[personal profile] mjg59
I've been lucky in life. I've known several people who've killed themselves, but I've been friendly with them rather than friends with them. Their deaths have saddened me, but haven't left giant gaping holes that I have trouble imagining filling. I've also been lucky in that I'm not especially predisposed towards depression, and even luckier that the one serious episode I had ended well. That luck means I'm not qualified to speak authoritatively on the topic, but this seems like a good time to share.

Most of 2002 wasn't great for me. Many of my friends had graduated and moved away. My PhD, which was what I'd spent the past few years of my life working towards, was going horribly wrong. The girl I liked didn't like me. Lots of individual small things that didn't fundamentally matter, but which build up into overall feelings of isolation and failure at life. I was spending an increasing number of days not leaving bed and not talking to people. It wasn't that I couldn't have fun - socialising was still pleasurable, and I didn't actively avoid people, but it was always tempered with the knowledge that this was temporary and I'd be returning to the unhappiness afterwards. I couldn't see any sequence of events that would turn my life around and restore my happiness. This was how life was, and this was how life was going to be. I'd irrevocably fucked up, and this was my future.

Looking back, what strikes me is how reasonable this seemed. I could point at specific things that were making me unhappy, and nobody could argue that it was unreasonable to be unhappy about them. There wasn't any point in speaking to people about it, because what would they be able to do except agree that I was justifiably unhappy? I thought about suicide. Not seriously, because overall life still seemed worthwhile, but I could conceive of a level of further unhappiness that would make it seem like the best choice. I don't think it would ever have occured to me to speak to someone about it first. It seemed like it would be the same argument - I'm justifiably unhappy, I already feel like I'm letting my friends down, what could they do other than tell me that my feelings are wrong or make me feel even more guilty? So, when I saw exhortions for people to speak to someone if they felt suicidal, it seemed like they were talking to people who hadn't thought this through as well as me. It felt like I'd thought this all through carefully and rationally and come to a completely logical decision. If changes in circumstances and further consideration made it seem like suicide was the better choice, that would be because it was the better choice. Maybe other people weren't thinking about this as logically as I was. Maybe they'd have their minds changed by speaking to a friend or a professional. I wouldn't. Of course, with hindsight I was rationalising the way I already felt rather than making entirely rational decisions. I could have rationalised myself to death even though there were (in my case) straightforward ways to make my life better.

In any case, I've no idea how close I ever got to that point. Things were at their worst in August - by September I had a new job and new house, and things just got better from there. In the end, the friends I was convinced could do nothing for me ended up giving me the opportunity to find gainful employment and made sure I had somewhere to live. Without them, things might have been different. As it was, I spent less than nine months depressed and it was still the most hellish experience of my life. The thought of returning to that state is terrifying. I was lucky. I might not be again.

There's no terribly good moral here. If I'd known more about depression beforehand, I might have been able to identify what was happening to me and seek professional help. Other than that, I didn't learn anything about how to avoid or deal with depression. The experience didn't make me a better person. I've no advice for people in the same situation. The only thing I gained from it all was the realisation that if I'd felt any worse and knew that this was what I faced for the rest of my life, death might not have been the worst choice I had.

Depression is a huge social problem and we deal with it badly. We refuse to talk about it, and when we do talk about it we mostly limit ourselves to platitudes about how things will get better or placing the blame on depressed people for not wanting to talk to those around them. Sometimes it doesn't get better. Sometimes talking to those around you will make things worse. People need to be aware of what the effects of depression are and get better at identifying it in others, rather than assuming that they'll be able to ask for help themselves. Society as a whole needs to be better at ensuring that professional support is there for people who need it. And, unless we can make massive improvements in our understanding of the causes of depression and effective mechanisms for countering it, we need to accept that it will cost us friends. Let's redirect the anger we feel at their choice to avoid a lifetime of misery into anger at the society that still hasn't done everything it can to help them.

It is impossible to image being suicidal

Date: 2013-01-17 04:26 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I have been suicidal for many years. It is a deeply strange and alien state of mind, very hard to adequately describe to someone that hasn't experienced something similar.

