Do Not Suffer in Silence

Hello. My name is Ciara Hall. It’s nice to meet you. That’s a lovely shirt you’re wearing; it really matches your eyes. And who am I, you ask? Well, I’m a lot of things, many of which aren’t relevant to the discussion that we’re having right now, so I won’t mention them. Instead, I will mention that I sometimes struggle with depression, and I almost always struggle with anxiety. I have dealt with suicidal thoughts off and on for pretty much my whole life, and although I am trying to break the habit and I have made significant improvement, I have also dealt with issues surrounding self-harm since I was about ten years old.

Again, it’s very nice to meet you.

I have been told by people in the past that I should not be so open about these issues. And, I mean, I don’t usually greet someone in quite the same way that I greeted you, humble reader. Usually, I’m a bit more discreet than all that. But that being said, I do not try to hide it either, and this little exchange between us is not the first time I have written about this. I mean, I sort of wish that I could say it was, because that would imply that this doesn’t occupy much of my brain space.

And I come from a rather private family, so it should come as no surprise that I have been criticized for talking about this by being told, “how do you think the people who care about you feel, having to read about that?” And I have no doubt, my mother did not wake up this morning thinking, “oh boy, I really hope that I can read about my daughter’s battle with depression today!” My grandmother does not want to know that I deal with anxiety; my sister does not want me to dig my nails into my skin in frustration. I know all of this. Every time that I write these articles, this exact thought crosses my mind.

And I am not writing these articles because I want them to worry, or feel bad, or anything like that. That is not the point. Truth be told, the point has very little to do with them. The point is me. The point is, I feel better when these thoughts exist outside of my own head. The point is, I know that there are people out there who are dealing with the exact same problems that I am, and I do not want those people to feel like they are dealing with them alone. The point is, these are pervasive issues that our society has been ignoring for far too long now, and somebody needs to stand up and speak about them; I cannot control the voices of other people, but I can control my own voice. And I choose to speak.

It just so happens, the unfortunate side-effect of this is that the people who care about me learn that my life isn’t exactly perfect.

And I hate to come across as callous and cruel here, but my answer to that is: so what? Nobody’s life is perfect. That’s just one of those things that we all know know and accept, one of those phrases that we pass around to make ourselves feel better about our own dumb lives. And yet, we never want to believe it when it comes to our loves ones. I know that I wish my loved ones never had to hurt. But the fact of the matter is, they do, even if it hurts me to know that they do.

The fact of the matter is, we all do.

Maybe your issue isn’t depression or mental illness, but you have an issue of some sort.

I have known people who spent their entire teenage years in the closet and hating themselves for it, and the only way to make things better was to come out to the world around them, even if there were those in their life who wished they hadn’t.

I have known people who have been hurt and abused, and despite that, lied about it for years, even to themselves. And the only way to stop the hurt and abuse was to come forward and talk about it, to deal with it, even if their loved ones did not want to hear that they had dealt with something so horrible.

I have also known people who claim to have the perfect life on social media, never once making a single complaint, and yet their eyes are hollow in every picture, their smile forced. When I see these people, I always wonder what they aren’t saying.

Because end of day, we are all suffering, to one degree or another. That is simply part of the human experience, and it’s unfortunate, but denying it won’t make it any better. And hiding your pain may make your loved ones a little bit less concerned, but it most certainly isn’t fair to you. Nobody should have to suffer in silence.

And, in a perfect world, revealing your pain to others shouldn’t make them shy away from you or angry. Rather, it should bring you closer; maybe my family doesn’t want to hear that I deal with depression and anxiety, but at least if they know, then they are aware of what is going through my head, and I have someone to turn to when things get particularly bad.

But I get it; the world doesn’t always work that way. Not everyone responds to things they don’t like in the most ideal fashion, but that still doesn’t mean that you should be silent. Rather, keep talking about it. Talk about your experience to anyone who you feel comfortable enough with, and either one of two things will happen: 1) those who don’t respond well will come around eventually, understanding that your safety and happiness sometimes needs to come before their comfort, or 2) you will find someone who does, in fact, accept you for all that you are, and lends an ear to your troubles when you need one.

Maybe we don’t want to hear that our loved ones are suffering, but our loved ones are suffering nonetheless. That’s just the nature of life. And if they are truly someone that you care about, then ask yourself this: is it not better to be there for them and do everything we can to alleviate their pain, rather than forcing them to suffer in silence?

