Depression and Happiness

Happiness has about as much to do with depression as hygiene has to do with being healthy.

Happiness definitely influences depression, and it is an important thing to learn in overcoming and living with depression, but there is so much more to treating depression than learning to be happy.

Depression is like a blanket that covers you from everything around you. It makes it hard to see the light. It makes you feel like there is nothing else in the world but how you feel right now. But as bad as it is, it makes you feel safe somehow. It makes you feel like if you stay in that state, if you isolate, if you don’t do anything but stay in bed and cry, you won’t have to deal with all the worse things in the world. Because while others around you see a world filled with light and hope, and they wonder why you are staying under a blanket when you “don’t have to,” you see the dark shadows of the world. 

You see the demons that hide inside of you and everyone else. You have nightmares that wake you up or make it hard to sleep. You feel the pain of the world- the hurt and neglect, the children that are abused or starving, the wars and violence and men and women that show no respect for others, that take advantage of people and tear people down and take away another person’s ability to feel human. You hear the screams that no one else seems to notice. You see the pain in the eyes of someone that has been hurt. 

In the depths of depression, depression can feel like a safe place because depression shows you everything wrong with the world and tells you that it is hopeless to fight against the dark and the only way to find peace is to get out. Depression tells you that getting out of depression will only make you have to face a broken world with no filter, with nothing between you and the hurt. Depression is your shield in an uncertain world because depression is very dependable.

Depression is there at the end of the day when the world is quiet and there is nothing left in you. Depression is there when you wake up in the morning. It is there when you eat your cereal and get ready for your day. And it is there anytime you need it. If something hurts you during the day, depression is there to surround you with grief and tell you it’s okay to cry. Depression is there because sometimes people are not.

People can tell you to stop crying, to suck it up, to get over it, that things aren’t that bad, that you’re exaggerating, that you have no reason to be sad or upset, that you just need to try harder or think happy thoughts or pull yourself out of it. When people are not understanding, depression is there to turn to. When you feel isolated and alone, depression is there to stay with you. 

Depression is comforting. It doesn’t expect you to fix yourself or make yourself happy or get better. In fact, depression is perfectly content if you never improve. And that in itself is comforting. It is comforting to not have any expectation of change or progress because those things are hard, and depression doesn’t expect you to ever improve.

Depression has little to do with happiness because depression is everything. It is an entire world, an entire being, and an entire state of mind. Depression is not about being happy. It is about learning to cope in a world with unhappiness. Depression is about living in a world that is broken, that is imperfect, that is difficult and sometimes impossible.

The most surprising fact about depression, for people who don’t understand it, is that you can be happy and still be depressed. You can be amazingly happy, incredibly happy, ridiculously happy. You can be laugh out loud and dancing in the rain kind of happy, but just outside of that happiness or underneath that happiness or coexisting with that happiness is a depth of discouragement and hopelessness. Depression does not steal your happiness. Depression masks your happiness. And sometimes happiness masks your depression.

I see depression as the absolute acknowledgement that something is wrong with the world. It is a whole body, whole mind, whole heart perception that nothing is okay. Can you still be happy in a broken world? Yes, but that doesn’t make the world stop being broken. That is the key to depression. 

The difference between someone who is depressed and someone who is not is that freedom. Not having depression gives you the freedom to believe that things will change. It gives you the freedom to believe that what you do makes a difference. It allows you to go into the world with purpose because the world is there for you to put light into. For someone without depression, the world is changeable, able to become better or different or whatever you make of it. The world is yours.

Depression is hardly ever a one lane road. You have glimpses of the other side. You have moments when you feel like you’re making a difference and that you have purpose. The trick is getting those moments to stick. That is what I try to do when I am depressed. I try to give myself reminders that there is purpose, there is change, there is reason to believe that things can get better. This world isn’t that bad, but you have to see the good. You have to expose yourself to the good. And when you are depressed, you have to remind yourself of that good. Because otherwise, you will stay under that safety blanket of depression until you pass away or the world passes away because without the good, there is no real reason to come out.

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Suicide

People who are thinking clearly do not want to die. Even those who consistently think about dying do not really want to die; they just want the pain to be over.

I think about suicide a lot- nearly every day, usually multiple times a day. However, it is just a thought. It comes and goes like a wave on the shore. And as long as I have moments of peace in between, I’m okay and I won’t hurt myself. But every once in a while, the tides are high and the waves don’t really leave and you drown in it.

