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I couldn’t remember when I was here last, staring up at the ceiling, waiting, as the walls of the room closed in. My wife went to work hours ago and here I was, still in the same spot she left me. I could barely breathe, but that wasn’t a big deal to me. I didn’t want to take another breathe anyway.
“Was it three days? Four? How much time?”
I continued to wonder how long the current haze of sorrow had been here, covering everything around me. I was more curious than anything. At this point in my illness, I spend just as much time analyzing the attacks as I spend succumbing to the beating.
I knew it was, at least, three days this time, maybe even longer. Did it matter? No, it didn’t. At this point, I was glued to the couch crying, and it had been at least 4 hours since I last made a move. What was the point?
When depression sets in, and it’s there to stay for a while, it starts slow. The smoke gently creeps through the cracks of the door. When you’ve been dealing with this for as long as I have, you can see it approaching a lot of the time. You can smell the black smoke start to enter the room. You know what’s coming but each time, maybe because you’re optimistic, perhaps because you’re naive, you think this time could be different. But it isn’t.
A couple of days go by, and the smoke starts to get thicker. You still go about your day, trying to do the things you want to do. It gets hard to see things clearly. Your emotions become raw, more sensitive to everything. Your senses are all on high alert and waiting for anything to screw with you.
Another day goes by, more smoke. It’s thicker now; you can’t taste anything but the nasty soot in the air that your depression leaves. Still, you think you can make it a little further.
“This time, it won’t be as bad, “ you think to yourself.
Then, the day finally arrives. The smoke has now filled the room. All you see is darkness. All you smell is that familiar smoke. All you taste is the polluted air.
“It’s too late,” you cry to yourself. You’re trapped.
At this point, I clear my schedule. Meetings, projects, responsibilities, those are all for people who can breathe.
I’m fortunate that my partners are empathetic to my situation. When my depression consumes me, they don’t hold it against me for calling in sick. That’s a real blessing because someone with this level of depression doesn’t need any additional guilt in their head. I’m grateful for my work situation and recognize that it’s rare for people in my condition.
With nothing of substantial pressure left, I laid there for hours, waiting out the smoke and praying for it to dissipate. My hands were now sore from the hours of trembling and the nervous twitch they get when things are bad. My fingers still tingling from clenching my fists, my knuckles still reeling from the punches I threw into the wall.
More smoke. Nothing but smoke.
Thankfully, my suicidal thoughts are trending toward occasional, a sign that I’m on the mend. But, this week was a bad one. An ‘old school’ suicidal week.
I’m not sure what suicidal thoughts are like for other people. For many reasons, that I’m sure you can guess, there’s not a lot of conversation about suicide. But talking about it is how we break the stigma and remind others they aren’t alone.
My suicidal thoughts have become a sort of conversation between the two different people inside of me. The depressed, anxious, and angry person inside of me just wants to die. He just wants to kill us all so this pain can finally be over. He sees no good in the world and no longer wishes to be part of it. The other person, the real me, knows suicide is an, even more, painful solution. He knows it isn’t the answer.
So, when the smoke fills the room, and I can’t see or breathe anything but despair, that’s when the conversations start, the debate between the real me and the broken me. It’s an exhausting and heated disagreement between one person that still sees a road to walk and still sees a purpose for his life, who still loves his friends and family, and then this other darker soul that only wants the pain to end.
I’ll lay there for hours at a time (as opposed to days, if I’m lucky), tossing and turning, crying, clenching, shaking all trying to fight the smoke in the room, and the argument in my brain. Imagine the nightmare scenes in movies, where the character trembles in the bed with a cold sweat. That scene is similar to how a mild attack looks for me. If it’s a bad one, like this week was, well it’s a lot darker.
The bad guy inside me has a plan. If I’m honest with myself, he’s got a few. He doesn’t think this will ever end well. He thinks he’s ready to finish it. Every passing car, every knife in the kitchen, every pill in the cabinet, all opportunities. They’re all an eject button for him. A chance to make a clean break from this horrible world and the pain it inflicts. So, at every turn, he reminds me of this. He shows me opportunities, gives me choices to make that I never asked to consider.
