April 29, 2015

A Short Step to Purgatory: On Living with Depression.


I once owned four guns: a rifle, a shotgun, a semi-automatic pistol, and a revolver.

It was early March of 2013. I was on sabbatical from the university where I teach. I took a break from writing that afternoon to watch ESPN and listen to the pundits talk about who their favorites were in the upcoming NCAA tournament. I poured a cup of coffee from the carafe and sat down in my recliner to watch.

I was diagnosed as a depressive when I was 23 but have dealt with it all my life.

I knew what it was to feel deep sadness and for it to overwhelm me. As I sat there, I was suddenly overcome by a sense of melancholy that wrapped me in its shell. There was no precipitating event that triggered it. It had been a “good” day. When mental illness strikes it seldom makes any sense.

It was also my first taste of auditory psychosis. I literally heard a voice clearly say, “It isn’t going to get any better.” I knew then what I had to do.

Along with my depression have been frequent thoughts of suicide. I knew how I would end my life. I would unlock the front door and leave it open. I would then cover the bathtub with plastic sheeting. I would sit in the tub, place my revolver in my lap, and call 911 to give the police my address and tell them what was about to happen. I would then draw the plastic over me and pull the trigger. The police would be able to enter the house quickly as I would not want my family to walk in on that scene.

I took my revolver from its holster. I loaded the .38 caliber bullets in the five chambers with a smooth fluidity of motion. The voice, a raspy thing, had made perfect sense to me. Some may ask why I would keep guns if I thought of suicide. I have no credible answer except to say I never actually believed I would do it.

I took the loaded gun back to my chair and sat down. As I felt the etched wood of the walnut grip in my hand, my mind started to resist. I sat the revolver on the coffee table and got up to walk to the other side of the room. Why I resisted at that moment, I truly don’t know.

I looked to the top of our entertainment center. Sitting prominently there was a picture of my son and me taken at an Indians game. I looked at his innocent face and knew I couldn’t do this to him. What would his future be like if he knew his father committed suicide? My boy saved my life that day.

I picked up the gun, unloaded it, and placed it back in the safe. I then called my psychiatrist. He admitted me into a psychiatric ward where I stayed for an entire snowy March. I haven’t heard the voice since. My guns were gone when I returned home.

The voice has been stilled by therapy and medication. Yet, because the voice has been silenced for now doesn’t mean I won’t hear it again. The hurting mind is not an open wound you can see and treat with stitches and gauze. I cut the back of my hand last week. After treating it with ointment, the wound has nearly healed. I can see it healing and know from the touch it isn’t nearly as tender as it was. The triage of a mental illness isn’t so easy to determine. I can’t see if the “voice” is truly gone or just lying dormant.

Because I have a mental illness, I’ve been ridiculed and marginalized by some who believe that my condition could be cured if I just “sucked it up.” I’m going off-script as a professor for a moment when I wonder if these dumb f*cks would ask someone with a broken leg or fractured skull to get up and “shake it off?” The depressed just goddamn can’t.

I’ve found openness about my condition has helped to relieve the heaviness of heart I feel about having chronic depression. This alleviates the pain of others deriding me for being what I’ve overheard as a “wack job.” I’ve forgiven them although I haven’t forgotten who they are.

Some who are reading this can relate to others scorning you. Just because you forgive them doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to feel the pain that stems from being singled out as flawed. You are different, but that doesn’t mean you are an inadequate person.

Some good has come from my depression. I’ve had people come to me when they are depressed. I talk with them and am open about what has worked for me. I’m grateful to the friends who have stuck by me through my depression and have sought to bear me up through my crises. I’ve got a pal who calls me Eeyore from the Pooh tales. Eeyore is anhedonic and glum, but his friends continue to include him in their adventures and misadventures in the Hundred Acre Wood. Mine do as well.

My depression has impacted my work environment. I went to some “colleagues” in my department and tried to explain what I was going through when I was at my lowest. I received no support and no sympathy. I got through it, but I’m convinced that with consideration and understanding my recovery would have been considerably easier.

Depression has impacted my family. My wife has by nature an outgoing, vivacious personality. I know that coming home to a husband whose face is veiled by gloom is not pleasant. I can’t begin to imagine the fear she must feel. A mental illness is not something that you can see to determine if healing is taking place. She asks me constantly what kind of day I’ve had. I know she means the level of depression I’m feeling because the static facial expression I have seldom allows her to determine my emotions.

Depression has also affected my son. When he was little, he would ask when he saw I was down if he had done anything wrong. It broke my heart and I would assure him he hadn’t. He is 16 now and probably knows more about depression than any teen should. Children may not be able to fully articulate their concerns, but they can recognize pain.

I know my depression will be with me the rest of my days. At times, negotiating it feels like nailing Jell-O to a wall. I’ve heard that you shouldn’t let your depression define you. My depression has defined me and framed much of my life. I often think of the life I could have led if my unwelcome companion was not with me. I try instead to focus on the quality of life I might have in the future and what gifts, however small, depression has given to me.

My guns are gone. I won’t be getting them back.



Don’t Tell Me to “Create your Own Reality”: the Realities of Depression & Suicide.


Author: George Richards 

Editor: Caroline Beaton

Photo: Google images for reuse

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