Last night was one of those times. I had done everything to feel okay. I had read scriptures and prayed and read positive notes from friends and colored and ate chocolate. I did everything I could think of to save myself, but at the end of the night, it was not enough. I looked up the suicide hotline and wrestled with the thought of calling for half an hour. But when you can’t call the suicide prevention line because you’re crying too much before you even dial the number, you know things are bad.

I kept telling myself I don’t normally feel like this. It’s just a night. It’s just a moment. Maybe I should call to get me through… But once I finally pushed the button and saw the call going through, I panicked.
“I can’t really be calling the suicide hotline… That means these thoughts are real. That means I’m actually considering acting on how I feel.” That means that I’m not as well as I think I should be.
These were the thoughts going through my head.

But I have made promises to stay safe. I have made promises that if I am ever in danger or think I might be in danger, I will let someone know. So I did. I didn’t know if they could help or how they could help, but I knew that if something happened and I didn’t at least tell them, they would be hurt.

It took another half hour of talking with them before I felt okay again. I kept hearing in my head that I had a friend and that things were going to be okay until the darkness dispersed. I felt the thickness and weight of a dark fog lift off me. I still hurt beyond belief, but I no longer felt like I was drowning.

I know you can’t completely understand unless you’ve been through this, but I want you to know that we try. Anyone who has depression and attempts to end their life or contemplates suicide tries to be okay. We try to find ways out of the darkness. We try to get help. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem to work, or we don’t know what resources to turn to, or we can’t seem to find the capacity to use the resources.

They say that suicide is selfish, and maybe it is, but I want you to know that getting to that point doesn’t just come. It’s a struggle. It’s a fight for your life. And if you know someone that loses that fight, I hope you also know that they probably tried everything to be okay. They just didn’t know what else they could do.

If I Had Died

At the beginning of 2009, I tried to take my life. Something happened that made me stay.

I was thinking today about all the things I would have missed out on if I had died that day.

I never would have made my current best friend or my best friend before her.

I never would have met any of my nieces or my nephew, or had the chance to play with any of them or love them.

I never would have graduated from college.

I never would have gone to work at the humanitarian center, where I influenced hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people.

I never would have seen my siblings and friends get married.

I never would have done so many things and taught so many people and made so many friends. I never would have been able to be such an influence for good.

For some of us, it doesn’t get better.

Some of us have had depression for as long as we can remember and it may never go away.

But… just because it doesn’t get easier, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not worth it.

Sometimes life is hell. It feels like torture and every breath is agony and you desperately long for relief. But… between the agonizing moments, between the gasping for air, between the uncontrollable crying bouts, there are beautiful, amazing, remarkable moments of pure bliss. There are moments that take your breath away and make you cry or leap for joy.

No, it may not get easier, but… it is worth it.

Childhood Depression and Getting Help

My first year of college, I attempted suicide. It wasn’t the stress of college. It wasn’t a new environment. It wasn’t the people around me that caused these thoughts. I simply had the opportunity to kill myself, and I didn’t know where to go for help.

I have struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts for as long as I can remember. I don’t remember a time in my life when death did not seem appealing. But I was never alone growing up. I shared a room with my sister, and I had two brothers so someone was always around.

I remember sitting in the car on the freeway and thinking that if I just unbuckled my seatbelt and opened the door, it could all be over. The thought scared me. The thought that I wanted to die scared me so much that I knew I couldn’t tell anyone because it would scare them too.

When I was a little older and could look over the side of walkways at the mall, I had recurring images in my mind of jumping off. I never looked over a ledge for very long because it felt like something was drawing me down, that something was calling me to end it all now.

If I ever found myself alone in the kitchen because the rest of my family was in their rooms napping or working on homework, I would be drawn to the knives. I remember fingering the biggest ones a couple times before I got scared and put them quickly away.

I remember being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. I remember going to the therapists for all the testing, and then doing play therapy after I was diagnosed. It seemed pointless to me. How was playing with an adult and talking about my family going to help me?

I asked my mom if it was supposed to help. I told her that we just played and I didn’t think it would change anything. Of course, my mom didn’t know that I thought about suicide, the therapy was for autism. So my mom listened to me and I didn’t go back.

The point is that I didn’t think anyone could help me and I didn’t think I could tell anyone how I felt. I never heard the phrase “mental health” or “mental illness” growing up. I didn’t even know that there were healthy and unhealthy states of mind. I had no idea that someone could help me process my thoughts so I wouldn’t have to be afraid of myself.

The only terms I was really familiar with were good and bad. So I categorized suicidal thoughts as bad. I was a bad person for thinking those things. I was a bad kid for wanting to hurt myself.

