What can I say that probably doesn't sound trite right now? And what use would it be coming from me, a complete stranger anyway?
I don't know. There aren't words in my life that fit the gravity of your situation; they either sound histrionic, melodramatic, or like total BS. And I know that when people say, "I've been there," it can be enraging, because, "No, YOU HAVEN'T. You have no idea what's going on in my head; it's like a black hole in there, how could you possibly know?"
I don't know what is going on for you other than what XXXX has passed on to my father. Your mind has winched down on your body like a vise, and is squeezing as tight as it can, wringing whatever sense it can make from it. There is no other control you feel you retain.
The mind is a tricky thing: mine has been betraying me to greater or lesser degrees since I was about 15. I belatedly went on anti-depressants a few years ago; my life until that point had been a series of events succumbing to or avoiding situations my depression created. Well, more accurately, I created crises because of my befuddlement.
But either way, once I began to realize that my life sucked because I was depressed, and not that I was depressed because my life sucked, my brain began to give up a little of its dark grip on me.
What sort of evil is concocted there? For me it was always triggered by extreme stress. But extreme stress could be anything. It didn't have to be something obvious like my Dad getting cancer; it could be as mundane as not measuring up to my own shifting expectations, or concern over a friend's problems. Social stresses were always tricky business; I easily became subsumed by other people's problems and had no self confidence to tell people I needed to pull back. I wanted to be loved, and liked, and I was willing to forego my own self-esteem for it. But the price exacted was always steep--long winding depressive episodes where I pulled back from everyone I knew and loved, screened my calls, didn't go out, sunk into tighter balls of dark matter on the sofa.
When I was 15, my poor Dad was mired in a marital dissolution that was protracted and ugly, and he therefore had no eyes with which to see what was happening to me. Not until he came home from work and found the note I had written to say goodbye. Of course I botched the deal, having swallowed a heap of Tylenol and vodka hours earlier. I learned later it wasn't going to kill me, but if I taken more it would have destroyed my liver and kidney function. Too late to pump my stomach, I don't know what they ended up doing to me. It's all a blur now. I can't remember the terror that was in my parents' hearts and minds, but I know that it was just about as complete a tragedy as they could fathom for themselves. They could not imagine that their lives had unraveled in front of them without their seeing.
I was in the hospital for four days, stuck in a room with a kid who had the croup, a hacking, croaking cough that kept me up all day and night. We covered my incident in a lie: food poisoning. I wasn't quite ready to divulge the true nature of my hospital visit to my friends yet, and my parents willingly went along with the story. Later, when I told my friends about what really happened, one of them was compassionate, another cruel in some sort of misguided "tough love" therapy she decided to heap upon me. I should have stuck with the food poisoning story, and learned the lesson of true friendship, but couldn't figure it out.
I don't know what should have been different, but I do know that I struggled with depression for a great part of my life after this point. I probably should have been forced to take a closer look at the dark matter that had devoured me. I didn't have the tools to understand what was happening beyond my desire for escape; I just wanted out. I couldn't take a train there, so Tylenol and shots of vodka were the only ticket my lack of imagination came up with.
Later I struggled with anorexia. I was never dedicated; I didn't have the stamina and I liked bacon too much. But I remember the trickery involved in pulling the wool over Dad's eyes, stirring around the food on my plate, eating nothing but Diet Pepsi and a few M and M's for lunch with a bunch of cigarettes to wash it down. A piece of toast in the morning. Hiding under clothes that protected my jutting hip bones, which I was so proud of. My own special secret. My own bit of control. My identity created by me, no-one else. No parents, no teachers, no friends. Just a personal epic struggle with mind over matter, and in this case, my mind won. It seemed like the only bit of value my life had. I couldn't think of anything else worthwhile in me.
My young adult life was spent bouncing from one depressive episode to the next, and my bent for self-destruction found new ways to manifest: Abusive relationships, strip clubs, date rapes and alcoholism. No confidence in myself. Running from one city to another to escape my darker self. She always met me there, no matter where I went. I could not shake her: she's more tenacious than a rabid pit bull.
The crazy thing is, I'm here now. Recently I went back to counseling after twenty-five years of being out of it. I realized that even though my life is completely stable on the outside, I'm still prone to fits of dark matter. I will struggle with my own darker self the rest of my life. But I have a grip on her in a way that I didn't before: I can read the signs she sends me when she's thinking about dropping by for a visit. I've learned that she arrives during certain fraught moments, and if I can delicately step through the minefield, I might be able to get through to the other side without tearing down my life in the process. It's a constant struggle, being waged in daily questions, wondering, and wishing she would go away. I don't think she ever will. But she is less ominous, less haunting, less likely to bring the tragedy back.
