Many of my acquaintances, friends, and families have claimed to me that they suffer from a pathological case known as depression. They have said this in times of grief—the loss of a family member—heartbreak—losing the one you love to some kind of misunderstanding or so—and so on. Perhaps they were right, but at times their assertions sound exaggerated at best. They say that they are depressed in periods of extended sorrow, of uncontrolled weepings and such. Yet as someone who has been diagnosed with the disorder, I dare say that the emotions attached to depression are not as many perceive it to be. The sickness is not mere tears dripping from our eyelids, the hurts that we feel in our chests. Rather, it is a state of profound emptiness, where nothing we do, and nothing around us, seem to matter.
I would need to elaborate on my previous statements further to give a clearer picture of depression. You see, depression is not what it is commonly perceived to be. It is not an unquantified level of sadness, it is not an uncontrollable urge to murder ourselves. Instead, it is a state wherein we feel as if we are surrounded by a vast and eternal nothingness. There are no dreams, no futures, no days to look forward to for the sufferers of depression. There is only the here and now, the constant condition of not just assuming, but knowing, that there is nothing of importance in the whole wide world.
I’ve suffered depression for more years than I can remember. My mother is a psychologist, and I had been assigned as one of her colleague’s patients when I was just a little over eight. Afterwards, I’ve went to a few other experts, and have lately begun seeing a psychiatrist on a regular basis. Something had happened which multiplied the levels of awfulness I had been enduring. I won’t bore you with whatever it is that occurred until later on, but I will tell you how the incident made me feel, and how it distorted the shape that I have adopted for so many years—for now, I request that you be satisfied by knowing that it involved someone’s death.
When I first entered my psychiatrist’s office, I reluctantly explained the condition—and its cause—that I am in. He calmly engaged me in a casual conversation, asking me how I felt then, the kinds of pain I went through each time I tried to sleep, et cetera. He is, I would say, quite talented at extracting information from the emotionally vulnerable. So I told him everything: from how I thought and sometimes still think that I had failed those who mattered to me most, how each time the moon comes up all I could taste was dread, how my slumbers lasted for only three to four hours at most, if any. In a clinical yet friendly fashion, he responded by saying that I would feel better, one day. He could not tell exactly when, save for the fact that the relief is a certainty. Then, he wrote down on his notepad a prescription for my medications, whilst recommending me a few books that I should probably read, and telling me how common my illness is in this day and age.
I still take the pills he prescribed to me to this day. A good year after our first meeting. I can’t function adequately without them. I was unable to write, read, do anything that I used to do before the incident without the proper meds. I’m not an addict, that much I’m sure, but I am aware of how dependent I’ve become to my shrink’s treatments. Without them, the all too familiar air of emptiness and apathy would flow right back into me; reducing myself into a husk, incapable of producing anything worthwhile.
Once, I let myself slip. I persuaded myself that I did not need the pills, that I have been restored, healed into whatever I was beforehand. That was a major mistake on my part. After a week, I began planning my own suicide. The plan consisted of me pretending to be drunk in front of satisfactory witnesses—numerically at least, and if possible, that they be quite attached to me—then ramming my car into the side of a highway at a speed I imagined would be enough to kill a man (oddly did not do enough research into this). I reasoned that when my parents saw my corpse, they would assume that I had died whilst driving drunk, a case that may be easier to swallow than discovering that their son had deliberately killed himself.
I didn’t die, obviously. A couple of police officers dragged me out of the burning pile that was my Ford Fiesta, asking me again and again if I was alright. I told them I was, then I cried whilst laughing. One of them asked me if I was on drugs or intoxicated by anything else. I replied by asking, “If I was, would I be able to talk you as clearly as I do now? Would I be capable of walking in a straight line?” They tested me for that last one, and I did manage to follow the bright yellow line on the side of the road without diverging or slipping. He could tell that I was not under the influence of anything—not enough to hinder my movement and other cognitive processes anyway. The two officers stood silent for a while, finally concluding that they should inform my parents. I gave them my father’s number, they called, and we waited.
