“Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” ~ Phil Donahue
Depression is a thousand knives continually cutting at the fabric of the heart.
It is the emotional wasteland of nothingness stretching mile after forsaken mile.
It is darkness and despair and the endless echo of loneliness.
It is oppressive and violent and vile.
Perhaps even worse than the desperate sadness itself, is that depression lives in hermetically sealed rooms with foil over the windows, curtains drawn, lights yanked from their fixtures and doors closed and nailed so tightly shut that it feels like the eternal darkness of night will never brighten into day again.
In a word, it’s the barren emptiness of hopelessness.
And yet there are ways of getting light into that room.
I recently received an email from a reader struggling with depression (to respect her anonymity, I’ll call her Maria). My reply to her request for help quickly exceeded 3,000 words and I had only touched the surface of what I wanted to say to her.
It wasn’t long before I started thinking (certainly without arrogance! :)) that what I was writing may be of value to others in similar circumstances trying to find relief from their own pain. That, at least, has been my hope.
So I got Maria’s permission to reply to her email here on my blog and to quote the content of her email as well. Turns out I’ll need 5 posts to say what I want to say to her. I know. I’m long-winded.
Each post will be published as follows:
Post #1: Suicide and Depression: 6 Ways to Hold on to Life
If you’re sinking, you need a rope, not a how-to manual on swimming technique.
The Goal: Don’t drown.
Post #2: 10 Ways to Change How You Feel: Beating Depression into Submission
This one explores ways of overcoming the utter sadness, loneliness and despair that depression is.
The Goal: Start swimming.
Post #3: Lost Friendship: 10 Ways We Poison Perfectly Good Relationships
This is the specific issue Maria asked my advice for.
The Goal: While you’re at it, don’t drown others.
Here, we’ll discus ways to secure peace and happiness even in the midst of life’s storms.
The Goal: Swim without floaties.
To start off, I’d like to quote a small part of “Maria’s” email to set the tone. After explaining the problem she’s having with friendships dissolving (to be addressed in Post #4), she wrote this:
“I’ve indulged myself in self-hatred and depression and suicide attempts because I always thought I wasn’t worth it… I’m not at peace. Very tired of weeping and sleepless nights for months. I really don’t know how long this self-hatred and disbelief and guilt will keep hitting me.”
As I told her in my initial reply, I’m humbled by her openness and her request for help. I’m now asking for yours as well. Please add to my thoughts in the comments at the end. There will likely be many of my dear readers who have or are or will struggle with this challenge. I’d love them to have access to a broad perspective.
That, after all, is what we do here, right? We reach out with thoughtful comments, sharing ideas, expertise, experience and wisdom in an ongoing quest to uncover truths about human happiness and potential. And so I’ll thank you in advance for whatever you can add to what I write below.
The subtext of my response here will be this: Please stay alive long enough to find some answers, some relief, some way of stepping away from the barren emptiness that depression can be into something better, something brighter, even something happier. But first, stay alive.
6 Ways to Keep Holding On Despite the Pain
Or maybe this is a better way of saying it: 6 Ways to Tighten Your Grip on Life when it Feels Like Your Fingers are Being Pried Off
1. Know this Will Pass
No matter how long you’ve been at the edge, please remember that all things have an end. Every season is replaced by another. Every game has a buzzer. Every start has a finish.
So too your pain will subside. Hang on to that thought. It can be the loving hand you tightly hold through your darkest hours. As for that door mentioned earlier, it turns out it was never nailed shut after all. It’s not even locked. It’s just difficult to find in the dark.
But you will find it. Perhaps a light will be bright enough here to help you locate it, so you can begin the work of stepping from the darkness into a brighter life.
2. Feelings are only Feelings
Depression is but a feeling. Nothing profound here, I know. But think about it for a moment. You may feel like you were on the 20th floor of a building that collapsed leaving you battered and bruised and buried under a ton of brick and concrete, trapped, barely alive, bleeding into nothingness.
