I’m currently going through a really depressive episode, as typically happens in the fall, and after talking to a friend who is also clinically depressed, I decided to write a post about chronic depression and suicidal ideation. It ties in with words of encouragement, that although come from a genuinely good place, can often make depression worse. Phrases such as “this will pass” or “everything will get better” erase what severe clinical depression really is.
Think of the moods of someone with a severe mental illness like the sky, and depression and suicidal ideations like the clouds. Sometimes the clouds are wispy, the sky is clear blue, and the sun shines brightly. Sometimes the sun is shining but the clouds look more like fluffy cotton balls. Other times the clouds are dense and dark and completely eclipse the sun and everything is cast in a gray light.
Just like in day to day weather, there are few days that no clouds are visible. The same goes for my, and others depression. Suicidal thoughts, or rather the desire to no longer be alive, is always there, just like the clouds. It’s just sometimes those thoughts are more like the wispy clouds or the cottony clouds, noticeable, but don’t take away from the sunshine.
There isn’t an “it will get better” or “it will pass” because it’s more of a “you won’t feel SO bad eventually.” Living with chronic depression is like living with chronic pain in that even on your good days you’re worried about when and how bad your next flare up will be. It’s knowing that the symptoms don’t go away, just that their severity ebbs and flows.
The book “Furiously Happy” by Jenny Lawson puts a great perspective on this. The author is a woman with some severe mental health diagnoses and has debilitating episodes of depression and anxiety. She accepts that this is the hand she was dealt in life and doesn’t try to sugar-coat them or positive mantra them away. Her take is that in those moments where she is “ok” she lives her life to the fullest. However outrageous it may look to outsiders, because for people with severe and chronic mental illness, those moments are few and far between.
“Furiously Happy is about “taking those moments when things are fine and making them amazing, because those moments are what make us who we are, and they’re the same moments we take into battle with us when our brains declare war on our very existence. It’s the difference between “surviving life” and “living life”. It’s the difference between “taking a shower” and “teaching your monkey butler how to shampoo your hair.” It’s the difference between being “sane” and being “furiously happy.” -Jenny Lawson.
The fact that it doesn’t “get better” or “pass” is something I think anyone with a friend or loved one with a chronic mental illness should really sit with and understand. It’s hard, as the mentally ill loved one, to come out and tell you that your kind words actually make us feel worse, but we do know they come from a good place. We recognize that it’s an awkward position to be in. My advice to you is to treat it like any other chronic medical condition.
My advice to you is to treat it like any other chronic medical illness because that’s what it is. If your friend had fibromyalgia and was having a particularly painful episode, you wouldn’t tell them “it will get better” or “stay positive.” You would ask if there was anything you could do to help, if there was anything they needed, or just be with them to try to distract them from the pain.
Coming to terms with the fact that I will never be without these feelings and that death is always my preferred “mode”, if you will, is something I’m still working on. Seeing others zeal for life makes me feel worse. I’d love to be able to make long-term plans and goals but I’m always one season, one mistake by an insurance company, one disappointment away from my next hospitalization and destruction of my progress to think in those terms. Not acting on my suicidal ideations takes precedent over having a career or maintaining relationships. I and many others are perpetually between a rock and a hard place, but we are really doing the best we can.