Keeping Myself Safe

I have depression. I have had it for as long as I can remember. It comes and goes, but it never really leaves. It does not mean that I cannot be happy. It does not keep me from living a good life. It is not obvious to an outsider that I have this chronic illness. However, it does mean that I have to do some things differently to make sure I stay safe. Just like someone with severe allergies might carry an EpiPen to keep themselves alive if they are inadvertently exposed to something that can harm them, I do certain things to keep myself alive during an unexpected depressive episode.

I limit anything in my room that I could use to hurt myself. I do not have any long cords in my room. I have one belt that I keep in the back of my closet. I have one pair of scissors that I keep in a box on my desk. I do not keep any other sharp objects in my room. I keep a limited supply of medicine in my room, which is also at my desk. Both my desk and my closet are on the opposite side of my room from my bed. If I really wanted to harm myself, I would have to get out of bed and walk about 15 feet to reach anything that I could use to hurt myself. Generally, when I am extremely depressed and suicidal, I cry so much that it is hard to get out of bed. If I do make it out of bed, I generally don’t make it farther than the floor next to the bed.

Of course, it does not really matter where I keep things when I am doing well. On a normal day, I can walk past or use a million things that could potentially hurt me without any fear. The problem is that I never know when I will feel suicidal. I can go from being completely well and not feeling depressed at all, to feeling extremely suicidal in the space of a few hours. My world is unpredictable because my mind can quickly become overwhelmed by undesirable thoughts and feelings.

Studies have shown that limiting someone’s access to methods of killing themselves dramatically decreases their risk of dying by suicide. I know this to be true. I know there are things I will never do because of my depression. I will never own a gun. I will never have an internet server or other device in my room that requires a corded connection. I will never hike to a cliff by myself. I will never step onto a balcony of a tall building without someone nearby. I will never look over a bridge or overpass that does not have a protective fence. If I feel depressed, I will not go for a walk down the street without someone with me.

These are the things I have to do to keep myself safe. These are the ways I make sure that I have time to think before I can harm myself. This is my insurance to myself and my friends that depression will not win easily.

Sometimes it is not easy to keep myself safe. Sometimes I have to rely on friends to help me out of an unhealthy state of mind. I know that it is hard for the people that care about me to know that because of my depression, suicidal thoughts can quickly rise to the surface of my mind. But my promise to them is to do all that I can to keep myself safe. I do all that I can to make sure that their fears will never come true. I will not make it easy for this illness to hurt me. And I will continue to do everything in my power to fight my depression for as long as I live.

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How Depression Feels

A while ago I started drawing what my depression felt like. It was a way of expressing myself without actually hurting myself. Now that I am better, I feel like I can share these drawings. These are actual thoughts or images I had while in the depths of depression.

***Warning, these drawings can be a little graphic. I am boldly expressing a sensitive topic, which can make others uncomfortable.***

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I would often just see blood on my arms- at church, work, school. I would see blood everywhere. I didn’t even want to hurt myself sometimes, but the images would come anyway.

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Sometimes when I was lying in bed, I would see demons coming out of me. And more often, I would just feel like I was tied to the bed with barbed wire- moving or breathing or anything would just hurt. There were days when I just lied in bed and silently screamed because the pain was so bad.

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I often felt like I was drowning. I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t find anything to hold onto. The only escape, the only thing that I felt like was there for me to grab as I descended into the abyss was suicide. Suicide became my flotation device.

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I often saw myself hanging or choking myself.

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I would see myself hanging from the ceiling as I went to bed. Or sometimes I just felt so stretched to my limit that I would feel like I was trying to pull myself up while being chained to the ceiling.

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I wanted the end. I just wanted the end so badly. I thought about cutting through to the bone. I thought about just hurting myself so much that I would end up in the hospital and maybe then I could get the help I needed.

I am so happy to say that I am out of that now. The images have gone away. The pain is mostly gone. I don’t picture doing any of these things to myself anymore. This was the darkest time of my life. Darker than any other time I had depression or tried to hurt myself. This time I wanted to be better. There was so much good in my life and so many reasons to get better. Depression is an illness. It is a sickness. And these are some of the more disturbing symptoms.

Also, sorry for the low quality of the images. I have limited resources to take pictures at the moment and pencil drawings are hard to see sometimes. 

