Content note: discussion of suicidal ideation.
Wednesday was some of the roughest mental health shit I’ve dealt with to date.
The day started out badly – I was already in a depressive mood early in the morning and the fact that everyone was silent made things worse. There was no chatter in my group chat with my sister J, A and M. No chatter in the group chat with H and A. No chatter in PMs from C or Arizona J. Just… silence. I felt too depressed and awkward to be the one to break the silence. Maybe they wanted a break from me. They weren’t being paid to listen to me bitch about my life. Or maybe they just weren’t thinking of me at all. Somehow, that latter thought was worse.
I had a therapy appointment scheduled for 11am – changed from in person to a phone interview due to COVID-19. I just needed to hang on.
My therapist got an earful. I was angry and venting about how it didn’t seem to matter what I did, my life never improved, it was just repeating trauma over and over. I apologized and clarified that I was just angry and that I wasn’t angry at him, and he assured me he knew and wasn’t taking it personally.
He then went on to ask me questions – I’m fairly certain his initial intent was to try and ascertain if I was an immediate danger to myself or a possible danger to others. He was grimly amused (as I am) that my brain has chosen a debt that needs to be repaid as a reason to stick around. He’s been a practicing therapist for many years and never had a client say that’s what kept them from going through with suicide. Of course, it’s not really the debt – it’s H. I wouldn’t want to repay his kindness by leaving him with no way to recoup the money he loaned me.
He wanted to know why my kids weren’t a reason to stick around. I’d known that wasn’t something that would work but, admittedly, hadn’t ever closely examined why that was the case. Now I took time to think about it and arrived at the answer right away – it’s because the concept of living for my kids would just make me feel angry and further traumatized, because that’s exactly what caused so much of my pain in the first place. Being expected to sacrifice what I want for motherhood. Being expected to live for my children.
He then asked further questions about my kids and my relationship to them – had I loved them when they were born? Yes, more than I’d ever thought possible. But I’d also known more fear than I ever thought possible. He wanted to know if I’d felt joy because of having them in my life. No, I had not. Sometimes I felt fleeting happiness over cute kid stuff they’ve done, but never joy. He then wanted to know if I’d felt joy as a child – I said yes, I’d definitely felt joy in my existence as a child.
He latched on to that phrasing – joy in my existence – and he wanted to know if I’d ever felt joy because of my family – my parents or siblings. The answer to that – not really, no. My memories from childhood involving my family and home were stamped with fear, pain, shame and betrayal. My parents had been trying to teach us ‘instant obedience,’ enforced through corporal punishment. Natural childhood behaviors – mistakes, errors in judgement, stubbornness – were treated as deliberate sin that must be shamed and punished. In their effort to escape their own punishments, my sisters would scapegoat me, so my relationship with my siblings wasn’t safe and happy, either.
There were a few positive memories of my family and home life. I had loved the part of our Christmas celebrations where we would finish decorating the tree and then turn off all the lights in the house except the lights on the tree. Then we’d sit and sing Christmas hymns. I’d also felt at peace when my mom would hold me on her lap and sing hymns to me. (No wonder music would go on to play such a major role in coping and healing.)
The period of time when I remember feeling joy in my existence was age 4 to age 7. The things that I felt joyful about involved things that were away from my home. Wandering around the fields, digging for “treasure,” following the creek, playing in the abandoned cemetery, rolling down the hill, visiting the two boys that belonged to the family that were our only neighbors. Sometimes we’d sneakily watch cartoons with them, like He-Man and She-Rah. I had enjoyed my friendship with the son closest to my age. I’d also loved and enjoyed a friendship a couple of years later with a boy I went to church with. Those relationships had felt safe and happy.
Things started clicking into place for me. This was why the quarantine was being so difficult. This was why the 7 years in central Florida and the 5 years in Chicagoland had been so difficult. “Home” had never been a happy, safe place for me. I enjoyed moving. I didn’t want to nest. I wanted freedom of movement and I wanted friendships away from the expectations of my family.
My relationship with my husband and my experiences with motherhood recreated the insecure, fearful, joyless atmosphere of my childhood home. In addition to that, I was stripped of the things that had helped me cope and still enjoy life as a child – my freedom of movement and my friendships.
I felt briefly fortified by my appointment with my therapist, but it wasn’t long before that feeling evaporated. I felt tremendously alone. It was past noon and I still hadn’t heard from anyone. I worried about A. Should I check on her? She seemed like she’d been surfacing from her own pandemic-inspired anxiety and depression. Maybe she just didn’t want to talk to me because my mental health issues were making her mental health issues worse. Maybe H didn’t want to talk to me because I was sounding like too much of an angry, cynical drag. (I knew that wasn’t terribly likely – H and I had started to become better friends in 2016 when I was going on an angry political rampage and he’d reached out to me to express similar disdain for what was occurring.)
I couldn’t seem to convince myself that everything was okay and it was just a morning when people were busy and didn’t feel like talking. Even the idea that it was just coincidence didn’t really make me feel better, because it seemed like a particularly cruel coincidence that a major mental health episode should coincide with silence from the people whose presence would have helped.
I decided I’d go for a walk.
It really wasn’t helping. I just felt worse and worse. More isolated. Physically exhausted, like gravity was getting stronger. I wished I could find a safe and private place where I could just lie down and maybe never get up again. I wished someone would check on me – just ask how I was doing. It felt like it was unusual for me to have been quiet for so long but apparently no one was going to notice that and think to inquire if anything was wrong. Sure, I could reach out, but the fact that I had to reach out because no one else would think to just made me feel worse. More alone. I was the only person I could ever count on to be there for me, and it didn’t feel like I’d be able to be there for me much longer.
It wasn’t my friends’ fault they couldn’t be there for me. They had the weight of their own lives, struggles, trauma and mental health issues to deal with. They couldn’t be expected to take on responsibility for my issues on top of their own. It was getting later in the afternoon and I was starting to worry about A, though. When I finally returned home from my walk I messaged her to make sure she was okay and was relieved to get a response that she’d been busy with school and was now resting. I reacted to her message so she’d known I’d seen it and then returned to sinking deeper into depression.
Someone finally messaged me – Indy M, letting me know they’d successfully closed on their house, which was a huge weight off her mind. At that point my depression was such that even finally hearing from a friend didn’t really help. It wasn’t the contact I’d wanted – someone checking to see how I was doing, and I felt bad for the fact that I felt vaguely resentful. How the hell was anyone supposed to be thinking and worrying about me? Most people probably get the impression I’m strong and can just pick myself up and carry on when things get rough. That I don’t need help.
I don’t specifically ask how my friends are doing all that often, either.
I wanted comfort and an end to loneliness so badly, though. I thought about how I could no longer count on my family to be emotionally supportive. How my other friends were too exhausted managing their own mental health and circumstances to have the energy to reach out. I thought about the dream I’d had years ago where I’d been sent help when I no longer had the energy to fight or defend myself and how powerfully that had imprinted itself in my memory. How that just can’t/won’t happen in reality. Ultimately, I’m on my own.
I wanted to die, but I wanted to die without having to expend energy to handle it myself. I wanted to be able to lie down somewhere and just never get up again. At some point during the evening or night I pondered the suicide hotline and decided I didn’t care. This was not like anything I’d experienced before. Usually I had some active desire to counter suicidal ideation. When it happened during my panic attacks, I’d reached out to A & H. When it happened on New Year’s Day, I’d gone for a drive, determined to somehow get myself through the crisis without having to burden my friends if I could help it.
Now, I couldn’t seem to muster the energy to give a rat’s ass about wanting to die. Even my desire to repay H wasn’t feeling strong enough to act as a preventative. I didn’t want to talk to someone about it, I didn’t want them trying to talk me out of it – not that I was going to do anything, anyway, because I couldn’t think of any easy, convenient way to achieve death. It just seemed like too much trouble.
The women in my favorite facebook group had earlier been arranging to meet up on google hangouts to help combat quarantine blues, but by the time 9pm rolled around, I couldn’t face the thought of joining the group. My depression and intermittent crying wouldn’t make for good company and I wanted the group to be able to enjoy their time together.
Instead, I took another walk. I went the opposite direction from earlier in the day, deciding I’d head to the wooded trail that cut through the suburbs to the south. Things were quiet and there was very little activity. I was briefly startled when I reached the trail and a jogger appeared a moment later, but they were the last person I’d see while on the trail.
I thought about the times when I was a teenager riding my bike late at night in the suburbs, naively certain the night was full of danger, like serial killers, and that there was a chance someone would kill me and put me out of my misery. I thought about the times I walked in the park late at night in Chicagoland, fantasizing that I’d meet people and they’d talk to me, even if they weren’t safe people to talk to. I thought about how I could walk along the suburban trails in broad daylight, crying, and never have anyone say anything, if they even noticed to begin with.
If I died, there would be people that would be sad, and then they would move on with their life. My sister J would probably take it the hardest – that did provide a twinge of caring and thinking I needed to avoid harming myself for her sake. Still, it made my life feel like a yawning abyss. Just me, ultimately alone as I navigate my journey, because no one else is able to be there for me.
I did eventually just let myself sink down to the ground, halfway down the trail. It’s not like there was anyone to observe me or be obstructed by me.
My group chats had finally had some minimal activity as I was starting out on my walk. A saying she’d be joining the group on Google hangouts, and a reaction from M that showed she was present. Now I pulled out my phone again and saw my sister J saying she had date night and wouldn’t be able to join the hangout. H had linked part of a youtube video he knew A and I would find funny.
I still felt dreadfully alone and on my own, but I no longer felt cut off from my friends, and that helped. I got back up and walked to the end of the trail, then turned around to make the trek home.
After a night’s sleep, the worst of the episode had past. I felt emotionally bruised but more like myself, and I hypothesized that what I’d just experienced was depression sans anxiety. I’m not sure I’ve ever had depression without it going hand in hand with anxiety. Who knew I’d find some value in anxiety after all? But it seems it actually helped keep my depression from becoming the exhausting lethargy and horrible gaping hole of sadness I’d experienced the day before. Obviously if I could choose, I’d choose no depression or anxiety, but between depression sans anxiety or anxiety sans depression… I’d definitely pick the anxiety.
Depression by itself is just fucking brutal.