Today I saw a picture posted by a guy I used to work with. It was a picture of a motorway bridge and a laminated note next to it saying:
Suicide doesn’t take the pain away. It just passes it to someone else.
🙄 < my own eye roll was much larger than this.
I don’t know the origin of that photo, perhaps it was written by someone who was grieving the loss of a loved one to suicide. I also know the guy that re-posted it, and I’m sure he did it with good intentions. However, it’s a message which isn’t filled with compassion and support.
It’s a message loaded with guilt.
It says ‘I know you want to die, but if you do you’ll make someone else sad, so just keep going. Keep going with your pain, with your depression, with your memories and flashbacks of trauma. Keep living even though your own mind scares you and you don’t feel safe in your own body. Keep going even though you don’t know how you are going to feed yourself and your family. Keep going in your grief. Keep going with the pain that you feel cloaks every waking moment of your day, with the ruminating thoughts that don’t stop, with your diagnosis that you can’t get any tangible help for. Keep going with your guilt, and here is a little more to load on top of that. Keep suffering, but don’t make anyone else sad, ok?‘
Suicide isn’t a conscious choice. Suicide is an option that feels like the only remaining option when the pain of living becomes greater than the pain of dying.
People who contemplate suicide already feel like a burden. They know that people will be upset but their unwell mind will convince them that the sadness other people feel will be temporary and lesser than the upset, frustration and disappointment that they will endure should they continue to live their lives.
There is absolutely zero compassion within those words. There is no hope that in the future things might get better, there is no clue as to where to look for resources that might help. There is no inkling of the fact that if you are contemplating suicide you are very, very far from being alone.
There is just guilt. So, much, guilt.
People who feel like ending their lives and their suffering don’t need to be told things like this. They need to be reminded that the good days will one day come again. That there are people out there who will listen, and that the words that come out of their mouths don’t even have to make any sense. They need to be held – physically and emotionally. They need support, they need friends to sit with them in the silence when their mind is anything but. They need hand holds in the dark when it’s 4am and the tears won’t stop coming. They need governments that recognise how huge the scale of mental ill-health actually is and who are willing to put funding into supporting those who need it. They need financial support and they need appropriate treatment for their unique condition. They need to be reminded that none of this is their fault.
They need compassion, and understanding and for people to listen and begin to recognise just how complex and traumatic even the very thought of suicide is.
I have been a bit quiet and neglectful of both this blog and
my social media presence of late. I have had ideas about what to write and I’m
sure that those posts will make an appearance over the next few weeks, but this
one is perhaps like a bit of a stopgap.
I have been quiet because I haven’t been very well. My
depression and anxiety has been sneaking back in over the last couple of months
– at first I thought it was a blip, but it lasted, and was getting worse…
Last year I decided to come off of my medication – with the
help of my doctor. It was so that I could go onto a new medication that would
treat both my depression and my fibromyalgia. Anyway, once I was off of the old
one, I wanted to know what I was like without it – I had been taking this stuff
for 8 years. For months, I was fine – all throughout winter, this was a
success!! There were still hard days, but the nights were long, the mornings
dark and here I was being able to cope, to work, to socialise, to combat my
depressive thoughts with healthy behaviours…
Until I wasn’t any more.
It started off with a constant sense of being overwhelmed.
Now, I don’t have children, I don’t have anyone depending on me apart from my
dog (and my husband when he’s hungry), I work 23 hours a week, I have two days
off a week completely to myself. I have a therapist to talk to, I have
wonderful friends, a fantastic and very lovely husband… but everything, even
the smallest of things, was beginning to feel like it was too much.
I think something that people who haven’t suffered with
mental ill health struggle to realise, is that when the small things are hard –
the sleeping, the eating, the getting up and showered and dressed – everything
outside of that, seems insurmountable. These are things that other people take
for granted – going to work, going into town on your own for an appointment,
driving, getting public transport, planning things, deciding on things. And
then, then something happens out of the blue, something past the everyday
struggles, something past the tasks we have to do that feel insurmountable and
leave us exhausted, these are things on their own level – a family member gets
sick, your pet gets ill, work messes up your wages – and sometimes, all of
these three examples happen within the same week.