Today I would describe my depression as "well controlled" - I take an anti-depressant and an anti-psychotic (I'm not psychotic, the labels aren't always helpful) and I see a mental health nurse weekly and a counsellor monthly. I also receive a small monetary payment from the government as I am not expected to work with my illness.

If these services weren't available to me (for free) then I am fairly sure I would be dead by now. Getting a payment that acknowledges you can't work is in itself amazingly helpful, and gives a lot of validation to the illness.

Even with these support services I still /always/ know how I would kill myself. Every day I consider what my daughter is doing, I wouldn't want her to find the body. If we're staying in a hotel I make a mental note of the best fixture in the room to hang yourself from. The desire is constant and insidious. I avoid trains and high places because resisting the temptation to jump off the platform/building is actually tiring, as well as distressing.

I have traits of bipolar - there have been times in my life when I've been very successful. I was the technical director (CTO) at a listed company in my early twenties and did amazing things, things which I recall now as if I read them in a book.

The periods of success have given me a good cover-story. People assume I'm independently wealthy and have withdrawn because I'm a quirky computer geek. Even my parents and family don't know about the treatments I've been having for close to a decade. The stigma of mental health, and my own lack of confidence, has never allowed me to "come out".

If anyone is interested in a fairly light but very informative look at some of the problems of mental heath issues then I recommend the documentary "secret life of a manic depressive".


Date: 2013-01-17 06:45 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
There are different kinds of depression; obviously in some cases there are biological sources. But the way I had non-biologically-based depression described to me was this.

We all have filters -- things come to us that are good, bad, or indifferent, but we only really pay attention to a fairly small proportion of it -- the rest we filter out.

But for whatever reason, sometimes our filters become skewed -- we start to filter out good things (or interpret them as neutral), we start to interpret neutral things as bad, and we interpret bad things as *really* bad. When that happens it's often a positive feedback loop -- because what's coming in seems mostly bad, it reinforces the filter.

I suspect that there probably were a number of good things going on in your life during that time, but that you weren't really paying attention to them, or you were interpreting them less positive or more negative than they needed to be. Saying that the time you enjoyed with your friends was "tempered with the knowledge that this was temporary" seems to me like it's probably an example of that.

What a psychologist or therapist can do (after determining that it's not biologically based), is to give you help you recognize when you're doing the filtering, and to give you the tools to change how you think about things.

I'd highly recommend anyone read a book called "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Dummies". I'm just a normal shy geek like most of us, and until some pretty severe problems in my marriage I was doing mostly OK. But by giving me tools to figure out what was going on in my head and how to change them, it has made my life even better.

Date: 2013-01-17 06:52 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I have a long history of depression and I've done a lot of crazy meds; in 2008 it was depression and the need to do occupy my time that drove me to FOSS. I've been using linux since 1998/1999 but never cared much. This was actually wrong, because I ended up to much time in the computer. Some personal events that happened with my girlfriend (sexual assault case) drove me nearly insane.

The biggest harzard of depression is when you go over the edge and nothing ever matters to us. In my case, I never trusted anyone else; I never cared for anyone else and all my social side was burned down to the ground. A few people survived the 'great purge'; those are what I call, my true and loyal friends.

You do not seek for advice, but this might help as it did help me:

1) 90/120 mins gym everyday; I would recommend about 60/90 mins of cardio/fitness and the rest with body building;

2) Music and music whenever possible... Friends fill the rest;

3) Demilitarize your being but keep strict rules on your life; always be in charge of yourself (depression often takes over and that's when harm happens, mainly to your surroundings (eg: friends)).

While the scientific community isn't all thinking the same, some defend that depressions are a mental disturbance, getting to know it would take a life time. Also great men of the past had depressions and lived with them most of their life (e.g. Abraham Lincoln).

Garret, all the best and don't think too much on it... Remember the old Bene Gesserit mantra from Frank Herbert's Dune?

"I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see it's path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain."

Another thing; You speak of an ex... something you really might want to take some hours to get confortable with it is how men and women handle break-ups and to recognize those bloody pain sensors in our genome. For example, for a man, he tilts with sex. Women are different, they don't tilt with sex, but they tilt with other woman replacing them. Knowing this things might help overcome all the rest and people can raise an extra line of defense.