My life is great now but it wouldn't be fair to lie about it; there's always an edge to me, an internalized struggle between the person I am and the darker person who wants control. It may be true for you as well. But the thing about the struggle is that you find reserves of strength there where you thought there were none left. You will surprise yourself. You may find that once you get to the quiet place inside where your demons can't reach you that you have strange gifts of insight. Your empathy with others might be much greater. You may find that you have great stores of creativity. A love and passion for certain things which drives you to learn and create and build. But you will have to carve out a special place where the darkness is kept at bay. It might take a long time.
After I had tried to kill myself--rather haphazardly as it turned out--an old family friend showed up at the house. I didn't think anything of it; he was Dad's friend and he had been over often in the past. We all sat at the dining table together and chatted about total bilge for a while, just a mundane discussion about blah blah blah. It was a few months after I was released from the hospital, so the immediacy of my suicide attempt had passed and I could actually think about things other than my own blank self. I could chat politely without envisioning my own demise.
He turned to me out of the blue and said, "I hear you ate a bunch of Tylenol."
I must have nodded, or muttered "Yes."
"That's a pretty big headache." I'm sure I chuckled. The humor of it being put so concisely relieved me.
We talked for a while about his own past, which was chock-o-block with the usual family crises and struggles, his own depression, and despair. It might have been a relief to talk about it with someone other than my parents and a shrink--but maybe not. It might have just made me uncomfortable and embarrassed. Maybe both.
And then he said, "I need you to promise me something."
"Two things. The first is, you will never, ever try to kill yourself again. Never. You won't do it, no matter how bad it gets. You have to promise me this, right now."
I'm sure I was horrified at where the discussion was leading. How appalling to have to promise such a bizarre and personal thing; how could I promise this, when I was so unsure about having any kind of future at all? "I promise."
"The other thing is this. It's very, very important. You will never use needles for drugs. You may experiment, you may try things, but you will never, ever use a needle for anything. You will never use heroin."
Again I promised. This seemed just absurd to me as I was not in a situation where drugs were much of a concern. Pot, some hallucinogens, not much else. This seemed an easy promise to make.
That this promise was extracted from me by an interested but benignly removed third party turned out to be of paramount importance. I can't tell you how many times I had to remember my words to him, basically an acquaintance. Had it been to anyone else, my parents, my shrink, I would have more likely passed it off as idle talk, empty words. But my promise to him was bond.
As it turned out, because I was plagued by depression, I found myself in many situations where drugs were the choice entertainment. In my late teens I was a punk rock hag surrounded by runaways and drug addicts, and later in Seattle, heroin chic was at the front of a huge social scene I was in. But I never used. Old boyfriends of mine have died of OD's, a stunning number of friends succumbed. I have friends with HIV and Hep C, and no hope of unraveling their lives from either the heroin or the methadone they take to replace it.
I know that the only reason I never used needles or heroin was my promise to my Dad's friend. My life would be very different now without those simple words: "I promise."
As for the promise that I would never try to kill myself again, I kept that one too. That one turned out to be easier than the promise about drugs because my struggles with depression never quite got as deep as the hole I was in when I was 15. Or maybe I just more skillfully ran from one ghoulish part of my psyche to another to avoid the inevitable dark girl hiding there. At any rate, though I've struggled with extreme and protracted depression, I never tried to commit suicide again. And I believe I have the friend to thank for that, too.
I might not be that person for you--I am even more of a stranger to you than Dad's friend was to me. But I would ask of you this: Make the promise. If not to me, than to yourself, your doctor, your cat, your childhood friend you love but lost contact with. But I want you to make the promise. In my darkest hours, it was sometimes the only thing left to me. It is small, but it is more precious to me than gold. It is the seed of my life after depression. It was sometimes the one thing that gave me a thread to cling to.
I recognize the deep hollow place that you've found yourself in. It may take a different shape than my own, but as with many landscapes built in self-immolation, there is a charred, black aspect I recognize intimately.
But from the forest fire comes new seedlings, and new life. You will do it, in your own way, in your own time. But you will do it. It is a grueling challenge, but there is a place of safety for you. You just need to learn how to build it.
All my thoughts and wishes go to you,