Dispatches From The Dark Side

1 Feb

Trigger warning for talk of suicide

If I was writing about almost any other health issue, I wouldn’t hesitate to post this.

If I had diabetes, or cancer, or liver failure, you wouldn’t feel strange reading this.

If I started out by saying, “I went to the hospital last night because I had the flu,” no one would think twice about this. No one would call it oversharing. I wouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed.

But I didn’t go to the hospital because I had the flu.

I went to the hospital last night because I wanted to die.

I mean, I say that, and that’s how I felt, but the truth is that I didn’t really want to die, did I? If that had really been my intention, I would have just done it. I wouldn’t have talked about it, wouldn’t have told anyone, and certainly wouldn’t agreed to go to the hospital.

Intention is tricky, though, slippery, even, all tangled up with impulse, drive and desire; I don’t think I’ll ever understand what it is that I actually want. It’s like peeling an onion, folding back layers and layers of truths and semi truths, never able to really get to the core of how or why I feel these things.

I’m not writing this because I want your pity, or comfort, or advice (although you can offer them if you want to).

I’m writing this because I want to be honest. I want to be like someone who paints their self-portrait and doesn’t spare any details; I want to show you my pimples, the dark smudges under my eyes, the crease that bisects my forehead, evidence of a lifetime of squinting because I didn’t want to wear my glasses.

I’m writing this because I don’t want to be embarrassed or ashamed anymore, and for some reason saying these things publicly makes them easier to bear. It’s like racing to tell all of your darkest secrets before your ex-best friend can betray your trust; you get to keep some kind of control over the situation. Sort of.

I’m writing this because I want to talk about it, and this is the only way that I know how. I’ve developed this online voice, this sort of character that’s both me and at the same time an amplification of me, a louder, brasher, more combative version of myself. It’s easier for me to write about this in this character; I would never be able to look you in the eyes and say these things.

I promise that we don’t have talk about this in person. The next time we meet, we don’t have to refer to what’s written here.

But right now I do want to talk about wanting to die. If you’re not up for that, I totally give you permission to stop reading right now.

I wish I could tell you why I want to die, but I can’t. The truth is that I have a good life, maybe even the best. I’m married to someone that I love a whole lot, someone who loves me in return. My son is amazing; I’m not even sure that there are words to describe how great he is. I enjoy my work. I like where I live.

On paper, I should be very happy.

But still, I want to die.

I can’t tell you why, but I can tell you what it feels like.

It feels like all of the days ahead of me are grey and blank and empty. Not empty in the sense of possibility, but empty in the sense of being hopeless.

It feels like wearing a shirt that’s rough, scratchy, uncomfortable, and that shirt is my skin and I can’t take it off.

It feels like discovering that all of my favourite foods suddenly taste like cardboard, but I eat and eat and eat anyway because I need something to fill all that empty space.

It feels like standing in direct sunlight, feeling in on my back, my shoulders, my head, but never having my brain think sun. All it can think is heat. Like there’s this distinction, this appreciation that I can’t make anymore; everything is broken down to its most basic elements. Nothing is good or beautiful – everything is awful and dull in its own way.

It feels like the life-support system in my brain failed, and no one bothered to install a back-up. So now the ship is going down and the lights are flickering and we’re running out of oxygen and everyone is panicking.

It feels like being tired all of the time, like never being able to get enough sleep. I just want to sleep.

I do things. I go out, and I spend money on things that I used to enjoy, in my former life, the life that, on the surface at least, is nearly indistinguishable from the one I live now. I don’t enjoy anything anymore, though, and spending money that on things that don’t make me feel better only adds another layer of shame and guilt onto what I’m already feeling.

At home, at night, I feel trapped. The lights are too bright, the air too dry. I can’t sleep. I can’t read. I can’t watch TV. I can’t write. I can’t talk. I pace and pace and pace, trying to get rid of the prickly, irritable energy that’s building up in my veins, in my bones. I think that I could feel better if the apartment was clean, if the dishes were done and the bathroom sink scrubbed, but I don’t know where to begin, so I pace some more.

I just don’t want to feel anything anymore. I don’t even want to feel the good things. I just want to go to a place that’s beyond feeling.

And I know that suicide is selfish. But I also know that if I was dead, I wouldn’t care about anything anymore. I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about the people that I’ve left behind.

But I can’t help imagining Theo, what it would be like for him if I were to die. How he would cry and cry for me. How he would never be able to understand that I wasn’t coming, not ever. I think about how I would break his heart, think about the fault lines that I would trace along that tiny, powerful muscle, cracks that would break over and over for the rest of his life and never, ever heal.

I don’t really want to die.

I just want to sleep and sleep and sleep forever.

But it sort of amounts to the same thing, really, which is why I went to the hospital last night. Because I love Theo and don’t want to leave him. Because even if I couldn’t feel anything anymore, I would still find some way to miss him.

