As a child, I experienced a friend die of leukemia. Shortly, after, his mother committed suicide. I heard the gunshot. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she had been in a state of depression. It’s a wonder–because depression doesn’t just “happen” to people. It is something that builds up, something that ebbs and flows, something that, if left unchecked, can take you over the edge. We have recently seen an example of this with Robin Williams. While he often talked about his battle with depression, who would ever have believed he would commit suicide? We loved him too much –right?
I read that “In the United States, someone commits suicide every seventeen minutes, accounting for an astonishing thirty-three thousand deaths per year. It is estimate that a majority of these people were suffering from some form of depression at the time of death.” (Aaron Kheriaty, MD, The Catholic Guide to Depression.) Suicidal ideation has been present in all my depressions. In the earlier depressions, I think my suicidal ideation was more about fear. I was afraid of having these terrible thoughts and I resisted those thoughts rather than accept them. Having these thoughts was a pretty effective way of dealing with anxiety. As one psychologist mentioned, those who are obsessive compulsive sometimes use these thoughts as pretty effective way to “stay in the head.” By “staying in one’s head,” it is a way to avoid dealing with the real issues associated with what I was afraid of.
In my later depressions, I actually thought about suicide as being a viable option because I was so tired of being depressed. When you cross over from being afraid of these thoughts to, actually, seriously considering suicide as an acceptable option, that is where the “edge” is. For those who have suididal inclinations, depression is not about being week. I wonder if those who have not experienced such inclinations may be the weak ones, while those who have may in fact be amont the strongest and most thoughtful. Suicidal ideation is serious business.
People do not want to talk to you when your mind is engulfed in depression. Essentially, I did not have anything else going on. It was all I knew. It Controlled my life. Therefore, it was easier to just isolate myself. While I went to group therapy sessions, I was not there. I was empty. When it got especially bad, I remember going to the crisis intervention center a few times. It was always the same tune and the same questions. From there, I would go home with a prescription. Somehow, and by the grace of God, I was able to maintain and actually thrive at work. In fact, that might have been the only thing that helped me to maintain my sanity. Being strong is a conscious and mindful choice. When I started thinking that suicide was something that took guts and this was my only option, my therapist had me checked in.
My experiences with depression and suicide were very scary and concerned those that were close to me. I felt there was something missing, perhaps a lot of things. That led to my feelings of hopelessness for which I felt there were no options. I was not thinking clearly, but talking with others was indeed helpful in that I realized that I was not alone. When I did not get what I wanted –love and/or attention — I think that sometimes drove some of these outrageous thoughts and behave in rather outrageous ways.
It was even more terrifying when the antidepressant I was taking did not work and the psychiatrist would have to change to another. I always had this notion that there was an arsenal of drugs and cocktails available, and if one thing did not work than another would. Frankly, there are no “silver bullets.” Over the course of my depressions, I have literally lost count of how many different antidepressants or combinations of antidepressants I have tried. And it was very frustrating for both the psychiatrist and myself. Because one psychiatrist thought I had a very high suicide potential, he put me on regimen of Lithium. Ironically, lithium is just a salt but, for whatever reason, it may be the most effective chemical treatment for individuals with depression and suicidal ideation. I just thank God that I have found other ways which does not necessarily involve chemicals.
But what I like is what Henri Nouwen wrote in his book, The Wounded Healer: “Thousands of people commit suicide because there is nobody waiting for them tomorrow. There is no reason to live if there is nobody to live for. But when someone says to a fellow human being, “I will not let you go. I am going to be here tomorrow waiting for you and I expect you not disappoint me,” then tomorrow is no longer an endless dark tunnel. It becomes flesh and blood in the form of the brother or sister who is waiting and for whom the patient wast to give life one more chance.”