I was feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. All I wanted to do
was sleep. My concentration was fading fast – I couldn’t even find relaxation
in curling up with a book, I hated the thought that my depression was back and
so, still, I tried to push onwards. In therapy we were talking about bullying
and trauma, I was having intrusive thoughts, unwanted memories, feelings once
again of not being good enough, not clever enough, thin enough, smart enough,
adventurous enough, pretty enough, tough enough. I felt that I was letting everyone
down; my guilt was increasing by the day. I’d go to bed at night and think of
friends I had lost over the years, things I had said in arguments, and mistakes
I had made – which were long forgiven, by everyone but me. Holding conversations
was hard – trying to hear and focus over the voices in my head all talking over
each other and so I became quieter.
And the tears… I was crying at anything, if someone asked
me how I was, tears. If there was an advert with a doe-eyed animal on, tears.
If my brother sent me a picture of my beautiful baby nephew, tears. If I just
so much as thought of someone, in a
situation where they were being taken advantage of, or deceived -this is a very
strange kind of intrusive thought I have which proves quite hard to explain,
but yes, tears nonetheless. My mother’s voice on the phone, tears. The smell of
my dogs fur, tears. My beautiful friend April doing a tarot card reading for
me, after two cards, tears…
And when I cry, my words dry up. So I couldn’t tell anyone
any of the thoughts that were jumbled and overwhelming. They all felt
ridiculous to me anyway -my depression was hissing at me to not be such a baby,
to think of others that have it worse and realise how lucky I was.
I am meaner and harsher to myself than I would ever, ever be
to anyone else.
But it was all too much, all of it. I have self-harmed
before, over a long period of time, but I was even past the point of that.
Suicidal thoughts were becoming more and more frequent – there was a massive,
overriding part of me that knew this could get better and that knew I couldn’t
do that to my husband, or my friends, or my parents and family. But the
thoughts were still there, the need to just stop everything and drift away, was
still there. I felt that eventually, they would be better off without me, but
then I would remember small things – my husband’s laugh, or how he sings along
to whatever music is playing when he’s doing the dishwasher. I would think of
my friends – brave, inspiring and something I never thought I’d be lucky enough
to have. I’d think of visiting my parents and my Dad giving me some whisky as
we settle down to watch some TV, or my mum waking me up with a coffee in the
morning. My nephew, how proud I was of my brother and his wife. How the wind
feels on autumnal days, when that first bite of winters chill is in the air. I
thought of the sunrises and sunsets I’ve seen, I’d remember how everything is
cyclical, that pain and grief comes but it also goes and that’s when joy and
gratitude come to take its place. These thoughts would keep me going until I
slept, or until my husband came home from work. Just a few more thoughts, just
wait it out a bit longer…
But it wasn’t sustainable; I was scared of my own mind and
my own thoughts. This blip wasn’t going anywhere so I decided to go back to my
doctor and immediately he put me back onto the anti-depressants that I had
worked so hard to get off of 8 months previously, I was gutted.
There is no shame in taking medication and I know that if it
was anyone else, I would comfort them with the things we hear all the time
about taking medication for mental health issues; I’d tell them it was ok, that
sometimes we just need that helping hand and that depression is a chemical
imbalance and the medication helps to get things back on track, but I’m not so
great at turning that kindness inwards. Eleven days later and I know that it
was the right decision, aside from the initial side effects, my general mood
has improved – the depression is still there,
it just feels very numbed down. I am aware that I haven’t cried in eleven days,
which having cried so much beforehand is a very strange sensation. I’ve been
close, but it’s like the tears are just out of reach right now, even if at
times they would be a relief.
So, why am I telling you all of this?
It’s not for sympathy – I know some really lovely people
read my posts and I am very grateful for words of comfort ❤ However, it is
more for awareness. For the people who don’t
know what depression feels like; for employers, parents, friends, spouses,
siblings, work colleagues…
When someone has depression it can be very hard to know what they are going through because it can be very hard for them to try and explain it. For example, the word ‘suicide’ makes people panic, but just because we have those thoughts, doesn’t mean we have any plans or even a real desire to carry it out. However, the thoughts and idealisation are a symptom of being depressed and they can be unwanted and distressing. People with depression can very often feel overwhelmed by the smallest of things and they may suffer with disassociation – which, I’m sure is the minds way of trying to protect itself, but again it can be very unnerving and distressing.
I know that when I’m depressed, I’m very quiet – but this
does not mean my mind is. My thoughts are going too fast, getting too jumbled,
being too loud, contradicting themselves. With all of that going on inside my
head it becomes very hard to determine what
one thing is wrong – what do I tell
you, when even to me it makes no sense? When I have the logical answer but the
illogical thoughts are so loud that they drown it out?