A wise man from the USA once told me: "When you break up, you don't want ever to know her night life or to speak with her about personal stuff" This helps too.

For all the rest, remember, we are human and as such imperfect and flawed.

Date: 2013-01-17 06:58 pm (UTC)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
From: [personal profile] tim
As someone with 21 years of experience with depression, I also want to point out that blaming "depression" in a vacuum isn't always useful -- as with any disability, depression can be more or less disabling depending on what expectations get imposed on the person experiencing it. If we weren't expected to be "productive" for capitalism all the time, being a person who has periods of non-productivity might be less traumatic. I mean that the anxiety and fear over how long this is going to last and whether it will result in going hungry at some point would be less of an issue; social accommodations wouldn't make depression itself less painful, of course.

Also, when depressed people get targeted specifically because it's obvious that they are less able to deal with stress, it's not just depression that's to blame and we need to change more than just providing better therapy.

Date: 2013-01-18 12:47 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] jewelfox
Therapy that a depressed person can't afford, partly because of not having the knowledge or spoons to arrange it and partly because she's scared to death that she won't be able to eat tomorrow, so how's she supposed to pay for ambiguous "medical care" in a country where it's not a right.

I wish I could crawl in a hole and have other people take care of me for the next year or so. I can't handle the stressors I used to be able to.

Date: 2013-01-18 07:14 pm (UTC)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
From: [personal profile] tim
Yes, accessing therapy can be difficult even *having* the money, never mind without it. With some effort I was able to do so while moderately depressed, but I've been worse, and it's hard for me to imagine actually identifying a therapist, picking up the phone, calling one, and making an appointment without help when I was in a worse state.

When you are down

Date: 2013-01-17 07:43 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Just think about Ronnie Johns http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unkIVvjZc9Y and it wuld be all good!

Re: When you are down

Date: 2013-01-18 12:49 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] jewelfox


Date: 2013-01-17 08:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kevix.myopenid.com
Your experiences resonate with some of mine, when life starts to take a bad turn and you find yourself in a mirror universe, but there's no Spock with a cool beard, where up becomes down, the perfectly rational idea that there is no way out from this viewpoint wouldn't match other peoples who look at the same world and don't know the morbidness of which we're thinking and feeling. Its a bit foreign to most that anyone under such a state could be seen at a disco or out with friends where they think something like "depressed people must act 'depressed'(for some definition of that) 24/7", so this person near me who doesn't 'look depressed' mustn't be. But we don't usually let-on and they don't usually see it either, but the amount of distance between us is as deceptive as a certain British police box. If I lived in the UK, I hear that there can be a few month wait for treatment, at least you don't have to wonder about cost and access to meds and treatment. Folks with less income and/or access to treatment(like US folks) have to try to grasp at straws and wonder about the cost of treatment, meds, and trying to maintain our existence and/or livelihood while juggling that. Which to me means that the society is losing a lot of valuable peoples' contribution to work and society-at-large for some unimaginable 'savings'. I really appreciate the blogosphere and geekdom starting to spread awareness and peer support for situations like this.

Re: resonance

Date: 2013-01-18 12:48 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] jewelfox
I feel like because I can't pay for medical care and can't pay my own upkeep I don't deserve to live. Eff yeah American values.

Date: 2013-01-17 11:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] plasmasturm.org

NB., that’s a fairly mild depression, as these things go – hellish though it was. But “it wasn't that I couldn't have fun – socialising was still pleasurable”. In bad cases that no longer applies; even one’s cherished pastimes become chores, devoid of joy. Read Jane Kenyon’s poem Having It Out With Melancholy.
http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15920 (http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15920)

I note this because it is important not to generalise from “mild” forms to the worse ones, as it is important not to generalise from “I had a bad day” to depression. There is bad, and there is really bad, and really really really bad, and so on a few times more, and at each stage it is hard to imagine for someone who has not been there just how much worse it can get, even if they have been to the previous. I have been further down the hole than you described, but I later understood I was nowhere near as deep as it goes and cannot appreciate what that must be like.

But any level, no matter how shallow, if you have never been deeper, is hell.

Thank you

Date: 2013-01-18 01:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] planningadinner.blogspot.com
I am sorry for the pain you have been through.

