Depression, Suicidal Thoughts, & Support
Life vests aren't always easy to find when you are drowning.
As I suspected it would be, Mother’s Day was hard on me. I started to slip into the deep of depression on Saturday, and by Sunday evening I was struggling to keep my head above water. By Wednesday morning, I was drowning. I have had bouts of depression before, but this one scared me. So this post is about my experience, mental health in general, and what I believe helps pull you out of the deep, and what might actually plunge you deeper.
For anyone reading this blog regularly, you know that most of my posts have been about the current estrangement between myself and my daughters and mother. The situation has been distracting and devastating for me. I have tried multiple ways, many times with all of them to reach out to open a pathway to reconciliation. I have begged for an explanation for their choice, but they don’t seem to be able to articulate why it is they are doing what they are doing. I have offered to go to counseling with them to no avail. They ignore my overtures, until my middle daughter decides she has had enough and then sends me a scud missile full of insults, accusations, and threats.
As the months have passed I have gone through a full range of emotions: shock, hurt, frustration, anger, until finally depression settled in. I fought it with everything I could. I logged into self-help forums and read self-help books. I stopped drinking alcohol and started exercising more. I worked on DYI projects and got out my easel and started painting. I started a ritual of daily affirmations and speaking the things I am thankful for. I have been teaching myself to slow down and have given myself permission to nap, to not do the dishes, and to have lazy days. I have communicated with my husband, so he is aware of what I have been going through. I have been working hard to build my writing career. And I launched this blog. I have embarked on and embraced all these things to combat the depression that the estrangements have brought upon me.
Despite all these efforts, the depression was stronger. I connect my girls and mother to my every thought and every dream. “Why?” has haunted me for a year. I hate myself most days because I think I am to blame for what is happening. They are blaming me so in my mind, what they are saying must be true. And then I think if I am to blame, then perhaps I deserve to suffer. Perhaps they are righteous in their cruelty… So I pile it on myself. Every insult and accusation they toss at me, I accept as truth and magnify it as even worse.
They have spent a year trying to convince me I am a terrible person who is deserving of this treatment, and this week, they won. I reached the point in my mind where I felt there was no point in life. Everything I had worked for, sacrificed for, and dreamed of achieving was ripped away from me without explanation. I could not plan for my future, because I no longer recognized it. Feelings of failure, hopelessness, and desperation overwhelmed me to where ending my own life was all I could think about for days. I love my husband to bits, and it is this love that feeds my will to live. But my depression was too much for him to handle too. It scared him. And to be honest, he hasn’t known what to do with his emotions and feelings around the estrangement, because they aren’t talking to him either… we are a package in their eyes.
So by Wednesday morning my husband was exhausted too, and we had fought. His attitude is that if our daughters want to treat us this way after all we have done for them, then F them! I know he is hurting too, but he manifests it differently than me, and sometimes I consider his attitude dismissive, which only hurts me more. I wonder why he doesn’t care and hurt as much as me. Which only adds to my frustration and depression. So things snowballed to a place that scared me.
As I said, I have suffered bouts of depression before, but I can usually pull myself out of it. A good cry, a rage, a walk, and then a shower, and I can carry on. But this week was different. I could not pull myself out of it. And the deeper I fell, the more I piled on myself, the heavier I became, which seemed to speed my descent into the deep. I did not seem to have the ability to stop the sink and reverse the direction, and that scared me. I started thinking about ways to end my life. I finally went to our garage, climbed in the Mustang and started it up. The moment I smelled the exhaust fumes, I turned off the ignition, climbed out of the car and called the Suicide Prevention line. I knew I had crossed a line that I needed to pull back from, and fast.
Here is where the story shifts into absurdity and has really made me question everything we counsel people to do when they are struggling. Prior to climbing into the Mustang, I called my mother and left her a voicemail telling her how desperate I was feeling. Telling her that her cutting me off without explanation was having a profound impact on my mental health and wellbeing, and it was making me wonder if life was worth living. And I asked her to please provide me with an explanation for her actions so I could move on. My next call was to the Suicide Prevention line… where I was placed on hold because all agents were busy. I then called my girlfriend and got her voicemail. I then called another close friend and got no answer. Fortunately, my girlfriend called me back. One of the beneficial things about talking to her versus a therapist is that I do not have to retell my entire family history; she has known me for 40 years, so she knows the players and the history. She is also a wise, calm person who has had more than her fair share of drama, trauma, upheaval, and stress in her life – not much rocks or shocks her. She spent two hours on the phone with me until finally I felt like my feet could touch ground again. I was still in the water up to my neck, but at least I wasn’t drowning.
