Today a man who nobody knew was suffering took his own life. Depression and suicide are being discussed on the internet, and this is a good thing because it’s not discussing these things that lead people to believe they have no options.
Before I say anything else, I want to say this. I don’t suffer from depression. As far as I’m aware I never have. I do feel very detached from things sometimes, and as a teenager I thought about suicide, but no more than I assumed everyone does when they’re all hormonal and angry. But there was never an actual chance of me actually doing it. I never felt like it was my only way out, nor did I feel that everyone else would be better off without me. If I ever did feel that (hormonally and angrily) I thought about leaving town, not about destroying myself.
So no, I don’t have depression. I have stress, stress is my poison, if you like. Stress is a completely different animal, and I wouldn’t dream of comparing the two.
I also want to say that this blog isn’t about me. It is written from my perspective, but I am not asking for anything. If anything, this is an apology for all the things I don’t understand. And I write from the perspective of someone who understands that they don’t understand, and if I write something that is incredibly stupid, then I need to be set right, because I do want to understand, I do, I want to understand as much as I am able, and if that involves backing off and dropping the subject, then let me know. Because I’m not trying to crawl inside someone’s head where I’m not welcome. I just don’t want anyone to feel alone if it can possibly be avoided.
Today people who do suffer from depression, and people who know people who suffer from depression, are talking about it very authoritatively, and this is important I think because all we can do is try to understand. Some people find themselves disagreeing… not so much disagreeing as not expressing themselves clearly, or not being understood properly, or whatever the case is, and what’s being thrown around a lot today is this.
“You don’t understand.”
This is true. This is very true. I do not understand. I do not stigmatise, I do not blame, I am not impatient, I am not cruel, but I do not understand. And I never will.
It’s like trying to explain the colour blue to someone, without them ever having seen the colour blue. How could they possibly understand?
They can learn about shade and tone and hue in theory, and they may become an expert in the colour blue, but would they know it if they saw it? Would they be able to feel the feeling that the colour blue might evoke in someone else? Someone whose lover has blue eyes? Someone thinking of the “something blue” from their wedding? Someone who has spent parts of their life on the ocean? How could they possibly?
I don’t understand.
I try to understand, but it’s all maths to me. I can recite what I’ve been told, and I can imagine in my head what it might be like, although imagining what it might be like can’t possibly come close to feeling it, because one of the things I am led to understand about depression is that it can be all-encompassing, and you’re not standing on the outside watching it, like I am, purely by the nature of my involvement being third party.
What I can do is listen, and try to keep an eye on the options that someone in a pit of depression can’t see, because it seems to be really, really dark down there. What I can do is be there, and I can do whatever needs to be done, whatever might help, or whatever will have no effect on the depression but might take someone’s mind off something for an hour or two.
I don’t understand. But do I need to understand? I’m not judgmental, I understand that you can’t ‘snap out of it’, I understand that nobody wants to have depression. Someone who’s depressed isn’t wallowing in it relishing the extra attention. I understand that.
Is that enough to understand?
I understand that some people commit suicide, or try to commit suicide, for various reasons. If I were to list the reasons, it would be me reciting the maths again, reasons I’ve been told and reasons I’ve heard, not reasons I’ve felt. As someone who’s never felt depressed, the only understanding I have is from the other side, the side of the person left behind, and even that I have only ever felt from a distance, I’ve never lost a loved one, but I’ve lost an acquaintance. And as an acquaintance, I’ve been close enough to see the loved ones in their grief. For this reason I kind of feel like it’s not my place to say anything more about suicide. But if someone has failed in a suicide attempt, is it enough that I understand that whatever they need, it’s not scolding? Maybe their ability to scold themselves is part of the healing. Maybe when they reach that stage it means they’re starting to do OK again, get out from under the shadow. Or maybe not. I don’t know, because I don’t understand.
The thing that this all reminds me of is the scene below, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I know, I know, this seems incredibly crass. But it actually makes me cry every time I watch it, because it is a very powerful scene. Anya is an ex-demon, she has lived for 900 years and is now human again, with human friends for the first time in almost a millenium. Buffy’s mother has just died and her human friends are grieving. Anya doesn’t understand, because Anya has never lost anyone she loved, and isn’t used to grieving. She doesn’t understand.
I feel like Anya. It’s incredibly frustrating to know that someone needs something, but having no idea what it is, or why it’s happening, or how to help, or even if you can’t help, and if you can’t help, why can’t you help, which idiot invented this? I am very lucky, I know, I am so thankful that I don’t have the inside track on depression.
So tell me, am I supposed to ask questions, or does the fact that I don’t understand mean I should just shut up and back off and stay out of it? I don’t even know whether my concern is welcome or whether it will be perceived as something else.
All I want to know is what I can do, what I can say, or where I should stand.
So what I will do is listen, and stand at your shoulder, and offer you the things I know you like, and hope that at least you realise that whatever your options, I am present and I care.
Incidentally, I read this by Allie Brosh, and I found it amazing.