For the first 33 years of my life, my brain had been consumed with OCD and rampant generalized anxiety. But I had never wanted to kill myself, even remotely. I describe OCD as an optimistic disease, in a sense, because you’re always thinking, “If I can just solve this particular conundrum/anxiety/problem, I’ll have it all fixed and I’ll be good to go.” Periodically, at least for me, my brain would hit on some “solution” to whatever obsession I was overwhelmed by at the time, and I would think my problems were solved forever. They never were, but at least I kept naively hoping that I’d someday find the permanent fix for my brain.
Depression, obviously, is a far different beast. For those of us who get truly depressed, there’s no such thing as seeing the glass as half full or picking ourselves up by our bootstraps. Our brains are as incapable of seeing the bright side as a paraplegic’s legs are of “sucking it up” and walking. When, for the first time in my life, raging depression overtook my brain 5 years ago, I reached out to my family and friends as a last ditch effort to find some help so I wouldn’t jump in front of a bus. My parents, who were away on vacation at the time, very generously left their vacation to come home and help me muddle through. I didn’t even have to ask; the sound of my voice was that desperate.
Like most people, neither they nor my wife had much of a clue how to deal with a suicidal person. So, our first night together after their return, I tried to force down some pizza between my intermittent, inexplicable sobs. My dad, in a sincere effort to make me feel better, told me this story: “You know, Tim, things could always be worse. I just got an email from a friend who’s in Hawaii with his granddaughter whose Make-a-Wish before she dies of cancer at age 11 was a family trip to Hawaii. Talk about a reason to be depressed!”
Under normal circumstances, I might have been able to gently explain to him that this is not the ideal strategy to deal with a suicidal person – telling them how much worse it could be. Instead, I just wept. The horrific story of a child’s final wish, to me, was just one more reason to jump off the first overpass I could find.
As those of us who have “been there” know, being depressed isn’t fixable with a “snap out of it” mentality. The best remedy is probably a mixture of human companionship (as long as your human companion doesn’t tell you how much you have to live for or to be grateful for) and good old distraction.
It’s funny, and sad, how poorly equipped most people are to deal with those of us whose brains go haywire. I suppose part of our job is to educate them (as gently as possible) on how to deal with a suicidal person, or just a generally depressed on. I’ve tried to do some of this with my friends and family, but when I’m feeling good, it seems unnecessary, and when I’m feeling bad, it’s nearly impossible to reach out. The fact is, when I’m in a terrible mental place, I don’t even know how to ask for help. I’m aware that calling my friend and saying, “Hey man, just sitting here counting reasons to live; so far I’m at zero!” isn’t going to get me anywhere except a hospital. But in reality, I should probably make that very call anyway.
All of this “training” of friends and family is, of course, easier said than done, but it might spare you and me more situations like the one I’ve painstakingly and beautifully rendered below…