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The Next Thing I Know, I’m Going Down

JT posted his talk on skepticism and mental illness, and he asked us to tell our own stories as well. I’ve been considering doing so as I’ve seen him and Greta Christina talk about this, but this is the first time he’s asked. So here goes.

I’m suicidal. Not just at the moment, mind you, though we’ll see how things go by the end of the post.

Does it hurt?
Oh, it really doesn’t matter.

I spent much of my teen years in an anxious funk, with less than zero motivation to do anything but escape my world through acting or reading. There were periods then when I was suicidal. The funk lifted for reasons I don’t understand around the start of my senior year of high school. The periods of being suicidal didn’t stop with the depression.

I’m just fine most of the time. The times when I’m affected are brief, generally not more than two or three days. I don’t get a lot of warning, nothing that isn’t easily buried under the normal ebb and flow of emotional life. It might be tied to the migraines, or a certain sort of migraine, since I have (non-painful) migraines pretty frequently. It doesn’t seem to be tied to a particular degree of stress, though some types of stress feed it more than others. Being invisible is extra good for this.

Does it burn?
Oh, I don’t feel a thing.

It takes so little time to go from normal to the self-loathing ball of pain I turn into that it would be funny if it weren’t exactly the opposite. Admittedly, I was trained very early to consider myself worthless. Apparently some kinds of training stick very well. The feeling that the world would be a better place without me is overwhelming, as intense as any other experience I’ve had.

It’s not a lot of fun being a waste of space. It doesn’t help to be surrounded by talented, brilliant people. There’s no envy there, or jealousy, except in knowing that these people don’t go through what I’m going through. There’s a big chunk of despair, because this was all supposed to end when the depression stopped, and it hasn’t, and unless menopause turns out to be more miraculous than anyone has considered promising me, or I have some kind of head injury, it isn’t ever going to.

Does it hurt?
Oh, yeah. It really doesn’t matter.

Asking for help is nearly impossible. One of the down sides of being one of the rational ones is that people don’t really believe me when I’m irrational. They get annoyed that I’m not making sense. They don’t understand why I’m arguing that I really am not worth the oxygen I’m using instead of just taking their word that I am. They try to offer solutions to make me feel more like I’m contributing to the world, which only bolsters the sense that I’m not doing so already.

The alternative is to tell everyone, as I’m doing right now, that this is something that happens sometimes. I’m not sure what that’s supposed to do, except make people treat me as fragile during the majority of the time that I’m perfectly fine. That would make the times when I’m not suicidal much less bearable. This sort of insanity is binary, and it seems to actively resist every effort to make things better.

Does it sting?
Oh, I don’t give a damn.

The good news is that I understand, even then, that this is temporary. I don’t believe it, but I understand it. I know that this is me, but it isn’t all of me. I know that those people around me who are hurting me are trying to help me, even when I can’t convince myself that they care or that there’s a reason they should. I know the pain will end, even if I don’t do anything to make it end.

And I know, having seen the effects of suicide, that ending things would only put an end to my pain. It would be the start of a great deal of pain for the people I care about. They wouldn’t understand why I did it or why nothing they did was able to help. Killing myself to end an experience that is awful but brief doesn’t seem, even then, to stack up to the pain I would cause. I can’t manage the same kind of irrationality about other people that I experience about myself.

So in the end, it is the bits of me that stay rational, stay sane, that keep me alive long enough to want to live again. It is the knowledge that this is not a visitation for anything I’ve done. It’s the understanding that, no, this isn’t fair. It’s the hard facts that trying to make it better will only make it worse in the short-term and that my ability to argue anything is a liability in these times.

This is an ugly situation, but I deal with it in all the ugly facts. And I hang on, because the ugliest fact is that it’s going to happen again. But that means that first it will have to pass, and I won’t feel like this any more.