Hello Darkness my Old Friend

To say I have been depressed for the last few months would be an understatement. To say I have been overwhelmed and stressed to the point of exhaustion would clarify a little more, but would still not give a full picture of how much I have been struggling. The fact is I have been drowning. You forget what it is like to breathe sometimes when life is so crazy that you don’t have time to focus on anything. I have been in a whirlwind of demands and emotions. I have been spinning in a sea of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, desires for self harm, and overall stress. The loneliness surrounding me has felt like walking around in a plastic bag, trying to gasp for air that wasn’t there.

I have checked out of life.

Before the last couple months, I never understood people who said that when they were depressed, they just stayed in bed. I am an expectation follower. I do what people expect no matter how hard it is, how uncomfortable, how much it hurts me, or how much I despise it. I cannot just not go to work because that is what is expected of me. I cannot just stop doing what I am expected to do, no matter how much I am struggling or how much I am hurting. The last month was a little different though. I realized that people don’t expect much from single people. You can pretty much just go to work or school and that is all people expect of you. I usually enjoy doing other things, but this time I did not care to do anything. I did not do any of the things I usually do. I avoided home and my family. I stayed out late and did absolutely nothing most of the time. I left church as soon as possible and arrived as late as possible. I did not go to activities or talk to most of my friends. I did not try to cook or buy groceries. I don’t even remember half of the last month because I was so out of it.

Suicide seemed so enticing. I thought about self harm nearly every day and succumbed to the thoughts more than once.  The darkness won out more often than it ever has before. And for once, I was not scared of suicide because I just figured it was a matter of time, and if it came down to it, I would not be opposed to embracing the darkness for one final time. I felt like a zombie going through the motions of life, and it didn’t matter if I lived or died because I felt like I was emotionally dead already.

The good news is that I’m getting better. I feel like I can breathe again. I feel like I can talk again. I feel like I may have more of a grip on life. It is a slow process. You don’t just come out of depression like that and simply go on with life. But slowly, steadily, I am working towards recovery. I am learning to breathe again. I am learning to see again. I am learning to be myself again. And it will get better. It always does.

“Frozen” and Mental Illness

I know that it has become cliche to say that Frozen is your favorite Disney movie, but there are a few reasons why I really connect to the story. I relate to the feelings of trying to conceal who you are because you are afraid of hurting others. I have thought about suicide since I was a kid. I always thought that these thoughts were bad, that there was something wrong with me because I kept thinking about suicide even when things were good. I tried to hide my depression, my suicidal thoughts, my mental illness, because I was afraid that if people knew, if people saw, they would get hurt.

In Frozen, Elsa is told that there is beauty in her gift, but also danger. She gets so afraid of endangering others that she locks herself away from everyone else. She hides her gift because it scares her that she cannot control it. Her parents unknowingly reaffirm these thoughts by telling her to “conceal, don’t feel, don’t let it show.” Eventually though, she breaks. She is unable to hold it all in and does the very things she was afraid of doing by hurting the ones she loves. But by breaking, she finds freedom in allowing herself to feel and to use her abilities.

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This picture of Elsa is a very familiar scene for me. Sitting in my room, isolating from the world, feeling like I am a monster unable to control myself, feeling like no one could ever understand the darkness, feeling so alone because even though people are so close- they just don’t know what lies behind my closed doors.

I finally went and saw my therapist again. It has been about 6 months since I last saw him. When I left the last time, it was on such a positive note. My life was going well, I had been feeling hopeful about life and felt like I could handle my thoughts. Going back felt like somewhat of a failure, as though I was not good enough to keep up those positive thoughts, that I had failed in my recovery. My therapist told me that it is like riding a bike though. You have times when you are going downhill and you do not need to peddle because life is easier. There are other times when you are going uphill and you have to put all you have into peddling because otherwise you will start slipping backwards.

That is how I have been feeling lately. I had been doing so well for a while, but with the accumulation of health issues, disordered eating, added stresses of school and business, life became difficult. I got tired of peddling and started sliding back into the familiar darkness of depression and thoughts of suicide and self harm. When I recovered enough to look around again, I realized how far I had slid backwards and it was disheartening. It is difficult to realize how much your choices have affected you. I understand that eating disorders and depression are not entirely choices, but I had slipped. I had slid into familiar destructive habits and realizing the toll it took on my body was almost devastating.

