To the Commenter Who Got Under My Skin



About a week ago, I was enjoying a very well-written article on how silence will not solve our nation's suicide problem. Experience has taught me not to scroll down to the comments section after reading something I like on a large website, because I'd rather not see it torn apart, but I was curious to read the conversation that would be taking place in relation to mental illness. And that's where I met you, my friend. You had some pretty strong words for the depressed and suicidal. You used phrases like "wishy-washy crap."   

You scoffed at the suggestion that talking openly about depression could do any significant good. Instead you instructed the depressed to take a firm stand against these feelings and fight for their lives.

You got under my skin.

I am not going to direct a post at you laced with synonyms for the word ignorant. I don't want to shower you with insults, shame, or disgrace. There's too much of that spewed all over the internet these days and it does nothing but make me feel terrible.

For all I know, you're a really nice person.

And kindness always matters. Even on the internet.

I am going to talk to you as if you were my friend. I don't know if we'll get anywhere, but I hope we do.

*****
My friend, I admire you for your strong words. Faith in God is something we have in common.  It is not the only thing we have in common.

It is especially easy for me to talk to you on this matter because I once took a similar stance as you on the topic of mental illness. One day in a college class, the topic of depression came up. I raised my hand and commented that if those who came before us could weather back-breaking farm work, starting over in a new country with nothing, the Great Depression and other such challenges, then surely we could "get over" depression as we sit in our comfortable air conditioned cars and houses.

My words were bold, but cold and unfeeling. They were the words of a person who has not been there. And so, my friend, are yours. I can tell. Had you been there before, if you knew of what you spoke, I promise you would not speak the way you do.

Had you been there, you would understand that living in a body with a severely depressed mind is like living in a madhouse.

It should work just as you said it should. You should be able to seize control of the situation with your willpower and fight your way through triumphantly. But it doesn't. If you had been there before, you would understand how depression hijacks and disables your willpower. It robs you of your sense of self. You think in terms of who you were and who you are now as two separate people. You hate the one for destroying the other.

If you had ever been there, you would know about the demonic voices that screech in your head all day long. Worthless, worthless, worthless, they scream. The noise is deafening. You would also understand the struggle to stay calm on the outside. Though you are in fight or flight mode, you fear what would happen if people knew what was going on inside your head. So you act as if you are fine.

I will not, my friend, tell you to go to hell. But I have considered how a quick trip there could help you understand. You've heard of lakes of fire and brimstone? A severely depressed mind continually runs tours there daily. You've heard of weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth? If a depressed person can ever get away to a secluded place, they find relief in their screams.

I would not want your visit to hell to last long, my friend. I did not know the meaning of the phrase, "I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy," until I experienced a severe bout with depression. You and I aren't enemies anyway.

I just am trying to help you understand that black pavement roasting in the heat is to the feet what intense mental anguish is to the brain.

In this condition, had someone handed me a contract to sign away my arms and legs to have my sanity back, I would have snatched the opportunity immediately. In fact, I dreamed of a scenario like that daily. That's the way your powers of reasoning function in a body with a severely depressed mind. You hope for the kinds of things that only a person in another dimension would think about. Because that's where you are.

In a depressed mind, this state you are in is your new reality. You are as sure of that as you are sure of the day of the week. Even more so. Because Tuesday used to mean something. Saturday used to mean something, but everything seems to have lost its meaning.

And it is permanent. Of that you are certain, for you have exhausted your heart in your search for a way out.

I know you said the depressed need to fight, my friend. I told myself the same thing. What you don't understand is that that's what so many of them are already doing. They have fought until their hearts have all but quit beating. 

*****

If you have indulged me at all, friend, in trying to imagine what it is like to be severely depressed, I thank you. Let me lay one more scenario before you.

I was a twenty-year old girl with so much hope in the future that I bounced out of bed every morning. Before I was slammed with a bout of depression. After that, considering what the next day held caused me to shudder, forget the next year. My future had become a portrait of darkness.

But every Saturday, my dad would take me on a walk, and he would affirm his faith in me over and over again for the course of an hour. I could not talk him out of it, no matter what I said.

A neighbor stopped by with a pamphlet outlining the symptoms of depression. While I was certain I was dealing with a case of moral failure, reading the pamphlet was strangely comforting. 

Cards appeared on the doorstep, "You're going to be okay, I've been there."

"I am worthless," I told one trusted family figure. "Some days I never even get out of bed." And he went on to tell me about the times he would come home to find his wife curled up in a ball just where he left her.

And I will never, ever forget the day my doctor told me during his personal bout with depression a number of years earlier, he had had a suicide plan. He knew what it was like down there. His words told me so. And he had gotten out. For the first time, I felt real hope.

You see my friend, every time someone was willing to reach out and talk to me about depression, indirectly or directly, they handed me a shred of light. Over time, my collection became bright enough that I had not only the strength to get up and fight again, but this time I had hope on my side.  

The article was right my friend. Depression insidiously reigns over the minds and the hearts of so many because they are afraid to bring it out in the open. But oh how I can attest to the fact that each time you talk about it, its grip loosens ever so slightly.

*****
If you ever visit the place we have discussed, I will know. I will hear it in your words. If we ever chance to meet, I will see it in your eyes.

But should you never, and that is what I earnestly hope, with this little glimpse may you be among the ones that those who are suffering can trust will have a heart willing to listen and then encourage.

In so doing, you might save a life.



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