Suicide and depression never seem to be far from the news bulletins these days. This year more than 6000 suicides have been recorded in the U.K. and ROI collectively. But suicide itself isn't an isolated event as a general rule; it is most often the culmination of a gruelling battle with declining or fluctuating mental health, which is arguably less well-documented than the devastating final act.
Here's the thing about depression: it's not YOU. Depression is selfish, inherently so. It doesn't care about your family or your friends. It certainly doesn't care about you. It's the weight dragging you down every day. It's the sense of failure in everything you do. It's the feeling of panic sitting on your chest as you think to yourself, "I just can't do this anymore". It has no type, no preference and no agenda except to leave you with a pervading sense that there is nothing left worth staying for, or that everyone around you would be better off without you. It will take you to the edge over and over again and leave you standing there, trembling, as you stare into that gaping maw. And it won't give a shit if you fall. It will rage against every small victory, whispering into your beleaguered mind, "But what about tomorrow?" It will keep you up through the night and try to pin you down in your bed when morning comes. Some days, you will let it. Some days, the Herculean effort required to pull yourself from that pit just won't be worth it. But everybody else? They might think that it is you being selfish and not your depression, simply because one belongs to the other, although which of you has ownership of the other at any given point is debatable.
Recent high profile suicides such as those of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington have once again thrust depression into social consciousness. Scathing comments about how those men could be so selfish as to leave behind their children have highlighted how misunderstood an illness depression is, even now. Even as huge efforts are being made to de-stigmatise the condition, this rhetoric remains common. There is little consideration given to the path that leads to the end result and too much emphasis upon that end result itself.
Consider, for example, what it must take to arrive at the conclusion that you are better off dead. Imagine how catastrophic the thoughts must be, how the fear of living must outgrow the fear of dying. How long does a person have to battle before their personal war becomes insurmountable? And if they had reached out, if you had known what was coming, would you have been there? Or would you have sighed, rolled your eyes and told them to "man up"? How many times have you accused a family member or friend of being dramatic over a seemingly minor thing, without considering that that minor thing might be just one component in a long list of things that have left that person flailing in the dark with nothing to hold onto?
I'm not accusing you of being insensitive, nor am I trying to express the very particular path of your journey through this illness. These are my experiences of my own mental health battles. The fact that I ascribe depression an identity of its own is how I live with – and outside of – it; how I remind myself that who I am when I am struggling and who I am the rest of the time are not the same person. And those are the times when depression takes ownership of me, rather than the other way around. Sometimes it's a temporary dip, a short period of low mood and internalised catastrophising. Other times, bad days bleed into bad months. Depression does not conform to a specific formula; it is nuanced, which is probably why treating it is so difficult. But for me, my lock-ins with this so-called black dog are almost always triggered by a series of small events, stacking up on one another like tumbling dominoes. Dominoes which must all be picked up and set right before I can go on again as normal.
I'll stand on that lonely cliff edge again. I'll look down into that angry, churning water and I'll force myself to back away. I'll talk. Cry. Scream. Do anything not to let it take me over. I'll hold my children tight and remember my promise to them. I'll allow the people I love to reach out and accept their efforts and their comfort. I won't let this crouching thing inside of me take me away from myself.
But does this personal determination mean that I don't understand how it must feel to finally grow tired of the fight?
No. And honestly? We should all try a little harder to find our empathy sometimes.