“Go home,” he cries. “Let’s get out of here.”
Whenever a thought, an opportunity to end it, enters my brain, I quickly try to dismiss the vision. I don’t want it to sit there and marinate for too long.
The real me tries to chime in. He reminds me that it isn’t a clean break. He reminds me that killing myself only disperses my pain among the people still here who care about me. He recalls the lessons I’ve learned throughout this battle; he tries to shine a light through the smoke and darkness.
I wouldn’t say it’s a futile attempt, but it certainly isn’t an easy debate for the real me to take on. Bad Me has some solid points. I can’t say that I disagree with all of them.
The real me will then speak up and point out my purpose in life. He shows me the people who care about me, the ambitions I have. He reminds me that suicide is saying no to all the things in my life that I desperately want to come true. I don’t know if my dreams will come true, but I know that, if I kill myself, there’s no way they’re ever happening.
So for days I lay there, listening as these two seasoned warriors collide on the battlefield of my brain fighting for control of my body, my future, my life. The arguments are bloody, and they spare no punches. Why would they? The bad me is fighting to get out, fighting to be free from this pain. The real me is fighting for our life, our family and friends, and even more. There’s a lot on the line in this battle
So with all this going on inside someone struggling with depression is it any surprise that they sometimes can’t muster up the energy to pick up the phone and talk like a ‘normal’ person? Should it be a shock when they don’t have any energy left to eat? How can they possibly have the strength to work? Sometimes all they can do is sleep because this battle is going on furiously every minute without stopping. Who has the energy for anything else?
Even through all of this, I still knew that there were some things I could do that would help steer me out of the smoke and eventually put a pause on the battle inside my brain.
My wife had already been in contact with each Thunder Buddy and other prayer warriors. She let them know that it was a bad one this week and that we needed everything they had. The people in my professional life, who know, received notifications. It said things were bad and not to expect any replies from me for awhile. I already mentioned earlier that I cleared the calendar. If you need to picture what it was like, picture me boarding up the windows and bracing for the smoke that was already starting to come in.
Throughout the week, I still tried to do the positive things in my life that would eventually pay off. In between the hours in bed and on the couch, crying and convulsing, I would return to my lists of positive things I can do. I would start to work the lists and try and do positive things despite all this crap.
I also kept going. It’s easy to quit everything and you may look at me clearing my calendar and calling in sick one day as quitting but it wasn’t. It was part of the process. I still woke up at my usual time all week. I didn’t let my depression alter things too much. Every night, I went to bed scared of the next morning, but I greeted every day with the attitude that I would, at least, try to make it a good day.
So each day still had a to-do list, I still had things I needed to accomplish despite my illness. Did I get all of them done? Of course not. But that wasn’t the point. The point is to keep going through the motions, the steps that create positive results in your life no matter what.
I still woke up every morning and tried. A half-hour in, I may be back to suicidal, but I, at least, woke up, greeted the day and tried. You have to try at least. Make an attempt.
When it’s a bad one and my wife still has to go to work, she leaves me with this advice, ‘Try to make it a good day.’ We both know some days it works and some days it doesn’t but when she says that, it’s a reminder to try still. It reminds me to continue through my list and attempt to do the things that the real me wants to get done.
My old school suicidal week was a nightmare, but I got through it. Even now, looking back, it’s hard to share this because I don’t feel this way anymore. Right now I’m not suicidal and the real me is enjoying a bigger spot in my brain. It does get better, and that’s why you have to keep fighting.
I can tell that I’m getting stronger because I’m still able to accomplish some of the important things in my life. Despite being suicidal and succumbing to the dark smoke of my illness, that week I still didn’t miss a single workout. I ran every mile I committed to running. Before I would lose my workouts, eat horribly, and return from my time off further behind than when the depression showed up. That doesn’t happen much anymore.
Depression stalled out my week, but I kept doing the important things that ensured the smoke wouldn’t last too long. I don’t know when it will return, but I’m more confident that I can get through it because I proved to myself that, by working my program when things get bad, I can get through it with my life still pretty much intact.