I’ve helped lots of people with depression, and have been through a couple of serious episodes myself. One thing I have learned is that however low you go, you can choose, if you want to, to improve life in small increments.
The natural tendency, when you’re in the pit, is to alienate yourself from the rest of humanity. There are lots of reasons for this. When self-esteem is low, then we don’t want to expose ourself to possible risk. Staying behind our own front door seems the safest option.
Also, depression is a kind of allergic reaction to life. Rather than move towards experiences and people, we find ourselves recoiling. The analogy with allergy is quite a close one, I believe. It is as though our ‘mind antibodies’, as well as our bodily antibodies, are working overtime to try to protect us from life. Just as in physical illness we just want to curl up and stop the world, so with this kind of mental illness.
In any one year, several people will tell me that they have had enough, and want to die. This is usually said in quite a matter-of-fact tone. By the time you hit an all-time low, you are extremely weary, and have somewhat lost your faith in anything ever getting better for any significant length of time.
I firmly believe in freedom of action, and if someone wants to kill themselves, then I would always accept and respect their thoughts and feelings. However, from a compassionate perspective, I would always want to help them to some degree of happiness if at all possible.
‘Digging out’ could be for a few minutes before committing suicide, for a few days before considering your options, or it could be an ongoing process which leads to a second lease of life. It’s not for me to judge.
But what I do know, is that frequently ‘digging out’ of a hole is slow, and happens just a little bit each day.
ACCEPTING WHERE YOU ARE
Whether you are trapped in a personal situation you don’t like, or just hate the world completely, there is usually a little bit of peace to be had by just accepting where you are. This can buy you a bit of time to decide what to do next.
One of the typical symptoms of depression, is a feeling that, looking forward, all you have to look forward to is an unending sequence of days without hope. It’s the unremitting hopelessness that can finally flatten you. If you actively want to die, however, then you are not merely flat, you are actively seeking to leave this life. This is different from acceptance. Acceptance often has a little bit of humour in it.
So, if you happen to want to get better, try seeking that tiny bit of humour which feels like a tiny bit of light relief.
After that, don’t look at the whole mountain in front of you. Just look a little in front, and do one thing, just one thing, that has a chance of giving you back something. It might be a five-minute walk. It might be making one small meal. It might be making one phone call. Don’t expect too much of yourself. Just do the one thing, and see how it goes.
That’s all I really wanted to say today. As I say, it’s a normal thing for me to be in touch with people who are very depressed, or want to end their life. From that place, the world seems a very daunting place, a very dark place, and often a fearful place. My message is never, never, never consider an action too small to bother with. Even walking to a window, making a bed, putting some shoes on, eating a piece of toast… even such apparently tiny things can be steps which help.
A final note to those caring for people with serious depression: you may well be exhausted sometimes, and feel it’s a thankless thing to support the person you care about. But I would just say: don’t do it for the feedback; don’t do it for yourself; be there because you care, and are happy to give your time, without asking for anything in return. Expect nothing: then you won’t be disappointed.