Once I had a life vest and was pulled out of the deep, I had the mental space to consider what I was really thinking and feeling. I went for a long hike and paused at both a pedestrian overpass and a bridge where I thought about people who choose to jump. And it really was the first time in my life that I felt like I understood suicide. I feel unseen, unheard, and uncared for by the people I love most and who I thought loved me. And that feeling of being unseen, unheard, and uncared for can leave you feeling pretty desperate to be seen, heard, and cared for. It is easy to convince yourself that some drastic act will bring you the attention you desire. Of course a rational mind sees the error in this thinking, but we are not rational when in a deeply depressed state. It is only human nature to make irrational choices when we are in an irrational state. This is when tragic things occur.
SELF-HARM VS DESIRE TO HARM OTHERS
I also thought about what I was really feeling. I thought long and hard about whether I really wanted to hurt myself or if something else was going on. And I will be truthful here… I realized I did not want to hurt myself, but wanted to hurt my mother and daughters as badly as they had hurt me. It filled my thoughts with revenge. This also scared me. I am not by nature a vengeful person. I don’t believe in tit for tat. But in my pain, hurt, and suffering at the hands of my mother and daughters, all I could think was I will write a suicide letter blaming them and then they will suffer with the guilt for the rest of their lives. An awful thought/sentiment, I know. But to me this just speaks to how desperate depression makes people. Feeling unseen, unheard, and uncared for made me feel that only in death will they will notice me. And as I write that, it gives me a hint of understanding for those crazed mass shooters. They are so desperate to be seen and heard that they are willing to risk incarceration and even death.
Recognizing that I had stronger desire to hurt them than myself was a turning point in me getting myself the rest of the way out of the water. I am still not on dry land, but I am closer than I have been in a while. My husband and I had a really good and productive talk. I decided that I am going to turn the negative energy of vengeance into something more positive. I (we) am going to focus and work hard towards achieving our dreams and having the happiest last third of our lives that we can. Instead of making them suffer with hurt, I have shifted to making us so happy and living such a great life that they regret their decision and actions.
WELLNESS CHECK OR MANIPULATION?
Twenty-four hours after I called my mother, she sent my husband a one-line text message that read, “Racquel is suicidal. You should take it seriously.” That is it, that is all. She did not call him to see if I was okay. And for that matter, she made a grand assumption that he was privy to what a terrible state I was in. What if he had not known, and that is the way she informed him… by text message in the middle of his workday!?
He responded by telling her he was aware and was monitoring the situation and would take the steps he felt were necessary. He also told her that I'd had a rough 24 hours but had finally fallen asleep. He said a few other things to her too, about the impact her actions were having. But as has been the case since this started, she did not respond.
Yesterday, a full 32 hours after I first called my mother in distress, the RCMP showed up at our house to do a wellness check. Apparently my daughter called them. One of the first things I said was that 32 hours has passed since I made that call, if I had continued to sink, I would have been long dead, so the visit then seemed pointless and of ulterior intent. E.g. to teach me a lesson. The officers didn’t actually disagree with this assessment, they too thought it was odd that family would wait 32 hours to call for help. They also never checked in with my husband before calling the RCMP. Now I know the RCMP had no choice but to do the wellness check, but I cannot express to you how much that added to my despair and trauma. And, once again, it made me think about others in this plight, and what a terrible approach it is send police in these cases.
I had spent a day and a half doing the work to pull myself up and out of one of the worst mental places I had ever been. My husband and I were not actually home when the police showed up at our house. I decided to build a pond in our backyard to help me through this rough patch, so we had gone to the river to collect sand for the pond. When we rounded the corner of our street we were surprised to see three RCMP vehicles parked in front of our house and our neighbours. We assumed they were dealing with another household. When we approached our yard though, one officer was coming out from the far side of our house, and two others were exiting the gate from our backyard. When they saw us, they immediately asked if I was Racquel.
What took place next was me having to stand in my driveway and recount to these officers who have no professional mental health training what I had gone through over the previous 32 hours. In other words, I had to relive the very thing I had just struggled to get over. The officers were all men, all armed in their usual gear, and all towered over me. The questions they asked are incredibly personal, extremely sensitive, and none were particularly easy to answer. All this happening with the neighbours walking and riding their bikes past, wondering why we have three cops in our front yard. Although the officers were nice enough (one less so than the other two) everything about their presence made me feel uncomfortable. And I told them as much. Basically, their presence re-traumatized me and sent me back again. Because, although I did exactly what everyone tells you should do when you are struggling, that is reach out, I was humiliated, embarrassed, and felt like I had been punished for admitting to my struggles. It made me wish I had just kept how I was feeling to myself and suffered in silence.
MENTAL HEALTH MOVEMENT A CROCK?
