Friday, September 4, 2015

“I can survive today.”

My younger daughter was having a rough morning, wanting to just go back to bed, but then she sat up and said, “I can survive today.” YES! That is the attitude that wins battles. We weren’t talking about lifetimes or years or months or even a whole week. Just one day at a time. That is how we get through life sometimes. One day at a time. It is a slogan for AA and it is a slogan that fits the fight against mental illness, too.
The fight is real and often feels like this - being the one face down while everyone else is smiling.

The fight is something I know very well. I have fought depression my whole life. I was hospitalized for the first time when I was just eleven years old. I have fought, and I am still alive. I have also been to funerals for people who have died by suicide and have had many friends reach that point of suicidal ideation, too. Mental illness seems to surround me. It is a very real illness, but it doesn’t have to be a fatal one.

First let me state unequivocally that depression is real. It has real, measurable effects on people’s bodies. Studies have shown that there are changes in the brains of depressed people. So let’s just stop saying it is an imaginary problem or people simply being weak. There is nothing simple about it and nothing imagined about it. It is a real, physical problem, and it is a real, complex problem. Don’t believe me? Check out a few of these studies about suicide, mental illness, and treatments.

That being said, like any other problem, it can and MUST be addressed. Just like kitty litter boxes, if ignored the crap just builds up. Is treating depression hard? YES. But hard is not the same as impossible. It does require time and commitment and struggles that often feel impossible, but that doesn’t mean that staying in bed is a better option. Doing what is hard is what is required. Just as people with cancer must go through treatments which feel impossible and are dreadful (my mother said she felt worse after her surgery to remove her cancer than she did before), but ignoring the cancer will just ensure it grows and spreads and eventually kills. My mother went through the hard part – the surgery and treatments – and survived. I went through the hard part – being separated from my family for hospitalization, facing many tough conversations with my family about life, accepting responsibility for my role in my depression and my treatment, and making significant life changes which often mean doing the opposite of what my brain/depression tell me to do – and I am not just surviving; I'm thriving. (It is also true that just as some people do everything to fight their cancer and still are killed by it, some people who do everything to fight their mental illness in the end still die by suicide. However, that doesn’t mean fighting shouldn’t be attempted or that suicide is inevitable.)

So how do we balance acknowledging depression is real and pushing the need for treatment? Advising people about their need to change their lives to ensure survival often sounds like the harsh criticism people ignorantly give (becoming internet cartoons). Get up. Do something about it. Shift your thinking. Open the curtains. Go to work or school. It is hard to sound sympathetic and compassionate while trying to help someone who is deep in depression. Do we simply let them stay in bed or on the couch stewing in their depressed thoughts? Do we hug them and leave them alone? That isn’t helpful.

The best, number one thing to do is to first and foremost get the person to a professional. They need someone to talk to. Talk saves lives. They need someone who will be able to offer them unbiased solutions and possibly medication to help adjust chemical levels in the brain (and then to monitor how those medications are used and how effective they are because not every medicine works for every patient and misuse can cause problems just like any other medicine). This cannot be stressed enough. Get them to help.

If the person is you, you also need to fight on your own. Fight for your life. Don’t be ashamed or fearful or throw in the towel thinking the fight is too big. Fight. Don’t wait for someone else to fix you or to fix your life for you. Kick yourself in the butt and get up and survive. This means, as I’ve said, doing the opposite of what your depression says. This means going through really, really uncomfortable situations. This means battling demons and spending time in what feels like a dark, horrible place for eternity. But fight. And make the lifestyle changes. This website has the best advice for that. was made with the input of people like me, people who survived their own suicidal ideations. The advice is compassionate, acknowledging this is a real and difficult battle, but also provides a kick in the butt and some real direction. I recommend it for everyone I talk to about depression. Getting to professional help can be a challenge, but while going through that challenge (remember hard does not equal impossible, so don’t give up on finding professional help) check out for things to start doing. Depression doesn’t just go away by napping through it like a cold. It takes active participation in treating it (and above all getting OUT of bed and out of the house).

These research studies and projects like NowMattersNow plus many other educational programs are funded by the American Foundation forSuicide Prevention. Their mission is to reduce the number of suicides 20% by 2025. This is possible. I am happy to volunteer with them because they really do put their money into valuable programs, and every person there truly is dedicated to intelligently fighting suicide and providing support to the people affected by it. If you would like to help, too, a good place to start is with one of their walks. The walks happen all across the US plus there are virtual walker options – participate without physically walking at the location.My family has a team participating October 10th in D.C., and my older daughter has set a personal goal of raising $1,000. She has seen how depression and suicide affect families and wants to help. You can help her reach her goal by making a donation here. Or join our team by clicking here. Walk with other families touched by suicide loss, learn more about the education, research, advocacy, and support programs offered by AFSP. This is a fight worth fighting and a fight that can be won.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful and delicately written, Emma. Your words are always inspiring to read.