First of all, let me assure you that I am feeling better. Much, much, much better. So no need to send advice, or to call 911, although prayers are always welcome. But for the last few months I have been trudging through the deepest darkness. I’ve had my daughter kidnapped. I’ve had my mother die. I’ve had kids leave home. I’ve had advanced cancer and all sorts of treatments. I have been on antidepressants for almost ten years now, since one of the more difficult episodes in Michaela’s case. Sometimes my family has problems, or my kids hurt one way or another, and as all you moms out there can attest, that hurts me too. It has all taken its toll, and that toll is most definitely cumulative.
But it reached a new low recently, because for awhile I wanted just to not.be.here. I’m not going to say I was ever suicidal. I know from a friend that when you talk to psychiatric professionals and they are concerned about the possibility of suicide, they ask if you have a plan for how you would kill yourself. And no, I didn’t. I had not even given it a moment’s thought. I just kept thinking about sleep. I wanted to sleep all the time. Whenever I’d think about what I was going to do next, exhaustion would overcome me, and I’d go to sleep instead. I developed the ability to just stay in bed all day, something I have never been able to do! Many times I thought how nice it would be to just go to sleep and not wake up again.
After awhile, this started to concern me, because while I was not planning or even thinking about suicide, I was looking at death as a relief. It reminded me of a roller coaster, how you go up and up and up, and when you reach the top, maybe you close your eyes so you won’t see the drop as you fall. Then the next time, perhaps you just squint really hard, so you see the drop through your eyelashes. That’s what I felt I was doing: looking at death through my eyelashes. And it scared me, because it felt like a first step. I didn’t think I would ever open my eyes all the way to suicide, but I never thought I would feel like this either, and I was afraid of slipping past the tipping point without even noticing.
The thing is, this particular episode was almost positively biochemical. Things were not all easy. There were a lot of sad things and hard things to deal with. However, not a thing has changed in my life, except that over the last few weeks I slowly started to feel better until one day I realized something in my brain had changed. I realized I had not felt like napping for awhile now. I tried to nap once when I was going to be babysitting late, and couldn’t fall asleep. The exhaustion was gone. I also didn’t experience the “this is going to kill me” reaction to things going on in life. Yesterday I was quite happily thinking, you are annoying, I am annoying, they are annoying, we all are annoying, but so what? Get annoyed, but only annoyed and not angry or resentful, and love each other anyway. Let it go and let it be and all that stuff. There were things in life that I had no control whatsoever over but which caused me deep, deep grief. Now I’m sad and concerned, but not devastated. It will be okay, one day anyway.
I tend to credit this extraordinary change to a slight adjustment in one of my medications. I didn’t even cut it out, just reduced the dosage by 25 percent. Heck, I just came from my oncologist this morning, and he informed me that the aches and pains in my bones and joints were actually due to the anti-cancer drug I am on. We get these little pills and pop them, and hours or days later we get these symptoms and just don’t associate them with the med, but that’s what it is.
Or, on the other hand, this welcome change just could be due to improved biochemistry once I gave up my all-ice-cream-all-the-time diet. I guess that is a chicken and egg question, since the depression had me in a state where I hated almost all food except for coffee and ice cream. But regardless, it was most definitely physical, cause life is no happier or sadder than it was, and it has no more nor less physical demands than it did, and yet I feel okay. And I have energy! I just have to figure out what to do with it, because I’ve kind of forgotten!
The lesson here is that chemistry can change biochemistry. There are tons of medications that can cause depression and other ills. And by the same token, there are medications that can point your biochemistry in the right direction and adjust your brain. I saw a friend post on facebook recently that she had started taking antidepressants, and it felt like her brain had been chapped and the antidepressants acted like lip balm.
And I want to say also, that my compassion and understanding for those who do suffer from depression has grown even deeper. I mean, I’ve been depressed before, but not like this. This kind of depression is just a blackness, a hopelessness and helplessness. It takes your strength and it distorts everything around you. It made me think also of the people I know who have lost children or other loved ones to suicide, or drug overdose, which is a distant relative of suicide isn’t it? They suffer not only from pain, but from such guilt: why didn’t they know, what could they have done? But the answer is, maybe nothing. Now I’m going to tell you, I mentioned to a number of people that I was having these feelings, but nobody seemed to really get it. But maybe I didn’t get it before I experienced it myself. Was there anything they could have done to change it? I don’t know that there is. Sometimes the fact that everybody seemed to be ignoring what I said made it worse, made me think, well, nobody really cares anyway. I knew that wasn’t true, of course. I knew that my remarks were being brushed off as casual, if for no other reason than people didn’t expect it of me. After all, I have a reputation for being strong, right? If I said it again, if I said, no, hear me, they would have. But I couldn’t. I didn’t want to make a fuss, and I didn’t think anybody could really do anything anyway. They could stick a bandaid on it, but they couldn’t cure it.
I see all the time things that say, “If you are thinking about suicide, TALK TO SOMEONE.” And yes, if you are suicidal or in pain, do that. But do it in the same way you would if you had a physical symptom. Tell your loved ones if it hurts. If you are in physical pain, maybe someone can bend down and pick things up from the ground for you or carry heavy loads. But if you are still in pain, you go to the doctor. Same with depression. And you can start with your regular doctor. There are things that can help, and they are not part of a plot by the medical establishment and the pharmaceutical industry to steal your money and your will.
I don’t want to sound like I know it all here, because all I really know is myself and what I hear from others. Don’t take my advice, except for the advice to find a professional who will give you knowledgeable advice and help. And don’t be shy about asking for medication. I’ve never ever had a therapist offer any meds, but remember always that a therapist is not a doctor and they can’t write prescriptions. Only a medical doctor can do that — a psychiatrist, not a psychologist — or your family doctor.
If you find yourself in the darkness, take a word of advice from Albus Dumbledore and turn on the light. Write, paint, draw, talk, dance, laugh. And if you can’t do those things, seek help. Life can be hard. Sometimes the hard things can actually alter your biochemistry, or sometimes the biochemistry is already screwy for some reason and makes the hard things impossible. But don’t give up. You’ve got a road to walk, a journey to take, and don’t give up before the end.
And the end only comes at the end, by the way. For me, this was a big part of things. I’m not exactly young to begin with. Based on my planned date of exiting from this world, I do have another three decades or so to hang around, but that was a bit of a stretch to begin with, and having had Stage 3 cancer made that expectation a whole lot less certain. But I looked around and thought, I haven’t done what I came here to do! I read somewhere the phrase, “I don’t want to die a caterpillar,” and that really hit home for me. It’s not that I have accomplished nothing in life. Who knows, my actual purpose in life might have been to give birth to a child who would change the world, even if for just one person, or to give birth to a child who would have their own child who would change the world. We don’t have to see our purpose fulfilled in order for it to be so. But I decidedly feel as though there are things I need to do that have not yet been done. With the way I was feeling, I did not believe I possessed the wisdom or strength or determination to do whatever it is I need to do. Now I’m still not sure I do, but I can see enough light in the tunnel that I can believe it could be possible one day. I’m not completely certain who I am on this other side of that darkness, and that makes it hard to do thing that I do, like write. But I’m looking.
I believe in death like I never have before. But I also believe in life in a different way.
Before I go, I want to be sure to put the Suicide Lifeline phone number out there for anyone who feels they may need it.
1-800-273-8255, 24 hours a day
Or if you have a phone phobia like me, you can chat online by going to the Lifeline page. Just don’t give up. There is always hope. If I can hang in here, you can.
As always, thank you for being here. You are loved.