When compiling a list of post ideas from some friends, one suggestion was based on the question of what could have helped me before diagnosis? What could have helped me avoid getting as sick as I initially did in 2001? I find this one interesting, because as much as I think about my life and my depression, I try not to look at it with regret, and, thus, I don’t often think about alternatives to what actually happened. For me, I have to accept it all, and so I don’t think about how it could have played out any better. It played out well enough. I’m here and I’m doing something good with the bad stuff that has happened to me. But it is both an interesting and also perhaps useful question to ask.
I have talked about my main journal a few times. It is a brown leather journal that I bought and started on February 3, 2000. I have kept a lot of journals in my life, but I consider this “the journal.” It is the most important one. It is the proof that I was getting sick. It is the evidence that something was happening to me. It is a record of my intense emotional and mental suffering. To me it is like scar. It is the visible evidence of my wounded mind. There are maybe 50 pages of entries from February 3, 2000-January 31, 2001. I attempted suicide on February 14, 2001. It is almost a full year of pain and sorrow. But is also full of love and happiness and dreams and hope.
Inside the front cover, the first thing I have written is a Counting Crows lyric from the song “Speedway” off of the album This Desert Life. I can’t remember how long after I bought the journal that I decided to write it inside the front cover, but its placement (and my memory) proves how important it was to me and how representative I thought it was of my journal. The lyric is “I’ve got somethings I can’t tell anyone. I’ve got somethings I just can’t say. They’re the kind of things no one knows about. I just need somebody to talk to me.”
I thought about going through the journal and making a list of things that I thought I needed—things that I thought would fix me. Mostly I thought that I needed a guy to fix me. I thought love would fix me. Up until the end, I thought that love was the answer. Love is good. Love is great. Love fixes many things. And maybe I did need love. Maybe I wasn’t completely delusional. But that is not all I needed. And love alone couldn’t have saved me. I don’t think.
Because as much as I wanted a guy to love me, what I needed was exactly what I put in the front cover of my journal. I needed someone to talk to. I needed to tell someone all the dark stuff that was going on in my head. I needed to tell the truth to someone. I needed someone to know what was happening to me. I needed to write the journal, but I also needed to be saying those things to someone who could help me. I needed to talk to someone who knew something about mental health. I needed to talk to someone who had some understanding of depression.
And I didn’t talk to anyone like that. I tried to talk to some people, but I was generally met with pity or misunderstanding. I just seemed melodramatic probably. I don’t know how I seemed. I don’t know why no one helped me. I don’t know. I had friends online who I could talk to more openly about my suffering, and some of them really tried to make me happy. But it wasn’t enough. The only thing that could have helped me before diagnosis was an earlier diagnosis.
And now we’re back to my inability to be hypothetical. I don’t want to think about having actually avoided the suicide attempt. It changed the course of my life. I would have to reimagine everything if I imagined not attempting suicide. It was the turning point after which I began taking control of my own life. Once I reached rock bottom, I knew that I had to change. I couldn’t try to live up to other peoples’ expectations. I had to do things that made me happy. I had to live a life that made me happy. Because depression makes me unhappy. I have to get as much happiness as I can whenever and wherever I can because sometimes I can’t remember what it feels like.
On January 31, 2001, my last entry before my suicide attempt 2 weeks later, I wrote: “There aren’t any stars out tonight and I can’t stop shaking either—but now I am fine for a second—now not—how symbolic. I don’t want this.” I knew. In my own way, I knew that I was off balance. I knew that something important was wrong. And I knew that I couldn’t bear it much longer. It was almost laughable how hopeless it was. I was in so deep that I knew that I didn’t have much longer left. And I didn’t tell anyone how bad it was. I was so afraid of being ostracized or rejected. I knew that I was different. I liked being different, but I was afraid to admit it.
There are very few people who I showed my “true self” to at that time, and fewer who accepted me as broken as I was. And I fiercely clung to anyone who would accept me as I was. I felt so unloveable, and the kindness of a few kept me afloat longer than I could have made it alone. But kind words weren’t enough. No one knew how bad it really was. And no one who did have and idea about what I was going through ever thought that it might be an illness. At least no one talked to me seriously about that possibility. And I was terribly afraid of being crazy.
And that in itself is a big part of the problem I was facing. I was afraid of being “crazy.” I was afraid of being insane. I thought that it was all black or white. Sane or insane. Safe or unsafe. Normal or dangerous. I didn’t really even know anything about depression. I didn’t think about mental health. I never considered that what was happening to me was chemical. I didn’t understand how the brain works and the trouble it can cause when it isn’t working correctly.
But I know now. What I needed then was what I have now. What I needed then was what I give now. I needed someone else who was going through what I was going through to clue me in to the fact that it was depression. I needed someone who wasn’t afraid of being stigmatized or rejected to tell me the truth. I needed to read my own damn book. And it is the whole reason that I do what I do now. I think that the only thing that could have prevented my suicide attempt was medical intervention. Early diagnosis. Knowledge about mental health. I needed other people who suffer from mental illness to talk openly about it, and I needed those stories to be more widely known than they were.
But I have no regrets. I had to go through what I went through to become who I am now. I don’t think about what could have saved me. I don’t think about what could have gone differently. Because look at what I have done with it. When someone thanks me for saying the things that they cannot say, I know that it is all worth it. When I say the things that others think no one else feels, I know that I am doing something right. Because I don’t want to change what I have been through, but I want to prevent anyone else from going there. Because I barely survived. My writing is my way to talk to you. It is my way to tell you that you are not alone. You are not strange. You are not wrong. You are not worthless. You are sick. You are hurt. And you deserve healing. You deserve relief from your pain.
I remember once meeting a man who has depression at least as severe as mine. And we were discussing a certain therapy. He asked me if I still had “the thoughts” after the therapy. And I remember that I didn’t need any other information. I knew exactly what he meant. He meant suicidal thoughts. And he was embarrassed but tormented by them. I knew it. And he knew that I knew. That is why he felt comfortable asking me. It was the first time I knew that just being open could do a lot. It felt so good to say what we could not say. It felt so good. It was so painful, but good. And that is what we have here on the blog. A place to say the things we cannot say. I don’t mind saying them. I’m not afraid any more. No. I am afraid. I am so afraid, but not of rejection. I am afraid of depression. I know the real enemy, and it isn’t the petty or ignorant reactions of people who don’t understand. Words hurt but depression kills. And silence gives depression free reign. I won’t let someone else suffer in ignorance. I want to be everything I needed. Because I don’t want anyone else to do what I did. I can’t stop depression. But I can fight stigma. I can speak loudly and often about depression. I can say the things that others can’t say yet. And maybe someone will listen. Maybe someone will hear me. And maybe it will help them.
If you think you might be depressed or that someone you care about may be depressed, check out the Mayo Clinic page on depression. Don’t wait to contact your doctor about discussing your mental health. If you are in crisis, don’t wait to reach out for help. You can always call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. You are not alone. I am here, and I will keep talking, saying the things that I once thought I could not say.