Today, I was asked for the first time if I’ve ever had thoughts of suicide. I had a new-patient appointment with my doctor, and it was the first time I’ve talked to anyone about the depression I’ve been experiencing for the last six months. I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder not quite a year ago and was asked to write about that experience for the 7 Billion Ones project, here. I am much further along in learning to cope with my anxiety, but depression is a whole new arena for me and I’ve found myself woefully unequipped to combat it. Truth? For the last few months I’ve been drinking. A lot.
When I told my doctor that I’ve been struggling with depression, I was prepared for her to ask me if I’ve thought about suicide. I’ve been thinking about this question since I made the appointment a couple weeks ago, knowing that I’d ask her to help me figure out a new course of medication, as mine has been failing me for some time, and counseling, of which I’ve had none of the non-Christian variety. When she asked the question today I told her the truth: I have not had the impulse to take the action myself, but I finally understand why people do. I’ve repelled into that headspace and understood, This is that seductive darkness where people let go.
Alcohol has been my constant, my sigh of relief. Anxiety meds from the morning seemed to wear off right around happy hour, and I took it as no coincidence. Drinking passed the nights away, the time I feel most vulnerable and alone, and then helped me fall asleep; it gave me something to look forward to, and every bar became a place I belonged. It let me feel sexy when I gained weight or was particularly self-conscious; it lowered my standards for the person I was with, making a relationship on its last leg appear to be keeping its balance. It helped me to be honest about my thoughts and gave me confidence to stand up for myself when I was being stomped on. That is, until it landed me with my head in the toilet. Until it had me drifting over the center line. Until it had me unable to remember whether I’d even kissed the man I’d had sex with the night before. Until it had me calling that one love I couldn’t seem to let go of and finally having the conversation I’d been waiting over two years to have, only to remember just one detail of that conversation the next day—me asking, Do you still love me, and him saying, No. Not at all.
I talked about alcoholism with someone recently, someone I feel a connection with and a kinship to, and it forced me to think about a couple things I’ve been intentionally ignoring. The first is that alcohol reduces the effectiveness of anxiety and depression medication. I’ve known this and yet continued to drink rather than seek professional help for a more effective course of treatment. The second is that the freedom I feel from my problems when I drink is an illusion, a mind trick, and everything will be exactly the same—if I haven’t managed to fuck it up worse during my drunken stupor—when I wake up.
What prompted me to write this post wasn’t my doctor’s appointment or a reflection on a recently unprecedented four days of sobriety, it was a mass email I got today from a new colleague about mental health. It was earnest and heartfelt; she said that last year she had a student whose brother committed suicide just before the semester began and another student who attempted suicide during the semester. She also shared a deeply personal story related to the subject. She implored us to include a section about our university’s mental health services in our syllabi and twice used the phrase stigma attached to mental illness, something I discussed today with my doctor—who, when I said a student of mine once wrote in a paper that a third of people struggle with some form of mental illness, said she suspects the number is far greater.
My colleague’s email reminded me that I’m not just fighting this battle for myself, and I’m sure as hell not the only one fighting it. And neither are you. I’ll end on this thought, something a friend shared with me a handful of months ago: People who commit suicide recognize the absurdity of life, and it takes more courage to live in the face of its absurdity than it does to leave it behind.