The Unbearable Darkness of Being

Today, over at Balloon Juice, Cole posted about a commenter who had recently killed herself shortly after her beloved killed himself.  I think her commenting tapered off before I started frequenting the site because her name only vaguely rings a bell.

The reason I am blogging about this is because her last note (on one of the FB Memorial pages) really struck a chord with me.  She talked about how she supposedly had all these things going for her and how it wasn’t enough (I’m paraphrasing).  Her explicit reason (wanting marriage and children more than anything, and feeling she would never find it as she was thirty-four) is not mine, but the similarities between our thinking made me uncomfortable.

I was seven when I realized I would die.  It scared the shit out of me when I thought about not existing for the rest of eternity.  I would jump out of bed, scream, and run around my room because I couldn’t handle the idea.   But, I had a rough childhood.

I first thought about killing myself when I was eleven.  It was frequently on my mind.  When I went into a deep depression for fifteen years (22-37), I thought about it every day of my life.  I thought about the different ways I could do it.  I thought about what letters I would write and to whom, trying to explain my reasons for killing myself.

You know why I didn’t do it?

1) Inertia.  As anyone who has suffered a deep depression knows, sometimes it takes all one’s energy just to drag your ass out of bed (hours later than planned).  I didn’t have the goddamn energy to kill myself.

2) Pessimism.  Life sucked.  Who said whatever is on the other side will suck less?  No one.  And, because I am pessimistic in many ways, I thought that the other side would be worse than this side.

3) My loved ones.  I live alone.  If I killed myself, it might not be noticed for days (though I have a heavy internet presence).  The idea that one of my friends or my brother would find my body made my blood run cold.  In addition, after I got my boys, I realized that if I killed myself, their whole lives would be disrupted.  Sure, I had friends who would give them a good home, but they got it pretty cushy here.  It would seriously disturb them if I were to kill myself.

In addition, something my best friend said to me while I was in the deepest of the abyss really stuck with me.  She said, “Look, if you’re really determined to kill yourself, take a year and do all the things you want to do.  Travel the world.  Enjoy yourself.  Then, if you still want to kill yourself–do it.  If you’re going to go out, go out with a bang.”

What she said made sense.  I was so trapped in my narrow, cramped, tiny space of hell, I couldn’t acknowledge how much sense she made–but I kept it in mind.  One of my strengths is that even if I dismiss an idea right away, I will think about it later.  She gave me this advice a decade ago, and I’ve held onto it every since.

Here is something people who don’t suffer from depression may not know:  the thought of suicide provides a safety net that enables someone with depression to keep on living.  I know it sounds like an oxymoron, but many days I told myself that I could just kill myself if things got too bad.   That actually gave me enough impetus to tolerate one more day.

When I read the note by the woman who committed suicide in the link above, I had mixed emotions.  I wanted to shake her and say, “Did you read what you just wrote?!?!”  She had this logical rationale for killing herself–except, it was all based on faulty thinking.   I was mad at her.  I realize it’s partially because I was seeing a part of myself that I didn’t like.  I have written suicide notes.  I have tried to explain why I would do such a thing.  And, while the reasons made sense to me, I knew there was no way it would be understood by anyone else.  “It’s not you.  It’s me.  There’s nothing you could have done to help me.”  This is all true, but the underlying message still is, “My pain is so unbearable, I will do anything to stop it.  Nothing is worth living for–not even you.”  Granted, this thought is not what is driving someone who’s suicidal, but it’s how the action is inevitably perceived.

There is no logic to suicide, though.  It really is about stopping the unending pain that torments you from day to day–at least, that’s what it was about for me.  Some days, all I could think about was how much everything fucking hurt.  And, if it weren’t for the stated reasons above, I would have gladly done anything to stop the pain.   I didn’t value my life, and I didn’t see why it had any value to anyone else, either.   One of the ramifications of my childhood was that I was convinced that I had to earn the right to live, and I fell further behind every day.  When I was the deepest in the abyss, I firmly believed there was no way I could earn my right to live.

When I was depressed, the world was bleak and gray.  Literally.  Colors were muted, and everything was just–oppressive around me.  It’s hard to think about those times because they weren’t that long ago.  And, last year when I went to Taiwan, I was thisclose to jumping into the Taroko Gorge or walking into the ocean, just like Virginia Woolf.  A friend asked me why I didn’t.  I said because my niece was there, and I didn’t want her to have to live with that image.  And, because as noted above, I wasn’t sure the other side would be any better.

