Why Suicide Is Not My Greatest Fear
On our way to an appointment out of town, my husband and I play a game to pass the time. It’s called “How Well Do You Know Your Spouse?” I read questions from a book while he drives.
“What is my biggest fear?” I ask.
“Easy,” says my husband. The smile he’d had while answering questions about how we met or my hobbies falls away. Instead, he glances in the rearview mirror to make sure our kids were asleep. When he’s certain they can’t hear him, he glances at me. “You’re afraid you’ll kill yourself.”
In the years between marriage and parenthood, I sunk into a deep depression. There was no real reason for it. No trauma or catastrophe set it off. But as the days went by, it was harder to laugh, harder to be hopeful, harder to even leave the apartment.
I pretended I was OK. I told myself I was overtired or overworked or over-stressed. I wasn’t depressed because people with depression had serious problems. They had faced terrible things in their lives. It felt melodramatic of me to give my sadness such a heavy title.
Besides, I didn’t want the stigma of mental illness. My family believed in the value of hard work and soldiering on. But instead of pulling myself up by my bootstraps as I had been taught, I found myself wanting to hang myself with them. I lingered by car tailpipes, breathing deeply. I drove a little too fast on icy mornings. I held my breath underwater until my lungs burned. The day I admired a kitchen knife and thought about slicing my wrists, I realized the nameless despair that plagued me wasn’t going to go away on its own. I couldn’t sleep it off, eat my way through it, or dance it out. By myself, I couldn’t fix it. What was worse, if I didn’t get help pretty soon, I would push myself past fixing.
So I told my husband. He was supportive and terrified, and made me see a psychiatrist. I went on meds. Things got better. I rediscovered hobbies, rekindled dead friendships and remembered how to laugh. I started living again.
Given my history, my husband’s guess makes sense. But he’s wrong. Like everyone else, what scare me are the things I can’t control. I fear the baby choking on a LEGO hidden in the carpet, or a motorist hitting my daughter as she runs across the street.
Because I have chronic depression, one of the things I don’t always have power over is my mood. While I manage to keep it in check most of the time, I’m afraid the soul-sucking gloom I once felt will return. I’m afraid of what it would mean for my children, and of the mother it would turn me into.
But I’m not afraid of suicide.
When the depression got bad and the void reached out to swallow me whole, suicide didn’t feel scary at all. In fact, it felt like the one thing I still had power over. The admission shames me. It seems unnatural, inhuman somehow not to fear death. Yet, when I felt that there was nothing to hope for and no way to change, life seemed infinitely more frightening.
I try to tell my husband this without scaring him. I try to reassure him I’m not planning anything. There are other things I’m scared of that hold me here, like what will happen to him and the children if I’m gone. And as I talk, I realize something. While suicide isn’t my biggest fear, it might well be his.
There’s nothing I can say to remove that fear for him. There are no take-backs or do-overs on the darkest part of my life. The best I can hope for is that my children never have to share his worry. So I take my meds, admit when I’m having a rough day and do the best I can to stay happy and alive. For my husband’s part, he reminds me to refill prescriptions, gives me space when I need it and tells me how much I’m loved.
It’s not a perfect system, but it’s working. One day at a time, we keep the worst of our fears at bay.
Image via Thinkstock.