Dying of Depression

The following post has been placed behind a cut because of its frank discussion of depression and suicide, which may upset some readers.  Owls Well Blogs urges its readers to seek help if they are suffering or know someone who is suffering from depression.  Beyond Blue and the Black Dog Institute have very useful online resources to help with dealing with depression, whether you’re suffering from it or know someone who is.

If you have been thinking about suicide, please seek immediate help.  In Australia, you can call Lifeline at 13 11 14.  In Singapore, call the Samaritans of Singapore at 1800 221 4444.  You do not have to suffer alone.

In the past year, we’ve lost a number of famous people to suicide.  In some cases, the suicide left clear reasons for their death.  Sasai Yoshiki, world-renowned stem cell scientist, hanged himself after being forced to retract a paper written under his supervision and wrote a note blaming the media for his death.  In others, we’ll never know the exact reasons why they died, only that they died.  JewWario, noted online comedian, fatally shooting himself with the only explanation given for the death being depression.

A few weeks ago, Robin Williams, one of Owls Well’s favourite comedians was found dead in his home by his personal assistant.  He had taken his own life.  In the hindsight of his death, people are speculating if there weren’t any signs leading up to his suicide.  Certainly, there was some situational evidence that could have led to his death – the cancellation of his TV show, his having to sell his beloved ranch, an open heart surgery that brought him face to face with his mortality, his struggles with alcohol…  Ultimately, Mr William’s thoughts in the last few minutes before his fatal decision are his own, but we do know that he struggled with depression.

According to Beyond Blue, one in six Australians will experience depression in their lifetimes and each day, six of these depressed people will reach the point where they take their own lives.  Depression isn’t a choice, by the way, when you’re depressed, you are often incapable of simply “cheering up”.  Having depression is like living in a world of grey, where your saddest thoughts expand to fill your whole mind and you can’t remember what it’s like to be happy anymore.  Thing is, as Mr Williams and JewWario have proven, it’s entirely possible to die of depression and not everyone who is depressed shows it outwardly.

I was in Primary 3 when I first thought about killing myself.  A piece of pink raffia string had been tied to a hook to hold one of the staffroom doors open.  I remember looking at the badly tied little noose and thinking that my troubles would be over if I just slipped it over my head and pulled.

When I was in Secondary School, I had gained access to the school roof through questionable means.  To hide from bullies, I would sit up there during recess, with the sun beating down on my head and a good book in my hands.  One particularly difficult day, I stood at the edge of that roof and thought about jumping.  I actually dropped the book I was holding into the parade square to test my theory, startling one of the teachers below.  She didn’t even look up.  It would have been so easy, I thought, to just step off that edge and end it all.

I didn’t of course.  Standing on that edge brought many things into sharp relief, but ultimately what did stop me from taking that final, fatal leap, was thinking about my family.  If I had jumped, I would hurt my family terribly, but it would do nothing to the teachers who made my life miserable and the bullies who tormented me.  That logic was what stopped me in my tracks.  I never went through with it.  Instead, I went home as usual and behaved like nothing had ever happened.  At the time, I didn’t think that anyone knew just how unhappy I was.

But here’s the thing.  Trying to power through the unhappiness by yourself doesn’t really work.  I used to perceive my unhappiness as a sign of weakness and then would feel guilty about being unhappy, which led to feelings of inadequacy beacause of my inability to pull out of it on my own.  I felt like I couldn’t burden my friends and family with my problems because it would cause them to look down on me, to despise my weakness.  Those thoughts are deadly because they don’t help at all.  It’s important to realise that depression messes up your emotions and you need something to bounce off to help you regain your balance.  People aren’t made to live in boxes alone.  We’re social animals.  Finding friends to share your burdens with will help a lot.  Even if you don’t tell them everything, it’s helpful to just be in a group with other people.

Likewise, if your friend tells you that they are struggling with depression, please resist the urge to tell them to “cheer up” or to dismiss their claims as something that they’ll “just get over”.  I still struggle with depression and the occasional suicidal thought (particularly when life gets overly stressful).  It isn’t something you “just get over”.  Be sympathetic.  Listen to your friend.  Don’t be judgemental.  Give them time of day, but be reminded that depression is a long-term thing and be prepared to pull away if you need to take care of yourself too.

The thing is, at the end of the day, depression is something difficult to live with and deal with, but you shouldn’t have to handle it by yourself.  Get help and find your balance again.

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