Last week was hard. The deaths by suicide of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain shook me. I didn’t know them. But, I know the thing that had a hold on them — the something that people who have never felt it cannot understand.
In the wake of their deaths, many people wrote about, talked about, tweeted about depression, imploring people to reach out if they’re depressed. I did this, too.
But, the truth is when I’ve been that low — so low that ending my life seemed like my best option — reaching out was nearly impossible. And there is another truth…
I am terrified that one day I will feel like that again.
Anthony Bourdain’s death really had me reeling. He was a kindred spirit. Like me, he had battled drug addiction. Like me, he wrote about it. Like me, he had survived.
And then, he didn’t.
I am in a good place in my life. My depression is well-managed. My career is moving up and along. I am happily married. I have two beautiful and healthy sons. I have the life I always dreamed of having.
But depression lingers like an unwelcome ghost trailing behind me. And most days, I accept that. I acknowledge that. And, I’m okay.
What if one day I’m not?
What if I can’t reach out? What if I can’t get my brain to do the logical thing and ask for help?
I talked to my husband about this over the weekend. I asked him to please, if he ever sees me slipping away — slipping into that endless, opaque place — to reach out to me, to step in, to intervene, to make sure I didn’t go under and disappear. In the past, I have often said that I don’t need or want him or anyone else intervening or commenting on my mental health, my meds, or the overall status of my state of mind
But I might need him to do just that. As self-aware as I am, could one severe bout of depression trick me? Trick us all? In the past, I was damn good at hiding. I hope I’ve shed that skill. I think I have.
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He said he would step in and he also acknowledged that he wasn’t sure he would know what to do. He’s never felt like that, never struggled with suicidal ideation.
So, we talked about that some more, too. I asked him to reach out to my friends who do know that place, the one that holds you under until you cry “uncle.” I asked him to reach out to a doctor if needed. Above all, I asked him to reach out to me.
And we went over some basic guidelines on being there for someone who is severely depressed.
Ask them if they are thinking about suicide.
It’s okay to ask this. And it’s necessary.
Don’t try to convince them they shouldn’t be depressed.
When you’re that low, someone telling you to buck up, cheer up, man up, etc. is not helpful. Gratitude and depression are NOT mutually exclusive. Depression is not a choice.
Help them, if you can, to access help.
If you have the bandwidth, and they are willing, make that phone call they can’t get themselves to make. Take them to their doctor or therapy appointment. Often, when we feel that low, we are paralyzed to access help. Further, if there are financial considerations, do the footwork online to look into no-cost or low-cost options (there are few, but they do exist).
Know your limitations.
Of vital importance is that you set boundaries when stepping in to help someone who is severely depressed. You need to maintain your own mental health to be of service to anyone else. Those boundaries are healthy and essential.
When we talked, I made it clear to my husband that this is not his responsibility. The only person responsible for mental health is me. I don’t want him to feel that it’s up to him to keep me afloat.
BUT, when you’re drowning, you need someone to be willing to throw you a life raft, if only they see you drowning in time. Sadly, sometimes no one does. And often, as has been the case for me, people are quite adept at hiding.
I’m going to remember to do this as well. If I see you hurting, I will acknowledge your pain. If I see you slipping, I will say something. If I see you buried under the weight of depression — unable to reach out for help — I will reach out to you.
If I see you are drowning, I will throw you a line.
I hope you’ll do that for me, too.