For a lack of anything better to do, I asked one of the cops if he had a cigarette. He said he did, and I lighted it up. His partner came forward and asked, “Why would you do this?” I could only retaliate by asking him another question, “Do you have a son?” He said “Yes.” I inquired further, “How old is he?” He instantly replied, “Two, kid. Why do you ask?” I laughed again, with remnants of tears on my cheeks, “How would you feel if you had to make a life-or-death decision? About your son, I mean. Then realizing that you made the wrong call?” He did not offer a reply. When I was left with only a butt of the other officer’s cigarette, he offered me another, and patted me on the back. I don’t know for certain, but I think I heard him say, “I’m sorry.” I simply inhaled the stick of tobacco while looking at my feet, thinking about absolutely nothing at all.
My parents came, probably a half an hour after my short chat with the policemen. I can’t tell for sure how, but they immediately and accurately guessed that I had tried to kill myself. No rants, no scowls, just hugs from the two of them, telling me that “Everything will be okay,” and the somewhat cliched, “It wasn’t your fault.” I went home, my car was scrapped, and that was that.
What did I feel when I tried to plunge myself into the clutches of death? As strange as it sounds, I do not know. It was blank, a moment where nothing entered my consciousness and everything was just background noise. As if static had penetrated my perception. If there was anything worthy of notice, it did not reach any one of my senses. Then there a was a banging noise, as my ribcage, face, everything, was punched back, and a blackness came. No fear, no sorrow, no regret, just a force in my mind driving me towards my goal.
That was how a suicide felt. No dramatic release of feelings beforehand or anything of the like, it’s really just like doing any other thing. And this I’d argue is what makes depression and its accompanying suicidal tendencies as dangerous as it is; a disease which kills slowly and silently. It’s not something that the bearers show publicly, it is even something that we try to hide as best as we can.
Why would we hide such a sickness? One that could cause death in the most inopportune of times? To answer that, I could only say that shame plays a prominent role in making that decision. There’s a certain stigma attached to the depressed. That is, that we are making a big deal out of a “phase.” Depression does not always make sense to those who have never went through it. They think of it as just another kind of sadness—deeper perhaps, but not an obstacle one cannot power through.
The depressed sound and seem like “the girl who cried wolf.” A liar who screams for help when there is no peril that surrounds her. As I hope my previous paragraphs have illustrated, this is an erroneous view of the subject. I wish that I could impart some useful piece of advice, life tips, or anything that could be helpful to my friends who are hurting, who can care for naught, and are trapped in emptiness. But I cannot. All I can do for now, is to try to convince the people around you to believe in your pleas for help, to give you the recognition and medical attention that you rightfully deserve.
I am sad to say that I have seen two very close friends of mine be ignored by their parents. One of them was lectured on how psychiatry is a sham, the other, that she had been wasting her parents’ money on good-for-nothing placebos. Hopefully, their progenitors could one day see how critical their daughters’ ailments actually are, and be useful for a change.
Regardless, this is the best that I can do in describing how it feels to suffer depression: Constant, seemingly endless days of lethargy, voices—or urges—in your head telling you repeatedly that death is the only way out, and the lonely solitude of being ignored, uncared for in the hours when we need the people we love most (thankfully, my parents have given me the attention I needed, but I unfortunately cannot say the same for the others in need).
My request, more of a plea actually, is that those who read this, can understand better the malady we know of as depression. It is not a “phase,” it is not something that we can overcome through sheer determination. It is an illness that requires the treatment of professionals, same as any other diseases that you yourself have suffered. Please pay attention to those around you who seem to be enduring depression—even secretly, as the unfortunate death of Robin Williams have shown—and treat them as best as you can, care for them as you would any other in ill health. Bring them to the professionals that have been specifically trained to heal them. These are not difficult objectives. The only blockade that could stop you, is the oddity of handling a psychological condition, and the mistaken view of non-physiological conditions being of no importance—that they are to be ignored, and would eventually pass away by themselves. Depression is not a cold, it is more similar to a cancer that demands constant observation and treatments.
To clarify, I have never had a son. What I had was a nephew, placed under my care from birth, as his mother is not dependable, and his father was not involved in raising him. He wasn’t my direct biological descendant. But the nights I spent waiting for him to sleep, waking up immediately as I heard him cry, keeping constant watch from midnight to dawn to make sure that his weak heart did not quietly stop beating. Those five short months were some of the most and arduous yet beautiful days of my life. Failing to save him, watching his lungs be pumped only by machines and to hear the plugs be pulled… broke me. And that is why I’ve turned into the mess I am today; I have to admit, this piece is one of the toughest, emotionally, that I have written.