Content warnings for mention of depression and suicidal ideation and also I’m gonna swear in this one. You’re not obligated to read this.
There are a lot of well-meaning, good-intentioned people who want to do something to help when we have a week like we had last week, and this gives me some hope. In one sense, I am very similar to Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain in that I am white and (generally) in an economic state where I can afford treatment.
In another sense, I have not found myself in the places Spade and Bourdain occupied – taking active steps with the means to carry it out. I don’t believe my illness is severe enough to cause me to act, and I’m actually more privileged in that respect.
And people have been, truly, generally not awful around these two deaths. People have been sending out the National Suicide Hotline number, and offering an ear to anyone who needs to talk, and expressing sympathy for the victims and their loved ones. I see people trying, really trying, and this gives me hope. There’s a generous measure of humanity in the reactions. And, most importantly, people seem to be placing blame where it belongs – on a horrific disease that can kill you.
So please don’t feel that this is a criticism of where your heart is or what you’re trying to do.
But it makes me want to scream when I see people saying things like “suicide is never the answer” or “they had kids” or “it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Or if I see someone post the suicide hotline and I remember how they posted “good vibes only” or a picture of a tree with the caption “nature is the best medicine.” Or a person mentions their uncle or their roommate or their coworker or their Person Who Is Not Me had depression but they got better. Or I know that they’ve previously made comments that start “well, have you tried…” When I hear those things, I know you’ve never been inside my head, and I’m doubting that you actually want to understand what’s happening to people who are depressed or suicidal.
You’ve never needed to sob for 45 minutes and gently, gently, gently request over text message that it would be great if you could talk right now just for a few minutes everything’s fine well not fine but probably fine I just need to hear someone, please. I’m so sorry to scare you. Please.
You’ve never had to drive to work with your thoughts pointing at every tree and obstacle and saying “you should just drive into that. It’d be better if you did,” and one of the things keeping you from doing it is that the radio is playing that fucking Magic! song, “Rude,” and you’re not going to die to that fucking song.
You’ve never made sure others are in front of you at train platforms. You’re not gonna do it, but why give your brain that option, plus this train is already running late and people will be really mad if you make them later.
You’ve never had to ask a loved one to keep your sleeping medications away from you and give you one dose at a time, because you don’t think you’re going to do anything bad, but just to be safe, could you please, I’m not trying to scare you, and I won’t go looking for them, but I shouldn’t have them right now, thank you, I love you.
You’ve never spent 50 hours in a bed, leaving only to use a bathroom and shove two dozen Saltines in your mouth, spending 44 of those hours asleep, not crying because you’ve passed crying into an emotion you could call “What is the Fucking Point, I Will Fuck it All Up Anyway” and sleep is a release and you’re so disappointed when you wake up and you’re still you.
You’ve never written your professors or your employers or your friends explaining that you’re sick for the 4th time in two weeks and it’s both a lie because you’re not sick like the flu but it’s less than the truth because this isn’t the 4th day you’ve been sick, it’s the 254th and “my feelings are pinning me to the floor and I’m bleeding out” doesn’t translate well professionally.
You’ve never tried to measure just how much of “I don’t think I will kill myself, but, uh, being dead sounds pretty okay” you want to disclose to your therapist. You like your therapist, you think she understands you and helps you, but you’re not looking to get 302’ed.
You’ve never had to be aware of what that above paragraph means, because you’ve never thought about being at risk for an involuntary psychiatric hold.
You’ve never had to receive bar results saying you passed, only to receive an email from someone with the words “lawgoddess” in their address letting you know that you’re not eligible to be admitted yet because you received treatment for clinical depression and might be a risk to your clients so there will have to be a meeting with this person who is not your doctor or anyone’s doctor and she’ll determine based on asking what you talk about with your therapist and why do you think you won’t drop the ball on client matters in the future and you want to flip the table and cry but you know if you answer the questions you’ve got a better shot at passing.
You’ve never hid scars that don’t have good explanations. You’ve never spent two years crying every night. You’ve never had your insides burn with shame over wanting to tell someone you love that you’re fucked up and you’re sorry but instead of doing that just holding it in for another day, week, semester, year, until the summer, until the wedding, until school’s over, until they’re not in your life anymore.
And it’s okay that you’ve never experienced these things; I wouldn’t wish them on anyone. The part that’s not okay is how I hear you say that you want to help, but the details of my illness are gross and terrifying to you.
You’re not obligated to listen; it’s more than fine with me if you say “I’m not prepared to handle this and I’m not capable of doing so.” But please don’t act like tossing a phone number out there is going to solve suicide; people are drowning in sorrow and you’re tossing them a wine cork to share.
If you want to help, be there. Be there today. Be there tomorrow. Listen to the bad stuff. Tell them you’re not scared. Tell them you can handle it. Tell them you love them. Get comfortable with the sorrow. Get comfortable with a long recovery. Get ready for relapses. And please, please, please get comfortable with the black hole of depression more easily than you can accept news of suicide. It’s hell in here, in our heads, in our bodies, in our visions of any future, and we need you to tell us that somewhere else, somewhere on earth, somewhere in time, it’s not. The goal isn’t just for us to not die; it’s for us to live and not hate every second of it.