An Open Letter on Mental Health, Depression and Suicide.
Why I'm writing this
This is my first ever blog, and I'm starting it while in a residential inpatient facility for my mental health. If you would have asked me 10 years ago where I thought I'd be in life, this would not have been it.
I wrote this letter to my brother after a failed suicide attempt in response to his question of why did I do what I did. I decided to post it for anyone who is trying to explain to a friend or family member, or anyone trying to understand a loved ones actions to help give some perspective.
What was I thinking?
How does one describe the seemingly indescribable? Lately, I've had nothing but time on my hands to think this conundrum out. Trying to describe a physical and emotional experience is difficult and easy depending on your audience. For example, it's very simple to describe what it's like to burn your hand on the stove to someone who has done it before. But how would you explain it to someone who never has? Better yet, to someone who has never experienced the sensation of being burned? Here lies the challenge of describing depression to those who have never experienced it.
I was asked essentially to do this by my brother after depression and alcohol drove me to an attempt on my own life. The question of "What were you thinking?" Is a natural one for him to ask and a terribly difficult one to answer. I can offer him words, the classic cliches. I could tell him it feels like a weighted vest, like a stormy cloud that follows you around all day. Those things aren't wrong, and may give him some sense of insight. But to those who have never suffered depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation these remain simply words.
I instead tried to convey that anyway I tell him about these feelings he will always be only and observer to them. He may be able to sympathize with me but have a very difficult time truly empathizing as he has never experienced them. And I pray he never can truly empathize with me.
Still, i felt simple explanations not enough.as someone practicing in the healthcare field I want to shed some light to colleagues, physicians in training and anyone needing answers. I want to offer a better analogy as to the sensations I've experienced. From this point forward I will be leaving the word "feeling" behind. To me, saying feeling in this context is implying no physical manifestation of emotion. A sensation is meant to encompass both the physical and emotional components of a given situation.
Depression, anxiety and suicidal ideations are not emotional alone. They are, to me, sensations. Sensations as real as the pins and needles in your door when it falls asleep. Just like my example of burning your hand, those who have experienced the sensation of a burn can relate easily. But to someone who has not, just to say it's hot and hurts really doesn't do the experience justice.
The only way I can figure to give insight to someone who has not experienced the sensations i have is using a relatable experience they have had. From there they can hopefully take the sensations they know and extrapolate the best they can.
Experience is life's best teacher.
So I've set out to do just that, to draw put the best analogy I can using an experience many have had to describe my own.
To use broad stroke terms I suffered a major depressive episode that culminated in a physical attempt on my own life. I want to break this down into two parts, the depressive episode and then the attempt on my life. The best way in can describe how depression effects my brain is to compare it to standing up too fast. Because standing up quickly can make your blood pressure temporarily drop, a lack of blood to the brain can lead to a few moments of obstructed, sparkling vision. We can kind of see through enough to stumble about our way until it passes. Waves of depression are similar, it partially obscures our thoughts, leading to dark and defeating thinking, but we can usually stumble through until it passes.
The problem becomes when the waves of depression build on one another. Like two smaller waves at the beach, if they come together just right can have an additive effect into one bigger wave. Great for surfing, bad for depressive waves.
So now we have increasing waves of depression, longer and stronger. We have sparkles obscuring our vision more intensely and longer. Stumbling through gets tougher and tougher.
Then it doesn't seem like it's ever going to stop, and panic sets in. Here's were a suicide attempt comes into play, because this is about the time your brain can flip from perfectly rational and grounded to all out panic and irrational.
The irrational thoughts led me to a suicide attempt. Slipping into these thoughts is like slipping on a sheet of ice you never saw coming. For the briefest of moments your fully aware that something terrible is about to happen as your footing is gone from under you. Instinctively you may even try to catch yourself, regain your balance and connection to the ground. But even though your fully aware of what's about to happen, there's nothing you can do. There comes about where you surrender to it, and begins to move very fast and hazily. Hands and legs fly up, panic and just wanting it to stop. Gravity plays its role and next thing you know your flat on the pavement.
So to answer the question of why I drove my truck into a tree, I just wanted it to stop.
I'm hoping the help I'm seeking can help me paddle through the waves of depression and traverse the ice patches when I come to them. It will be a work in progress, i only hope recounting my experiences may help one other person in need of getting help too. Never be afraid of asking for help, a lesson I learned the hard way but feel lucky to have learned and lived to tell the tale.