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Working in the Light

As people grieved in the last couple of weeks for Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, more than one person asked me if I have ever considered suicide. I haven’t, but it was a reasonable question. Anyone who knows me very well at all, knows that I have suffered from depression for much of my life. But I have also had great good fortune, even as a person who has trouble seeing the bright side of things. For whatever reason—and probably many reasons—I have been blessed with the resources necessary to get help when I've felt hopeless. It turns out that, no matter what I was feeling or what had happened in my life, the thing that saved me was talking to other people.

What I have found every time I’ve finally told a friend or a therapist that I feel terrible is almost an instant sense of normalcy.

Since I have not considered suicide, I absolutely don’t want this to be considered as advice to someone who is thinking about it or has thought about it. This is merely a description of the form in which lifesavers came to me in my life. And what I know is that speaking or writing my true feelings—whether to a therapist or a friend or in a blank book—was always the difference between trying to find my way in the dark and having a slightly lit pathway.

As I have read the many recent earnest social media messages reminding us to reach out to our friends we worry about or who might be considering suicide, I’ve felt heartened. We do need to pay attention to the people in our lives and even push ourselves to take the hard step forward to pull them back to us. But those of us who suffer from depression or anxiety or feelings of hopelessness need to reach out, too. What I have found every time I’ve finally told a friend or a therapist that I feel terrible is almost an instant sense of normalcy. This doesn’t mean these other people have always felt what I feel, but they listen, they accept, they embrace, they applaud, and they remind me who I really am. When I am not talking to other people, the negative voices in my head are often so loud they drown out my few stalwart supporting voices.

I do not in any way mean that it is easy to tell my friends or a therapist that I am feeling hopeless and disappointed in myself. In fact, I often wrestle with it all alone for a few days until I’m tired of opening my eyes in the morning feeling just as bad as I did the day before. And even then, it’s not like I rush right over to my partner or my best friend and describe my feelings in a careful, measured way. I’m much more likely to be irritable and even start a fight before we can get to the real issue at hand. But when I do get there, when I can finally say, “I feel awful and I’m not sure what to do,” it is like someone turning on the light. I get it then that those demons that seemed huge in the darkness of my head are still somewhat monumental, but not nearly as scary.

There is nothing simple about depression and anxiety. How I feel isn’t how you feel or how someone else sees his or her world. Our brains and hearts are filled with complex narratives, some of which have never been examined. I have definitely felt that it would be easier to get past the feelings in some way than to plow through them. But the plowing always produces something I have forgotten or ignored, and the person listening to me can help me manage these discoveries. Together, with gentle hands, we can turn things over, look underneath, and talk about what we find.

Sometimes, talking seems impossible, and that’s when I start with writing it down, another way to get it out of my head and into a slightly more objective place. And writing about it always spurs me on to the important conversations I can have with another human. Other times, in a complex game of “You Can’t Get There From Here,” I spend days listing the reasons I can’t talk to someone or share my pain. But so far, there is always that moment when I know that connecting with another person is essential and that’s when the walls begin to crumble. It’s not like getting over it instantly or anything like that, but the power of someone else’s gentle touch or knowing smile is enough to keep me moving forward to the healing light.

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