Taking off the mask: Depression and Suicide.

Drowning doesn’t look like drowning. People that are drowning almost never call for help. There is rarely the highly visible splashing, the shouting, the going down for a third time. The autonomic nerve system kicks in and overrides any conscious attempts to swim… the head tilts back trying to get enough air, the arms press down, the legs go rigid- reaching for some bottom. The person can’t scream, because his lungs are filling with water. He can’t grab a rope, or kick. He has kicked into a survival mode. The panic, when suffocating in water, can be silent, the movements subtle, and unless you can look that person in the eye, you may not know that he is moments from death.

Ironic… that very survival instinct is what kills you.

Mike messaged me yesterday. To tell me that what I write helps. He told me he thinks of suicide. He deals with depression. He’s fighting. And for the moment, holding his own. And last week Paul messaged me in the middle of thinking of grabbing a loaded gun to end his pain… he said because of something I wrote. He was going through a rough spot in his hard life… And he’s fighting, too. And yesterday when he posted this ranting woman with a pierced lip telling us to get our guns ready to fight the anti-christian, Ebola toting Muslims… I knew he was holding his own.

Depression can be a battle. It can be loud and messy… it can be strewn with the wreckage of broken relationships and complicated with addictions or destructive behaviors, with failures, or mixed in with everything from our own unique personalities, to mental illness. But often, like drowning, it isn’t what it seems. It doesn’t look dramatic or dangerous.

We fight these battles. Sometimes very very alone. And in our own ways.  Visible to some. Invisible to many. Sometimes we hide it well. Sometimes it is hidden behind humor… and I think of Robin Williams… hidden behind genius… or success… or extremely good behavior and a mask of smiles and “keeping it all together.” Success and happiness are the ultimate disguises. Acting very happy… communicating to the world that everything is better than fine, that hides this battle far better than alcoholism or drugs, or self destructive behavior. And the moment you think you are winning, that they you it beat might be the moment you only see the mask. It is a survival instinct and it can kill you.

“The loneliest people can be the kindest. The saddest people sometimes smile the brightest. The most damaged people are filled with wisdom. All because they do not wish the pain they’ve endured on another soul.” – Timothy Delvecc

Sometimes depression doesn’t look like depression. Ethan, my son, lost that battle, and I didn’t even know he was fighting it. I never saw the look of panic in his eyes. I never knew he was in such deep pain… or that he was capable of taking his own life. He wasn’t thrashing around or calling out… and he didn’t go down three times. He was funny, and helpful, and could be outrageously giving and kind.

I have taken off my mask. I have sat down and typed into this blog my darkest thoughts, my hottest anger, my deepest sadness and my worst fears. I have put it into words and also into paint and canvas… in some desperate attempt to avoid that deadly survival instinct. I’m done pretending (except for the majority of the day where I pretend to be normal to keep my job and avoid arrest.) I don’t “play” Christian or “play” nice… or worry much about offending people. I just write. To me it is like avoiding drowning by swimming, by treading water, by doing everything to keep moving and avoid sinking. This is how I fight my battle.

So I have to thank Paul and Mike… because they are fighting a battle and in the middle of it, they took the time to tell me that my words helped. That is encouraging. I am going to keep writing. If it helps anyone, that is a bonus. The key is that it helps me.


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