How not to kill yourself
Bold blog title – yes!… because today, I am struggling – really struggling. This is not an uncommon feeling; I’ve been here many times before. It’s 4 days before Christmas, 2020. For a depressive like me, it’s the absolute worst time of the year, which has been a truly horrible year, in my little corner of the world and mostly everywhere else.
So, how do I get through these moments of intense woe and emotional fragility? Sometimes I cry until I feel dried out inside. I read stories of other depressed people who survived – even of those whom tragically didn’t recover. Sad stories of family members and friends grieving untimely deaths. The morbidity of such an interest isn’t completely jarring to me – I get it. Sometimes knowing I’m not the only person in the world in a pit of despair helps me feel less alone. There is strength available in these situations, if I can absorb some of the carryover prayers spoken from sincere meditations. I believe that.
Today – like many other days since the weeks, months and years ago, when depression first showed up in my body, projects like a dark cloud hovering over me. Trying to beat the sorrow out of me is a futile effort – it intensifies when I deny how I’m feeling. Taking medication is a short term reliever, as it minimizes the effects of the despair. Full blown, untreated and unaccountable depression is the kind of mental illness that kills people. Perhaps that’s why I am choosing to write today – I’m showing up and giving an account of what I’m dealing with. It hurts, but the alternative is far worse. If this is God nudging me to write today, that can’t be a bad thing, can it?
It all started when I was a preteen. I wasn’t taking my school work seriously and was failing some of my grades. If I’d had a learning disability, it wasn’t detected or monitored. Instead, I recall being singled out in a class by my teacher, who was agitated by my poor academic performance. I have never forgotten the moment I was told to stand up by my desk, while Mr. [xxxxxx] told my classmates to look at me, then proceeded to say, “Look at Carolyn. She is a loser…” He made a secondary jab about me but I blocked it out from my memory. I remember my chin quivering and the hot tears pouring down my face (the same can be said as I write these things today). I didn’t speak to my family about this real-life nightmare because I felt too ashamed to talk about it. By the end of the spring, I was further humiliated to learn I would be repeating the seventh grade in September.
That experience when I was 12 years old was depressing, but it didn’t break me. I gradually made new friends despite my same-age classmates moving ahead to the higher grade. I didn’t feel despair again until 10 years later, going through a painful relationship breakup. A few years earlier, I had been rebellious against my upbringing and strict church community, choosing to socialize with new friends from my place of employment. One evening after partying at a downtown club, I felt like I’d lost my identity. Who was I? I lamented that I was at the end of my rope and emptied out a bottle of cold remedy pills into my hand. I didn’t know what would happen to me if I took them, but I was too reckless and unstable to be responsible. I felt I’d let everyone down in my life – my parents, friends, church, etc., because I was, after all, a loser. I downed the pills, while crying and feeling hopeless. A short time later, I called for an ambulance to bring me to the hospital because I knew my parents would be heartbroken if something terrible happened to me. At the hospital, I recovered within a few hours and went back home, by myself. I avoided scrutiny because no one in my family knew what I had done. I was ashamed and still felt that childhood-loser mentality. Winners don’t do things like that to themselves.
By next year, I’d turned my life around and was back to being the good church girl/young adult. I was moving away from home to attend Bible college and I would never again feel the sting of loser-hood. I was “anointed”, which was understood to be “called” by God into a life of ministry and serving others. My years of feeling like a failure had made me empathetic towards the hurting, the lost, the broken, etc. I would be strong and courageous, but first needed to get the necessary education to equip me for pastoral life.
Instead of succeeding in reaching this calling I felt was my vocational destiny, I got married after graduating from my 4 year degree program. I felt I needed to be supportive to my husband, whom I’d met at Bible college. Despite all the hard work in achieving this bachelor degree, there was never a sense that I needed to pursue pastoral ministry opportunities. I had gradually lost my confidence in public speaking, ministerial work, writing sermons and reaching the lost. The loser-complex returned and it gripped me so strongly that I lost my desire to serve others or to make anything of my higher education. I was in survival mode because of situations occurring in my marriage that were threatening my mental health, in ways I’d never experienced before. The most fulfilling part of those years were involving the wonderful experience of motherhood. To this day, being a mom to my 4 kids has provided the purpose, the essence and the main source of my well-being. However, during the decade of my 30s, undetected despair was impacting my wellness and poisoning my ability to truly take care of myself.
My words today, as a 50 year old reflective, apologetic survivor of multiple self-harm episodes, are not to insult, embarrass or shame anyone who has ever hurt me. We all have moments of being less than courteous. The teacher from my Christian school who shredded my confidence as a 12 year old child, never apologized to me or spoke of the incident to me. There have been much worse situations of cruelty that I’ve endured and healed from. The lasting effects of despair, however, can cause one to feel defeated. I can say with assurance, that I’ve been debilitated by situational depression that is affecting me today. Without proper treatment of this disease, things have broken down in my life so badly, that recovery is harder to grasp. It’s as though being called a loser at age 12, remained with me deep into the recesses of my mind, with an evil presence attached to that word, threatening my well-being and sanity. Sometimes I look in the mirror and think, ‘This happened to you because you are a loser, Carolyn’. It is self-talk from the pit of hell.
To properly dispose of all traces of despair from my body (mentally, physically, psychologically and spiritually), I need to feel like I will survive my current challenges. There is hopelessness amongst achievements. Some joys but more sorrows. A few blessings but more curses. Some gains, more losses. This is how depression is manifested in a mind and soul, that has grown exhausted. Completing my story is underway and I don’t want it to have a sad ending. There is still so much that I want to experience in this life and the ways in which I know I can live purposefully, serving and encouraging others. Yet, I am greatly held back from being that person. Will I be okay? Will I be strong and courageous? Will I inspire others to live truthfully, compassionately and generously? For those that didn’t survive self-harm, can their loved ones live full, productive lives as they respect the lost opportunities afforded by everyday life? Can depression be alleviated by the development of selfless consideration from those who have caused so much harm? I can live with the questions – I WILL LIVE with the questions, even if the answers don’t come.
(If this triggers or spikes anyone’s depression, I am truly sorry. Not being willing to talk about despair causes more harm, though. If I can open up today about some of my agonizing situations and regrets, there is room for yours as well. Be seen and accepted, because you are.)