10 min read
On Anxieties, Depression, And Suicide Prevention
Dear Best Friend,
You’ve run yourself into the gutter, broken down like a rusty old pick-up truck. Before, we used to be able to call each other without hesitation, talking about what woes us, what bores us, what excites us. Now, I get this nagging feeling you want to call me and talk about your issues, but you probably find it easier to shut up, go about your day, and live with that feeling until it takes a turn for the worst.
But here’s the thing. We’ve all been there. Years ago, I found myself hiding from my friends and family, laying down still on my bed. And just like so many others, how I ultimately got out was the help of my family and friends. It wasn’t what they said. It was how they acted.
Back in High School, I fell in a deep depression. I wasn’t eating much. Food felt like a odorless substance passing through my esophagus. At the dinner table, my mother inquired if I felt alright. She examined my complexion and followed up with a comment about my weight and how thin and pale I looked. Annoyed that she didn’t comprehend, I got up and left the dinner table. I couldn’t tell her the awful truth that I was painfully depressed. I went to the restroom to wash my face. The water was cold, but I didn’t feel it. I was numb.
I went to my room and looked at a recent gift my dad gave me for my birthday. It was this dual cassette and cd player that could also connect to the radio. I really didn’t want it, but my dad insisted I should have it. I remember laying down on my bed and looking at it. I thought, “here’s an item that no one will remember in years, just like years after I die. It’s an afterthought. No one will care about this hunk of metal. Why did it have to even exist? Why do I have to exist?”
The depression was hard to get out of. The core of the depression lie in a deep-rooted fear of dying. Or rather the thought of not being around anymore. My existential crisis made me contemplate suicide. I wasn’t thinking of an elaborate way of killing myself. I imagined what it felt to be dead. But dead is dead, and I supposed there isn’t anything there — nothing to feel. I tried to think of all of the dead, both famous and infamous, and how they must feel being dead. I thought of my grandfather who had died when I was young. I thought of how it must feel when my parents die. I trapped myself into this line of thinking for nights, perhaps weeks.
And I think I needed a friend to be there. You. You were supposed to be there to help me, get me out of this peril. But you were caught up in a love affair with another boy who complicated everything. And he broke your heart eventually. Instead, I got help from playing tennis every weekend. I got help from other friends who invited me to go do other things. I was pulled from my demise by distracting myself from my cloudy thoughts. And eventually, when you wanted to hang out with your best friend again, pulled me out to go biking. And I stopped thinking about it, and the depression slowly withered into a tiny voice in my head. A voice that still bellows once in a while, but doesn’t bother me as much.
Eventually, therapy helped me open up and realize that voice never goes away, and I have found ways to cope with it. I don’t feel like the vicious circle will return. I’ve changed my mind on how to think about suffering. Victor Frankl wrote in “Mans Search for Meaning” that there needs to be thought of the future in order to survive the perils of today. I have found meaning in work and an endless search for perfection that I’m sure can keep me occupied well into the future.
And now, you’re going through a similar experience, except circumstances are much different. No one can just pull you away from what you’re doing because you’re making ends meet. You’re anxious all of the time, hurting yourself by having ulcer-like pains from the stress. I understand the doctor’s prescribed you medication and you’ve started taking measures to take care of yourself, but I know from experience that’s not enough. Drugs aren’t the ultimate answer, just a momentary calm before you have to wake up and face it all again. You can’t fight this alone; you need the support of others.
Please know you can call, text, or reach out to me anytime. Know that when you contact me, I will not judge or hurt you. I will be there to listen, even if you can’t say a word. Maybe you won’t want to use words. Tears are also appropriate. Again, I won’t judge. I won’t make faces at you, bring up your anxiety, make you feel worthless or pitiful. I won’t give up hope on you. If that means I have to spend more time with you, that’s fine. If that means you can’t give back at this moment in time, that’s fine.
Over this summer at Dev Bootcamp, one of our Engineering Empathy sessions was led by Greg Baugues. He talked about his experience dealing with ADHD and his journey that led him to find out he was also Bipolar. In one of his stories, he told us about his mood cycles. He would go through lengthy periods of highs followed by similar periods of lows. During his low in a different era of his life, he would stop being productive to the point where he would skip work and eventually be fired.
