't mind if I slipped away that night, leaving this dumb blog and my social media accounts I sometimes feel like everyone unfollowed silent and fallow. That was my thinking in those moments.

Thankfully, I had a counseling appointment scheduled for the next afternoon. The act of someone sitting down for an hour to listen to me, uninterrupted, and not run from my feelings and acknowledge their weight meant immeasurably more than it had before, and walking out of that appointment feeling listened to was a turning point in my returning back to a normal mood. The counseling center makes each student take an intake survey, which includes reporting on whether or not you've felt suicidal recently. I'm glad they had that because otherwise I don't think I would have admitted my feelings to the counselor. She asked me to tell my previous counselor (who I had one more session left with) and my psychiatrist, but I couldn't bring myself to.

Which makes me wonder: Why do I feel so deeply ashamed of these thoughts? I'm not the only one who's had them, but I have only had one other person hint to me that they have had them. I think part of me is afraid of the pity. Another part of me wants to protect myself from the pain of the disappointment of people's answer that I've come to expect as inevitable. I know they won't want to talk about it, they will be uncomfortable, they will walk away form the conversation as soon as possible, they will never bring up the subject again and will act as if nothing ever happened. And I will get even more hurt than I already am. Sometimes I feel like one giant open wound whose scab keeps getting picked off.

But I know my counselor and psychiatrist won't pity me or (hopefully) say nothing. I guess the flip side is when people make a big deal out of it: I don't want to be sent to the emergency room, have the police called, or anything else that would call even more attention to myself and put me in the line of insensitive people (I've heard terrible stories about hospital nurses and ETs who look down on those who come to the ER for suicide risk). I guess in general there's a deep shame I feel about my suicidal thoughts. There's an underlying desire not to be a burden on anyone by making them stop their life and pay attention to me. And underlying that is probably a belief that I don't matter enough for people to pay attention or make a big deal over. The problem is, part of why I have felt suicidal in the past is because I felt like nobody cared about me.

I guess I'm saying all of this for two reasons. One is that I'm tried of keeping this part of my life a secret. I'm big on being open with people about stuff, and it's time I lived up to that in this area of my life. Number two is that I think people need to be made aware of how their actions - and inaction - can impact other people's live, whether positively or negatively. You all have one duty, one goal in life, and that is to care for your fellow human beings. I think we often fall into the mindset that we need to start a nonprofit or go on a mission trip or play soccer with orphans in Guatemala to do that, but I'm a firm believer that God (or whoever you believe in) has placed certain people into our path for us to love them. Part of why I became so disillusioned with Christians over the past year is that I've seen how often they fail to love the people who they don't get to make a missions trip PowerPoint presentation about, ignoring or even attacking people who need love.

The people at the Christian school I attended were some of the coldest, most cliquish people I've met, judging anyone different from them, rejecting me from all of their clubs, and passing me silently in the hallway without so much as a nod. Only three people in the ministry group I was a part of at that school actually followed up with me after I left that school because of my depression. I felt very abandoned. But then again, even when I was in the group, few would ask how I was even after I shared week after week that I was struggling. Christians are tasked to be the hands and feet of Christ, who had his hands and feet nailed through to demonstrate his love to us, so why aren't we sacrificially loving our neighbors, the strangers we pass, our coworkers, our classmates? Why do we pretend like they don't exist? If you're not a Christian, I think you can recognize (perhaps even better than most Christians can - ha) the need for humans to help each other out and to help a fellow (wo)man out the way you would want someone to help you.

"Recovery" the sequel to the previous painting.
(Please ask for permission before posting elsewhere.)

How do you show love to people? Remembering to write them and ask how they're doing. Remembering when they have a big event, whether happy or stressful, and sending them well wishes. Asking them about themselves. Opening up about how you're feeling and what's going on in your life in order to create an environment where they feel comfortable sharing about their struggles. Sending notes of encouragement or little gifts. Letting people know what you appreciate about them and how you feel about them. Reminding them that they matter to you. Stopping and listening when they talk to you. Not walking away when they admit that things are tough. Staying with them and listening, and helping them find help and telling them they matter and you don't want them to leave. Telling them they matter and you don't want them to leave even if they don't say anything is wrong.

We can only do so much in life, but I think these little things make a big difference. Equally, if you seem indifferent to a person, especially one who is already hurting, then you can make a big negative impact on their heart, making them feel worthless and unloved. This isn't to make people feel like they're to blame for anyone's suicide, but to make people aware that even apart from the issue of suicide, our actions and attitude speak louder than our words when it comes to friendship and the way we treat people.

As a closing story, I met up with a friend from my previous school a few weeks ago. I was surprised he wanted to meet but I enjoyed the conversation and was pleased to hear that he had realized he needed to cut back on busyness and focus on maintaining relationships with people. He mentioned this several times, so I thought he might be suggesting he wanted to have a better relationship with me. However, whenever I've texted him since we met (including the night after), he has this tone of "Are we done yet?", answering what I say but not really engaging in the conversation. In our last conversation, he never even asked me about myself. I was confused since he had been so insistent on wanting to focus on relationships and had even admitted he was sometimes lonely. I had gotten my hopes up that we could renew our friendship, but that last conversation took me back to remembering how he didn't speak to me for months after I left (as far as I can recall) or say anything when I announced I was leaving.

Tonight, thinking about our friendship from that perspective, I realized, "Why am I even trying to be friends with this guy? He didn't even care enough to reach out then or during my junior year when I expressed multiple times to friends that I was suffering, why do you think that's going to change?" I hope he is better in-person about making these "genuine relationships" he's hoping for, but I doubt it. If there's anything I've learned in my short time on this earth, it's that good relationships take a buttload of effort, and even then they're usually unfulfilling. As for our friendship, I've decided it's best to leave it behind. I'm tired of relationships that rest on my shoulders and leave me crying from loneliness more often than laughing from companionship. It all makes me wonder...Were we ever really friends? Or was he just another acquaintance who I poured myself out to and received very little back.

But I just want anyone who is reading who has had similar feelings of worthlessness and equally lame friends to know that you really do matter. I don't know you, but you matter to me and I'm glad you're here. I know that doesn't make sense, but I really do believe you have a lot of potential. You are an integral part of this strange theatrical production that's making place across the world's stage, lives intertwined and revolving in and out of each other's stories. You are meant to be here and you deserve to be here.

I also hope that anyone reading will take this as a gentle reminder to go and send a message to the different people in your life who you love and let them know that they matter to you.

Life is too short to leave truth unsaid. And life is to short to have people shortening theirs even more because no one ever told them the truth...that they are loved, that they matter.

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