I didn’t know the term, depression. If someone asked me if I felt depressed, I wouldn’t know what to tell them. But adults don’t ask kids if they want to die. Kids aren’t supposed to want to die. Kids aren’t supposed to know what desperation feels like. And I was a smart kid. I was a brave kid. I wasn’t supposed to be afraid of anything so being afraid of myself and my thoughts seemed ridiculous.

So I never got help. In college, I was alone a lot more. I had my own room, which allowed me to feel safe from others, but left me to myself. I drowned in my thoughts.

I desperately wanted to be saved. I tried to tell people how I felt. I just didn’t have the words. I knew the term suicide by now, but I still didn’t really know about mental health. I didn’t know that there was a healthy state of mind. I didn’t know that someone could help me become healthy in my thoughts.

I also didn’t know who to go to. I went to the other girls in the dorm because they were the closest to me. University officials didn’t think that was appropriate and told me I shouldn’t do that. They didn’t really give me other resources though. I went to my residential advisor, who was helpful but couldn’t do everything.

The thing is, we don’t really talk about what to do if you’re feeling suicidal. People say to go to therapy or to call suicide hotlines, but those things are just bandaids for the real problem. No one tells you how to find the help you need. No one tells you how to talk to therapists in ways that will help you get to the real issues. No one tells you that medicine is supposed to make you feel better and want to die less. No one tells you that there is a healthy state you can reach on the other side.

I’m finally at the point where I realize what I need. I have finally reached out for the help I’ve been searching for for years. I’m just hoping it’s soon enough.

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 Rock

I come home and my niece and nephew are excited to see me. They smile and start telling me about their day. My niece that’s just a few months old smiles her cute little smile from ear to ear every time I look in her direction. I know they love me. They love to see me and the time I spend with them.

I go to work and the associates come to me anytime they need something or even sometimes when they just want to talk. A lot of them don’t understand English, so they bring me letters and bills and phone calls for me to help explain to them. They trust me to help them and do what’s best for them.

My coworkers come to me with any issues they have. They ask me for help with assignments and computer stuff. They ask for my opinions and advice. They ask me for assistance with their work. They know I’m a fixer and a doer.

At church, I am constant. I have my lessons ready when needed. I teach and I serve and I do all that is required of me. I comment when I have an insight to share. I try to talk to people who may be lonely. I try to make everyone feel welcome. I try to contribute. My leaders see me as dependable and my lessons and comments are often complimented on their insights.

My friends come to me for help, for advice, for comfort. They ask me questions about life, religion, academics. They know I would do anything for them. They know I am devoted and loyal and loving.

I am loved. I am needed. I am wanted. I am a rock, a light, a pillar to those around me…

So… what happens when I fall?

The End of Suicidal Thoughts

I have thought about suicide since I was 5 years old. I knew it would hurt people if I ever went through with it, but I didn’t realize until a few nights ago just how devastating it could actually be.

I was having a really bad day. I had been in pain for a few weeks and the pain had been especially difficult for a couple days. I was tired of being in pain and tired of trying to do all that was required of me. I was tired of trying to act like everything was okay when it was really not okay. I just wanted the pain to end. I wanted to be done.

My friend asked me how I was doing. I basically told her that I was not well and that she should leave me alone because I was not pleasant to talk to at that time. She didn’t. She kept talking to me and convinced me to have someone come over to help. She said that if I loved her, I would get help, which I thought was somewhat unfair since I do love her.

There was something in her voice that impacted me to the core though. Both while she was asking me to get help and after when we were talking about how I felt, she had this deep concern in her voice. I could sense that she not only cared about me, but that she ached with me. She was sad and hurt and scared too because she knew that I really wasn’t okay.

And for the first time in my life, I didn’t want to think about suicide. For the first time in my life, it no longer seemed like an option. I have felt loved before, but this was different. This wasn’t just love; it was legitimate concern for my wellbeing. For the first time in my life, I realized how devastating it would be if I actually did end my life.

It’s been a week since then, and the pain really hasn’t gotten better. The pain has actually been worse many times, but it doesn’t seem quite as bad. How could it be that bad when someone loves me that much?

I still think about dying. It’s been such an automatic thing for years that it won’t just go away. But I think about it differently now. I no longer think of it as a good idea. I no longer fantasize about it. Suicide no longer feels like a good idea.

I never thought that how I thought about suicide would change, but I made a promise that as long as someone loved me, I would never even attempt it. I realized that night though why I made that promise. I never wanted someone to worry about me like my friend did that night. I never wanted to break their heart. I am grateful that it feels easier to keep that promise now. I actually want to keep that promise now. It’s a wonderful thing.