[Trigger warning for discussion of depression and suicidal ideation.] For some reason, the first instance is always when I’m driving, often when I’m merging onto a highway. Just a wisp of a thought, it passes behind my eyes in an instant, and it’s gone.
“I wish I were dead.”
There was a time when I just tried to ignore those thoughts, tried to pretend like I didn’t really think that, just imagined that it was the kind of thing that most people think all the time and don’t talk about.
But ignoring it has consequences. Because pretending like it means nothing allows it to build in the back of my mind, build from a wisp into a wall cloud, eventually destroying my psyche in a fierce storm. It may be the kind of wisp that will build into a storm regardless, but ignoring it has always meant certain internal destruction.
So I take it out. In my mind, it looms, a sentence made out of block letters, stretching out.
I look at it, let it rotate in my mind, think about the implications. I examine the letters, challenge the sentence. Stretch it out, so that the end disappears on the horizon, maybe it just says, “I wish I were”¦”
The thought exists, it has happened, it is practically tangible, but that doesn’t give it power. “No,” I think. “I don’t wish I were dead. And also, I noticed the hesitation when you were trying to decide between “˜was’ and “˜were.’ You’re 32 years old. Shouldn’t you have the subjunctive down by now?” I remind myself that I actually like being alive, that I have a job that I love and a great family and wonderful friends.
But the thought is there nonetheless, and the problem is not with the thought itself, but with what it signifies. Storm’s acoming.
Sometimes, most of the time, that’s it. The thought flits out, the skies are clear. Medication and talk therapy have helped me enormously, and I’m generally stable.
But sometimes the thoughts build, and instead of having one flit across my mind once in awhile, the little clouds start showing up several times a day, several times an hour, several times a minute. “I wish I were dead” is a popular refrain, but once the thoughts start happening with frequency, the point of view changes. “”You’re such an asshole,” “Motherfucker, you can’t get anything right,” “Everyone would be better off without you.” I start imagining car accidents in a hopeful way. Maybe that car that is merging will swerve and hit me. Maybe I’ll slip on the ice and slam into a tree. Maybe somebody will get on the highway going the wrong way, and I will be in their path. Maybe I will die in a tragic accident, and it won’t be up to me to make that move.
When it starts getting bad, there are four immediate, intense effects. First, I physically feel unable to move. I have trouble convincing myself to get out of bed, and once I do, it takes me twenty minutes to go to the bathroom. Everything is in slow motion because everything requires so much more effort. I end up sitting by myself in the dark in the closet, not really sure how I got there, not able to leave.
Second, I have a craving for every kind of food, but mostly comfort foods. I will eat until I feel physically ill, wait a few minutes, and then continue. I eat entire cakes, I eat leftovers over the kitchen sink, I eat and eat and eat. There is some part of me that believes that I can just eat away the depression, fill up the emotional emptiness with calories. It never works, and I know it won’t work, but it is a physical manifestation, an urge that I cannot control, and so I eat.
Third, I am incredibly sensitive. A friend’s photo album of the birthday party that she gave to her kid is an accusation that I am a terrible parent for not doing the same. The fact that my husband chose to wear a certain pair of gloves, instead of the ones that I bought him for Christmas, is just another indication that I am a terrible partner who doesn’t even know what kind of gloves he likes. A co-worker telling me that they can’t make it to a meeting is her way of saying she thinks I am an asshole. A compliment feels like an indictment, proof that I am manipulative and a liar, that I have tricked people into saying nice things. None of it is rational, but it is all there. I cry several times throughout the day, because everything is devastating. Everything feels like confirmation that I don’t deserve to be alive, and that everybody would be better off without me.
Fourth, and somewhat inexplicably when taken in conjunction with #3, is a feeling that nothing fucking matters. Nothing. I give my daughter Dr. Pepper to drink, because who fucking cares. We go out to dinner even though we don’t have the money for it because it doesn’t fucking matter. I don’t manage to call my sister on her birthday because birthdays are stupid anyway. This makes me a worse person, a worse friend, a worse partner, a worse parent; combined with #3, it forms a death spiral of being a worse person and then feeling like I don’t deserve to live because of it, and then feeling like nothing fucking matters anyway, being a worse person, feeling suicidal, nothing matters, worse, suicidal, apathy, worse, suicidal, apathy.
It’s been years since my suicidal ideation has moved past the passive hope that I will be involved in an accident, and fortunately, I know that I will not try to hurt myself, or get in an “accident.” I know, even when my brain is being a complete asshole, that I do not want to die. I know that this is all part of the game, and I know that it will pass. I know that I will come out of it and feel ashamed and embarrassed at my behaviors (even though I also know that there is nothing to be ashamed of), that I just have to batten down the hatches and weather the storm.
But damnit, I wish I could move somewhere with more stable weather.