Semicolon;

98D74ADA-9F2F-44E3-8BFD-9EFAFECAA27E(TRIGGER WARNING – suicidal ideation)

I got this tattoo a week ago. I’ve wanted one for years, and finally decided to just do it! I incorporated the semicolon; it’s in response to Project Semicolon. “The goal of the project is to restore hope and confidence in people who are troubled by addiction, depression, self-harm, and suicide.” The idea is that instead of a period, where life would end, there’s a semicolon – life continues. Like their website says, “Your story is not over.”

Back in 2009, the medication I was taking that caused the serotonin toxicity made me think lots of suicidal thoughts (suicide ideation), to the point of having a plan of how and where (but not the detail of when). While I was never truly suicidal (my level of suicide risk was not high enough – I didn’t have all the markers), at the worst all I could think of was that I didn’t want to live in pain anymore, didn’t want to be “here” (in this life); I just wanted it over.

I had those “death thoughts” for days and nights and weeks, increasing in frequency. It reached an intensity that the idea of death ran through my mind constantly, even in the background when I was busy with other distractions like work. I was so incredibly miserable, so hopeless, and I couldn’t imagine that I was ever going to feel differently. The ache in my chest was all-consuming, and felt like it was eating me from the inside out, wearing me down, gnawing at me. My plan was to take all my pills, but when I was driving I would fantasize about plowing head first into a large on-coming truck or driving off the edge of a cliff. I had these thoughts, but the plan never went anywhere because I couldn’t imagine putting my family through the aftermath-pain. I never got completely to the point where I assumed everyone would be better off without me. I thought it a few times, but quickly pictured faces of family and friends crying, and knew I couldn’t do that to them. So technically, I wasn’t suicidal. But it sure felt like it to me.

One evening before bed, I poured a handful of my sleeping pills into my palm and looked at them all. “How easy,” I thought, “to simply take them and go to sleep and not wake up. ” I scared myself a little by having them in my hand, and so I poured them back into the bottle, all but those prescribed on the label.

Several days later, I called my therapist and told him that I was feeling very out of sorts, rather hyper, and that I wanted to hurt myself. He asked if I had a plan, and I told him yes; then he made me tell him what it was. I told him that I would take a huge handful of pills, probably all of my sleep meds, and just go to sleep and not wake up and the pain would all be over. He asked me where I was. “At work.” He told me to call my husband, at his work, and tell him to go home immediately and gather up all of my medications and hide them – he would be the only one allowed to give them to me. I promised my therapist, hung up, and sheepishly called my husband and told him what I needed him to do. I think it was the first time I had to openly admit the seriousness – the depth of pain – of my illness to him. My husband put all of my meds in our safe in the closet, and carried the key with him from then on.

The suicidal thoughts felt very real – they were in my head – but my therapist and psych doc and husband and friends kept reminding me that they weren’t my thoughts. They were caused by the wrong medication and resulting chemicals in my brain. They would eventually go away as my system got used to a different med and as I began to feel better. I didn’t believe them, but I trusted them, and so I started telling myself that when I would begin to think hopelessly. And it did work – took awhile, but eventually I could see that the thoughts were caused by the meds and the depression, and were not really my own.

But I wonder sometimes if they ever go away. Completely I mean. Once I’ve had those thoughts, they are somehow a part of me. I have to be cautious to fight to keep them away when depression comes and brings hopelessness. And even though I still have those safe-guards that will keep me from following through (concern for those “left behind,” promise of God’s Presence – my personal faith in Jesus, fear of the physical pain, and the shame that would remain – I’d be worse than just depressed, etc.), I know the thoughts could come again.

I later became friends with a person who had tried to kill herself with meds, and I learned that my plan would most likely not have worked, but would have made me incredibly painfully sick, perhaps throwing up blood as I tore apart my insides and in a coma with breathing difficulties. I would have had a whole other layer of shame to deal with – not just the shame that often comes with depression, but shame that comes from putting loved ones through such trauma as a suicide attempt.

I now look back on this time and thank God for saving me, for putting my husband and therapist and doctor and friends in my life who didn’t give up on me, even when I kept thinking about giving up on life. I thank God for different medications, for keeping me safe, for His Presence. I thank Him for the semicolon, and for the way He can use my depression now in helping others because my life goes on.

2 Corinthians 1:8b-10, personalized
“I was under great pressure, far beyond my ability to endure, so that I despaired of life itself. Indeed, I felt I had received the sentence of death. But this happened that I might not rely on myself but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered me from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver me again. On Him I have set my hope that He will continue to deliver me, …”

How am I doing with what I’m supposed to be doing? part two

As I mentioned before, there are things that I can do, even with depression, to help ease its symptoms. If I’m in remission, those tasks are much easier to carry out. Here are some more thoughts on the steps, and how I do (or don’t do) them with depression in remission versus when it’s full-blown.

  1. It’s important not to isolate myself – to keep up social interaction and positive supportive relationships. This is near to impossible when I’m in the middle of a depressive episode, since all I want to do is be alone, preferably in the dark with the covers pulled over my head. I’ve learned to lean on the folks who know about my struggles, and admit to these friends that I’m having a tough time. They know what to say and when, and how to gently push me to reach out or when to leave me alone.
  2. If I’ve learned anything in my years in and out of depression, I’ve learned the importance of making space in my day, and not pushing myself too hard. It’s critical that I reduce my stress, make my to-do list shorter, and pace myself. I am already my harshest critic (that comes naturally to me, and is amplified with depression) and it’s easy to beat myself up about the things I should do that I don’t get done. But I’m learning to cut myself some slack, practice some relaxation techniques, and even nap if I need to.
  3. A piece that is very important to fighting depression is adopting an “attitude of gratitude.” It’s been proven in studies that folks who practice daily gratitude, perhaps writing things to be thankful for in a journal, have reduced depression and anxiety. It’s impossible to thank God for blessings and be anxious at the same time! Gratefulness also combats negative thinking, which is a huge issue for me when I’m depressed. I ruminate, mull, dwell and judge myself very harshly, and the negative thinking spirals quickly downward. But if I can stop myself, take the negative thoughts captive to Christ (from 2 Corinthians 10:5), and focus on His blessings right now, living in the moment with gratitude, I can slow the negative thinking and self-condemning thoughts before they get too far gone.
  4. I’m told repeatedly by my therapists and doctors to do the things that I used to enjoy, even though depression means that I don’t want to do anything. This is actually a diagnosing symptom of depression – not wanting to do things that used to be enjoyable. Other ways to combat this inertia are to reach out to others – recognize someone else’s need and offer help, maybe even volunteer in a serving capacity. I’ve found it true – thinking about someone else takes my mind off myself, and I can be distracted from depressive thoughts as I try to meet someone else’s needs.
  5. Maintaining an active faith life is critical in my fight against depression. I have to regularly remind myself that Jesus knows and understands how I feel, and He loves me completely, unconditionally, anyway. I’m not always able to concentrate well enough to read my Bible, so I have several other tools that help. I have a couple of books that are simply Bible verses to read “when you feel … (sad, anxious, depressed, lonely, etc.).” I listen to a lot of praise and worship music, and even have made some playlists appropriate for my moods. Lastly, the Holy Spirit will bring Bible verses to mind that I have read or memorized over the years. I may not be able to find and read them from the Bible, though, so this is a reminder to me to hide God’s Word in my heart (Psalm 119:11) – I never know when I might need it!
  6. It’s important to continue to take my medications as prescribed, and to avoid alcohol (a depressant). There’s really only been one time when I really wanted to quit taking my medicine – I think I felt like it was all useless (that’s the depression talking). It’s important, too, to follow my treatment plan and meet with my doctor and therapist – they will encourage me to keep taking these steps. It’s important to have their help to stay on track.
  7. Finally, I need to really listen to myself, and have those closest to me help me identify if I need immediate help. If I feel like hurting myself, if my mood worsens quickly, if I descend and can’t get back up, I need to get professional help. My therapist has been great to be available when I need help quickly – I am grateful for her!

So, that’s a lot to do to keep healthy – a total of 10 steps to take when including the top three from my earlier post (sleep, healthy diet, exercise). And it’s a lot to be intentional about, so it is helpful to form these habits when I’m in good mental health, so they aren’t completely impossible when I’m fighting a depressive episode.

What are some steps that you take to fight depression? What advice do you have to others who struggle?