And now I am more than a little cynical about this whole mental health movement, too. My daughters have been talking to me for years about mental health and how my generation needs to learn to be more sensitive to mental health issues. They have talked about how it is important for their mental health to be able to honest about their feelings and boundaries, and that I must respect them. And you hear this from most people under the age of 30. But it occurred to me through all this, that when it comes to mental health, they are only concerned about their own. They expect everyone to cater to their feelings and boundaries, but they do not feel they have to reciprocate. In their world, my actions hurt them, but their actions never hurt me, or it's okay if they do. So they don’t really seem to care about mental health in terms of improving it for society, but only in terms of themselves and people catering to their sensitivities.
The other thing that became perfectly clear is that none of the things we tell people to do when they are struggling are particularly good advice. The first one here is talk to people – therapist, friends, family, etc. And although I am not going to slag the benefits of talking about things, this is not a solution or fix. Therapists can be really helpful, but the key to this is finding a good fit. I have not been lucky in this capacity over the years. I have had more bad experiences with therapists than good. But also, therapists are hard to find, they are expensive, and generally aren’t available in the spur of the moment when you are in the throws of a crisis.
Then there is talk to friends or family, but the problem with that is that friends and family do not have the tools to deal with someone in crisis. They do not know what to do or what to say. It can be too much for them. And turning to friends and family this way comes with big doses of shame and guilt. I felt embarrassed and ashamed to admit that I am struggling. That was not easy to do and was compounded by the fact that I was already feeling bad about myself. And then I feel guilty burdening my friend. Like I am dumping on her when she has her own life and shit to deal with. I feel like a bad friend when I share my problems with friends. I feel blessed that I do have a couple of people I can turn to, but turning to others is not easy, and it is not guaranteed to leave you feeling better.
Then there is the whole help line fiasco. When you are in a state of crisis it is hard enough to pick up the phone and dial that number. It is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I did not expect it to be answered by an automated attendant asking me to press 1 for English or press 2 for French. And after pressing, I sure did not expect to hear “all attendants are busy, please hold.” I did not hold. Does anyone hold? What is the point of a system like this if people can’t get through immediately?
I am lucky. I have my husband and a couple of good friends who could throw me a life vest. But what about people who have no one? What about the people who are at home alone with no one to call but that crisis line? And how terrifying would it be for a woman living alone to have three male officers show up at her home and start asking her personal questions about her mental health, with their hands always casually poised close to their gun?
I don’t have solutions to all these problems, but I do have a few recommendations:
1. All mental health hotlines need to be answered by a real person. An automated attendant should not answer them. It is impersonal and is just the discouragement a caller needs to hang up/give up.
2. We need to bulk up these services so that no one ever gets put on hold!
3. If a mental health check is being done by the police, there should be both male and female officers present. At the very least when the call is about a woman, then a woman should respond.
4. If there is no indication of weapons or public safety threats, two officers should suffice. To send three patrol cars for a wellness check 32 hours after the initial cry for help is excessive and unnecessarily intimidating.
5. The police force – or better yet, the health regions – need to have mental health professionals available to attend to these calls. And they should be travelling in unmarked vehicles so that the whole neighbourhood do not become looky-loos about what is going on.
6. If a request for a wellness check comes in more than a couple of hours after the threat was made, then the officers should dig deeper before automatically appearing at a home. I called my mom at 9:00 am Wednesday, the police did not come to our home until 4:00 p.m. Thursday. Had I not found the support I needed, then one of several things would have already happened: I would have attempted suicided or succeeded. In this case, there would already be a police record of the incident. I or my husband would have admitted me to a hospital – and there would be a record of that too. Or I was fine and had struggled through the rough patch. Since there were no incident reports related to our home, my husband had not called in any emergencies, and I was not registered at a local hospital, perhaps the cops could have used a less heavy-handed approach.
A NEW REALITY
So where am I now? I am still depressed. And I am shocked by the way my mother handled this. I really felt like they waited to send someone to check on me until I had enough time to actually do the deed. I feel like they wanted the police to find my body, not me. If they were really concerned about my well-being why did they wait 32 hours? Why did they not call my husband? Or, in the case of my mother, why did she not reach out. I cannot imagine receiving the kind of message I left and not hopping in my car and going straight to that person. But because she did not do that, she made it clear that she does not value me or my life the way I would expect a mother to. This is a shocking, sad realization for me. And yes, it piles on my depression. But at least I now know where I stand in her life.
One of the best things my friend said to me was, “you are not responsible for how they are treating you.” And she is right. But that is what I was feeling. I feel very responsible for their actions. They are my daughters and I feel like their behaviour reflects me. But I could never do to anyone what they are doing to me, so my daughters have become strangers, not the people I thought I raised. And so too has my mother. And I must remind myself every day to not punish myself for their behaviour.
In this moment, I have again risen from the deep. I know that there is nothing else I can do, and that I must learn to live with the loss and heartache. It isn’t easy, and I can’t ever see it being easy, but hopefully over time the pain will dull a bit. In the meantime, I will try to keep that pain tucked away and controlled so it doesn’t rear its ugly head and control me again.