As we mark World Suicide Prevention Day 2015, I offer you the submission below received last week. The author speaks to why opening up about mental health struggles is not an option for far too many. Despite initiatives like Bell Let’s Talk, we’ll only ever truly achieve suicide prevention when stigma is no longer a consideration.
On this World Suicide Prevention Day, let’s keep in our thoughts those who lost the struggle, and those who battle on every day. – JF
“Dear Bell: I Would Love to Talk, but I Can’t.
Personally, I think the initiatives like Bell’s Let’s Talk are important. When people like Clara Hughes or Elizabeth Manley or Catherine Zita-Jones step up and speak about their own struggle with depression, I can’t say how important that can be.
Larger than life personalities and successful people all, they have struggled – continue to struggle – with depression.
But I am not a larger than life personality or media personality. I am an average person living his average life and, although I would love to talk openly and frankly about my own struggle with clinical depression, I can’t.
Why? Because I fear being labeled and marginalized even more.
To begin with, you would be very hard pressed to spot me as a person living with depression. There is no scarlet letter, no band-aid, no cast.
I live a successful life with a beautiful spouse, two beautiful children, in a beautiful home. I have a successful career. By all of society’s measurements, I am a lucky, happy guy.
But I am haunted. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about killing myself (by hanging usually), there are parts of my home I don’t like to be in (my garage, my basement) because that is where I would kill myself. I’ve tested various objects around my home (ropes, skipping ropes) to see if they would “do the job”.
Sometimes the thought is fleeting and sometimes I think about it for hours. Sometimes it is the very first thing I think when I wake up in the morning and when I go to bed at night.
And, perhaps unbelievable to some, this is an improvement over where I was 10 years ago.
Ten years ago, I worked in a very public position giving speeches, organizing events and appearing in the paper three times a week. Ironically, I was involved in health care – and a part of it was mental health care.
Privately, my life was a living hell. Between meetings, I wept for hours. I spent my days curled up in a ball on my office floor sleeping just to get through the day. My mind would race. I would go between wanting to die, thinking I was going to die and planning to die. I would beg God to tell me why this had happened to me.
I know – it makes me sound like I am nuts – and I was (or am) and this is all true.
All of my waking energy was poured into project normalcy to the people around me – my family, my co-workers, the public. It was exhausting.
I was surrounded by doctors, by all the best care there could be but I would not reach out. I was panic-stricken, paranoid. I feared that I would be fired, discredited, ruined, destroyed.
Eventually, the wheels fell off.
I was at my desk, sitting there with my dead down looking at the floor, when I called a friends and croaked into the phone: “It’s over. My life is over and I am going to die.”
It took a month to get to a doctor – one with no connections to my employer – and then two days to see a psychiatrist. They saved my life.
I was diagnosed ten years ago as a bipolar type 2 – a split bipolar – and medicated.
Even more remarkable was the determination that I most likely have lived with the condition since I was 13 years old. I was diagnosed when I was 40 years old.
Very few people know. My children do not know. My in-laws. Most of my friends and all of my professional colleagues do not know.
In those ten years, I have accomplished a lot of great things – a new career, seeing my children grow, events that I would of missed if I had died.
But still, those thoughts haunt me.
What kind of healthy person wishes they would die? They don’t. And, quite honestly, unless you have lived this – an actual clinically diagnosed depression – you have no idea how bad it can be.
It can cripple the strongest person you know.
So, why not talk? Well, it’s shame really. Its fear.
For example, I fear that work opportunities – promotions – would be closed to me. Prospects for other positions closed as well. Employers don’t want a “unstable’ person on staff.
Also, everyone is an expert on mental health. They tell you to snap out of it or think happy thoughts. Trust me, if it was a matter of thinking happy thoughts I would have done that a long time ago.
So you live in fear and in shame. You deal with the days when you want to die and put the hammer down and just keep going. Sometimes you go to bed and sleep it off. Whatever works best that day.
There are days when I fear being alone. Sometimes I force myself out just to be around people. Sometimes I withdraw completely for fear of someone finding out.
When I do tell people my story, they sit there absolutely stunned. They can not believe what I am telling them. All the exterior markings – the success, the material goods, the happy person they know – laid to waste in the fact that I am – at times – hopelessly depressed, moved to thoughts of self-harm.
I would love to tell more people that story but until I know there is a net to catch me I won’t.
Let’s talk? Absolutely, but not right now.
People like Clara Hughes and Liz Manley and Catherine Zita-Jones can speak from the safety of success, but I can’t.
Not quite yet that is. Maybe when I land on my feet for good, I’ll talk then.
– A Friend.”