Congratulations for getting out of it.

And thank youfor this post.

By the way. I have been through cancer (twice, Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma) and through depression (many times). Depression was (is?) worse, at least for me. Which makes even more wrong the reaction of the "average man on the street" that tells you that a "cancer survivor" is a "strong" person and a "depressed guy" is "weak"...

An interesting response...

Date: 2013-01-18 05:49 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
...is here: http://jewelfox.dreamwidth.org/50037.html

A Healthier Society

Date: 2013-01-18 11:33 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
We need a society that doesn't only value the rich and tries to put into law policies that punish everyone who don't make growing wealth the prime focus of their value.

This makes an enormous amount of people sick.

Date: 2013-01-21 04:44 am (UTC)
tcpip: (Warpath)
From: [personal profile] tcpip
The difference between clinical depression and being saddened, grieving, or similar is (and not meaning to denigrate the latter, by any means), is the like the difference between influenza and having a cold.

Date: 2013-01-21 11:51 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Being depressed from grade 6 to 9th, progressivly getting worse was a part of life that still makes me very uncomfortable to think about. I did seek help eventually, when all I wanted was to kill myself. They gave me Prozac and weekly therapy sessions and after a year it got a lot better!

There is still, and probably forever will be, a depressed part of me inside which I always have to fight against. It's mostly awoken when I think back because I have most of the symptoms of post traumatic stress.

Not sure what I wanted to contribute by this comment so I'll just stop here. :)


Date: 2013-01-22 03:52 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Having been faced with depressions quite a lot (a lot more than I'd wanted, obviously, some even fatal, thought I wasn't affected myself, luckily), I agree that we really need a better understanding.

I personally often feel powerless as to what to do? Platitudes like you mention, sure, but more substantial help? I don't know what to do, and so do many others.

Thank you

Date: 2013-02-06 12:14 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
For me, in my experience, this is a critical sentence:

"I couldn't see any sequence of events that would turn my life around and restore my happiness."

You say you haven't learned much from your experience but even if you have learned nothing else you have learned that just because you cannot see a better future does not mean that one doesn't exist.

After my first 'bout' that was the most important take away which has helped me since. I now objectively know that, whatever my cyclical and dysfunctional thoughts of despair are saying to me, the possibility of a better future exists. It is, perhaps, not much but it is a crack of light and somewhere to start.

My other big take away was to try and treat myself as graciously as I would a friend. If I knew a friend was thinking about themselves the way I was I would move heaven and earth to try and help them and know that I would see the beauty and worth in them even if they could not. Yet for myself I accepted it as if I deserved it. Strange that we can often be more kind to others than ourselves. Now I try to change my perspective and look on myself less hyper-critically and more warmly.

I do not think there are any magic bullets when it comes to depression but you can learn to identify when your thoughts are tending towards the dysfunctional and develop strategies to avoid or at least minimise the depth of a depression.

Experiences with depression

Date: 2013-07-01 03:37 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
But today (at 04:30am again) feels like it will never stop.

Thanks for this.

Date: 2014-04-17 12:47 am (UTC)
quartzpebble: (you can't see me)
From: [personal profile] quartzpebble
This is an ancient post in internet years, but I stumbled on this while chasing other links and I appreciate it.

Thank you for sharing so openly. Here's my own story: I'd been depressed before but I never hit suicidal until I left grad school and my relationship with my partner simultaneously imploded. That was a year ago now and I am doing pretty well, all things considered. These days, I sometimes walk by high places and am so grateful/happy/relieved at the lack of those thoughts/images/impulse-feelings. It's an odd feeling. I didn't know you could be grateful for that.

I wish that more people talked about that flavor of suicidality and how little the general "talk to someone because this is SCARY" encouragement connects when you're there. Hell, I had a therapist. I didn't tell her about it until I was through the worst of it, because I was coping and I knew I wouldn't hurt myself. There always seemed to be something important to talk with her about that I didn't worry would lead to involuntary hospitalization (as had happened to someone I knew).


Matthew Garrett

About Matthew

Power management, mobile and firmware developer on Linux. Security developer at Google. Ex-biologist. @mjg59 on Twitter. Content here should not be interpreted as the opinion of my employer.

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags