Depression and Suicide – Back from the Edge

Christos Georghiou – Fotolia.com_


After a tough week with a lot of down time lost to pain of various sorts – as much mental as physical – I’ve been trying to draw on lessons friends have been sharing with me. They have been describing a deeper sense of who they are through each spell of this illness. And I can see what they mean. Coming out of depression is an experience of renewal, a sudden shift of perspective rendering all that was doomed and dying now reborn, all that was shadowy now brightly lit, all that was sinister now kind and inviting. This world is turned inside out but then comes right again. There is a richness to this experience, as my friends have been telling me, but still each depression is a bitter and savage attack on all I am and try to be. Call it a testing of the life energy.

I can’t relax about it, thinking of the reward of renewal after it is gone, for the simple reason that many I once knew did not pass this test. Some took their lives by overdosing on the very medication that was meant to help them, others used different means, drowning or a gun. Every time I hear of such a horror, I can’t help but feel the fear in myself that I might be seized by a crazed obsession too. I fight that, I have to fight it hard.

Because of that fear, I’ve stayed away from writing about suicide, but it’s important to start facing this demon. I’ve been thinking today of a boy I knew a long time ago. He was bright, witty, a star in his classes at a summer school where I met him. Often he would wander off by himself to think about things, all the while swinging out his yoyo in sharp loops. He was good with that yoyo, but whenever I saw him occupied with his thoughts like that it never occurred to me that he could be in trouble. Everybody liked him, and we all thought he’d go home to finish out a successful high school career, then go on from there to some good life. But it never happened. His dark spells caught him too young, and he killed himself a few months after the end of the summer. Newspaper accounts painted a picture of a tortured family life. My way of remembering him was to write this:

His watching of the toy’s shadow

on the streaked barn wood

as the circle rolled and recoiled

on string had purpose.

The fat disc of the shadow

yoyo surging to its bounds

entertained and sharpened

his needle thoughts.

He himself seemed a shadow on string

and funny as a flat

mannequin looping a toy

in relief, in relief.

Daily he watched his influence at work

dividing, endangering

that man, that woman,

parents of violence who would be one

if not for his poison.

One night the screaming couldn’t stop,

and he acted fast to end all sound.

The trouble in his blood

he let free

by rifle shot, his clean

instrument of frenzy,

as he cried, wondering where

is the life, how does it fit

into red fluid, perishing,

the poison perishing too.

This kid was torn apart in the midst of his parents’ endless fighting. Of course, they could not believe he blamed himself for what they went through and were in total shock at his suicide. Every one of us feels the loss of a gifted young person to suicide, and I have seen the dreadful suffering it brings to parents. It seems so inexplicable each time it happens, but I know from my own deep depression that deaath can seem like the obvious solution when the depressed mind is telling you over and over again that you are a stain on the world and should be removed. That’s what I fight, as hard I fight anything in this world.

Writing about such terrible events is difficult but helps me get my own imagination back into the light of day. It may well be that plunging into those places of pain and thinking about how others have lost themselves there helps steady my feelings. It becomes possible to think ahead, even before my feelings can go there, to the lifting of the dangerous gloom and the renewal that will follow.

For many, it is faith in God that keeps them focused on recovery. There is a story at My Depression Connection of a teenage girl who conceived of her depression as a case of possession by evil spirits. With the help of her father, she drove them out of her body and recovered completely. She could hardly believe it herself, but clearly her Christian faith is deep and strong enough to become a powerful ally in fighting back against this illness.

I will start writing more about how my sense of spirituality helps me avoid the life-threatening danger of extreme depression. I hope too that you can share here a story of what saves you from the worst extremes and reminds you that life remains a good and powerful thing.

7 Responses to “Depression and Suicide – Back from the Edge”

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  1. stephany says:

    I was 25, and talking to a college friend on the phone. I was a mom of a 2 year old then. I made a comment, that I just didn’t know why I was here.[as in existing]. The friend said, “I want you to get up, walk into your toddlers room and look at the reason you are here.”

