To the Commenter With Strong Opinions About Depression
About a week ago, I was enjoying a well-written article on how silence will not solve our nation’s suicide problem. And it was in the comments section where I met you, my friend. You had some pretty strong words for the depressed and suicidal. You used phrases like “wishy-washy crap.”
Scoffing at the suggestion that talking openly about depression could do any significant good, you instructed the depressed to take a firm stand against these feelings and fight for their lives.
You got under my skin.
I’m not going to direct a post at you laced with synonyms for the word ignorant or shower you with insults. There’s too much of that spewed all over the internet these days and it does nothing but make me feel terrible.
You might be a really nice person. And kindness always matters. Even on the internet.
I’m going to talk to you as if you’re my friend. I don’t know if we’ll get anywhere, but I hope we do.
It’s especially easy for me to talk to you on this matter because I once took a similar stance as you on the topic of mental illness. One day in a college class, the topic of depression came up. I raised my hand and commented that if those who came before us could weather starting over in a new country with nothing, then surely we could “get over” depression as we sit in our comfortable, air-conditioned cars and houses.
My words were bold but unfeeling. They were the words of a person who had not been there. And so, my friend, are yours. If you had, you wouldn’t say the things you do.
It should work just as you said it should. You should be able to seize control of the situation with your willpower and fight your way through triumphantly. But it doesn’t. Had you been there, you would understand how depression hijacks and disables your willpower. How it robs you of your sense of self. You think in terms of who you were and who you are now as two separate people. You hate the one for affecting the other.
I didn’t know the meaning of the phrase, “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy,” until I experienced a severe bout with depression. That’s why I won’t tell you to go to hell, my friend. (We aren’t enemies anyway.) But I’ve considered how a quick trip there could help you understand. You’ve heard of lakes of fire and brimstone? My severely depressed mind continually ran tours there daily. Black pavement roasting in the heat is to the feet what intense mental anguish is to the brain.
In this condition, had someone handed me a contract to sign away my arms and legs to have my sanity back, I would’ve taken it. A severely depressed mind hopes for the kinds of things only a person in another dimension would think about. Because that’s where you are.
I was a 20-year-old girl with so much hope in the future that I bounced out of bed every morning until I was slammed with an unexpected bout of depression. After that, considering what the next day held caused me to shudder, forget the next year. My future had become a portrait of darkness.
“I am worthless,” I told one trusted family figure. “Some days I never even get out of bed.” And he went on to tell me about the times he would come home to find his wife curled up in a ball just where he left her.
And I will never, ever forget the day my doctor told me during his personal bout with depression a number of years earlier, he had a suicide plan. He knew what it was like down there. His words told me so. And he’d gotten out. For the first time, I felt real hope.
The article was right, my friend. Depression insidiously reigns over the minds and the hearts of so many because they are afraid to bring it out in the open. But oh, how I can attest to this: each time you talk about it, its grip loosens ever so slightly.
If you ever visit the place we’ve discussed, I’ll know. I’ll hear it in your words. If we ever chance to meet, I’ll see it in your eyes.
But should you never go there — and that’s what I earnestly hope — may you be someone people experiencing depression can trust to listen and then encourage.
In so doing, you could save a life.
A version of this post originally appeared on More Precious Than Gold.
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