Comments

  1. Paul says

    Stephanie, I don’t know how you keep those little bits of rationality alive during the suicidal episodes. Whenever I’ve been there I have no such bits, nothing but laziness to keep me from actually acting on the impulse. Mind you, i’m not worried, my meds currently have kept the demons at bay for several years with success. But I am quite intrigued!
    Thank you so much for this thought-provoking post

  2. Dhorvath, OM says

    That sounds very scary and I don’t really know anything about what that is like, but I care about people who do and I wish there was something better I could do when they are down. How does one express concern and support without making things worse? Is that even possible?

  3. says

    Dhorvath, I wouldn’t want to generalize from my experience to anyone else’s. Not about this. I’d suggest asking them directly, sometime when they’re not down. If you haven’t had a chance to do that, offers of hugs are generally good. Not panicking is also generally good.

  4. becca says

    “The feeling that the world would be a better place without me is overwhelming, as intense as any other experience I’ve had.”
    *hugs*
    Oh no! The world is a much, much, much better place for having you in it. At lest, I am pretty sure I am a bit of a better person, and certainly a significantly happier person, for having known you.

    “There’s no envy there, or jealousy, except in knowing that these people don’t go through what I’m going through.”
    Oh but some of them do.
    To me, the worst lie my depression tells isn’t that I’ll never get better, or that I’m a waste of oxygen (the plants tell me that is impossible), or that I’m terribly broken/wrong/flawed/bad. It’s that I’m alone.
    And that is a pernicious lie, because it’s the one that makes it hardest to get help. And because, on a purely rational level, it might be relatively true- we don’t really know what it’s like in anyone else’s head, ever.

    I think as bad as we are at talking about mental illness generally, we’re even worse about talking about some of the atypical forms. Maybe that’s why it can be particularly hard to wrap one’s brain around the suicidal-but-not-depressed… I’ve been there, although rarely without some kind of psychological or biological extenuating circumstance. But enough to know how the very suddenness of it can intensify everything.
    I feel like it’s bad enough to be comfortably standard-level-crazy; you can compensate for that. To be thrust, sometimes almost at random, into crazy and not know it until things are rather far gone- it’s terrifying, and egregiously unfair.

  5. says

    I know much more than I want to how you feel, and much of what you said was like reading a personal history. Not many people know just how painful it is to be treated like glass, but I do.

    Thank you for putting words to your feelings.

  6. DLC says

    I’ve been there before. Hope you continue to manage. the world won’t miss either of us, but our friends and family would. and besides, there are so many interesting and amusing things to do.
    We’re all on that journey toward the blackness. Don’t rush it.
    Oh, and as a friend of mine once said : “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” (it sounds trite, but the self-destructive impulse does eventually end. )

  7. a_reader says

    I get like that too, but not as badly now – hit rock bottom at age 29; that was 15 years ago and now when I feel like that it’s usually hours rather than days. I don’t know how old you are but you might find that you don’t need to wait for menopause… fish oil (the high omega-3 stuff) helped me a lot. Could have been placebo effect.

    I don’t even know you but I’m very glad you’re alive; I love your blog, it’s one of my favourites. I want to read more of your writing. I want you to keep on writing. (Yes, very selfish of me!) The world is definitely a better place for having you in it.

    Why does it seem that it’s the best people that have so much self-doubt?

  8. says

    ::hugs:: Brave you for saying this in public. I hope that you hold on and don’t give in, because there’s no question the world is better with you in it.

  9. lost long ago says

    Most days are ok. The sword is never turned on anyone else save me. Any advice is simply “panic knocking” in its most John Cale sense. I’m fully aware that it’s perceptual, but that doesn’t make it actionable. And it became a subset of self definition so long ago that the concept of addressing it is less than a non-starter. Some things are.

    When you write, you write from somewhere. And while it’s untenable for anyone with less than shared experience, the fear of tampering with the well is greater.

  10. julian says

    They get annoyed that I’m not making sense. They don’t understand why I’m arguing that I really am not worth the oxygen I’m using instead of just taking their word that I am.

