Yesterday, in my own community here in Lake Mary, Florida, not even a mile from me, a 14 year-old boy in our middle school went into a bathroom stall and shot himself to death. With the recent death of Robin Williams and the suicide deaths of so many whose parents and siblings I have worked with over the years, there is a great need to truly understand how depression wreaks havoc on an individual’s ability to reason.
Nothing comforts me more than when another writer has the guts to truly put it all out there. I have done this many times on my blog, telling the good, bad and ugly of the aftermath of death and, while it’s difficult to read and comprehend that humans feel and live through such crisis, it is very, very real and very honest and should never be taken lightly, either by family, friends and especially business colleagues, who are usually so busy they dismiss many emotions.
I know how difficult it is for those who love you to grieve a death by suicide. There are countless questions, self-blame, years of trying to recover, if it’s even possible, and the guilt, shame and anger. If you are even considering this and find yourself in a deep depression either because you yourself are now grieving the death of a loved one, or you are dealing with what seems like insurmountable challenges, please read Therese’s work below.
If you need to speak with someone, please go to “Crisis Connections.” Click on there for help in your area. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed. You can remain anonymous. Let someone listen. You deserve to be heard.
Below is Therese’s article, which I’m grateful to share with you.
What Suicidal Depression Feels Like
By Therese Borchard
I don’t know if you have noticed, but ever since Robin Williams died, I have removed the filter from my writing that keeps me safe from jaw-dropping, disappointing head gestures, and all kinds of judgments that authentic writing invites. I just really don’t care anymore what people think because lives are at stake. If this brutal beast of an illness is strong enough to kill someone with the passion, determination, and genius of Robin Williams, then we must do everything we can to protect those who are more fragile. That means being brave and writing as honestly as I can on a taboo subject so few people understand, even if it means getting disapproving stares from other parents at my kids’ school.
When I first heard about Robin’s death, my first reaction was this: “The poor guy sneezed.”
I know that probably doesn’t make sense to anyone who has never experienced severe depression. But if I can, let me try to translate the urgency to take one’s life into language you might grasp. Suicidal depression is like having to sneeze. The impulse can be so strong, that you simply follow your body’s command without thinking too much of it. You don’t think about your family or the reasons not to do it. All you’re feeling is an incredible itch to sneeze, and you’re certain that anything short of sneezing wouldn’t relieve you of the sensation.
American novelist David Foster Wallace gives us a better analogy:
“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness‘ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e., the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”
I was talking about suicide with my mom the other day. Her younger sister (my aunt and godmother), at age 43, took her life.
“I was never sad when she died,” my mom said, “because I saw the torment she was experiencing throughout so much of her life. If anything, I was happy that she was, at last, free.”
I recently attended a funeral of the wife of my former running partner. (He was 85, which gives you some indication of how slow I run.) I had a difficult time with it, but not for the reasons you would suspect.
I wasn’t sad that she had died.
I was sad that I hadn’t died.
I was jealous of her, the one in the casket, who had lived a full and beautiful life and could now rest. That, then, brought to surface feelings of shame for having those thoughts. Before too long, I was crying — from all the self-bashing and in longing to be on the other side. But a funeral is a perfect place to break down.
I was disturbed by my thoughts because they are so opposite of what is presented in pop culture. When I confided in my online depression support group, I learned many of them had the same thoughts, sometimes elicited at funerals. I was consoled, especially, by what my friend Melissa wrote:
“In your words, I see the acceptance of death … this imaginary foe we are taught to fight. We hide the signs of aging. We wear sunscreen in our 20s to prevent wrinkles years down the line. We play computer games to increase neuroplasticity. All in this vain and futile attempt to delay the inevitable.
Some day we all will die.
And that fear of death that ironically propels most to live does not serve the same function for those with mood disorder plus suicidal ideation.
And because of that, we have to find something to live for. That we enjoy. That we can sit with and be present in that very moment. Peach nectar sweet and sticky on fingers. The purple ember in a bonfire. The nuzzle of a furry friend. The words that show acknowledgement and being heard.
Because we accept death and at times welcome it, or live with thoughts of death as a comfort, we have the unique ability to hold steadfastly to a moment, study it, replay it, before letting it go.”
It’s so true. People who are depressed don’t fear death, and because of that we have to be proactive in compiling reasons to stick around, especially when we are hit with the urge to sneeze.
I know that this statement will make absolutely no sense to someone who has never been depressed but I am going to say it anyway and risk feeling uncomfortable when I run into someone here who has read this blog: The most difficult thing I will ever do in my lifetime is to not take my life.
I have swam across the Chesapeake Bay, given a talk to 3,500 people, and stayed sober for 25 years. None of that is as hard as making a decision to stay alive, feeling that overpowering desire to sneeze, and not giving in to it.
Therese J. Borchard is the author of Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes and The Pocket Therapist: An Emotional Survival Guide. She is Associate Editor at Psych Central, where she contributes to the award-winning blog, World of Psychology. She also writes for other media outlets such as The Huffington Post and PBS/This Emotional Life. For seven years, Therese penned the popular blog, Beyond Blue, on Beliefnet.com and moderated an online depression support group of over 2,000 people.
Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, USA Today, Guideposts, O magazine, Psychology Today, Parenting, and the Washington Post, as well as on Time.com, CNN.com, Fox-News.com, and Yahoo! She is the editor of The Imperfect Mom: Candid Confessions of Mothers Living in the Real World and co-editor, with Michael Leach, of the national bestseller, I Like Being Catholic.
Therese has appeared on national television programs such as “Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher” and “Fox & Friends,” and is a regular guest on radio programs throughout the country. She can be found at www.thereseborchard.com/
Do share your thoughts below or on her site.
With the recent news of the beheading of two American journalists, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that, just like 13 years ago, we are still fighting a group of terrorists who are intent on killing Americans and cowardly hide behind scarves and rags to hide their identity.
I remember when Christians were being slaughtered in the Sudan because they wouldn’t convert to Islam. Our government did little to help until it got so serious a handful in Congress finally shouted loudly enough.
Over the last 13 years, radical muslims in and out of our Country have increased their intent to kill Americans and fly their flag on our White House. They are demanding Sharia law in our courts and expect us to reconfigure our lives around their wishes. Nonsense. Read more…
And while there are happy days I can recall, like when I completed both my degrees, when I was given wonderful awards for my work, when my books were published, there are several difficult days that I’ve lived that caused me and those I’ve loved great trauma.
One was the death of my beloved grandmother, who lived, almost exclusively, a healthy life till her death at 93. She was my anchor when life handed me difficult times while growing up.
Another was my little dog, Daisy, who brought me so much joy every day for almost 13 years. My constant companion, she was always there to snuggle with when I needed her most.
But there was one particular day that, when I look back on my life, shaped and changed who I was and, even though I had helped so many in my life before who had struggled with bereavement, it was her death that catapulted me into leading support groups, writing books, speaking, and starting a national foundation for grieving children.
A 10 year old who came into my life when I met her father. Her older brother was then 13 and younger just 9.
I remember her bubbly personality, her courage to ask me those most pressing questions you’d never think would come out of the mouth of such a young lady. But I answered every one and she went away satisfied.
I specifically remember how much she loved shopping together. How she couldn’t choose between the pink or blue cotton candy.
Or the last holiday she and her younger brother spent with us. It was Easter, 1984 and I made a special dinner for us.
At one point after dinner we took a long walk together. I wanted to purchase film that day to take a few pictures but we didn’t pick it up. And that moment was lost to me forever.
And what followed were 18 years of an unsolved murder.
It took until 2002 to have enough evidence to charge the initial suspect and another two years to go to trial.
We endured a six-week emotional rollercoaster from the time they began picking a jury for her 20 year old murder, to the time he was convicted.
I often wonder what life would have been like if she were still here with us. Would she have been in my bridal party when her father and I married?
Would she have studied for a college degree? And what career might she have chosen?
Would she have married and had children? How many would she have had and what would they have looked like?
But today, I guess there is a part of me that, as my stepson texted me today, which says “I can’t believe it’s been 30 years.”
And he is so right.
Rest in Peace, Angela. You were with us for far too short a time, but the impact you had on our lives, both in life and death, will remain forever.
And while I’m so amazed at what it takes to be in the military and fight overseas with the constant threat of being killed, if they’re in a combat situation, I feel it’s also important to recognize the sacrifices a family makes throughout the entire tour.
A spouse who is left to raise a young family by themselves perhaps on a military base. The inadequate stipend they are given to raise that family. The increased level of responsibility they must endure.
And if their beloved is killed, they are left to raise that family alone.
Today I salute not only the veterans and remember all those who were killed to secure our freedoms, but for all the family members who are or have grieved a military family member’s death and the difficult road to recovery on an emotional as well as financial level.
I salute you!
When Mother’s Day swings around I usually have mixed emotions.
I’m grateful that my own mother is still with me, along with the other ‘mothers’ I have the privilege to still enjoy…my Aunt, my Godmother, and my friend Jeanne, all who really ‘get’ me since I’m anything but conventional in my thinking.
But my heart is with women, today, who are reminded that ‘motherhood’ hasn’t worked out quite as they’d expect. And I’ve met many who have had these experiences; some have had a few.
Like the lady who has lost a child, something she never anticipated. Perhaps her only child or all her children have died. The one who never knew her mother because her mother died before she was old enough to meet and enjoy her.
Or the woman who never had the honor to even becoming pregnant for a whole host of reasons. And the one who is still able to bear children but can’t keep a pregnancy.
We look at loss in many different ways; we see things others don’t see on these types of occasions. We don’t bring it up in conversation, instead we simply let it remain buried deep inside where a lot of that pain still sits.
My mother has graciously gotten to the point where she’ll wish me a Happy Mother’s Day with the caveat, ‘because you are a mother to many’ which is her way of soothing that wound and I’m at a place where I might well up with a tear or two but at least it’s not the piercing pain that I once had years ago.
Sometimes it’s not an actual loss of a mother, for some, that is difficult to grieve. It can also be what hasn’t occurred that can sting on a day like today.