I remember learning about addictions in my health class and the teacher saying that relapse is part of recovery. This was my relapse. I had fallen back into harmful behaviors that hurt me physically and emotionally. Realizing you have relapsed is one of the hardest parts of recovery. You feel as though you have failed, you have let everyone down, you let yourself down. At this point, it is easy to convince yourself to stop trying because you feel as though you are never going to get better anyway. I remembered that relapse is a step in recovery though. I am realizing that it does not mean I will not get better. I am better than I was and I will become better than I am. It is simply a process and I must have patience with myself.

Anyway, back to Frozen, thinking about the movie I realized something about myself. Elsa’s gift was beautiful and amazing. It brought people joy and made life more fun. It was only dangerous when she forgot how to love and open herself up. It was dangerous because she concealed the beauty in the process of trying to protect others from getting hurt. Suicidal thoughts are not my gift, but maybe feeling so much is a gift. I empathize with others. I understand things on a level that most people do not. I feel with everything in me. When I love, I love so completely that it hurts sometimes. Maybe this gift of mine is beautiful, maybe it makes being my friend better and more fun, maybe it is a good thing.

My therapist counseled me to not label my suicidal thoughts as bad, but simply to recognize them as thoughts and move on. I do not have to be afraid of my thoughts. I do not have to fear thinking about self harm or suicide or other thoughts that have been reinforced in my head as harmful. I can simply recognize them as part of my thought processes that have been shaped through years of reinforcement, but I do not have to hold onto those thoughts. I do not have to judge myself for those thoughts. My thoughts do not define me, but what I choose to do with those thoughts can define me if I allow it to.

So here’s to the beauty of mental differences. Here’s to the emotional breakdowns because that means I have powerful feelings. Here’s to the thoughts that I do not have to harbor because there are other thoughts I would rather dwell on. Here’s to seeing the beauty instead of the danger of my mind. Here’s to this beautiful, wonderful, crazy life and all that comes with it.

A Good Person

When someone drops something, I naturally want to help them pick it up. When someone is hurting or sad or depressed, I naturally want to comfort them. When someone appears lonely or out of place, I naturally want to be their friend. When someone needs help, I naturally rush to their aid.

I naturally want to help people feel good about themselves. I naturally love people. I am naturally thankful. I desire to do kind things and let people know how much they are loved. I desire to always do good, to make others happy, to make the world a better place.

With all of these things that come naturally, with all of these good thoughts I have, you probably think I would consider myself to be a good person.  The reality is that I hate myself. I consider myself unworthy, not good enough, a mistake, and ultimately a bad person.

I feel like when I’m reaching out to help others, I am messing up. I feel like when I sit with someone who appears lonely, I am being annoying. I feel like when I drop off flowers or candy or a note on someone’s doorstep, I did it wrong. I feel like nothing I do will ever be good enough. I will never be good enough. I will never be enough.

I tried to explain this to a friend of mine. I tried to explain that when I have the urge to do something good, I feel wrong about it. Over the last couple years, I have dropped off many anonymous gifts at people’s homes. Every time I did, I came home and cried. I stepped into my room and fell to my knees, sobbing and wanting to die.

People see the good and think, “she’s such a good person.” I see the good and think to myself, “what makes you qualified to think you know how to help someone? What makes you worthy to do kind things? What makes you think that they will appreciate this?” In looking at the good that I do, I am not proud of it; I am ashamed. I hate myself for the good that I do just as much as I hate myself for the mistakes that I make.

I used to stop myself from doing good. I would force myself to shut up and sit down. I would insult myself until I felt so small and insignificant that I would not think I was capable of doing the thing I desired. I still feel like that, but I do good anyway. I follow my kind thoughts, no matter how much it hurts, or how hard it is, or how much I hate myself for it, I do not postpone a generous thought.

Why do I hate myself this much? Why do I believe I am a horrible person, worthy of pain and punishment? Why is doing good things so hard when it comes naturally? I’m not sure. Maybe partly because of experiences I had.

I remember being yelled at for trying to help. I remember feeling like a bad person because I tried doing something good, but I did it wrong and was told it was better to not do it at all if I couldn’t do it right. I remember being yelled at for trying to coordinate efforts for good. I remember over and over being told that I did things wrong, that I communicated wrong, that I was wrong.