Seeking help – even when we know it’s the right thing, can
be incredibly hard for a number of reasons. It can be hard on the very basic
level of getting a doctor’s appointment, but it can also be hard because we
know that once we are in the consulting room, we need to talk and that can
sometimes be a challenge in itself. We have to face up to what is happening,
and this may mean going onto medication or taking time off of work which may
impact on finances and career aspirations. Guilt is also a massive factor when
it comes to depression; I have always pushed on because I don’t want to let anyone down, whilst neglecting my needs in the
process. If you are an employer and a member of staff has called in sick with
depression – please, acknowledge that this was probably incredibly hard for
them to do.
There is a lot we don’t say, a lot you don’t see because we
feel that keeping it hidden will save others the discomfort – but depression
isn’t just a case of feeling sad. It
is a whole myriad of emotions, of symptoms and of discomfort. Its complex, and
its different for everyone – we rarely understand it ourselves and yet people
so often want answers from us.
But this is also how depression works – it isolates us, it
whispers in our ear that no-one really cares, that others have it worse, that
if we tell people the truth we will push them away. Depression lies – but it’s
So, if you know someone who is depressed, in the words of Stephen Fry – ‘please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through.’ – Because we don’t want you to fix us, scold us, push us or protect us from ourselves, we just want you to be there, and accept us.
Because knowing that you are there, without judgement, is perhaps the most helpful thing of all.
Zero Suicide Alliance – A free online course which takes all of about 20 minutes which offers some useful knowledge that will help if you think someone is suicidal or if someone confides in you that they are having suicidal thoughts.
Mind & Blurt – Two really great mental health charities offering great advice and support – for those suffering from depression and also for those who help support us ❤
Thank you for reading
If you have enjoyed this writing, please feel free to come and join me
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Yesterday, my therapist asked me to describe to him what my
depression felt like.
I write, and I write a lot. I love language, I love words, I
love reading and I love coming up with analogies and how to describe things in
a way that help other people understand the (sometimes) incomprehensible. Last
week I wrote about how I imagine my depression acting like a thick, gloopy tar
within my mind and I received a number of lovely comments and messages saying
how relatable that feeling and description was.
But he didn’t want to know the fancy analogies and the
almost cartoon like way that I see my nemesis. He wanted to know what it did to me, where it put me emotionally,
what happened to my behaviour whilst I was in that place… and I sat across from
him, as the early spring sunlight poured in to the room that has become so
familiar over the last eleven weeks, and I didn’t know what to say.
“You look sad…” His voice was compassionate, his eyes kind,
I was in a safe space where I could blurt out anything and be heard, but the words weren’t there. It was like
they had got caught in that thick sticky tar somewhere between my mind and my
And I was sad, overwhelmingly sad.
I felt in the moment that if I spoke, the words wouldn’t get
past the lump in my throat. Even now, writing this, I have that same feeling of
Over the next twenty minutes or so, we came up with four
words that I felt summed up that
I felt, even as I was saying them, like I was somehow wrong…
“But it’s ridiculous!” I protested (against myself) “I can’t
be lonely, I have a wonderful husband; I have great friends, a big family who
all love me.”
“Yes, but it’s not about them. This is bigger than that…”
And it is. Depression is huge – it swamps even gigantic things
in its enormity; it swamps anything good, anything positive. No wonder I feel
small in the face of it and lost in the vastness of it.
We spoke more about what I do when I feel like that, how I try and avoid it and manage it but
how it is always there. I was reminded yesterday of two beautiful songs – one
slightly older by A Camp, and one I have only recently discovered in the last
few weeks by Phoebe Bridgers:
In this song, Nina sums up what living with depression is
like in the long term. It’s there, it’s always there and it becomes so familiar
that there is even a certain safety in it at times. I know that on days where I
feel good, where I feel happy and confident I tend to get to a point where it
begins to feel almost too much, like
all this happiness is making me giddy and I’ve become too loud, too talkative,
too excited about something. When the quietness comes, the friends go home or
the busyness stops; Depression reels me back in, strokes my hair and lulls me
back into that false security.
Acceptance, it’s sad and it’s… huh, depressing. But it’s
kind of like – yep, I’m sad, all of the time. I could win a million bucks on Saturday’s
lotto and that would take so much pressure off, I could look into the eyes of
my baby nephew (who is frickin adorable by the way) and see hope and
possibilities and feel overwhelming love. I can slip my hand into that of my
husbands or laugh and confide with my friends and feel so grateful that these
amazing people are in my life and that I feel so connected to them, I can stand
on a mountaintop and feel the wind in my hair and feel grateful to be alive…
but the sadness doesn’t go away. Some
days it’s little and some days it’s overwhelming – but it’s like that low
frequency hum some people hear in the silence of night time: my depression just
controls the volume dial.
