My therapist sat waiting for an answer. He would have to wait a moment; he had asked a hell of a question.
I still struggle to find the words. I can’t explain it exactly. The sensation is, as best as I can phrase it, a bit like hearing an alarm sounding, but not really recognizing the sound. You know it’s something that you should recognize. It’s familiar. You know that it means something to you, that it’s important. But you just can’t quite place the sound…
“What is it like when – in your words – you realize that your depression is trying to get you to kill yourself?”
Imagine, if you will, walking down a dark hallway, hearing this noise. But, there’s a strange light coming from a room at the end of this hallway. You hear the noise, but the light is drawing you to it. You creep slowly forward, curiosity compelling you toward the light. That damned noise, though. It’s bothering you that you can’t figure it out, but you can’t stop heading toward the end of the hall…
Finally, you get to the room, and look inside. That’s when it hits you, that’s when you have a moment of complete and total understanding. That sound is a fire alarm, and the light that you’ve been compelled toward is a fire. The room that you’re now in the middle of is on fire, and like the morning haze after a dream, you snap out of it, and realize that you’ve wandered into moral danger.
And the way out is back down that dark hallway, which is now being slowly engulfed in flames.
What do you do?
It seems like a relatively simple question, doesn’t it? What would you do when you realize you’ve been suckered into a trap? You didn’t realize what was happening, and you couldn’t understand the warning that was going on. Somewhere, down deep in your subconscious, you knew what it was. You knew that there was danger and that you should run, but you just couldn’t do it. Now, you’ve got to decide, do you fight with everything left inside of you to get back out of this room and escape this burning building, or do you sit down and let fate take you?
That’s what my mental breakdown was like. That’s the best way I can describe it- a mental breakdown. I know that carries all kinds of implications and connotations, but, it’s the best wording that I’ve got.
I had been slowly moving toward it, for a long time. I was aware, on some level, that things weren’t right. There were alarms and sirens and signs along the way, and I kind of knew it. But the draw toward the end was too great. It wasn’t until I was in that room in my head, surrounded by destruction, that I was aware that it had all gone to shit.
I remember talking to a friend once on the phone while I sat in the lobby of a fast food restaurant one day after work. We were just chatting about life and work, and I don’t know, maybe the weather? I was staring out a window at a building across the street, thinking about how tall it was. But at some point I remember hearing him say, “So…just curious…do you think you feel this way often?”
It was that phrasing that snapped me back to reality. What the hell had I just said? I had to try to recall my words quickly. “Um, no. It was just a thought.” But what the hell had I said?
“You sure man? I’m not judging or anything. Just wanna make sure you’re ok”. Great. What the fuck had I just said? There was talk about work…it was mundane and boring. An office job I didn’t like but that I felt was good since times were tough in the recession and I was lucky to have employment. That wasn’t it… The weather? What the hell could I have said about the weather? No…that also wasn’t it.
It was that building. I’d been thinking about what it would be like to walk off the edge. Shit, damnit! What the hell had I said?
“No man, I’m fine. Just thoughts” I lied.
“Ok, well…if you ever need to talk more or get stuff off your chest, I hope you know I’m here”. That didn’t sound good.
Then it hit me. I’d asked him if he ever just thought that there was no point to anything, and if we wouldn’t all just be better taking a long walk off of a short cliff.
Well, that was a terrifying realization.
“No dude, I was just rambling. Don’t worry about me.” What the hell was I saying this for?! Clearly SOMEONE should be worried!
But it wasn’t the last time. There were more red flags that I should have seen. I should have recognized them.
Eventually it got worse and worse. My sister found me, at one point, holding a letter opener and just staring at the blade. We don’t need to talk about what I was thinking. She was scared, obviously. She watched me just standing there, holding it, looking at it for a few minutes before she cautiously spoke.
“Hey, whatcha got there?”
“Ah, oh, um, I don’t know where I just was. Sorry. What’s up?”
“You put it very well, Sean. And I want you to know, that you’re not alone. It’s very much the sensation that so many people that have seen me have described before. It’s not uncommon. And I want you to listen to this next part carefully – you sound perfectly human.”
“I’m not sure I can believe that, yet, George. I’m not sure I can believe that there’s not something terribly wrong with and broken inside of me.”
“You will one day, Sean. That’s why you come here. That’s why we do this.”
And that’s how it goes, for so many of us, at so many different points in our lives. We wage these silent battles, we wrestle our own demons, and the ones we love look on in desperation hoping that we make it through again. They’ll never be able to understand how much we appreciate their steadfast patience and support, and I don’t know if we will ever be able to explain how much it means.
I write this hoping that someone that’s gone through this recognizes that they aren’t alone, and that someone else has felt it. Or, maybe, that a loved one can read it and recognize what they’ve seen and understand that we know that they are there, and we love them, even if we don’t have the tools at our disposal to express it.