My new depression and anxiety medications arrived in the mail today. I opened them an hour or two before the city’s “Be the Light” Walk, an event intended to “prevent suicide and reduce stigma.” I can’t help but feeling that it shouldn’t be this hard.
The left upper corner of my lip feels like it is curling into a sneer or a snarl. It’s the latest in a history of facial tics related to my mental state. I’m not sure if they are even visible. It’s always hard to know what people can and cannot see from the outside.
Less than a week ago, I was sitting in the psychiatrist’s office, a goal I’d accomplished only after a litany of referrals and intake interviews. Hopelessness turned to anger, turned to frustration, turned back into hopelessness, as I struggled to even explain my struggle to a professional who is trained to hear struggles like mine.
“Our minds are not built to fathom the effects of completely relentless pain a priori.”
My failures to connect with other people in a meaningful manner accumulate, build and erupt into desperate behaviors that cause further disconnection and sap the wills of those close to me to remain that way. Time allows the beast to chew free of its rusty cage, and the disheartened villagers scatter.
I remember playing in the backyard as a child of no more than five or six years old and being aware of this feeling of certainty that I was “not supposed to be here.” It wasn’t that the location was wrong, that my station in life was incorrect, or even that my exterior identity didn’t match who I felt I was inside. It was an overwhelming and persistent belief that my very existence in this world or on this plane was erroneous.
I told the psychiatrist the other day that I was fourteen when the depression started. Through years of therapy, that is the age on which my various counselors and I have eventually landed, as it was the age when external symptoms like insomnia began to manifest. It’s never felt like the onset of a previously absent disease, though; it’s always felt like an inherent part of me.
My friends and loved ones explain to me how difficult it is for them to interact with me during the small sections of my life in which they are present. They tell me how tiring it is for them, and sometimes how they just don’t have it in them anymore. I say, “I know…,” and I think, “I’m here all the time.” I get the unabridged, unfiltered, uninterrupted version.
It is this difference, I think, — this gap — that causes so much of the heartache and frustration on both sides of suicide. I watch the faces of those who walk by in the prevention event, and I see without exception compassion and sadness. I’m not always sure that I see understanding, though, because that’s the hardest one. Our minds are not built to fathom the effects of completely relentless pain a priori.
We hope for suicide prevention for all without being able to offer a truly viable and effective alternative to some. What can be provided or suggested to me that negates a congenital, viceral certainty that my very existence is both inappropriate and actively problematic? We desperately try unlikely alternatives to avoid accepting that single, simple solution.
As hopeless as a more palatable answer may most often seem, our increasingly enlightened culture does appear to be making small strides in understanding. The deaths of seemingly successful celebrities have begun to suggest to those who don’t personally wrestle with suicidal ideologies that perhaps the causes are not always circumstantial. Television shows and Netflix series have begun to reflect the realization that it’s not “this thing” or “that thing” that makes continuing intolerable, but instead it’s “everything.”
Over the past few years, when a rash of hometown acquaintances began parking their vehicles on the railroad tracks of my sleepy, dysfunctional childhood town, the local whispers carried a bit more empathy with them than they would have twenty years ago. When a woman threw herself from the top level of a parking garage a couple of blocks away in my new city, the scene was colored with a regretful sadness. Perhaps the story of the struggle is beginning to be more clearly heard by those who are not themselves engaged.
Most days my reluctance to trade my own relief for the sudden and lingering pain my departure would cause others is enough to keep my suicidal inclinations at bay. Some days the internal debate is a draw at best, and I rely on a raft I’ve constructed from fear, acceptance, and inaction to help me stay passively afloat. On those days I’m not actively suicidal more because I’m not active than because I’m not suicidal. Today, I am safe (as we say in therapy), hoping that tomorrow I wake to find everything I’ve ever felt about my existence has changed, and that for once I feel like I belong.