  2. JohnD says:

    Untreatable –

    I’ve been learning a lot from your blog lately, so it brings me up short to hear you say that your life means little to you. It means a lot to me and the many others who gain insight into surviving from your writing. Perhaps it does take a purpose that transcends one’s own life to stay alive, and raising your son may be that purpose now. Helping others survive mental illness may be another. But I hope on the good days, the simple excitement of being alive may join that short list of reasons.


  3. JohnD says:

    Anon for Now –

    I’m so glad that force is strong within you – it’s the simple resilience of life in the end that usually gets me through the worst times. It’s not something I can consciously control, but, thank God, it has pushed itself to the front of the room each time despair has gotten to that life threatening point. And thank you for writing so well about the basic cycle of natural things – like you I’ve tried to stay aware in the moment that a brighter time will follow the darkest period – though it’s so hard to stay aware of anything hopeful in the midst of depression.

    Good luck to you in that and all things – and by all means keep writing!


  4. says:

    Last week was the anniversary of my partner’s suicide – it’s been seven years now. I read back on some of my recent posts and they’re beginning to become a blur to me as the depression takes hold again.

    I don’t advocate suicide, but I do admit it’s a constant battle of my will to continue to fight against it. I wish every day that Ryan never left me the way he did, yet I know the torment that drove him to it. Always, always a battle.

    The mind hell-bent on destruction can find a thousand ways to destroy you while at the same time trying to find a thousand and one ways to stop you. So, it seems, no matter what you do, the mind is always at war with itself.

    I’m glad you brought this topic up, John. It’s not a pleasant one but it doesn’t aide anyone to keep quiet about it. I’m glad you’ve been able to fight the demons. The world would be a lesser place without you in it.

  5. says:

    Suicide is something I do not agree with but at the same time completely understand. I have dealt with suicidal ideation’s for years and have completely gone through every possible reason why not to take this road but I still have one that keeps me on this side of the line and that is my son for ending my own battle in this fashion will make his life a lot more difficult which is something I am not willing to do. My own life means very little to me but his life means the world to me so if I have to live in hell to not screw up his then that is something I have accepted and willing to do. So I go on and hope tomorrow will be a better day.

  6. stephany says:

    When I was 16 and in a near-fatal car accident, I spent the summer on crutches and attended a teen bible study. The pastor made a statement, “you don’t want to be another statistic in the newspaper.” That stuck with me my entire life, in a defiant sort of way, not to become another statistic forgotten about decades later. I attended the church service 30 years later in January and saw people my age still attending, as I did attend with my 21 year old, I thought about how I’m not just another statistic in a newspaper long forgotten. I’m here, and it’s like the movie “it’s a wonderful life”; sometimes, though this seems too simplified; we need to imagine ourselves missing from this world, and though we feel we do not count or matter in those dark moments,[days, weeks, years]we do. I feel grateful I have the ability to think or type this, where extreme cases like my daughter for example, are reason for me to be grounded. I have a choice, but I also can think.

  7. Anon for now says:

    For me, so far, it’s only been after the fact that I can look back on suicidal thoughts and be thankful for whatever it is that leads me back out of the dark. I don’t know why I haven’t acted on them — other than not knowing how.

    From Ellen Bass:

    “There’s a part of every living thing that wants to become itself:
    the tadpole into the frog,
    the chrysalis into the butterfly,
    a damaged human being into a whole one.
    That is spirituality.”

    That Life Energy or Life Process that pushes sprouts out of the ground, leaves out of branches, and flowers out of buds, that moves us to become our best Self — this must be strong inside me (or moving through me) for me to have made it through this last Winter.

    Never have I been more aware of the message of Spring’s return than this year, as I give thanks for having made it through the darkest Winter I’ve ever experienced.

    If the suicidal thoughts return (“if”?), perhaps I’ll be able to remember *in the moment* this lesson: that Spring always follows Winter. That the waxing Moon and then the Full always follow Dark Moon. Hmmm, maybe it’s having internalized that over the last two decades that gave me what I needed to hang on, unaware, through my despair.

    I’ve been hoping that this Spring Equinox would bring me balance. The Full Moon, though, pulled me toward mania for a few days. I have only a day or so ago settled into the calm enjoyment of unfolding maple leaves, cherry blossoms ready to burst, and the willow buds greening.

    I wish that contentment for each of you reading this. And, thank you, John, for writing.