I haven’t really talked about the S word other than in passing in my first post. And by “S word”, I do not mean the expletive but rather suicide. Many people are uncomfortable discussing mental illness, but bringing up suicide can bring entire conversations to a halt. Almost everyone to some degree can identify with aspects of depression; we’ve pretty much all had experiences in our lives that sent us to the depths of despair. However, few other than the mentally ill can identify with the idea wanting to kill yourself. To the degree that we are beholden to our genetics, it is a biological imperative to desire to live, which is why it takes pretty severe circumstances or a very high degree of mental perversion to even consider it. Most people have not met those conditions.
Dysthymia is often termed a “mild” depression, an adjective for which I don’t particularly care for a few reasons.
- “Mild” doesn’t really take dysthymia’s persistence into account. If you think of major depression and dysthymia like you’re carrying weights, major depression is like trying to carry an extremely heavy weight; it taxes your strength almost immediately. Dysthymia is more like carrying a pretty heavy weight, but carrying it for a prolonged period of time. In other words, both major depression and dysthymia can make you collapse, it’s just a matter of how long it takes.
- As my best friend likes to say, having an illness is not a fucking competition. The term “mild” implies something being not as serious, not as important, not as worthy of attention. Mental illnesses certainly have a degree of urgency; major depression is a much more urgent condition, as there is a more immediate risk for suicide. However, all mental illnesses are dangerous if left untreated. To my knowledge, we don’t have antibodies to fight off mental demons.
- Dysthymia can easily become major depression, a state known as double depression. As noted in point 1, if you’ve been carrying a heavy weight for a long time, you’re bound to collapse sometime if you don’t shed some of it. There’s a strong link between dysthymia and major depression, as noted by Harvard Medical School:
“More than half of people with dysthymia eventually have an episode of major depression, and about half of patients treated for major depression are suffering from this double depression. Many patients who recover partially from major depression also have milder symptoms that persist for years. This type of chronic depression is difficult to distinguish from dysthymia.”
This is a long-winded way of saying that, despite its generally low level of depression, dysthymia poses a suicide risk, too. This conclusion for the most part seems borne out by research.
I am not without suicide experience. I have never actually tried to commit suicide, but I ponder it often in my darker moments. Like many other depressed individuals, I know exactly how I would do it (slitting my wrists or, excepting that, drug overdose). Plans exist in my head for dealing with my affairs post-suicide: who would receive my meager assets, how would I make sure that my animals were taken care of, what things at work would I need to ensure someone else knew, where would I commit the act to ensure that my friends and loved ones wouldn’t be who found my body. I’d imagine this all sounds grisly and terrible to many people, but such thoughts are not uncommon among the depressed.
In my brighter times, the thought of suicide mystifies me. How could I ever consider suicide when I have such a great life and so many people who depend on me? Those specific plans I made while in the pits fade from my immediate memory. Even as I write this, though I’m having somewhat of a down day, I have no desire whatsoever to go to my grave. The brighter times also are when I protect myself against such thoughts. I do not keep razor blades in the house, nor do I sharpen my kitchen knives very finely. I do not keep large quantities of painkillers in the house, the lethal dosage amounts of which I am fully aware. Firearms are forbidden from my house. (The strong link between guns and suicide is yet another excellent reason to advocate for gun control with your legislators.) I make sure that I have social interactions at least once per day. The numbers for some particularly close friends are in my speed dial. Recently, I put the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on speed dial as well. The number is 800-273-8255. Please share it with anyone you think might be at risk.
There are a lot of reasons why I have never carried through with suicide. Recently, the most obvious reason is treatment. However, there are many others: the anguish that my friends and family would feel, the mess they’d need to clean up (despite my plans to get my affairs in order), the idea of saddling my mortgage onto my not-at-all-wealthy family.
However, in keeping with the overall theme of this blog, the major thing throughout my life that has prevented me from committing suicide is my work. The reasons above are good ones, but I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I always figured that friends and family would bounce back from my death. (I should mention that having a mortgage and significant other affairs to deal with are a relatively recent occurrence for me.) But my work was always an exception. I’ve always been deeply embedded in the places where I work. I wasn’t really indispensable; I don’t think anyone truly is. However, both others and I perceived me as such. There are always things that only I know, future plans that are only in my head, tasks at which I particularly excel. I don’t think I consciously withhold information from others; it just happens, as I imagine it does in any workplace. The thought of leaving my workplace in shambles, together with my aforementioned reasons, somehow kept me from really going through with it.
Notice that none of the reasons I mentioned have much to do with me or a sincere desire on my part to live for my own sake. That is why, to those who say that suicide is a selfish act, I say only this: fuck you. Fuck you and your ignorant judgment made with no attempt at understanding. While I can’t say they don’t exist, I have never met a depressed person who did not think of others constantly and who was not fully aware of the damage they’d leave in the wake of their suicide. The warped depressive mind is such that you truly think that both you and the rest of the world would be better off if you weren’t in it. You understand that you’ll likely hurt people, but you also think that they’ll get over it and lead better lives in your absence. Yes, this is completely illogical, but depression defies logic.
Since getting diagnosed and learning more about myself, I’ve become much better about succession planning at work and, to some degree, at home. I know this sounds strange, as it seems like I’m removing one of the reasons preventing me from committing suicide. However, I really think this is a sign that I’m in a better place. I now worry about dying in a car accident or falling off a cliff on a hike, leaving my coworkers, family, and friends high and dry. When in the depths of depression, I couldn’t care less if I die in an accident; I might actually welcome it, as it seems easier than killing myself. However, for me, with an actual desire to live came a respect for death. I realize that it could happen at any time without warning, and I want to make sure that the people I love and respect are left in the best possible position should that happen to me.
If you’ve read this far, I heartily thank you. I know that reading about suicide can be grueling and awful, particularly if you’ve lost loved ones to it. And if you’re inclined to worry about me due to the contents of this post, I greatly appreciate your concern but also assure you that you have little reason to fret. That I’m able to write about it so openly and (relatively) objectively shows that I am in a positive state of mind. Suicide is a specter that haunts the depressed constantly, but that doesn’t mean that the specter has to possess you. Its continual presence gives you even more incentive to seek treatment and to better your life.