When I started sharing my writing on this blog, I did it with the aim of reaching people who felt alone and isolated in their struggles. I know that feeling well and it’s horrible. However, there are times when I doubt how effective this tactic is – depression, in its very essence, is isolating. We all know that metaphor of standing in a crowded room and feeling so alone, that is what depression does.
But if you are reading this and you do feel like that, or if you are reading this and all you can feel is emptiness and apathy. Or, if rage or hurt or injustice is swelling up inside you and you don’t know why or how to release it. If waking up is painful and the silence at night is deafening. If it’s easier to numb it all out with things that hurt, but on a lesser scale. If you want to just say sorry, to everyone you have ever loved but you don’t even know why or what for, if the words won’t come, or the tears won’t come or the sunlight doesn’t seem to reach you right now – please know, that one day it will. It may reach you like dappled light on a summers afternoon or like in a cool forest where it filters down through the branches of old and wise trees, it may only touch you momentarily to start with, but it will come.
And with that sunlight comes resilience to the sadness.
Because I can’t promise you that the sadness will ever fully go away, even though I wish I could. But I can promise you that depression won’t always win – and that is what we all have to hold on to.
All of us, because there are many.
And even if it feels like it at times, we are definitely not alone ❤
Thank you for reading 🙂 If you have enjoyed this writing, please feel
free to come and join me on my following social network pages to see my
new posts and daily musings:
I’ll be honest from the outset here, this writing at the moment doesn’t have a neat little tied up ending, I don’t have the answer to the questions I am going to pose.
Still with me? Good! Because I don’t think I am alone in
having these experiences or thoughts…
I was first diagnosed with depression and generalised
anxiety disorder back in 2010, but things had been a little rocky on and off
for years before that. However, a diagnosis can help with certain things. It
can help with getting proper, professional help like medications and talking
therapies. It can help when it comes to issues around work, and it can help
when you finally feel brave enough to admit that something is wrong, to have
that support and to know that there is an actual medical reason behind all of
For the first year after my diagnosis, I crumbled, big time.
It was like I had been holding all of these ribbons attached to helium balloons,
but they were getting too much, too many. Once I admitted there was a problem,
I let them all go. There was relief, but then panic, and then the frantic and
desperate struggle to get back what I thought I had lost.
I am lucky in that I have a wonderful husband and supportive
friends and family, because for just under a year I couldn’t work. I could
barely leave my house alone because my anxiety had got so bad – so, I applied
for benefits. I live in the UK and our benefits system here is at best,
negligent and at worst, dangerous. As someone who was struggling with basic
day-to-day functioning and feeling suicidal about 75% of the time, dealing with
the Department of Work and Pensions was a real battle. It was confusing, it was
demoralising and it was overwhelming. When I finally had a workplace assessment
(because the opinion of your qualified GP in this instance isn’t enough) I was
told that because I could walk unaided, because I wore clean clothes and
because I kept eye contact throughout my assessment, I was fit for work.
Now – this is nine years ago. I would like to think that the
system has got better at recognising how debilitating mental illnesses can be,
however, from what I have heard and read, I don’t think a huge amount has changed.
Anyway, my parents and my husband on my behalf, appealed the
decision. I was in the appeal room for 10 minutes before one of the panel
looked at me and then back at the paper in front of him in disbelief. He looked
at my mum and told her to take me home and take good care of me, the decision
of the original assessment was overruled, there was no way I could work.
This decision bought me time to heal, which I was very
grateful for. To be exact, it bought me a year. I was told that the particular
benefit I was claiming (Employment and Support Allowance) was only eligible for
twelve months, after that I would have to find work or be put on to a different
benefit where they would ‘encourage’ me to find work. But at that moment I didn’t
care, that particular nightmare was over, I could go back to just fighting with
my mind for a while at least.
So… we fast forward nine years. Before that year on ESA was
up, I was working permitted hours in a care home doing night shifts. After
that, once the time benefit of the allowance had expired, I was a waitress,
then I worked in retail, then reception roles… I had to. It was all part time,
but if I didn’t work, we couldn’t afford to eat, it was that simple.
