BY Jen Tobin
I wanted to kill myself when I was 12. Twelve.
What can be so wrong in the life of a 12-year-old white girl, very Catholic, very middle class, living in a Bostonian suburb? My father was an alcoholic and my mother was slightly miserable, but she loved us. I was moody and would throw things around my room when things didn’t quite go my way. And I had always pretty much been like that, but around age 12, I started thinking maybe I should just find a way off the planet. Maybe it was to get back at my parents for being distracted. Maybe it was just chemical. And most likely, maybe it was hereditary.
My mother told stories about how crazy she was as a kid and frankly, she still kind of was. At that time, it was 1986 and Prozac wasn’t on the market. People weren’t talking about depression the way they are now — it wasn’t a “buzz word”.
When I was 13, my Aunt Carol (my father’s sister) committed suicide. She sliced her abdomen open with a knife, being sure to hit some key organs, (she was once a nurse practitioner) and bled to death, surrounded by towels in her bedroom. She was diagnosed as manic-depressive and schizophrenic at 25. At 42, she went off her medication, because, I suppose, no one likes to be on medication. And especially in 1987, people thought meds for head problems weren’t as necessary as say, insulin for diabetes.
In 2012, I still think society at large shares that view. I run into a large number of people who think anti-depressant medication isn’t necessary, is over-prescribed. Maybe that’s true for some people, but I’m one of those people who, when not on 30 mg of Celexa, wants to kill myself when I get a parking ticket or I do something wrong at work or am late for an appointment.
I can honestly say that most people who have never been clinically depressed do not know how to respond to a depressed person. Currently, I am surrounded by depression. There are at least three friends of mine who are struggling with meaning in their life – don’t want to get out of bed and wonder what it’s all for. I have several theories about this and I’m going to share them in a moment. I’m no more educated than you are really, and I’m just one woman who, at age 37, has dealt with this illness my whole life. Make no mistake, this is an illness. When someone is feeling bad enough to want to end their life, there is something in their brain not processing things right. There is a malfunction beyond their control. And sure, maybe they could change their outlook a bit or reach out for support in their life, but as someone who has a generally positive attitude and an amazing network of support, I can unequivocally say I have gotten down into that hole so deep, I simply couldn’t see a way out.
I could jump on my soap-box all day about why we seem to be experiencing more of this than ever before, but briefly and in one sentence, we are not living the way humans were meant to live. We have evolved to a place that is not serving us. We segregate ourselves, living in cities vastly spread out, driving to jobs we hate, alone in our cars. We overtax ourselves and eat fast food and processed food and our bodies are rebelling. The meat we consume comes from terrified animals who had no quality of life while being pumped with hormones and crammed together like beans in a can, then slaughtered without compassion. We don’t cooperate and expect we should be able to “do it all” on our own. We are too busy keeping up with the Joneses to keep up with our own kids. We don’t experience human touch unless it’s to have sex with our partner who we may or may not be mating for life with. Who we may or may not resent for not “doing enough” for us… because we have no one else to do for us. Because we live so damned separately from our families. It is seen as a badge of honor to not ask for help and seen as weakness to need others. It is a time where the media’s influence spreads wildly like never before and we are bombarded with images of skinny celebrities, rich and glowing and feigning perfection. No wonder we’re such a mess.
And we question why depression is so prevalent now.
I believe it has always existed on some level, as there are always challenges and always imbalances, no matter the generation. But the saving grace for me is that we live in a time where I can talk about it. Get access to the tools I need to help myself and live a happy, productive life. But what I wish is that more people knew how to handle their loved ones dealing with depression and to reach out and lend support. Here are some things not helpful to say to a depressed person:
“You are stronger than this.”
“Just think positively.”
“It’s all in your head.”
“Come on. Is it really that bad?”
“You can do this without medication.”
None of this is helpful. As a society, we need to support those of us that have fallen down. We need to reach out and help lift them in whatever way will bring them back up. We need to acknowledge that what they’re feeling is real and valid and they simply can’t see their way out. We need to be more compassionate as a whole. And this week, that is what I am agreeing to.
Featured image by Sophia Edgett