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A note about depression

Image of a folded purple and turquoise ribbon representing suicide preventionTrigger warning: depression and suicide

In the past week, fashion designer Kate Spade and chef-turned-traveler Anthony Bourdain both died by suicide — and that’s on top of all the people we haven’t heard about because they’re not deemed newsworthy enough for the public to acknowledge their pain or their passing.

I don’t, and can’t, know what was going on in their head, how they felt or why they made the decision they did. That’s part of what makes these things so devastating — the not knowing, and the knowing that you’ll never know. But I do know what it’s like to have depression, and what it feels like to be on the edge of that kind of decision.

I don’t know that people who have never had depression can understand what it’s really like to be depressed. It’s not the same as sadness. It’s not situational. It’s a deep and certain knowledge that your world is horrible and will always be horrible, that other people are happy but you never will be, that something is wrong with you such that you don’t even deserve happiness and you probably aren’t capable of it anyway. That there isn’t any point in getting up off the floor, much less trying to live life.

“Cheer up, people care about you” or “do something nice for yourself” or “go for a run, you’ll feel better” doesn’t help, because depression tells you that people don’t really care about you, that you don’t deserve anything nice, and that nothing will make you feel better. Depression is a liar. And sometimes, loved ones and medical professionals can help break through the lies so a person can start healing. And sometimes, the lies are just too loud, or no one is there to help in the first place, and it feels like the only way out is a permanent one.

People say that suicide is selfish because you’re leaving behind so many people who will be devastated by your death. Imagine what it’s like to know that, to feel awful and guilty about that, but the despair is even more powerful. If you think it’s bad for you, imagine how they felt.

If you have a loved one with depression, don’t think they’re being hyperbolic or self indulgent. Don’t discard them for being a buzzkill. Don’t get mad at them if your attempts to boost them out of their funk are unsuccessful. They aren’t in a funk. They’re at the bottom of a pit, and unless you’ve been down there, you can’t possibly know what it’s like. Listen to them. Take their feelings seriously, because they’re real and they’re serious. Help them find help. Just be a light at the top of the pit and a ladder so they can know there’s a way out.

If you’re contemplating suicide or even just mulling over the concept of suicide, or if you know someone who is, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. There’s also an online chat, if that’s your thing.


3 thoughts on A note about depression

  1. Thank you Caperton – I’ve been on both sides – treating people with depression, and seeking treatment – and those who don’t know really don’t know.

    I was surprisingly hard-struck by Bourdain’s suicide – maybe it’s that it followed so closely on Kate Spade, maybe it’s that he seemed like a tough, no-BS kind of person, so I didn’t think he would be depressed – as I only had seen him on ‘Top Chef’ and had never followed him outside of that.

    Then I found out a friend of mine from HS died from a heroin overdose, and there are questions as to whether it was intentional.

    So I’m grieving. And I want us all to take care of each other.

  2. I’m kind of late commenting, but I want to thank you for this post. Unfortunately, I’ve been where you have and I don’t have the words to describe how painful clinical depression is. I do believe that most people who give the “cheer up” kind of advice are well-meaning, just naive. If you haven’t experienced you cannot possibly understand it. (Although, I have to admit that some people are just assholes. I saw an Amazon review for The Bell Jar that called Sylvia Plath “self-indulgent”.)

    That said, I’m glad you are (apparently) doing better. I finally found a treatment that helps, so I am, too. *Raises glass* Here’s to neither of us have to go through it again.

  3. I’ve dealt with depression all my life.

    For me, it’s not so much any kind of knowledge, it’s mainly just an all-encompassing pain, accompanied by a sense of worthlessness and that everything I do and am is wrong. In fact, what the depression tells me is flatly contradicted by my conscious knowledge. But when it’s hitting me hard, what I know consciously doesn’t matter. All I know is that I hurt, and all I want is for the pain to stop. For most of my life, the only things I could do to not notice the pain were to distract myself and to dissociate.

    I won’t speak for anyone else, but I know (now) that my depression is a product of the PTSD I suffer from my childhood. I remember I thought of suicide constantly and am amazed I never actually went through with it. Things got better when I moved away from home to go to college, but I still have suicidal ideation on a daily basis, some 50 years later. So, I don’t think my depression was a “chemical imbalance” like everyone likes to say; it was (and is) because I had a lot to be depressed about and it kind of rewired my brain.

    I’ve tried anti-depressants, but all they do is to kind of anaesthetize me. The pain is still there, but I just don’t care about it so much because I don’t care much about anything.

    What really helped with my depression (besides getting out of an environment that was constantly telling me that who I was was wrong) was transitioning. I still feel the pain, but I also frequently feel joy, joy that I can live in a way that is in harmony with my nature. Living as a woman is, for me (YMMV), just so much better than trying to live as a man.

    I’m working with a therapist who is trained in trauma treatment, but it’s slow going. Complex PTSD (that’s what what I’ve got is called) takes a long time to treat, especially if you grew up without anyone you felt safe with. I keep on plugging away, though, because, well, what’s the alternative? I wasn’t able to lie down and die back when my life was absolute hell, so I guess I won’t now.

    BTW, because of my experience with depression and suicidal ideation, the usual suicide prevention (and anti-drug) propaganda comes across as, at best, utterly clueless, and at its worst as cruel mockery of those of us who live on the edge of suicide. IMHO, no one who has not walked with someone and listened to their pain in their darkest hours has any business criticizing them if they choose to end it all.

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