But that’s not what actually happened. It only feels that way. Knowing this can also help you endure the current difficulty even if it’s lasting much longer than you expected.
The impulse to end it all will not last indefinitely. But the act to end it will. The intensity will fade. Feelings change. All of them do. So will yours. Hold on.
No-brainer disclaimer: To those with major forms of depression, feelings are also bio-chemical reactions. If a spark plug in a combustion engine fails to ignite the gasoline/air mixture in a piston, the car won’t budge. Likewise, if a brain does not have adequate access to the proper amounts of serotonin and dopamine, happiness will also be out of reach without proper treatment from a psychiatrist. But with the right treatment, happiness is obtainable. (more on this in an upcoming post)
3. The Price Paid
Think about the pain and suffering as the price being paid for more compassion, humility, wisdom, empathy, patience and a priceless confidence that, once your depression is in the past (as it will be!), you will be able to overcome anything.
You’ll be able to climb any mountain and cross any barren wasteland. You will be endowed with perseverance and endurance. How do I know? Because you will have done it! Experience truly does breed confidence.
Such traits will then serve you well throughout your life. Think of it as a down payment for something incalculably better later. So please hang on for the reward that’s coming at the end of the dark tunnel. It will come and you will be glad you held on a little longer.
4. Run from Alcohol
The longtime fable of drowning your sorrows in a bottle is self-defeating and self-destructive. It doesn’t work. Why? Because alcohol is a depressant. Drinking will make you feel worse, not better. So stay away from it, especially while you’re dealing with your current challenges.
At best, medicating pain only masks it for a while. But it does not cure the cause generating it. Like a Band-Aid over cancer, the disease can spread below the surface if it’s not treated correctly.
So stay sober and seek an actual remedy for curing the wound. You will begin to feel better faster than by delaying the proper treatment as you sink deeper into the bottle.
5. Many others have made it through this Barren Wasteland
It used to be thought that the human body was incapable of running a 4-minute mile, that runners’ lungs would simply explode. Then someone ran it. Almost magically, others were suddenly able to break the barrier too.
Knowing others have worked through and beyond their depression bolsters courage and determination and confidence that you too can walk the road to emotional freedom and happiness. It may hurt for some time longer, but it will fade. Countless others have made it. Hold on to that thought. You can get through this too.
6. There is an Ear that Listens … and Knows
You may or may not have any particular faith. I do. I believe in a God who cares deeply for us.
His is not to remove our pain, but to guide us through it because He would not rob us of the lessons learned from sorrow and difficulty. His is a broader perspective than ours.
But when we go to Him, He listens and places our hands in His. Try it. You may be surprised at how much it can help.
“Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore
My goal with this post was simply to encourage the tightening of your grip on life. It’s about coping and enduring. Ideas for changing how you feel, lifting the depression, seeing something truly worth living for, well, those are in the next two posts to come.
Suicide is like demolishing a house to get rid of termites. Its overkill (pun not intended) given the limited nature of our emotional pain and the permanent nature of the act to try to put a stop to it.
To my dear reader and email writer I’ve been calling Maria: Life will get better. Just as certain principles of health will predictably produce known results over time, so there are principles of happiness that if regularly applied will also produce predictable results (we will be talking about some of those principles over the next couple weeks).
So hold on. Be strong. Given how you feel, to have survived this long says a lot about your internal strength already. My next post hopes to turn on a light at the end of a dark tunnel. Please let me know if it does.
No-brainer Disclaimer: As a blogger spouting off his two cents, know that any and all my thoughts should be taken as friendly opinion only. Please seek professional help if you are depressed and have thoughts of hurting yourself or others. Call 9-1-1 if those thoughts or feelings are particularly strong.
- What have you done to help you hold on when you were in your darkest hour?
- What are you doing now?
- How’s it working for you?
- What advice would you share with someone struggling under the weight of depression?
- We would love to read your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
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