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. 

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.

My Story – Love

Trigger warning: This post contains methods of self harm, thoughts of suicide, and references to abuse.

I grew up believing that I was never good enough, that no matter how hard I tried or how much I did, I could never be loved. It took a long time to get over that. It took a long time for me to believe that anyone could ever love me simply for being a person, or simply for being myself. I didn’t think I was worthy of love, and I didn’t know why. Only recently have I started to come to terms with the abuse I faced and started believing that love isn’t earned, it’s a gift.

My parents loved me. I didn’t doubt that, but I was unclear on why they loved me. I always thought it was because of what I did. If I was good enough, if I was perfect enough, if I didn’t make mistakes, I felt like I could earn their love. That was all I ever hoped for. I didn’t know unconditional love could exist and even if it did, I didn’t think it would ever be possible for me to have.

This is why I tortured myself. This is why I beat myself, and choked myself, and starved myself. This is why I whipped myself and carved derogatory words into my chest. This is why I wrapped cords around my stomach and chest until they left marks and bruises. This is why I banged my head against walls and tried to puncture my skin. This is why I abused myself sexually, and allowed myself to be abused. If I was not perfect, I didn’t deserve love. If I made a mistake or if someone was upset with me, I deserved to be punished.

I saw myself as a bad person, as unworthy to be alive, as a prisoner owing a debt to society for my very existence. But as much as I felt like I deserved to be punished, I wanted to be loved. So I curled up on the floor or bed and told myself I had suffered enough, and maybe now I could be loved. I thought that now that I was punished, that now that I got what I deserved, I might be worthy to be held, to be loved, to be healed.

It didn’t come though. I just kept thinking, “Maybe if I hurt myself enough, I’ll be worthy to love.” The problem was that though I tried to increase the frequency or intensity or length of time I was tortured, it could never be enough. I was unworthy. I was a bad person and that’s all there was to it.

That’s why I attempted suicide. I did not admit that to myself before now. I told myself it was because I was lonely or felt like a burden. Those were feelings I had, but the reason for those feelings was much deeper. I felt like I was alone because I was unlovable. I felt like a burden because I couldn’t do anything right. No matter how much good I did, I was still, and always would be, a bad person. Killing myself was the only punishment that seemed to be enough for someone as horrible as I felt I must be. No other torture seemed to be enough to atone for my faults.

It took a long time and a whole lot of love to start changing those thoughts. I still struggle to do good things out of fear that I will do it wrong and remember that I am a bad person. It has taken a lot of people telling me that I am kind or generous or thoughtful for me to believe that I have a good heart. It has taken love that I didn’t deserve and kindness I did not earn to help me feel that maybe I do have worth.

It’s still a process. I still struggle. But I am learning to give love more freely and accept it more easily. I have hope that one day I can completely forgive myself, that one day I won’t expect people to hurt me, that one day I’ll feel like I don’t have to earn love. Until then, I am grateful for the people that continue to love me despite my thoughts that I don’t deserve 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.