On one particular occasion, his low was so bad, he was scared to leave his house. His co-worker who really cared about him came over to his house. His co-worker didn’t have to, but he went the extra mile to help a fellow friend out. At the time, Greg didn’t lock his doors to his place, so his co-worker arrived at his place and knocked on the door before letting himself in. Greg hid between an area between the bed and the wall and covered himself in blankets, evading his co-worker. And it really hurt Greg, not being to come out to the one guy who went out of his way to help him. I really felt him, both being Greg and being the co-worker.
If you will disappear in the dark abyss for weeks, I will come and try to find you, just like Greg’s co-worker. You don’t have to be alone. You don’t have to be afraid. You don’t have to feel like I’m trying to treat you. I’m your friend and I won’t judge you. You know that time you were so frozen, you hid yourself in the closet? I will be the friend who takes you out.
When I say I want to help you, I mean I want to be where you are. I can be the bear in this video. I won’t blame you for what you’re going through. I will be the one to connect with you and be empathic. Because I’ve been there, and I was hurting too.
Next time we see each other, I’ll give you a huge hug. Hell, here’s a virtual hug.
That felt good, right?
I can’t help but recommend these two posts: Depression Part 1, Depression part 2. Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half wrote these two stories about her ongoing struggle with depression. I found myself relating to them, both laughing and crying.
It takes a serious dark tone and tries to vocalize how a depressive person feels. This panel above hit home because I imagined if I tried to tell my mother when I was depressed that I just wanted to be dead, she would bereave and I couldn’t live myself. In an interview with NPR, she opens up about her suicide attempt on the radio, something she didn’t tell in detail to her husband. She breaks down a little, and I feel its gravity and weight. I wept. Hearing that, I could relate with my own experiences, and that really hit deep. Maybe it may hit deep with you.
If you ever feel like ending your life, make it a priority to tell me first, and I will help you out of it. I’m here to listen. I understand that one of the biggest side-effects of severe anxiety and panic attacks is to attempt suicide.I don’t feel like we have enough resources out there to help us through these times, and we all too often forget we have others to talk to. I’m telling you now. Talk to me. I will be as silent as a ninja, listening with attentive ears. Again, I won’t judge you. Only after you have spoken will I speak. Only after you have spoken will I embrace. Only after you have spoken will we both breathe.
I implore you to reach out to me today. Right now if you can. Please, don’t be shy. Pick up the phone and call me. I’ll be here. Waiting.
If you have a friend who needs some help with anxiety and depression, here are some resources to get you started, taken from the subreddit /r/SWResources.
- “Contemplating Suicide: No Way to Understand Unless You’ve Been There’ Blog post at PsychologyToday.com from “Gerri Luce” who’s been both a therapist and patient in suicide intervention.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s “Get Help” page gives information about many ways to get help. US-based resource.
- Helping Yourself When You are Feeling Suicidal Practical, comforting tips from SCBS Australia.
- “If you are thinking of suicide…” from rethink.org. Coping strategies and options for help. UK-based resource.
- “Coping with Suicidal Thoughts” from Simon Fraser University. Downloadable PDF workbook with strategies and exercises.
- Worldwide Crisis Centre Directory from the International Association for Suicide Prevention.
- Personal Experiences of Contacting Samaritans. The Samaritans are a UK-based telephone crisis counselling service. Stories and video from actual clients.
- What Happens Now - American Association of Suicidology. Blog by and about suicide attempt survivors.
- Suicide Attempt Survivors - Waking Up Alive Support, stories, and recommended books.
- “Ways To Help Yourself When You’re Feeling Suicidal” from mixednuts.net - depression and bipolar information and chat.
- Suggested Reading List from save.org, comprehensive list of books on suicide and related topics.
- Recovery Strategies from J.D. Schramm at TED.com A practical follow-up to Schramm’s talk, “Break the Silence for Suicide Attempt Survivors”.
- “Suicide: Read This First” from metanoia.org. Probably the most famous suicide prevention text on the internet.
Some of my own resources on anxiety and depression:
- Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress from the ADAA
- 12 Tips for Friends and Family of Those With Anxiety - It’s highly important we understand how to cope as well as help those with anxiety and depression.
- If you’re friend is suicidal, please reach out to professionals immediately. (For the US only. For other countries, check this /r/SWResources thread.
- 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE)
- Texting: Text ANSWER to 839863
- Spanish: 1-800-SUICIDA
- Veterans: 1-800-273-8255, Veterans Press 1