Eventually, I believed it. I believed I was wrong. I am a bad person. I do not do good things, I just do things that are good in bad ways. I will never be enough.

Am I good? Will I ever be good? Will I ever love myself? I don’t know, but I am trying. I am trying to be a good person and to believe I am a good person. It is difficult. I still worry, but I do my best. Maybe one day I’ll believe that I am good, that I am worthy of love, that the good I do is enough, that I am enough. Until then, I will just do my best to keep doing good despite how I feel about it.

Reasoning Behind Self Injury

Last night found me curled up and rocking in a corner, trying to decipher between reality and my mind. I needed a grip on life, something to ground me to reality, to show me that I was not lost to my thoughts. The problem was finding that something.

Up until this point in my life, I would turn to self injury to ground myself. Pain draws you back to reality, not necessarily the pain itself, but the singularity of that pain. Knowing that something specific caused that pain allows you to have a connection to the real world. It’s like pinching yourself to see if you’re dreaming. The cause of the pain allows you to realize what is real and what is not.

However, I have made a promise to never self injure. I have sworn to not hurt myself as long as there is one person who still cares about me. I still miss it though. I miss that grounding in reality, the singular feeling that there is life outside of my head.

People look at self injury like it’s attention seeking behavior, like it’s a cry for help. Maybe it is sometimes, but I think more often, it’s just a way to check reality. It’s a way to realize that our mind doesn’t control everything, that the darkness is limited to inside us. It may seem strange that hurting ourselves on the outside would help us realize that the darkness doesn’t control us, but it takes us out of our minds and allows us to see outside of ourselves.

For me, self injury was never about attention. You will never see scars or marks or any indication that I self harmed. Yet, I went for days at a time causing myself pain. I still wonder if what I did caused permanent damage because I still get pain where I hurt myself.

What I want you to understand is not the mindset behind self injury, but rather the why’s that could possibly be addressed in other ways. Not having the option of self injury last night, I instead looked for someone to talk to, to give me something real outside of myself. I allowed myself to cry completely because tears were outside of myself. I felt the textures of things around me to get me out of my mind. And I focused on something I had to do externally.

It’s hard dealing with this stuff. It’s hard being locked in a reality of the mind that feels more real than real life. It’s hard to find ways out of your head without turning to pain and what you know. But, we can do it. We can overcome. We don’t have to give in to the pain. There is hope for us without being hurt. We just have to find our way.

Mental Health

I don’t understand the dichotomy between how we treat physical health and how we treat mental health.

I have been experiencing some health issues lately that make it difficult to eat food. To me, these issues don’t really seem like a big deal, but when I tell people about it, their reactions make me think that it may be a bigger problem than I realize. The thing is, I compare my health issues to my mental health issues, and in comparison, my physical health doesn’t seem like much of a problem.

Not being able to eat without being in pain doesn’t seem as bad as not being able to eat because I had an eating disorder or because I was too depressed to eat. Being in constant physical pain doesn’t seem as bad as when I tortured myself for days at a time because my mind told me I deserved it. Feeling like I’m dying doesn’t seem as bad as wanting to die and constantly thinking of suicide or attempting to kill myself.

Yes, my physical health issues are kind of a big deal and affect nearly every aspect of my life right now. But compared to my mental health issues, I hardly consider them worth anyone’s time.

What is worth helping, saving, and taking people’s time is when I want to die. That’s something people can change. That’s something they can help with. Bringing me food because I’m in pain is nice, but it doesn’t change much of my condition. Giving me love when I feel hopeless could change everything.

I’m not saying that mental health is more important than physical health. They are both important. They both need attention and care. But if you really want to make a difference, it’s probably not going to be by finding the cure for cancer. In my experience, the biggest difference is made not on the giant scale of curing disease, but on the tiny scale, the one person at a time scale, of curing loneliness.

Mental health isn’t just a statistical arena. It’s not something you just hear about on the news. It’s something that someone you know is struggling with. It’s something that is just as important as keeping someone physically healthy. It is the most real thing I have ever experienced, and it’s not over. I have hope, but it’s still not over. Mental health is real, and it is serious. Don’t forget that.