Speak out. And more than that, lend an ear to someone who needs it. Because the truth is, we all need it, from time to time.

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When You Have Suicidal Thoughts, But You Don’t Want to Die

I don’t remember how old I was when I first started having suicidal thoughts. I remember my words easier than I remember my thoughts, and so I’m led to believe that I must have been very young when they started, because I was nine years old when I first told a friend at school, “sometimes I think about not being here anymore”.

“But you need to be here,” she told me. “Who would be my friend if you weren’t?”

I was flattered by her words, and I was glad she said them to me at the time. But, in retrospect, she didn’t really understand what my problem was (though, to be fair, I don’t think I articulated it particularly well either).

These thoughts continued to plague me for years after, coming and going, ebbing and flowing like a wave. Sometimes I would be perfectly fine. Sometimes I would wonder why I even entertained these terrible thoughts. Sometimes, something would happen, and I would start thinking about how much better off the world would be without me. I would think about how easy it would be to just find the highest rooftop and jump, or go off somewhere alone and end it out of sight. I would tell myself not to think these things, tell myself that these were terrible thoughts, that they weren’t true, but even still, they came back naturally. I could do nothing to keep them at bay.

The closest that I ever came to acting on them was when I was about eighteen. These thoughts occurred to me one night, and as an attempt to stop thinking them, I told myself to seriously imagine what life would be like without me. I did so, and I came to the conclusion that, while my loss would hurt people for a little while, they would move on and all be better off in the long run. At this point, I told myself to go to bed, and if I still felt this way the next day, then I would figure it out then.

Needless to say, I managed to pull myself through it.

And the thing is, these thoughts still occur to me from time to time. But I am completely, one hundred percent convinced that I will never act on them. Because, while I have suicidal thoughts, I don’t want to die.

Because I don’t want to die, I told myself to go to bed rather than act on how I felt at the time.

Because I don’t want to die, I tried to banish these thoughts whenever they occurred to me.

Because I don’t want to die, my nine-year-old friend didn’t really understand what I was admitting to when I told her that I thought about “not being here”. She told me that I needed to be here, and I would be regardless, but I would still feel like I shouldn’t be.

As I mentioned before, these thoughts came in waves, and when they rolled back, I loved life. I loved my school and my artistic pursuits and the endless possibilities that life offered. More often than I saw myself jumping in front of an oncoming bus, I saw myself in a foreign country someday, sipping coffee at a cafe is France, or reading at the British Library. I saw myself walking down the aisle to meet my future partner, I saw my dreams coming true and my career flourishing. I knew that none of this could be possible if I ended my life, and I really, really want all of this to happen.

I never really understood this contradiction in myself. As a society, it seems to me that we think of suicidal thoughts as a very basic, black-or-white thing: either you have them, and you are at risk of acting on them, or you don’t have them, and are therefore safe. Landing between these two states confused me. I wanted to get help, because these thoughts were not okay and I knew that, but I didn’t want to tell anyone because I didn’t want them to think that I would actually take my own life when I knew that I wouldn’t. I didn’t think that forcing other people to live with that thought was fair.

It wasn’t until recently that I discovered that there were other people who felt the same way as me. And, I have to admit, discovering this was a massive relief.

To a certain extent, this validated the way that I felt. Like many of us, I assumed that, if I had suicidal thoughts, then I must want to die. I thought that if I didn’t want to die, then my suicidal thoughts weren’t real, they were whiny cries for attention that I never voiced to anyone. But if other people felt this way, then that meant that the way that I felt was real. I wasn’t making it up. My perspective mattered.

And that is why I am writing this: for those who feel similar to me, and for those who don’t.

If you experience suicidal thoughts, but you do not want to die, then I want to say this: you are not alone. You are valid, and the way that you feel matters. There are people who feel the same way, people who can help you. There are plenty of resources for you to reach out to (for Canadian readers, you can contact here; for American readers, you can contact here). Just because you do not believe that you will act on your feelings, that does not justify your continuing suffering. You deserve better than that.

And for those of you who do not relate to my experience, whether that mean that you do experience suicidal thoughts as well as the desire to act on them, or you have never experienced suicidal thoughts at all, allow me to say this: suicidal thoughts are not as simple as we would like to think of them. This is a complex issue, and very personal for every person involved. Every person thinks and feels differently, after all. By knowing and accepting this, we have a better chance of helping those around us. We can create a safe environment, where people of all kinds feel capable of coming forward and speaking about their experience.

