I came across an article today that was reviewing how we can talk about suicide, specifically how we can help prevent suicide. It spoke to how a person can reach out to someone going through a depression or who they think is suicidal. Great ideas and yes, we need to hear this. We need to be reminded that if someone is thinking about suicide, asking them if they are, will not make them do it. It’s not enough though to just know that and to reach out to someone. That’s great to know that it’s ok to mention the proverbial elephant in the room but there’s something else that I think you need to say. You need to tell them it’s ok to talk and open up. Tell them that you want to hear it and do what you can to help ease what they are dealing with. Most importantly though, and something that wasn’t mentioned, is that you need to convey that you won’t make what they are going through into WHO they are in your eyes. Judgement free. Easier said than done.
There is, undoubtedly, a stigma that is attached to admitting that you are not doing ok. It’s hard to admit that you are having a rough time getting out of bed or doing anything other than existing. It’s hard to reach out and admit that keeping the mask on for everyone else’s comfort is getting to be too much to keep doing. Opening up to someone, even a detached professional who you have no personal connection to, is daunting. Judgement is what we are afraid of. Being labelled as weak or incapable or broken, irreparably, is a huge fear. And one that is unfortunately, well-founded. No matter how much we talk the talk as a society, the truth is that people still make those judgements. It’s not pretty to admit, but it IS the truth.
It’s one of the many reasons why I have, and still, struggle with reaching out and being open. It’s one of the reasons why I am always – always – “ok” at work and never admit that I could barely get my ass into the office after a night of trying to just keep myself safe from myself. It’s one of the reasons that I censor what I tell my friends even. I don’t want them to see me through the same lenses that I see myself sometimes. Because the truth is that I have that judgement inside of me; for myself. It’s been programmed to be there since as far back as I can remember. It’s just the way our society is. It’s not ok though.
Those of us who fight depression, suicidal thoughts or any number of mental health disorders know the voice of judgement. We know that voice all too well. The one that tells us we are a burden if we share how we are really feeling. But worse, it tells us that we will be labelled, slotted and sorted and that those labels will stick. It’s a tape that plays inside our heads and gets louder as we sink deeper.
Having struggled for most of my life with cycles of depression and now fighting through it again along with grieving (think rollercoaster without seatbelt feeling on that one), I know that it will get better. I know that without a doubt. Maybe I don’t believe it when it’s an especially rough time, but I do know it’s true. What I fear, and I know others do too, is that I will never be seen as anyone other than the “broken” me who reached out. I am afraid that even when it is better, that will be who you see. That’s what holds me back so often. That I know my confident, happy, joyful and optimistic self is who I am is the truth. That is who I am. My depression puts a sheet over me and hides that person every now and then. The fear of letting myself be seen in that rawness is that THAT is ALL the person will ever see of me. That they will forever look and see who I was in that moment and not who I am without the covering that was shrouding me. After telling you that I don’t know if I can keep going, will you always see me as I was in that moment? When the shroud is off and I am vibrant and healthy again, will you be able to see that instead of the darkness that I had shown you? That is a valid fear for those who live with depression and other mental health disorders. That is the root, for many, of why they are hesitant to talk or reach out.
I am not my depression and I am not the moments when I can’t see past the darkness. None of us are. We need to talk about this because the room is too full of elephants now.