Over the course of these past nine years, I have had blips. I have had quite serious blips and there have been times when my mental and physical health have taken a real nosedive. I have had moments where all the worst feelings of anxiety have come back and hit me like a freight train, I have had times when I have been suicidal, I have had times at work where I haven’t been able to stop crying because the depression has been too much. I have got home from work and cried so much that I had to be sedated with one of the Tamazepam I keep stashed away in case of an emergency because I felt so overwhelmed. I have hidden self-harm scars underneath uniforms and pretty dresses. I have gone to work in the morning after sleepless nights, I have been exhausted, I have been medicated and unmedicated, I have gone through medication withdrawal – timing the ‘worst’ week to co-incide with annual leave so that I could just ‘keep going’.
And I have worn a mask.
I have smiled whilst my heart has been shattered into a
thousand tiny pieces. I have made small talk whilst the voices in my head hiss
at me that I’m worthless and boring and ridiculous, and I have told hundreds of
people that ‘I’m fine’ when I have been anything but.
And I know that others do the same, every single day.
We do it for many reasons. I can’t speak for others, but I
know that for me I couldn’t go through the whole benefits system again; when I
need that help, when I am struggling and finding work and routine difficult,
that is the time when it all feels too much. I also know that work helps in the
long term – routine is very, very important. Seeing people is important, having
conversations and laughing with work colleagues and going on nights out is
important, as is earning money and having some sort of independence. This is
all part of living and if I tell myself that I cannot do something because of
my illness, then it gains more power and it has already taken enough from me.
What all of this has done though, has made me what is referred
to as a ‘high functioning depressive’. To meet me, you wouldn’t know I suffer
so much with my mental health. I have had conversations with people who look at
me in disbelief when I bring up the D word.
One, quite telling, marker that has become apparent recently
is a form I have to fill in every week. I am currently going through a 16-week
course of Cognitive Analytical Therapy and every week before I leave, my
therapist gives me a form to fill out on the day of my next appointment. Its
very short, 9 questions to be completed by ticking a box. You can find various
versions of them online by searching ‘PHQ-9’ in Google. I tend to score roughly
between 18 – 24, depending on how my week has been. The highest score, the
score that tells your healthcare practitioner how severe your depression is, is
But I am, to all intents and purposes, well. I work, I
socialise, I laugh with my friends and family, I read, I have started a new venture
recently (this blog). But I am, most weeks, scoring as ‘severely depressed’.
And I am. I know it in quiet moments, I know it during those
first few moments of waking up and the final few moments before going to sleep.
I know it when I am exhausted from spending time with the people I love and I
know it when the sound of my husband’s breathing or chewing makes me want to
scream. I know because of the invasive thoughts that I have, I know because of
the little voice in my head that nags, I know because I ruminate too much and I
take pleasure in too little. I know, because I don’t get excited about things.
But you wouldn’t know, because I know how to hide it.
And I don’t think I am alone in this. We all have things
that we become very good at hiding – ‘high functioning’ doesn’t just prefix
depression – it prefixes anxiety, alcoholism, autism and even sociopathy. It
can be dangerous though, it can be exhausting, and it can be very isolating. I
am – as I have said before, very lucky. My closest friends know, my husband and
my family know and I have wonderful support, but even with support, depression
is prone to make you feel isolated.
It does work both ways though – it’s kind of like a vicious
cycle with perks. If I wasn’t so adept at wearing this mask then I wouldn’t be
able to work, I wouldn’t have routine which does improve my mental health in the long run. We sometimes need to
force ourselves into action in order to generate action – call it bloody mindedness,
but on days where I can appreciate the sun on my skin and the wind in my hair,
I know I am fighting this beast for a reason.
My PHQ-9 score will fluctuate. At the moment I am scoring
high, but we are emerging from winter and it is a time of change and growth,
which can be tiring and overwhelming. At some periods I settle around a 14-16
and in really good times I may even dip down to a 12! But right now, I am and
have been for a good while, high functioning.
And so, to the ending, the dreaded inconclusive bit. There is something I want to make very clear at this point; this isn’t a call to arms to keep going, to ignore the pain you feel and plough on regardless. Please, don’t ever do that. Depression is serious, it’s not something that can be ignored. If you are feeling depressed, then I urge you to seek help. I wouldn’t be here now if I hadn’t acknowledged what was happening. I have been on medication, I have been to therapy and I have confided in friends and family. My employers know about my mental health and I do know, on really bad days, what to do in order to keep myself safe – and sometimes, when the blip stretches on, when my mood is increasingly becoming lower then it is time to pause. Its not shameful to have depression, or anxiety. It doesn’t make you weak and it doesn’t mean you have failed.
In the UK, these helplines may be useful:
Samaritans: 116 123 (24 Hours)
Rethink: 0300 5000 927 (Mon to Fri, 9.30am to 4pm)