Battling depression and clawing your way up from the deepest points doesn't always come with one breakthrough moment. One might think after my suicide attempt when I was 21 I would've had a clarifying thought. But I didn't. I was still stuck in the doldrums for over a decade after that.
While there wasn't one thing that happened after my second suicide attempt in 2011, the change came sometime after that. And it wasn't a skull-crushing one. Instead it was a number of things occurring over the course of years. The change in my life included a healthy dating relationship and financial stability. Also, a comfortable living situation, and direction on what I wanted to do with my life were helpful. And, in a basic way, general maturity and understanding of who I was. That said, I don't know everything but I do know enough to get me by.
If there's anything that has been a breakthrough, it's the thought that for the most part, I want to live. I can see the point in living and more days than not, life is pretty good and it's worth being here. This thought didn't occur overnight but instead took a few years. And then the thought came to mind: “Hey, this isn't so bad. I have some good things going on here. Perhaps it's worth sticking around.”
Speaking out about mental health has been influential in regards to finding clarity of thought and what my goals are. It took me a long time but recognizing what I enjoy, how I want to make a difference in this world, and what to do to keep me alive have been so helpful.
In the end, it doesn't matter when or how a breakthrough came, what's important is that it happened. If you're looking for a breakthrough with regards to your mental health, the best advice I can give is to find the tools that best help you to survive and then give life time until that breakthrough comes.
I have one last resort when things go wrong. When I am suicidal or incapable of doing anything, and want to give up, I turn to this document that I keep on a shelf by my bed.
Thankfully, I don’t have to turn to it very often, but it’s become my lifeline for when I feel horrible. I tend to work my way down the left side of the page and have found that, for the most part, by the time I get to the fifth or sixth question I’m feeling better. Your experience may vary and there’s nothing wrong with jumping around with the questions or doing some and not others.
This document isn’t a rulebook, but if you feel at the end of your rope, if you do enough of these, chances are you’ll feel better after a while. Your problems won't stop, but this document pulled me through a handful of dark times.
Last winter there was a snow day from work and I had a difficult time feeling motivated to do anything. I was disliking my job at the time quite a bit and was feeling hopeless and unmotivated with my life in general. Thoughts of suicide entered my mind. I had eaten and drank water. I had even showered. But I realized I hadn't been out of my apartment all day. So, once the snow eased up some I put on my boots and coat and trudged around my neighborhood. The lack of sound in the city made things quite eerie. Yet I found it very peaceful to see the snow lightly falling. I could tell the exercise and a change in environment were helpful. Things didn't change dramatically, but it was enough to pull me out of my severe doldrums.
I’m not exaggerating when I say if you deal with problems of suicidality, print this list out and put it by your bed. These items aren’t relegated to only the times you feel horrible—they’re good activities for general daily living. But they’re especially helpful if you find yourself at the end of your wits.
On occasion I fear a relapse into depression. Other times I find myself in the depths of despair. The best thing I can do to help me then is to remind myself that whatever I’m feeling, it’s happened before and I survived.
I’ve worked horrible jobs that I hated and where management was atrocious, so I know that should work get bad I can get through that. I often struggle with impatience. But I've found it’s helpful to remember that there were occasions where time took. I wanted out of my situation badly enough that I made the necessary plans to escape and did so. Thus, I am pretty sure I can do it again.
Even with new situations, such as going to a mental hospital, there’s a first time with that. I had never been through that. But I reminded myself there had been times before where I felt as despondent as I did then. I also knew to rely on those around me, such as my therapist and psychiatrist, for support. With their help I was able to survive that situation and now I know it’s possible to get through a hospitalization.
I also find some comfort in seeing how others have made it through difficult times and know that I, too, am capable of making it. I may not always feel I am able to do great things. Yet my success in other areas shows me that I have the knowledge and understanding to do something as well as those around me. I try and take hope in that.
Still, the more years I have behind me, the more experiences I have. I also see that with some planning and help from those around me, whatever is happening, I can get through it.
Once someone gets to a point of sharing about their mental health, others can assume, “Well, they’ve got it all together. They’re on top of things.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. In my case, I am stabilized enough to share my experiences with others, but I'm not to a place where I no longer suffer from mental illness.
I am diagnosed with bipolar II and the symptoms associated with that are fairly well under control. I’ve also made a great deal of progress on my anxiety and self-confidence. They’re miles above where they once stood and allow me to function well, without allowing doubts about my self-worth.
But here are the things with which I still struggle:
I get depressed. This is usually related to feeling stuck and bored with what is going on around me. I’m often impatient about the changes I want in my life. When they don’t happen it leaves me disappointed. A lot of my depression is about that disconnect between where I am and what I want my life to be like. This primarily means I want to be in a situation where I can speak and write about mental health. I’m working on changing that.
2. Existential depression
This article pretty well describes that situation. But to summarize, I have, for much of my life, felt like I don’t know what it is I’m here for. This can often lead to feelings of worthlessness and pointlessness with my existence. This is slowly changing as I find that speaking out about mental health has helped me find purpose. But I still have my doubts.
3. Suicidal ideation
I’ve written about suicidal ideation for an article at Medium. This can be a real tough one to handle. When I am stuck I revert back to feeling as though suicide is a proper way out. But I’ve seen time and again it’s not.
So, what about you? If you’ve made improvements in your life, what are you still working on?
Back in April of 2018 I shared an article about my suicidal ideation. I was impressed with how many people appreciated it and what a response it got. One of my friends asked me the question below and I thought it could be helpful to share a response with a wider audience.
I’d be curious to hear more about how you overcome your darkest thoughts and any suggestions you might have for the family and friends of those who feel depressed/suicidal.
I realize it can feel scary and leave one feeling helpless to watch a loved one go through suicidal experiences. The best thing I can do is remind myself that my mind is not telling me the truth. Additionally, whatever I'm feeling is something I've overcome and dealt with before. I find it helpful to deal with facts and truths that are unshakeable. I'm usually looking for stability and security when I'm unsure of myself and suicidal. So, if someone can give me something that is surefire, that's a safe feeling to me. Of course, all of this is built upon years of therapy and medication, so experiences you have with loved ones may vary.
If nothing else, you can encourage the person to take some self-care and see their therapist if they have one. And of course, just listening is helpful, too. It can be really difficult to get through dark times (both as someone suffering from suicidal ideation and as someone trying to help that individual) but I, as well as many others, are proof that it can be done.
This blog is an exploration of the subjects of belonging and loneliness. I also look at mental health issues. I seek to provide content to my readers that is informative and helpful. If you don't want to miss anything, sign up for my email list.