Or Why Be Suicidal When You Can Careen Down a Hillside on a Block of Ice for Fun?
Update 2016: This article was featured in my book
"Saying NO to Suicide", with added commentary.
I try to maintain a balance in my writing on mental health issues. I want to be upbeat and show how I've licked the li'l beasties, but if I'm too chipper many people assume that I never really had a problem. How easy it is for them to assume that their depression is the only real DEPRESSION. How exactly they are like those who don't believe there is such a thing as clinical depression because everybody feels sad once in a while. Unfortunately, both parties are wrong. I truly do have clinical depression, and it's a constant condition I manage on a daily basis.
With divorce and a terrible car wreck in my recent past, I haven't been so chipper lately. My bank account needs a trip to the ER to stop the hemorrhaging, my minivan is off the road because my mailman thinks other people will enjoy my mail more than I will, and all the dating sites have rejected my applications because my compatibility scores are so low I only match with mollusks. I don't even think I know how to be funny anymore. Life has beaten me down. What a blessing that I have spent the past two decades learning how to manage depression. I have sorely needed that training this Summer. Since this is National Suicide Prevention Week, I wanted to share how I keep myself far from suicidal ideation.
It's important to first get yourself in the right frame of mind. I have trained myself to be proactive against depression, to recognize it when it settles in, to analyze if the depression is appropriate or not, and then to develop the desire to not be depressed. This last feat is easier typed than accomplished, but we truly can lift the colossal, crushing weight of depression when we engage our willpower to do so. Depression doesn't necessarily go away, but these cognitive behavior techniques can make the 200 lbs. weight feel more like 20 lbs. It's still weight, but you can finally move around.
When my extended family decided to go ice block sledding last month, my girls and I were invited, but I didn't think I would go along. I was ticking pretty badly, and had been for days. It was a forearm crutch day, and sitting on top of a block of ice while pitching headlong down a steep hill while I had poor equilibrium sounded like an opportunity to break some bones. As my girls prepared to leave without me, however, I stopped to assess my feelings and realized that I was more than discouraged. I was sinking into depression. Staying home would be the absolute worst thing I could do.
I informed my family I would attend after all, but that I was ticking and wouldn't be participating in the sledding. Once there I drank orange juice for the potassium, ate some deli meat for the protein, had a Dunkin' Donut or two for the fun of it, and slowly started to improve. I am so glad that I went.
Far off in the southeast of Salt Lake Valley a storm was coming over the Wasatch Front just as the sun was setting. The waning light played with the distant rain clouds and created a palette of colors that would have had Maxfield Parish weeping. I sat there and peacefully snapped photos of the oncoming painting while family members spilled down the hillside while perched on their icy steeds. My mood had lifted. I had followed my own advice to fight off depression. I found something fun to do, and changed my scenery. Then I began to notice that my twelve-year-old wasn't having fun.
My youngest daughter has cerebral palsy and struggles with physical activities. She couldn't remain seated on the block of ice for more than half the hillside. Meanwhile, she was taking spills down the hill that would have made Jack & Jill wince. I put aside my photography and tried to coach her, but she was simply becoming more and more frustrated. Then it occurred to me that I needed to lead by example. Maybe in my clumsy state I could learn something that would help her. And so I rode down the hill like a flolloping walrus on an icy comet.
Actually, the result was much better than that, though the trip back up the hill was quite the challenge. I shared what I learned with my daughter who managed to go a little farther, and I ended up having fun despite myself.
Sometimes depression tricks us into thinking that we can't fight—that it's better to be safe and sit life out. I don't usually believe that way, but every once in a while I do when the depression is pernicious enough and I'm simultaneously ticking. Then I can be overwhelmed. How glad I am that I chose to fight that day instead. This is how I keep suicide at bay. I won't allow depression to settle in, so suicidal ideation doesn't have a chance to germinate in my mind. Besides, life is simply too full of beauty and wonder. If I close my eyes in fatigue, I might miss out on the miracles the world has to show me.