You’re doing 70 MPH on the highway. There’s a storm up ahead. The storm is moving toward you. Since you’re also moving fast, it hits you quickly. Suddenly, it’s absolutely pouring—one of those torrential downpours. You turn the wipers on full-blast, but they do very little. The rain is coming down so violently that the wipers simply can’t keep up with the sheets of water totally obstructing your view. You have no choice but to slow way down. If you’re the overly cautious type, you may even pull off and wait it out. The wipers failed to do their job simply because the amount of water became too overwhelming.
You are on the shore of a natural lake. The lake is very cold. But you really want to go for a swim. You’re not one of those people who just dives right in. You tend to enter bodies of water more gradually. Your feet touch. It’s cold and your toes let you know but your toes have dealt with worse than cold water. You move deeper still. Your legs handle it just fine. They’re tough. But when the frigid water hits your torso, your body reacts violently—GASP! It’s the gasp. It’s uncontrollable, like a hiccup. Sometimes there’s a smaller one tucked within the initial gasp, sometimes three, like skipping stones. Hitchhiker gasps. They’re letting your body know that something isn’t quite right. The gasps are visceral. Only later will it translate into actual thought. “Do I really want to swim today? Maybe this is enough for me. Damn this water is COLD.” But you power on. You start to move. Your blood begins to circulate. Your body adjusts to the surroundings.
You are on a trampoline. You are weightless. You’re putting up a valiant fight against Earth’s gravitational pull. It’s miraculous. Your bones are singing. You are free—airborne. When it’s time to get off the trampoline, as soon as your feet hit the ground, you feel heavier than ever before. You find it difficult to move. There’s a new weight to the world around you. The ground below you doesn’t come with springs. You don’t naturally bounce. Your knees must once again hold the weight of your hips. Your hips must carry your torso. Your torso remembers the weight of your neck, your neck remembers your head which holds your brain, possibly the heaviest part of all. Why does everything suddenly feel so heavy?
Breaking Life Down Into Minutes.
I recently heard an interview with a woman who works with those suffering from depression. This was right after Bourdain took his life. (She was also his friend.) She started off by speaking directly to all those who were currently, actively considering suicide. She suggested reconsidering doing so in a single hour. That’s it. Simply reconsider their desire to end their life in an hour. Just get through one hour.
This can come off as a little jarring, like a person is saying, “Well, OK. So you want to take your life. I hear you. But let’s reconsider that thought in 60 minutes.” Instead of simply saying, “No. You can’t do that.”
But it made a lot of sense to me.
When people wish to quit drinking, many do so by saying, “I am not going to drink today.” Some people splinter it down to the hour, some break it down in minutes. Because, let’s be honest: forever is a terrifying concept. Forever doesn’t exist. It’s a recipe for failure.
So, what if we wait a minute?
Ken Baldwin jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge back in 1985. He survived. He has said, that right after he jumped, he regretted it instantly. He said, “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”
I believe (although, don’t quote me on this statistic) more women attempt suicide while more men actually succeed. This is apparently due to the fact that men use a more permanent and quick means (weaponry) whereas women tend to use a slower, less aggressive one (pills). A person takes a bunch of pills but a few minutes later they regret their decision. They call for help. They survive.
A person doesn’t get a second minute when it comes to using a gun.
You Are Not Alone.
This phrase comes from a kind, thoughtful place. And it’s true: you are not alone. We are not alone. None of us are alone.
This phrase is meant to let a person know that someone is there to listen. When you feel like you can’t go on, someone is there for you. Someone will answer you. Someone will help you. You are surrounded by people who love you, other humans, and even if you don’t know the person, someone is there to help you. We are in this together.
You are not alone. This is true.
But we are lonely.
A lot of people don’t understand depression. When someone takes their life, you will hear people say things like,
“Didn’t she consider her kids?”
“What a waste.”
“He had everything. I would have loved to have his life. How could he give all that up?”
“He had a family. Why didn’t he think about his family? It’s unforgivable.”
“Didn’t she realize she’d end up in Hell for this?”
“What a selfish thing to do.”
I know that it’s impossible to explain to someone who hasn’t ever experienced depression what it feels like to suffer from it. I have learned that if a person says or asks any of the questions above, they truly don’t understand what depression feels like. And I don’t fault them for this. I don’t know what it feels like to run a 5-minute mile. I don’t know what it feels like to jump out of an airplane. I don’t know what it feels like to lose a child. I have never had a heart attack. I will never visit outer space. I don’t know what it feels like to perform open heart surgery, to have my hands inside of another human being. I don’t know what it’s like to pass a kidney stone. I don’t even know what you see when you say the word “Blue.”
There a thousands of experiences I don’t understand and all the words in the world, lined up in every different possible way, won’t ever allow me to fully grasp how it feels to experience any of those things. So I don’t fault anyone for not understanding what depression feels like.
But I’ll keep trying anyway.
Depression is like the visceral gasp the human body experiences upon entering a cold lake, only your body doesn’t adjust to it because it doesn’t know how. And it doesn’t translate into thought so your brain has no idea how to calm everything down. You are stuck. Something isn’t right, but you have no idea how to change that something because there’s nothing actually there. There’s just a great sense of unease, as if something terrible is just outside of view, on another plane.
Depression feels like the first few moments right after you get off a trampoline, only there’s no remembrance of any trampoline and therefore no sense of any previous joy.
Depression is like having a set of wipers that don’t always keep up with the amount of rain in the forecast.
I do keep trying to come up with the right string of words in order to try and explain what depression feels like to someone who hasn’t experienced it. My thinking is that if more people understand depression, more people will understand how to approach those who suffer from it and maybe, just maybe, we can all work together and keep people from exiting this great big beautiful world.
Because I’m getting tired of people exiting this great big beautiful world.
P.S. I started writing this back in June right after Anthony Bourdain and Scott Huchison took their lives. I never made it public because something about it bugs me. But I felt like writing a bit today and so whatever. It’s a blog.