Like too many men, I suffered in silence for many years while Major Depressive Disorder slowly destroyed my mind. Together, the MDD and the sleep apnea created a circumstance where my mind and body never received the rest needed to recover and prepare me for the next day. My self-esteem was destroyed and my ability to function in the world was negated. I reached the point where I did not eat because I was unable to leave my apartment to buy food. Let me repeat that: I was unable to leave my apartment to buy food.
MDD does that to you. It makes the simplest tasks huge mountains to overcome. Washing dishes, doing laundry, bathing, all became herculean tasks. My apartment became a cluttered mess and my personal hygiene practically non-existent.
Eventually the daily struggle became too much and, as you know from my previous posts, I attempted to take my own life. I survived. And it is in that survival that my story may have a difference.
You see, my action was not about seeking death, it was about ending my pain. And in that very narrow sense, I succeeded. Now, let me stop here for a moment. I do not in any way advocate suicide. If you are having suicidal thoughts, seek help. If you have a plan, stop reading and call emergency services immediately. Whether you believe it or not, you are worthy of life and should take steps to preserve yours.
So what do I mean?
I mean I was extremely fortunate. Somewhere in the haze of my near-dead-yet-still-surviving-mind, I experienced stillness and silence. The incessant noise that had been within my head for years stopped. In the hospital, the oxygen mask that I wore acted like a CPAP device and I slept.
Together, these fortunate events meant that I awoke with a clarity of thought where none had existed for years. I awoke rested when no rest had been experienced for years. I awoke with the conviction that I would do everything necessary not to be in such pain again.
Success 1: I accepted that it was unsafe for me to be alone. I accepted that it was unsafe for me to act alone. I needed a safer home than the one I had, and I needed to reach out for help. These realizations and what followed were the first simple successes of the post-suicidal me.
Success 2: I asked my parents if I could stay in their home. I benefited from more good fortune – they said yes.
Success 3: I asked the hospital counselor to refer me to resources near my parents’ home. He referred me to the Canadian Mental Health Association and gave me a contact number. He also raised the practices of mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy.
These are such small victories but huge given that they happened the day after my near-death.
Success 4: I called the CMHA at the number I was given. It turned out to be the fax number but I didn’t give up. I found the will and cognitive wherewithal to search online for the correct number and called it. Upon hearing their response, I again didn’t give up. I did, though, break down on the phone and beg for help.
Once again, I was fortunate. I received the help of the CMHA, and still receive it to this very day. I’m grateful for that help for it has given me support over each of the low days I experienced during the past eighteen months.
There have been many low days. There was the day when my son, who had just been told that I’d been in hospital, learned that his mum was in crisis. He was alone in a way no fourteen year old child, no child, should ever be.
Success 5: I had to explain to my son what his mum was experiencing. I had to tell him about my suicide attempt.
That is a conversation no parent should ever have with their child, nor a child with their parent. But I had no choice. My son needed me, and he needed to hear the truth. So I told him the truth, the ugly fact of my actions and the beauty of the moment of silence and everything that the silence fostered. My son made me proud, he forgave me.
Success 6: I learned that my recovery required me to be open about my experience with MDD. I learned this from a Bell Let’s Talk ad. I learned it from my conversation with the CMHA but most of all, I learned it from my conversation with my son,
Being open was liberating. It allowed me to be honest with myself about the debilitation I had undergone and the truth that it was entirely my own fault. Being open also gave the professionals an unvarnished glimpse into my broken mind. If they were to fix it, they needed to know just how broken I was.
This openness was very new to me. I had been, until these events occurred, a very closed person, keeping my privacy very closely guarded.
Success 7: I sought out a new family doctor and was very fortunate because my parents’ doctor to agreed to take me on as a patient.
Success 8: With the guidance of the CMHA, I sought out counseling supports, and found them. I told each and every one of these professionals my story and told them, half in jest, that I’d now told them more about myself in that twenty minute meeting than I had to anyone else in my prior fifty-odd years. The sad part was that it was true. But I had learned the lessons from my silence and the conversation with my son, so I shared.
Success 9: My sharing with you.
There is a way out of the dark and it’s not suicide. It takes time, it takes work, it takes patience, it takes perseverance. The way out is fraught with pitfalls and seeming dead ends. But if you’re truly trying to recover, you’ll find a way to overcome the pitfalls and dead ends and keep going. Again, recovery takes work, lots of work, and it takes time.
In my case, I was silent for thirty-five plus years, so it should not be surprising that recovery may take years as well. I’ve made progress. But I’m ever vigilant. If I stop using the tools of recovery, the darkness will return. Of this I’ve no doubt. So I keep working on my recovery. I owe this to all those who helped me. I owe it to my parents and my son. Most of all, I owe it to myself.
So what are the tools of my recovery? The most obvious tool is my writing. I write – a lot. I have two blogs which share the two sides of my story, the days of Black and the days of light. I write guest posts for other blogs. I share on Twitter (probably too much, according to my son). I write in notebooks, lots of notebooks. Writing, to me, is a mindful exercise because I’m in that moment as I write.
Another great tool is mindful meditation, particularly meditation of the breath. Your breath is always with you and you can use it to have mini-meditations, just concentrating on the sensations of breathing, throughout the day.
I’ve rediscovered the importance of colour. I’ve several colouring books where I allow myself to explore colour and allow it to calm and heal. In fact, while I’m not an artist, I did buy a drawing tablet so that I might create my own colouring pages. I refer to my creations as “scribble”-art.
I walk as much as I can. I walk to appointments. I walk to the shop. I walk for the sheer joy of walking.
I’ve a tendency to prefer seclusion. Being by myself energizes me. But I also know that it can be a danger to me, a pathway for the MDD to return. So I seek seclusion in public places – I take my laptop or tablet to the library or the local coffee house – allowing me my privacy while in the midst of the hustle and bustle.
I also have a wellness toolkit. I have a box, a smartphone and a digital picture frame that all remind me of happier times, that all contain photos, or sounds, or other diversions that help me to manage excessive distress. The use of my smartphone gives the toolkit the element of portability I need to be able to divert myself from distress while on the go.
These are the tools that work for me. They may also work for you or they may not. There are tools that I tried that didn’t work. Finding the right balance is trial and error but it’s worth the effort.
My story isn’t unique. That’s the great lie of MDD, that you’re all alone. Many of us live this story and many of us use tools that keep the Black at bay. The difference, in my mind, is that not all of us share our stories with each other. Sharing heals. It’s a vital part of my recovery and I urge you to make it a part of yours. Again, SHARING HEALS.
Portions of this post have been previously published online.