• Robison Wells

Mental Health Awareness Month: Trigger Warning: Suicide

“It’s so difficult to describe depression to someone who’s never been there, because it’s not sadness. I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling—that really hollowed-out feeling.” —J.K. Rowling

As I've mentioned, I have schizophrenia, which everyone assumes is the worst possible mental health diagnosis. Schizophrenics are crazy people: they hear voices and they see things that aren't there.

But I also have depression, and I can attest that depression is worse 90% of the time. Currently, my depression hits right as work is ending. I wake up early, I do some hobby stuff. I do a little personal writing, and then I go to work at 8:00 and work till 5:30, and then.... well I just kind of sit there. That's when the depression hits, and, as the quote above attests, it's not sadness. It's just numbness. It's being paralyzed by a complete lack of motivation.

Yes, I should be happy--work is done! I should go see my kids. I should go talk to my wife. I should make dinner. I should watch TV. But instead I sit at my desk for two hours every night and just kind of battle depression.

It's not surprising that it happens when it does: we often get hit with mental illness symptoms AFTER a difficult event, not during it. During the event (in this case a busy day of work) we are full of adrenaline and motivation and everything seems fine. It's only when we remove Purpose from the equation that depression hits. At 5:30 I have no Purpose. And so I go numb.

I'm not alone in this. There's a post-pandemic pandemic of mental illness going on, according to not only my psychiatrist but numerous psychiatrists. We have been strong through the crisis, we've weathered the storm, and now that the storm is over and we take a breath, that breath turns into a sob and we begin to spiral down.

My psychiatrist says that he sees this in people graduating: they get good grades and finish strong, only to fall to pieces when school is over. He sees it in divorces, where one person manages all of their responsibilities and court dates and then, when it's finalized, they crash.Even if you have never had mental illness before, be aware that the end of this national nightmare could very well be the thing that pushes you over the edge into a depressed or anxious state. It's normal. It's not healthy, but it's normal.

And it's nothing to be ashamed of. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of.I have a mother in law who is 80 years old who is suffering from severe anxiety and depression. We visit her twice a day to make sure she's getting her medicine. And we have to surreptitiously slip in her antidepressants into her handful of pills because she was raised in an era where mental illness meant "defective" and "worthless" and "stupid." She will not admit that she needs help.

And honestly? The other demographic where I personally see this mentality? Twenty-somethings, usually male. I'm not calling anybody out individually, but I've been a twenty-something male and I know we think that we're invincible. I know we think that, no matter what problem faces us, we can handle it through sheer force of will.

Well, I've seen too many friends plummet because of that line of thinking. Too many people refuse to get care because depression is something that other people get--old people, weak people.And I have seen these people take their own life.

Two and a half years ago, when my mental illness was raging and I was unemployed and running out of money, I showed up on my brother's doorstep and told him I was going to kill myself. He brought me in. I sat on his couch. He told me he was going to stay with me, and he took my phone and dialed the National Suicide Hotline (800-273-8255). While I was on the phone, he called me wife and my dad, who both immediately left what they were doing to come over.

The hotline asked me the two questions I've learned that they always ask: "Do you have a plan?" I could say no. And "Do you have access to a firearm?" Thank God I could say no.My wife arrived, and then my dad, and I hung up with the Hotline, and then we all just kind of sat around and talked. I learned I wasn't the only one in the room who had gone through this before.I got ahold of my psychiatrist, who put me on a hefty dose of lithium (the only drug that has been proven to decrease suicidal ideation) and I went back home.

And you know what? I began to get better. Not immediately. Not right away. My wife didn't leave my side for a week, never left me alone. But I began to get better.

Since that time, I have talked down two close family members from suicide. I've told them my story. I've told them that it gets better. Yes, I didn't immediately get a job or solve my financial problems or get rid of schizophrenia, but it gets better.

People ask me why I am so open about my mental illness. (It's on my Wikipedia page. It's in my Twitter profile.) This is why: because mental illness thrives in darkness. When we don't talk about our own illness, and when we don't give other people a safe space to talk about theirs, mental illness grows and grows until it gets out of hand. And that's when it gets dangerous.

Because depression isn't someone else's problem: it might be you're problem. Depression doesn't care about how well you eat or how much you work out or whether you have money in the bank. Depression just is. It's an illness. It's the flu. It's appendicitis. It just happens--to the best of us, to the worst of us, to those in-between. Learning how to deal with depression--and prevent depression from becoming something much worse and much more permanent--should be a top priority.

If you or someone you know is having struggles with depression or thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Hotline: 800-273-8255. There is hope. (edited)

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