This is one of the many reasons why we need to open up a dialogue about mental health. When we don’t talk about these issues, then people have a hard time understanding them, even when they are experiencing them. People who have no idea what they are going through have a hard time explaining it, or finding ways to reach out. It is difficult to find the words to explain something when you don’t really understand what you are explaining.

And that is why I write this: I am speaking out, and I am inviting you to speak out with me.

Why Depression is Not Romantic

When I was a teenager, maybe thirteen or fourteen, I read stories of girls with arms like mine. The girls with white lines drawn across their pale skin, carved there by blades and tainted by tears. Girls who caught the attention of the cute, sensitive boy in their class, the boy who saw her scars and knew what they meant. The boy who took her aside and kissed her scars and told her that she was beautiful regardless, that he would hold her close and take care of her, that he would never let her hurt again. The boy who loved her, not because there was more to her than her scars, but because he knew that she was sad and broken, and that he could protect her from the harsh world.

These stories were not the reason why I self-harmed, but they most certainly justified my doing so.

Just like when I was in my second year at university, studying literature because I wanted to be a great writer, and the professor made the statement to my class: “this poem is about depression, which is something that all great writers deal with. I don’t really think it’s possible to be a great writer without being broken.”

Well, that’s good news, I thought; I suppose I need to be broken then. Maybe this is just the price I pay to achieve my dreams.

I think, even at the time, I knew that what I was thinking was wrong.

Even then, I knew that the stories I wrote were not created in the black, ceaseless spirals of depression. They might have been inspired by it, from time to time, but no more than they were inspired by other aspects of my life. And, more importantly, they were written in those moments where I broke the surface, where I took in a gulp of air and thought that everything might be fine again, just before I sunk back below and lost all creative ability again.

Just like I knew that self-harm would not earn me love. No boy ever saw my scars and kissed them to make them better; now that I’m no longer thirteen years old, I don’t really think I’d want one to. All that my scars did was give me something to be ashamed of, something to pull my sleeves over and lie about when people asked me about them.

“I hope you don’t mind me asking, but what did you do to your arm?”

“Oh, I was playing with my cat, and, well, this happened.”

Please. Please, don’t notice that it looks nothing like a cat scratch.

But even still, despite the fact that depression was not my gateway to genius, despite the fact that self-harm brought me more shame than it did love, there was still something so romantic about both ideas. About being the tortured artist, the Sylvia Plath, the Van Gogh. Forget the fact that they both cut their stories off before they were finished; they were beloved and mysterious, deep and thoughtful. And all I had to do to become them was give into what was already inside me, right?

We romanticize mental illness all the time, present it as something mysterious and unknown and darkly beautiful, but it isn’t. The reality of mental illness is laying in bed all day because you just can’t find the motivation to get up. The reality of mental illness is wearing long sleeves in the summer because you don’t want to risk anyone, not even the cute, sensitive boy in your class, to know your secret (because it is, after all, a secret). The reality of mental illness is panic attacks that leave you exhausted, fear that keeps you its prisoner, suicidal thoughts that threaten to cut your story off too soon, if you just give into them.

And the problem with romanticizing all of this is that it then justifies people to give into it.

All of this isn’t to say that no good can ever come from a mental illness; it can. Personally speaking, I believe that coming to terms with my mental illness and fighting it has made me a much stronger person than I would have otherwise been, but that is exactly my point; I needed to fight it. Fighting gave me ability. Fighting gave me more stories to tell than depression ever could have. Fighting made me feel as though I deserved, not only love, but a love that was worthwhile, a love that would see me, not as the broken soul that needs to be fixed, but as a person, as an equal. Fighting is what brought me here, to this place, to this day.

I honestly don’t know who or where I’d be today if I hadn’t fought, but I know it wouldn’t be romantic. It would be pitiful, a tragic tale to tell. And I am not a tragedy.

So if we have to romanticize anything in regards to mental illness, let’s romanticize the fight. Let’s talk about how strong survivors are to reach out and get help for themselves. Let’s praise those who managed to overcome suicidal thoughts, even when it seemed next to impossible. Let’s celebrate the ones who self-harmed at one point, but managed to pull themselves through it and stop altogether. Because when we romanticize mental illness itself, we are helping no one; when we encourage people to seek treatment and get help, we have the opportunity to save lives.

And, personally, I am tired of romances that focus so much on how loveable or genius someone is only because they are depressed.

