I’m a good writer. I’ve always loved playing with words, and people tell me they enjoy reading the sentences I put together. I was something of a golden child—able to speak before I could walk, expressing complex thoughts in writing while my peers struggled with spelling and forming letters.
I am an avid reader; a student of the world. I am a good mathematician, a good scientist, a good student in general. Throughout my life I have enjoyed learning and becoming competent in many things. As if academic prowess weren’t enough, I also sing, dance and play the piano very well (not so much anymore with the piano, since I am woefully out of practice.) People consider me “a renaissance woman.”
People are often drawn to me; my personality is engaging. I am easy to talk to, smart and funny. I laugh loudly and argue passionately. My parents and the universe gifted me at conception with an enormous complement of genetic ability, and my family and extended community worked hard after I was born to ensure that my potential would fully be realized.
With all my attributes, I should be well on my way to conquering the world, as I often (jokingly-but-not-so-jokingly) say I fully intend to do. Yet, here I sit, three weeks into a familiar period of absolute stagnation that is currently costing me opportunities and completely nullifying all the forward momentum I achieved in the last year.
Why am I like this? Why do I cycle through bursts of brilliance followed by long stretches of . . . nothingness? My parents, teachers, family and friends have been frustrated for years grappling with this very question. Everyone is confused when the Jekyll/Hyde moment happens, turning the gregarious, charming beauty into a dull, listless automaton.
This is depression.
Every time there is a rash of suicides, the talk starts up again. People are shocked, concerned, wondering “how can this happen? . . . We never saw it coming!”
I’ll tell you why you never see it coming: people with depression are excellent liars. We lie all the time. To ourselves, to everyone around us. We carefully construct a thin, brittle armour that resembles normalcy: we have jobs, we have relationships, we go shopping, we go on vacations. We put on costumes and glitter and jump in carnival bands, carefully blending in with the normies around us. We chat with our co-workers about the inanities of the day, cussing politicians and gossiping about Shelly’s latest haircut with the best of them.
Inside the armour, though, it looks like the photos that have been circulating of post-hurricane devastation. Inside ourselves, we are burnt, blasted, and shell-shocked. We wander through this blighted internal landscape, desperately searching for shelter. Shelter from what? We aren’t sure. Shelter from the world. Shelter from our minds?
I can feel your confusion. What is she talking about? Why does she need to shelter from herself?
People suffering from depression are gracious, charming, welcoming and understanding—to everyone but ourselves. We can see the . . . wrongness . . . inside of us. We hate it. We fear it. We don’t understand it. We are convinced of our uselessness, our unworthiness to even exist on this planet. We are nothing; less than nothing. We don’t deserve anything good, anything nice. We are frauds, black holes walking the earth wearing human skin and features. We are the real lizard people, and we’re terrified that everyone will soon discover us. So we burnish that armour to a brilliant shine, hoping to dazzle and distract the outside world so that nobody notices the darkness in our souls.
At this task, we are often resounding successes. Robin Williams won the hearts of everyone with his witty humour and larger-than-life characters. Kurt Cobain’s music proved iconic to a generation. Derek Weekes was a smiling, gentle giant of a boy who was always kind to people right up until the day he went to the old Ju-C building and put a rope around his neck.
That’s why everyone is always shocked at a suicide. They never see it coming. Because of society’s obsession with success and happiness, because everyone is told to “cheer up, leave your troubles with God.” Because people associate depression with madness and therefore stigmatize the condition, we pour all our energy into maintaining that armour, keeping up appearances, struggling day after day to fit in; to be “normal.” Until the day when we no longer can.
One day, the lies that our depression tells us about ourselves become too much to bear. The feelings of isolation and withdrawal that have been chipping away at our defenses overwhelm our spirit. The exhaustion settles on our soul like a warm blanket, and the oblivion that constantly beckons becomes inviting; not terrifying. An offer of peace is succor to our battered brains, the thing we’ve been fighting against our whole lives suddenly resolves into focus as the best—the only solution.
After all, we’re too difficult to love. We’re a burden on our families and our friends. We will be missed and people will be sad but in the long run everyone will be better off with us gone. No more trouble. No more needing to be rescued from situations and cycles of self-sabotage. No more after effects of bad decisions made in the heights of mania to clean up. No more embarrassment to our families. No more upset and hurt friends. No more . . .
To someone in the relentless grip of depression, suicide is a siren song. We lash ourselves to the masts of our lives and try to navigate our way past the danger zones. But in a society notorious for its exquisite cruelty and extreme apathy, we are too often left to paddle our own canoes!
It’s no wonder that so many choose to embrace the sweet release of nothingness. Sometimes life hurts too much to continue to fight.
By the way, saying “I’ll pray for you” to a depressed and suicidal person is often worse than just keeping your damn mouth shut.