Learning to live in spite of suicidal thoughts

I’ve been slowly realizing something. The realization is that I can’t continue to use the same techniques for coping with my depression and suicidal thoughts that I always have, now that they are constant. You see, for years I experienced ups and downs. My depression came in waves. When I was at my lowest I could expect that I would pull out of it soon. When I was suicidal I knew that it never lasted more than a few months at a time.

That pattern changed three years ago. My depression worsened, my anxiety skyrocketed. My life changed dramatically. Since then, I’ve had only a few brief breaks from my depression and suicidal thoughts. Depressed and suicidal is my new normal.

I’ve had to adapt to my worsened symptoms, lower level of functioning and the ways they have limited my life. At first, I did what I have always done when I feel my worst. I ate comfort food. I wore pyjamas. I took baths multiple times a day. I watched all my favourite movies, over and over again. The problem is, while I say “at first”, I have been mostly doing this for the past three years. My coping has been in keeping myself as comfortable as possible. This was how I adapted, the only way I knew how.

The instinct to keep myself comfortable is a good one. It has saved my life on many occasions. It has kept me from further self-harm, helped me feel safer when everything around me seems dark and uncertain. However, after three years these attempts to self-soothe and provide comfort have begun to look more like my own form of hospice care. Being suicidal, I’ve not believed I will live. When I don’t believe I will live, I don’t see any reason to not just make what remains of my life as comfortable as possible.

What if being suicidal doesn’t mean I’m going to die? What if I can come to terms with my worsened illnesses and find ways to adjust my lifestyle to accommodate my new needs? What if I can bring myself to believe that I can live in spite of all of it? Seeking comfort in a decadent dessert, favourite movie and cozy pair of pyjamas can be helpful in coping with intermittent illness, but it’s no way to live every single day of my life. What if the things I’ve been doing every day are holding me back?

In short, comfort isn’t a solution. Comfort can help me cope with momentary distress, but is not suitable as the main line of defence against my long-term illnesses. It has a part to play, but I can’t allow it to take the leading role in my life on an ongoing basis. Not if I want to believe my life is worth living.

The alternative to comfort is, of course, discomfort. Pushing. Wearing clothes that I feel uneasy in after three years of pyjamas. Maintaining a routine for my exposure therapy even on days when it is hardest. Waking up at the same time every day and forcing myself out of bed even when my whole being revolts against it. Exercising at home, since my agoraphobia and social anxiety have stolen my ability to do it elsewhere. Eating healthily instead of chasing momentary solace in foods that cripple my body in the long run. None of this is comfortable. It is gruelling, unsettling. More importantly though, this has the potential to actually help.

I’ve been treating my day to day life as if my death is inevitable. I’ve given therapy my absolute best, but I haven’t done the same with the way I live. Despite being sure I’m going to die my mind and body have refused to give up. Even when I wish they would. Perhaps then, I should start believing that it is not my death, but rather my life that is inevitable.

I’d love to tell you that the changes I’m making and the manner in which I’m adapting my thinking have had a major effect on my illnesses. I wish I could but I can’t. I remain just as depressed and anxious. Most disappointingly, I’m still suicidal. In a way, that makes me all the more proud of myself. Proud that I am making changes in spite of feeling horrible. Proud that I’m not allowing myself to give in so easily. Pride in myself, as far as I can tell, is as good an argument as any to keep going.

Take care,

Fiona

Photo by Esther Tuttle on Unsplash

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When Depression Ends

Today I’d like to share a positive post with you. I recently pulled out of my latest depressive episode. I have been feeling gradually better for the past month or so. I’m happy to say that the cloud has left for now. Depression always feels inescapable, it is a relief to be reminded that depression isn’t permanent. I have had many depressive episodes in my life and I know myself well enough to know that my depression will be back. Nonetheless, I’m enjoying this moment of respite.

A lot of changes occur when depression ends. In celebration of this return to myself, here are some of the positive changes I have noticed over the last few weeks.

The Big Changes

I’m optimistic about my future

When I’m depressed, I don’t always see recovery as an option. A future that looks any better seems impossible. I feel there are few things worth working towards, because life is what it is: depressing. When the depression lifts I’m reminded of all the things I have to live for and the things that keep me going. I’m able to acknowledge that there is a chance I can make lasting progress. I know that my depression is cyclical and it will come back, but I know that relief from the depression will too.

I feel better about myself

I’m very proud of myself and the progress I have made. I can see how much I have learned in my last couple of years in therapy. I can identify myself as strong and a fighter. I know that I’m a good person and am just doing my best. Conversely, when I’m depressed I feel like a burden. I feel like the worst person in the world and that my existence makes everyone else suffer. Suffice it to say, a break from this horrible self-concept is a gift. As a direct result of this, my self-talk is also much more positive and adaptive when I’m not depressed.

My anxiety is a bit easier to cope with

Since my depression ended I have been trying to leave the house and go for walks more often. I’m even slowly starting to see other people. My anxiety remains painful and debilitating, but I’m determined to try to cope with it when I can. Depression exacerbates my anxiety disorders by impacting my motivation, energy and desire to do things. My anxiety is all the more gruelling when depression robs me of any benefit that facing anxiety might otherwise yield. I’m less resigned to my anxiety when I’m not depressed.

I can feel fully happy

When I’m not depressed I can feel and sustain genuine happiness. When I’m depressed and good things are happening in my life, I can feel a fleeting sense of happiness about it, but rarely does that last. Anything happy is often quickly destroyed by my general sadness or lack of emotion. Or the happiness gets picked apart by unhealthy thoughts like, “I don’t deserve to feel this happiness” or “if I’m happy now it just means something terrible will happen soon.” Those thoughts occur infrequently when I’m not depressed, allowing me to more fully enjoy moments of joy.

I recognize the good things in my life

When I’m depressed, being reminded of the positive things in my life can actually make me feel worse. When my mood is incongruent with the things I “should” be happy about I tend to beat myself up about it. The guilt I feel over being sick is raised because I have so much to make me happy and live for. When I’m not depressed I’m able to appreciate my life and all the good that comes with it. I’m blessed in a lot of ways, chief amongst which is my loving and supportive network of family and friends.

The Smaller Changes

  • My internal alarm comes back. I wake up easily.
  • I sleep more regularly.
  • I make healthier food choices.
  • I want to spend time on my feet.
  • I’m able to play more board games. (When in a low it’s hard for me to focus and cope with unexpected changes so board games become hard to handle)
  • I use positive coping tools as a default.
  • My head doesn’t constantly hurt.
  • I dance and sing throughout the day.
  • I remember everything I have learned in therapy.
  • I drink water.
  • I play with my dog because I want to.
  • My body aches less.
  • I can make simple decisions more easily.
  • I’m able to read more comfortably (no repeating over lines, etc.).
  • I care more about my personal hygiene and self-care.
  • I’m not as easily tired.
  • I can contribute more by doing chores and volunteering.

All of these changes provide much needed light after months of darkness. They also highlight just how much my life is changed by depressive episodes. Depression can be a thief of joy, purpose, energy and self. Depression can make it seem like life isn’t worth living, but even a few short weeks out of depression can be enough to make months of struggling feel worthwhile. I hope that I’ll get a long break before my next low. I hope everyone who is experiencing depression right now will get some relief soon. I hope we all come to know more wellness and joy.

Take care,

Fiona

Photo by Marko Blažević on Unsplash