 

The Monsters in My Head

In my head, there live two monsters.

The first calls itself Depression, and it is a mass of shadows, dark and lazy and heavy, oh so heavy. Sometimes it goes to sleep, and it stays there for weeks, months even. Sometimes I think Depression has moved out, moved on, realized that there are better things for it to do than sit in my head all the damn time. Then it wakes up. It wakes up, and it sits there, weighing a ton, and it never shuts. The fuck. Up.

“Why are you doing that? I mean, why do you bother? You aren’t even all that good. Nobody cares.”

“Why are you even saying that? It isn’t like you have any friends. Nobody will respond. Nobody really likes you.”

“Oh. My. God. Did you really just say that? God, it’s no wonder all your friends left you and you’ve been single since the dawn of time.”

“Maybe it would just be better for everyone if you would just give up, you know?”

Opposite Depression, there exists its roommate: Anxiety. Depression and Anxiety don’t like each other much, but they’ve learned to coexist. While Depression sits on the couch all day, eating potato chips out of the bag and binge-watching a show it really doesn’t care for all that much, Anxiety is poised, ready to strike at a giving moment. Depression is still, but Anxiety vibrates with energy, excited and scared all at the same time.

Anxiety speaks just as often as Depression does.

“Why are we sitting still right now? There are things we have to do! Come on! Move it! Move it! Move it!”

“In case you haven’t realized, you don’t have any friends, so what you need to do is talk to that person! Go! Say something! What do you say? I have no fucking clue, just say something, because if you don’t, you won’t ever make any friends and you’re going to die alone, having contributed nothing to the world! Do you want that? Do you really fucking want that?”

“Oh no! You said the wrong thing! Well, now they hate you. You aren’t going to be alone now; you’re going to be a social pariah. Have fun with that!”

Sometimes, Depression and Anxiety speak together.

Depression: I don’t feel like doing anything today. I’m tired. I think I’m just going to stay here all day.

Anxiety: No! No, we can’t do that! We have things to do, goddamnit! And if we don’t do them, then we’re going to lose our fucking job, and have no fucking money, and not be able to do anything, so we’re just going to die alone and mean nothing.

Depression: So what? We already mean nothing. It’s not like getting up is going to change any of that.

Anxiety: Well, we have to try, don’t we? We have to do something? Get up, get up, get up! Move, move, move! Why aren’t you moving? Fuck!

Depression: Because we’re worthless. We’re lazy and stupid and nothing we ever do matters.

Anxiety: Not with that attitude, it doesn’t!

Depression: I’m tired. You’re making me tired. Can’t we just go to bed?

Anxiety: If you do, then I swear to god, I will nag you until you get up again!

Depression: That’s fine. This is fine. I’ll just lay here then.

I don’t know when they moved it. I don’t remember ever letting them in; I just discovered them one day, both living in my head. By that time, they had already wrecked the place, leaving me to do the clean-up. I despised them for that. I wanted to kick them out. I wanted them gone. I told them: get the fuck out of my head! I told them I didn’t want them, I tried to chase them out with pills. They responded differently. Depression would hide, going back to the shadows and remaining there until precisely the right time when it could return again, and I wouldn’t even notice. Anxiety would try to bribe me with new promises: “you can’t kick me out; you need me! I am what makes you brilliant! Without me, what would you be? How would you get anything done? I am your motivation, your muse! You can’t deny that, can you?”

But as time went on, I began to learn more about these annoying little tenants in my head. For one, I learned that I couldn’t just kick them out; it wasn’t as simple as all that. And I learned that they were both filthy liars who would say anything to get my attention.

I learned that they were different from one another, that Depression preyed upon insecurities so that it would be easier to ignore, but end of day, there was still nothing to prove that it was correct. Depression said that I wasn’t good at what I did, and yet I received compliments. Depression told me that they were making it up, and yet logic pointed out that that didn’t make any fucking sense. Depression could sit in my head for weeks, and I could have a hard time ignoring its drivel, but eventually, I did learn that that was all it was: drivel. The ramblings made up by some terrible tenant in my head, bent on my pain and destruction because that was what it thrived on. When I gave in, Depression won.

