A few weeks ago I had the opportunity of speaking on the radio about depression and coincidentally an article I wrote appeared in a newspaper the same week. I reacted to all this in a very Irish way by becoming deeply worried that people would think I was showing off by mentioning all this on social media. I also felt very exposed after it all and a few wanky comments online really got to me. My choice to put myself out there, I know; but still, I started to wonder if I was doing the right thing.
A few events since then have made me sure that writing about my depression is not only the right thing to do, but also something I am determined to persevere with, no matter how uncomfortable it may make me feel at times.
A dear friend told me of a young girl who’d committed suicide; a high-profile sports personality in Australia took his own life; and I received an email through my website from a bewildered father whose daughter died by her own hand and who was trying to make sense of it all. These are a number of ways of saying “suicide”; none of them easy, and none of them comfortable to write about. It’s very difficult even to broach this without running the risk of offending somebody… but I think it’s a risk worth taking.
When I write about feeling low or depressed or going through a bad patch, I will inevitably have been feeling suicidal most of those days. I believe the technical term for this is ‘suicidal ideation’, having suicidal thoughts quite a lot of the time. This doesn’t mean I’m not afraid of dying; I am just as afraid as anybody else. Personally, the preoccupation with suicide is less of a wish to be dead and more of a desperate wish to stop living. It sounds silly to distinguish between those things, I know: there is no in-between. Depression causes mental anguish, and the pain inside can literally be unbearable, so for me the desire to die is a desperate wish to make the pain stop. Unfortunately, this pain is most likely to hit when you are at your most vulnerable: in the middle of the night, or first thing in the morning, or when you are alone with nobody there to reach out to.
Here’s what I have learned along my way through the depths of despair, and from coming back out again. You must learn how to become your own best friend and talk yourself down from that ledge in times of crisis. I have literally walked around my flat talking to myself in floods of tears and telling myself to hold on. Holding on is all you can do when the pain overwhelms you; cling on and know that the moment will pass. Sometimes when life becomes overwhelming I need to take it minute by minute, and then hour by hour until the panic subsides. In that vulnerable moment, it is very hard to see a way out of the darkness… but I do know it will come. I take comfort from knowing I am not alone. None of us is truly alone. There is help out there.
Depression is so dangerous because it takes your hope away; it blocks out all the light and you can only see darkness ahead. This is why we need to tackle it together and make sure that all of us – and young people in particular – are educated to look after our mental health as well as our physical health. We often don’t realise there is a problem until it’s too late. That’s why we need to start talking (and keep talking) about depression and trying to prevent suicide.
For me, the key is to try to take away some of the mental anguish that causes people to become suicidal. Asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of, and I will keep repeating this because I truly believe it. Life can be tough and lonely and difficult but it’s the only option we have. Little things can bring light in the darkness. This past week, I’ve had moments of happiness brought about by a hug from a friend, a cuddle from a friend’s baby, and a joyful tail wag from a dog. They made life feel worthwhile.
If you are reading this and feel alone, please reach out for help. Though it can be scary, in my experience, friends and family want to know how you’re feeling and to be there for you. And of course, the Samaritans are there to listen at any time of day. I’ve been there, I know exactly how you feel, and I know you can make it through to the other side.