In my work as a health coach over many years, I have seen all too often the effects of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses that greatly affect quality of life.
Then one day I learned personally that depression can end a life. It was 2004 when my fiancé, Mike Hamilton, committed suicide.
What I didn’t know at the time was how serious depression is. And how people can be really good at hiding it. And how for years I judged people who committed suicide and thought they were “…weak, selfish, and it happened to ‘other’ people.”
I was wrong.
When Michael killed himself, my world fell apart. But I needed to understand. I needed to know why. I needed closure. How can someone be so desperate that they take their own life? So I embarked upon a quest to find out everything about depression, anxiety and why people commit suicide. And it is important to add that, after his suicide, I fell into a deep depression. I could NOT believe it. I really thought that after a few months of grieving, I would be back to “normal” again. When it took longer, I figured I would be better in a few years. But the years just kept dragging on. And on. And as my depression grew worse, my reaction to his suicide grew worse. And people would make statements like, “You need to get over it!” Statements like that only made it worse.
It’s been twelve years and although I am through it … I will never be over it. In my research I have learned a lot, and I’ve listed a few of the highlights below:
· People living with depression don’t have the same thoughts as a healthy person
· In a depressed brain, chemical imbalances block feelings of joy and exacerbate feelings of despair
· People suffering from clinical depression believe their loved ones would be better off without them
· If untreated, the mental and physical pain experienced by those with depression is excruciating to the point of not wanting to live. Not because they want their life to end; they just want the pain to end.
· Depression is a treatable condition.
So now I had the information that depression was treatable - by taking an anti-depressant, changing thought patterns, learning to love one-self, exercising (done), eating right (done), and leaning on others; it was time for me to take action. That was the plan. Just do it. Easier said than done.
Antidepressants didn’t work for me. So I had to think positive. And I read everything I could on the topic – my book shelves are filled with self-help books. I prayed to God constantly. I wrote positive affirmations for myself. I wrote in my journal. I looked into the mirror and told myself I loved myself – and it felt so unnatural. Because I didn’t. But I did it anyway. Somewhere I had read, “Act as if you already believe … and one day it will be true.” I was so full of shame that I made very slow progress. Shame coupled with depression lead to increased stress. I found it hard to lean on others - how could they relate? They were already happy! I just numbed myself by staying home alone and drinking alcohol. It was the only thing that seemed to masque the pain (of course it made things much worse!). Meanwhile I faked it as best I could - I mean, I was a fitness instructor and health coach! I had to project an image of happiness!
One thing that motivated me like no other: I needed to be a better mom to my grown children. I needed to be an awesome grandmother to my two young grandchildren. I failed miserably for a very long time.
It has taken many years, and I have had to work REALLY hard on myself, but I am finally healing. It is a process that will never end. I have learned a great deal about how the vicious cycle repeats itself if it goes unchecked. Unfortunately, “hurting people hurt people” and I am no exception. During my worst days and years I allowed the internal pain to dictate my thoughts and words, hurting those whom I loved the most.
I am still learning how to not let emotions like anger, depression, and anxiety run my life. I am still learning to settle into calmer patterns that support health by trying to focus on the positive. I am far from perfect, but I am doing my best. And one way that I improve myself is through helping others. When I share with people my own misery and mistakes, they are able to connect and believe that they, too, can improve quality of life and beat depression.
Now I have some answers. I understand why people commit suicide. I no longer judge their actions. And as I continue to help other people with their self-defeating thoughts, I help myself in the process. The pain of the lessons I have learned is worth it …even if I help just one person to make the choice to live. If I can help one person ease their pain.
1. Learn more about suicide and depression. http://www.save.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.viewPage&page_id=705C8CB8-9321-F1BD-867E811B1B404C94
2. Learn common health mistakes that can lead to depression. http://jamesclear.com/health-mistakes
3. Read how to cultivate courage, compassion, and connection. “I Thought It Was Just Me: But it Isn’t.” http://www.amazon.com/Thought-Was-Just-but-isnt/dp/1592403352
4. Read a Christian perspective on Suicide. This book helped me understand.
Fierce Goodbye - Living in the Shadow of Suicide by C. Lloyd Carr and Gwendolyn Carr.
What does the Bible say on the topic of suicide? What does it not say? G. Lloyd Carr, now professor emeritus of biblical and theological studies at Gordon College, Mass., began to ask these questions after a precious daughter-in-law died by suicide. He embarked on a thorough canvassing of the scriptures and church history on this topic, which helped him on his grief journey. His poet wife, Gwendolyn C. Carr, found solace in writing out her responses and thoughts in moving, sensitive poetry. Their combined efforts in this distinctive book meld the pain and poignancy of the devastating experience of a family member's suicide with expertise from their respective professions. Fierce Goodbye is first and foremost a penetrating account of a family dealing with suicide, and offers solid guidance for those who worry about the eternal fate of a loved one. It provides a reliable and readable summary of Christian thinking about suicide, useful for pastors, counselors, students, and teachers.