Fast-forward to now.  For the first time in my life, I can say I don’t want to die.  Let me pause, marvel over that statement for a minute and say it again, I can say I don’t want to die.   I said this to a friend the other day, and it shocked the hell out of me.  I’ve had a difficult week for many reasons, so this revelation was, well, revealing.

The problem?  I have moments of intense agony that make the ‘I can’t bear this’ feelings of depression come flooding back to me.  And, I have the energy to do something about it.  I don’t want to die, but I fear that in one of those moments, I will do something rash and stupid because as with everything else, the pain I feel now is just so much more intensified.   This new way of being is so foreign to me–I fear I will slip back into my old way of thinking, except with the power to actually do something about it.

Again, reasons 2 & 3 above are most likely sufficient reasons to stop me from doing such a rash act, but I can’t guarantee that in a moment of deep despair, I will act rationally or not-selfishly.

Why am I writing this post?  Well, for one, because I can.  For two, because depression is still hidden to a great extent.  I was excellent in putting on my happy face when I had to be out in public.  When I couldn’t put on the mask, I hid myself.  In addition, depression is a deeply-isolating event.  Isolating in and of itself and because the sufferer withdraws from loved ones.   I know many people have felt this kind of isolation to a certain extent, but it’s off the charts for someone who suffers from severe depression.

The biggest reason I’m writing this post, however, is because I want to be brutally frank to people suffering depression.  Being out of it is not all roses and chocolate.  There is no definite line between being depressed and not being depressed.  For me, it’s been a long, tough slog with much backsliding.  There have been times when I thought I would never make it out the abyss.  There are moments now when I wonder if I have.  I feel lonely and sad and isolated at times, still.  I hurt myself (though not nearly as frequently as I used to do).  At times, I still wonder if it’s worth it.

In other words, there may be no great leap forward.  Progress may be made in incremental steps.  For example:  I have loathed my birthday for most of my life because it just reminds me of how much I’ve failed to live up to whatever it is I’m supposed to do.  I refused to tell people when it was, even if they asked.  Then, it became more of an annoyance.  I still didn’t advertise it, but if someone asked, I would tell her.  Then, a few years ago, I became neutral about it.  I didn’t hate it at all.  Last year, I backslid, and I have a hunch I won’t be sanguine about this year, but I’m still much better about it than I have ever been.

I can hear you say, “Shit, Minna, that’s not very inspiring.”  No, it’s not–not in the, “she overcame all odds, lost a bajillionty pounds, landed the love of her life, won a Tony, became a best-selling author” kind of way.  That’s my point, though.  Overcoming depression rarely is impressive on the ground level because it’s a lot of fucking work.  But, it’s inspirational to me if I look at it in terms of things I would not have done five years ago (such as blogging in general and blogging at ABL’s place in specific) that I am doing now.  Getting a novel published?   Inconceivable five years ago.  Now?  Seems difficult, but attainable.  Learning the sword form in Taiji?  Oooh, scary five years ago.  Now?  Bring it on.

The woman who was so broken and damaged and ruined that she could not fathom she had a future–I am NOT that woman any more.  She didn’t even have a present–all she could do was cling to the past while simultaneously denying it.  I have no hate for her because she enabled me to survive long enough to reach this point.  However, it’s time to say good-bye to her.  The woman I am now has a present with much going on.  I have a future, though I may not know what it entails.  I have kick-ass friends who support me (and make me laugh like crazy), and I have my boys who love me unconditionally (as long as I keep giving them the gushy food and the pets).

I may never get my Tony or my Pulitzer or be a best-selling author.  So what?  I am on MY path finding MY way.  Five years ago?  I never would have thought I could say that, either.

16 Responses to The Unbearable Darkness of Being

  1. A very thought-provoking, from-the-heart post. I’m glad to see you have passed (mostly) out of the Valley of Shadows.

    I thought of suggesting that you link this over at the B-J post on Sojourner (R.I.P.), but decided that would be best left up to you. Dunno, maybe it would help Sojourner’s mom (Denise) to see your perspective, but I cannot begin to know how she must feel, or whether she would find any comfort in your words. I’m sure she’s already been told on several occasions – and correctly so – that there was nothing she could do to prevent her daughter’s suicide. But from her comments over there, I’m not sure she’s buying that.

  2. First, I’ll say that I’m glad that you no longer feel suicidal. This is a selfish happiness, not just because I enjoy having you in the world, but it encourages me to believe that living is something worth doing.

    People’s reasons for killing themselves are as unfathomable as the description of a chronic pain. I can empathize with another’s pain, but never truly understand what it feels like in the same way as I could never sufficiently describe my own. The pain of longing to die is also equally impossible to relieve in another person. We can only help to numb it or distract from it with love, laughter or ephemeral pleasures.

