This week’s post is by Christine O’Hagan, a mom, a runner and an executive with an MBA in business. “I would like to do more for depression and suicide awareness now, but it was just a matter of ‘coming out,’” she writes.
First, the news:
Let’s coin it: “Realcovery.” A remarkable number of first-person stories emerged last week for National Suicide Prevention Week. Much-needed stories like these ought to be called “realcovery,” since they feature real, identifiable people talking openly about coming back from, or learning to deal with, suicidal feelings. Last week’s stories include this one by an attorney and activist, this one about a peer specialist, this one about an Army National Guardsman, this one by a personal grief coach and these special collections of numerous stories from To Write Love on Her Arms, Active Minds and Live Through This.
“When I’m ‘in it,’ no matter how many people tell me ‘this will pass,’ I never believe it,” Cameron Mack wrote for Active Minds. “But there’s a piece of me willing to hang on.”
“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
~ C.S. Lewis
One subject always bouncing around in my head when I was suicidal, more so than the pain of depression and the tiredness of life, was the loved ones I would be leaving behind. I knew that no matter how terrible a person I knew myself to be, and although I was sure everyone was going to be better off without me, they would be sad and they would wonder why I chose to go.
In hearing about those who chose suicide both before and since my own attempt in November 2012, the expressions are always the same: “How selfish of them to do this.” “They had so much to live for.” “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” “Why didn’t they think of the children/their parents/ their husband/wife?” “Why?”
Before my own attempt, I would raise my voice in agreement. “Yes, how selfish! How could they? I am so angry!” In fact, I had been fighting my own urges to do the same for years. But I felt somewhat superior because, so far, I had managed to avoid acting on it. So I was NOT selfish. Or, at least, I hadn’t been caught.
Since my attempt, and even during my attempt, I have thought about the people who love me and how things would be for them after my life was over. In my extreme depression and pain, I felt that I could not be a good mother, daughter, employee or friend, and this was the kindest thing I could do. I felt they would be grateful for being relieved of having to deal with a person like myself. My kids would be left with my life insurance and would be taken care of through college. My parents were already burdened with my sister, who has asked so much of them with her disabilities. I couldn’t heap anything else on them.
My favorite time of day was bedtime, but in order to get there, I had to shower. That was my least favorite part of the day because I was exposed to what I had done to myself. The bruises on my neck were still faint, and the wounds on my arms were unavoidable. Until the stitches were removed, I still felt bound to that horrible day. I was becoming more aware of my condition. That it was not normal to feel this way.
My mother and father would ask me questions, trying to understand how I was feeling. I was more than willing to answer anything they asked because I was expecting anger and even anticipating that they would disown me. They gave me complete support and love instead, and that is what ultimately helped me heal so well. I could not have gotten to where I am now without everything they have done for me. They have never, not once, made me feel guilty for what I did. I guess they understand I do a good enough job of that by myself.
My father asked me one morning, as I shuffled around getting the girls’ breakfast and school lunches ready, “Is this hard for you, getting up and doing the morning routine?” I said, “It’s not hard, Dad. It just hurts. Everything hurts. It’s so hard to explain depression. It’s like I have a scuba suit on and I’m at the bottom of the ocean, where it’s dark and there’s all this pressure, and I’m doing everything I am supposed to do at the bottom of the ocean in this scuba suit as fast as I can, but I’m frustrated because it’s difficult and exhausting to even move.” My dad looked at me and said, “I just don’t understand, I guess. I wake up happy every day.” And I said, “Dad, I don’t know that I understand what it feels like to be happy.” He just kind of looked at me like he didn’t understand how that could be possible.
I do know love, though. I remember being small and lying in bed at night, crying, because I loved my parents so much and was afraid they didn’t know how much I loved them. I love my children, without a doubt. I worry about how everything I do and have done affects them. My main motivation for getting well and staying well is them. I suppose saying that I would step in front of a train for them doesn’t have as much weight as if other mothers said it, but how about saying that I would live a long life and die a normal, natural death for them? That, I am working for. And I won’t give that up again.
Two people I know have taken their lives since my attempt. For now, when I hear someone say that they were selfish, I feel compelled to say that they weren’t feeling selfish when they made that choice. They were in more pain than they could bear. They most likely had a mental condition that wouldn’t allow them to see outside of that pain. And I want to tell the ones they left behind, as I want to assure my parents and children, that it WAS NOT your fault this happened. You didn’t miss something. There wasn’t something you could have said or done to make it better, any more than you can cure someone’s cancer.
To those out there like me who are hurting, I understand the pain. I know the cliches you hear from well-meaning friends aren’t making it better. And I know I felt like no one would ever really love me or understand me again, but they did. I know I will be sad again, but it is okay. I know now how to ask for help, and it doesn’t make me weak. You are not weak either. You, too, will be okay.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.