This month is Suicide Prevention Month. I wrote this for a friend but realized that I had a slightly larger platform to share it on. I hope you don’t mind.
Just some background- when I was seventeen, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I had suicidal thoughts and felt like I was going crazy. I left school for six weeks and sat at home on the sofa watching Law and Order and eating turkey sandwiches. I was later also diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I have found counseling and medication to help a lot. I am passionate about mental health and believe that sharing our stories can help one another. I am open about my own struggles for that reason. I’m also happy to hear from you and answer questions at any time.
When I heard you were struggling with depression, I wanted to write you a letter. Then I realized other people might benefit from reading this so I wrote it as a blog post. I hope that is ok. I wish depression was something only you and I had experience with. Or maybe I don’t wish that because part of what helped me a lot was realizing how many people struggle with mental illness of all kinds, not just depression. Did you know Mother Teresa was depressed at many points in her life? Martin Luther had some serious mental health issues. So did many US presidents, famous musicians and artists. A lot of us have this illness. My first point is you are not alone.
But that might not change how you feel. If you’re anything like me, you feel like you have an emotional tapeworm, something that is just sucking the life out of you. Things that used to make you happy and whole don’t bring those same feelings about. You feel empty. I know that feeling well. I know it so well that I pray regularly that my own daughter would be so very full of life. Which brings me to my second point: You are not your feelings. You are so much more than how you feel. You are bright and kind and valued and you are not the sum of your emotions. It feels like you cannot trust your own emotions right now. It feels like they are letting you down just by being there. You are more than that and at your center, you are a worthy human being who is very, very loved. You might not feel it now but be patient. As one of my very favorite lines from the Narnia series says, “Take courage Dear Heart.” It takes courage to hold on and believe in something that you cannot see or feel. Be brave.
I used to say I would not wish depression on my worst enemy. I probably still wouldn’t but I also wouldn’t trade my experience for the world. It may sound crazy but depression saved my life. How to explain this… I recently read the story of Jonah to my son. As I was reading it, a sentence jumped out at me from his little children’s Bible, “God sent the whale to rescue Jonah.” I had always seen the whale as the punishment. If only Jonah had obeyed, he would not have had to endure the whale. I hadn’t realized something worse than the whale was looming over Jonah- death. He was about to die and God sent a whale to rescue him. The whale was the rescuer. It’s the best analogy I’ve found for my depression. My depression saved me. Because of my depression, I made friends out of people I would have ignored. I discovered that I actually don’t want to be perfect and it’s exhausting to try. I want to be whole and happy and part of that is being creative. I learned how to take care of myself and know myself and not be swept away by the current mood or trends or events. Depression saved me from being not myself. Said another way, depression is one of the key things that made me who I am and showed me deep parts of my heart that I would have missed otherwise.
That’s not to say it’s fun. It’s terrible. It’s dark and you feel like no one notices you or hears you. You wonder who would show up to your funeral. You wonder if anyone would miss you. I know you think these things because I did. I sat in my room and wondered if life was worth living. When I heard you were sick, I was on a walk with my kids. My life is not perfect. I still struggle with my OCD and depression on a regular basis. But I looked at these two precious little lives and was overwhelmed with gratitude- for my children who would not exist if I had believed my own thoughts, for my family and counselors who did not believe the darkness that I was convinced was taking over my life, for my husband who was willing to love me and enter into a mess of emotions and ups and downs with me and for myself, for being brave and strong. You will find your people. And I am choosing to believe for you, since you cannot believe it for yourself right now, that you will look back in gratitude for those who helped you and for yourself, for your strength, your self-awareness and your faith.
I love you and am for you, so for you. Hang in there. You are a treasure, a unique, interesting person and this life would absolutely not be the same without you.