    All I know is that suicide makes me unbearably sad. Maybe because the only person to blame is the victim, and that’s redundant.

  3. I’m still going to send that bday e-mail (written at First Ave.) when April gets closer! Love you and love your words!!!

  4. So beautifully written, Minna. I really wish you could have gotten to know Sojourner more. You would have really liked her — she was smart, eloquent and suffered no fools.

    You remind me of her.

  5. Yes, life may suck mightily, but I believe the karma of killing one’s self is way too heavy to seriously contemplate, so I gave up using suicide as a comforting idea a long while back. Nowadays, I just f’ing try to find some way to cope and whenever possible I try to laugh about the ridiculousness of how it often goes.

    Reading this post brought this song to mind ~ Jumper by Third Eye Blind.

    Sending love & wishes for peace to you. I appreciate you & your insights very much, Ms. MEH.

  6. I am so glad you wrote this and that I read it this morning. The past couple of months, well actually the past year, has (have?) been depressing, oppressive and generally unpleasant. Just feel like giving up sometimes, because who cares anyway? If the dogs didn’t make me get up, I would stay in bed all day long. Blech.

    For me, periods like this eventually subside but it really sucks while I’m in them. I know you understand…

  7. The thing that jumps out at me in your post is: It isn’t logical. Pretty much everyone I know who suffered from depression was stuck in a place that reason could not reach, even if it was triggered by an understandable cause.

    And like most things in life, it doesn’t end with an unconditional surrender and a ceremony on a battleship. It’s an ongoing series of skirmishes. Sometimes you string enough wins together to keep the thing at bay, which it sounds like you’ve done, and that’s awesome. Maybe the best we can hope for under ordinary circumstances.

  8. meepmeep09, wow. Your gravatar is very eye-catching. Thanks for stopping by. I thought about posting this on that thread, but I ultimately decided it would be intrusive. The pingback is there for anyone who cares to click. From reading her mother’s comments, I don’t think she would take any comfort in what I have to say.

    SissyVanDyke, hey, girl. Thanks for dropping in at my place. Suicide IS very sad because it’s a final and ultimate rejection. And, as you noted, the only person who can do anything about it is the person who is suffering from depression. I do hope that people who read what I’ve written will see that it IS possible to continue on–even when you think there’s no reason to do so.

    Kat, I’ve been telling the others, so they are prepared.

    RedKitten, hey, girl. I saw your comment on the thread. It’s how I feel, actually. And, I wish I had known her better. Thanks for stopping by. More pictures of (Not-So)BabyKitten are always appreciated.

  9. Friend, that’s a good song by Third Eye Blind. I’m not sure I believe in karma. I just know that all I can rely on is the present. That is enough for me right now.

    CJ, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I DO know what you mean. I am glad you at least have the experience to know that you do get out of these depressions. That can help, I think. And, furry friends are wonderful for bringing you out of yourself. Better luck to you in 2011.

    Allan, I really appreciate it. You rock! Thanks.

    Dan, no, depression isn’t logical at all. As I wrote, I had this whole construct and elaborate reasoning why I should kill myself–and none of it made sense. You are right in that there is no Boss Battle at the end of the road–we just gotta keep on fighting.

  10. I may never get my Tony or my Pulitzer or be a best-selling author. So what? I am on MY path finding MY way.

    [pumps fist in the air]

    Right ON!!!

  11. Heh, I was almost as surprised as you when I saw good ol’ Hans pop up here with my comment. I’ve littered the intertubes with a number of gravatars via several different commenting apps, and they pop up unexpectedly on me now-and-again (like here).

    FWIW, one of Hans’ most famous roles can be seen on the intertubes [1]. CAUTION: puppet meets a gruesome ending!

    Also on YouTube, a live human type claiming to also be named Hans seems to be giving some props to his doppelpuppetganger [2].



  12. Gregory, thanks. I can always count on you to be in my corner.

    meepmeep, oh. Mah. Gawh. I haven’t seen that movie yet. I think it just went to the top of my short list! And I love it that the real Hans talked about his puppettwin so casually. As for gravatars, I stick to Margaret. She’s tried and true.

  13. Thanks for the direct and honest post. I’ve been fortunate enough to actually be present for this period of your life, and I am impressed with you. You’ve kept to your true self, and still you have really transformed yourself!

    When we first met, I was also struggling with some of the worst depression I’ve ever suffered. There were times when seeing you in my class was one more reason for me to get through another day. Thank you.

  14. Choolie, you’ve been a big help in getting me to this point. If I helped you as well, I am pleased.

    Exceive, that’s a really cool thing for you to say. Thanks.