Trigger Warning: This post contains discussion of suicidal ideation, major depression, and self-harm. I appreciate the vulnerability of our readership; and encourage you to practice self care when reading this type of post.
Today I thought the words “I should just kill myself” four times.
I hate when this happens because I like to believe I have “recovered” and because my life is good and because I don’t want to be “person with depression” anymore.
But it actually happens more than I’d like to admit.
Suicidal ideation isn’t like actively trying to kill yourself. It’s more like a fleeting thought, a reaction to realizing I messed up at work or was short-tempered with my friends or remembering something thoughtless I did months ago. It’s a sudden stab of shame, connected to an intrusive impulse. It’s like being 15 and having your friend pressure you to drink.*
I’m not 15, or 19, or however old I was the last time I had a major depressive episode, and I’m not in a vulnerable enough place in my life anymore for me to be able to take that voice seriously. I’m in love with my life, even when it is frustrating and terrifying and intimidating. This is not a cry for help.
I’ve been able to be vocal about my struggles with mental health in ways that have made me feel proud and scared and validated many times over. I think that honesty has enabled my recovery, because it has allowed me build stronger relationships and find a community of people who have experienced similar things. But there are parts of my depression and anxiety that I continue to shy away from talking about, even with my close personal friends because I’m afraid of burdening them or triggering them, or because I’m ashamed.
Suicidal ideation isn’t really a part of my daily life anymore; it’s more like the leftovers from a time where being self-destructive felt like the only way to survive. When my brain started working against me, when walking short distances was exhausting, and I couldn’t go outside without feeling like everyone was looking at me, I coped in ways I’m not proud of. I had scars on my arms so I could have one outward physical sign that there was truly something wrong with me. I didn’t make it up, I wasn’t trying to get attention. I hid them like a secret just for me. I made up rules that made it okay. I avoided confrontation and lied to professors about why I skipped class. I spoke in a code that let me share just enough, but not too much.
You can’t live like that for too long without it becoming instinctual. The biggest part of recovery for me has been about confronting my mistakes without running away or punishing myself. I think I’ve grown a lot. On most days I am an honest and direct communicator. When I mess up I can own it and grow from it. The problem is Bad Days.
Bad mental health days are like being haunted by a ghost of who I was 4 years ago. My thoughts circle back to how I am a bad person and a weak person and all those good habits I intentionally developed have trouble stacking up to the leftovers of a depression I thought I had left in the past. It’s an insidious reminder: remember, you used to be fucked up!
I am lucky because these days are irregular. They come when I am sleep deprived, or haven’t eaten, or when my stressors stack up in just the right way. In fact, sometimes I am so aware of how lucky I am that it becomes part of my anxiety loop. “I am so lucky, should I even talk about this, am I taking space away from a different conversation about mental health, it’s not as bad as I think it is, I’m overreacting.” I think part of mental illness is being tricked into believing it doesn’t exist. Two hours after an anxiety attack I begin to believe it didn’t happen, because my mood swung up. Suddenly it’s okay if I don’t talk about the intrusive thoughts or the depressive instincts, because maybe they’re not real. I don’t have to scare anyone or burden them with concern for me.
I’m tired of not talking about these things. I’m tired of being intimidated by stigma and shame. My health has depended on my ability to be honest with people I love and trust, but I have omitted parts of my story for a long time out of fear of what other people would think. But every other time I have spoken up about what I have struggled with I have been inundated by people who have said “me too.” So I’m willing to start now.
I have been depressed. I sometimes still am depressed. It’s been 3.5 years since I last hurt myself, and sometimes I still think about it. I am in love with my life and sometimes I am afraid of what will happen if depression descends on my life again. I am trying to teach myself how to live a life of grace and tenderness and dignity. It is hard everyday to allow room for the leftovers in my life. But I can’t ignore them anymore. They are part of me.
*I actually have no experience with this. My friends were nerds.