    I’ve done (and continue) to do this to my wife. She had one of those trips into self-hate yesterday (probably triggered by her mother) and I almost fond myself slipping into the pattern of being all cavalier and hyper logical about it with her.

    You’re one of my favorite bloggers. Thank you for sharing your experience. Many of us are better for having read it.

  11. april zvan says

    I didn’t know. But I want you to know…I TOTALLY understand because I am there fairly often myself. If ever there’s anything I CAN do for you, feel free to ask. I have big ears and lots of hugs.

  12. Adamo says

    I can’t help but argue that you are worth a hell of a lot more than the oxygen you breathe. If that’s a problem for you, offer me an alternative. If something else helps more, I’ll listen to what it is. If all you need is to have been heard, with the understanding that these are temporary and will safely pass, consider it done. If more is needed, if they might not safely pass, and if you can, speak out.

    I ask that, of course, knowing my own bouts of depression have been easily cured by simple medication changes (either adding or subtracting something), as well as knowing the fact that during them there is just no possibility of reaching out for help. Depression is immobilizing.

  13. anthonyallen says

    Wow. Just, wow.

    I am in tears as I write this. With the exception of pending menopause, you could have plucked this straight out of my brain. What you’ve described is exactly what my life is like.

    Thank you so very much for allowing me to read it, and take some comfort that I’m finally not alone.

    -A-

  14. Karen says

    “Asking for help is nearly impossible. One of the down sides of being one of the rational ones is that people don’t really believe me when I’m irrational. They get annoyed that I’m not making sense.”

    ^This. This is what I have experienced this last month from my friends and family. No one will allow me to be in this much pain. I am just supposed to suck it up and soldier on, and it’s painful and difficult.

  15. says

    …There’s no envy there, or jealousy, except in knowing that these people don’t go through what I’m going through. …

    Are you sure?

    …people don’t really believe me when I’m irrational. ….

    Don’t worry, that is not really true.

    They try to offer solutions to make me feel more like I’m contributing to the world, which only bolsters the sense that I’m not doing so already.

    Yes, understood, exactly. I think that sort of thing only matters, and is only legit, at a personal level. For instance, you do make a positive difference in MY world. I could say what you do in relation to the rest of the world, but I totally get that this is not impressive to you in a positive way (during those times). But I would be very dissapointed if I thought your effect on my world did not matter to you. I’m relying on you to keep that in mind at all times!

    …The good news is that I understand, even then, that this is temporary. I don’t believe it, but I understand it. …in the end, it is the bits of me that stay rational, stay sane, that keep me alive long enough to want to live again…

    The rational self is always hanging around in there somewhere!

    With love, g.. see you friday.

  16. says

    For once I’ve got no smartass comment. I’ve been where you describe too often. The temporariness and having people like you around keeps me from going too deep during those times.

  17. satan augustine says

    Thanks for writing this Stephanie. I can relate to a lot of what you wrote, but especially this:

    And I hang on, because the ugliest fact is that it’s going to happen again.

    I have Dysthymia (chronic “mild” depression) with recurrent Major Depression as well as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. One of the most depressing things about my depression is that it will always return. Even during the brief times when I actually don’t feel depressed at all (part of a day, sometimes a full day or so), I still know that it’s coming back and it is really fucking scary.

    My suicidality is chronic as well, which isn’t to say that I’m constantly thinking about it. I just know, and have for years, that I’d rather not exist. I stay alive for the benefit of others, to spare them the pain of my suicide even though I often feel and believe quite sincerely that I am less than worthless and useless to anyone.

  18. says

    Been there, and don’t want to visit again. Glad to have you around, Stephanie, along with the many others who have come through such experiences a bit scarred, but still beautiful.

  19. fort nerd says

    Hi Stephanie! You’ll probably never meet me, because I live in Poland. But I’ve been reading FTB ever since its beginning (and ScienceBlogs before that) and it has enriched and expanded my mind over the years, and you are a big part of that. You are part of the lot of people who all collectively gave me something invaluable, and I have nothing to give in return except a measly “thank you”.

    So, thank you.

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