Anxiety, on the other hand, could never be satisfied. It lived on the idea of moremore work, more friends, more success, more more more. There was never enough. I was never enough, and Depression was quick to agree on that point. And when I really sat down and thought about it, I decided that I didn’t like the way that Anxiety thought. I wanted to be good, yes, great even, but I wanted to be satisfied. I wanted to be comfortable and open and happy, but Anxiety could never be any of that. And when Anxiety realized that I was pulling away, it would say anything it needed to draw me back, like any abusive partner would. It needed me much more than I needed it, because without me, it could not live.

Depression and Anxiety continue to live in my head together. They continue to chatter, on and off, and I know now that they will never leave, but their voices are quieter now, easier to ignore, because while they still prey off of insecurities, I recognize now that the things they say are a lie. And I do not want to listen to them. I set up the rules, I put them back in their place when I can, and when I can’t, I try to remind myself that it is not for the reasons that they give; I am not weak or worthless or unable to deal with them. I am strong, but I am struggling, as all those who are strong do. And when I need help, I will ask for help, because that is precisely what Depression and Anxiety do not want me to do. And if I am going to best them, I do not want them to be comfortable.

The Other Me

“Come on, sweetheart; won’t you give me a smile? Is that too much to ask? Just one smile?”

Do I have to?

I know, in life, you’re going to have to say and do a lot of things that aren’t true, just to make other people happy. Words like “I’m fine” will have to escape your lips. “It’s all okay.” “No, I’m totally not on the verge of a breakdown, what are you talking about, this is my regular face.” But it’s just that… I’m so fucking tired of smiling. My face hurts, and I can feel my eye twitching from the strain, but you ask me to smile and I do it because what other choice do I have? I’ll just wait until your back is turned to let it fall. You won’t even realize it left; by the time you turn around again, it’ll be back, and you’ll be just as fooled by it as ever.

“Oh, come now, dear, that isn’t very happy. Cheer up! Tell us a different story! Give us a lesson, a moral, a happy ending so that we can all leave you feeling better about ourselves!”

Why would I? Maybe there is no lesson. Maybe this is just the way it is. Maybe there is no great, big take-away, maybe there is no reason, no rhythm, no rhyme. Maybe the world is just one great, big stinking cesspool, and we’re all trying to force reason into it. Maybe life is nothing more than a constant stream of pain from which we can never fully escape. Maybe I spend all my time waiting for things to get better – just one more year, three more months, another day, things will be fine, I promise – and maybe it’s all just one great lie that I tell to keep myself from giving up.

Do I really believe that? Of course. Of course not. I won’t in an hour, at least, and I don’t even know if I do now, but now it feels like the right thing to say. Right now, whether or not it’s true doesn’t matter; what matters is that it reflects my mood.

I’m not saying it because I want you to believe it. I don’t. The only reason I’m saying it is so that you can see into my mind. So that you can understand why I hesitate when you ask me to smile.

Would you smile if these meaningless thoughts kept returning to your mind?

Stop ignoring me! Stop pretending that she is better than me, because she isn’t! She, the other me, the one who smiles without being told, the one who gives you inspiration that’s fresh and new and meaningful at the drop of a hat. She exists, but so do I. We take turns; sometimes she’s in charge, sometimes I am. And sometimes, she leaves me holding the bag, struggling to fill in for all the things she does, all the jobs she told me she’d be able to handle.

“Smile, dear. The other you does.”

I know. But I’m not her right now.

“Give us a happy story, dear. The other you does.”

I know. But I’m not her right now.

“Well, when will the other you be back? You’re tiresome and annoying; bring her back.”

I can’t. I can’t just summon her from thin air. She needs to return of her own accord. And until then, I’m all you’ve got. I’m sorry that isn’t enough for you, but I’m trying. Believe me, I’m trying so fucking hard, that I literally cannot do any more for you.

And why do I have to be her anyway? Why do I have to pretend for you? Why does every story need to be wrapped up nicely with a happily-ever-after? Why does every face need a smile to be considered polite? She’ll come back eventually, and when she does, you’ll get all of those, but in the meantime, why do I have to lie for you?

I don’t want to pretend. We shouldn’t have to. We should be allowed to feel how we feel, regardless of how we were yesterday. Because sometimes, we’re going to be happy, and sometimes we’re going to be mopey and tired and depressed. Both are perfectly alright. Both are part of being human.

Consistency is overrated; we are ever changing. Be who you are today, whoever that may be. Love who that is, and don’t compare them to who you were. Because fighting ourselves, forcing ourselves to be someone we want, is only going to make those moments of depression longer and harder to deal with.

She, the other me, the other you, will come back. But for now, don’t deny who you are.