I live in a big city, so there’s a special hospital just for head cases like me. It even has two sites, one downtown and one in the west end. I went to the one downtown.

They lock you into the ER waiting room. There is a sign on the door that says AWOL Flight Risk. I wanted to take a picture, but I didn’t think they would like that.

There was a woman screaming in a room at the end of the hall.

There was a young man in a suit brought in by two police officers.

There was an unconscious woman brought in on a gurney. Her feet were bare.

There was a girl on the bench next to me, lying with her head on her mother’s lap. Her father was there, too. He said,

“You said that at the last minute something told you not to jump. What was it?”

But she didn’t answer.

While I was there, two code whites were called, which means that there’s a violent patient somewhere in the hospital. One of them, according to the man on the intercom, had a weapon. Both calls sent the ER staff into a flurry, running for doors and phones and elevators.

And I thought, I don’t belong here. I am not having an emergency. These people are having emergencies. I am someone who is fine, only a little sad sometimes. I am coping. I get up every day, go to work, take care of Theo. I am fine. I just have to be stronger, better, less self-indulgent.

And I wanted to leave, but I didn’t.

Finally it was my turn to see the doctor. She was young, kind. Her outfit wouldn’t have looked out of place in my closet, and I coveted her glasses.

She listened to me, took a few notes. Recommended a few things. She said that her main prescription was to try to prioritize things that make me happy.

I’m not sure how easy that will be to execute, but I like it anyway. I’m strangely pleased that instead of having me try another pill, a different pill, she handed me a piece of paper telling me to prioritize my own happiness. It seems like something that would happen in a book, or a movie, and I’ve always wanted to live in a book or a movie.

So how do I feel now?

Raw, I guess.

The same, I guess.

Maybe a little more hopeful, so that’s a start.

I still can’t stop reading Anne Sexton’s Wanting To Die.

I still can’t stop reading Ted Hughes’ book Birthday Letters, or poem his Last Letter.

But maybe I’ve read them a few times less today than I did yesterday.

I am trying to find some happy way to end this post, but I can’t think of any. I want to offer you some kind of hope. Then again, if I had cancer, or diabetes, would I feel that same urge to comfort you, to take care of you? Maybe. I don’t know.

I will leave you with this, one of my favourite quotes from the Bell Jar. It’s as true for me now as it was for Sylvia Plath when she wrote it more than 50 years ago.

“Don’t you want to get up today?”

“No.” I huddled down more deeply in the bed and pulled the sheet up over my head. Then I lifted a corner of the sheet and peered out. The nurse was shaking down the thermometer she had just removed from my mouth.

“You see, it’s normal.” I had looked at the thermometer before she came to collect it, the way I always did. “You see, it’s normal, what do you keep taking it for?”

I wanted to tell her that if only something were wrong with my body it would be fine, I would rather have anything wrong with my body than something wrong with my head, but the idea seemed so involved and wearisome that I didn’t say anything. I only burrowed down further in the bed.

I would rather have anything wrong with my body than something wrong with my head.

But since I do have something wrong with my head, I’m glad I’ve got all of you to listen.

For anyone who is in a state of mental health crisis, here is a link to the Mental Health Crisis line. You can also call Telehealth, if you’re in Ontario. If you are experiencing any kind of depression or are having suicidal thoughts, please, please call one of the numbers above, or else contact your doctor or local mental health crisis line.

art-bell-jar-butterfly-drawing-illustration-Favim.com-134637

44 Responses to “Dispatches From The Dark Side”

  1. anonymous February 1, 2013 at 2:24 am #

    I feel the same way. Exactly the same way.

    • bellejarblog February 2, 2013 at 2:50 am #

      I hope you’re able to find something/someone to help you. If you ever want to talk about it, I’m here.

  2. Mel February 1, 2013 at 2:40 am #

    Thank you. I know this feel.

    • bellejarblog February 2, 2013 at 2:50 am #

      <3 It's good to know I'm not alone. We'll both be ok, though.

  3. Britni February 1, 2013 at 2:52 am #

    I felt like this my entire life. I didn’t want to kill myself, but I wanted to die. I wanted to go to sleep and never wake up because that would be so much easier. I slept 20 hours per day. I wanted to do things that would make me happy, but I didn’t know what did make me happy anymore. The feelings that you talk about are the reasons that I drank. I’m so sorry that you are in this dark place. I know how much it sucks.

    The only solution for me was a spiritual one. I’m glad that doctor didn’t give you another pill. None of the ones I tried worked for me and while I think that they might work for some people, I definitely think there are solutions to be found before medication becomes the only option. The 12 Steps are what finally fixed by chronic depression.

    I read a lot of spiritual literature, too. “Man’s Search For Meaning” by Victor Frankl was one of the first books I read in that genre and it’s still one of my favorites. Quick, easy read, too. No matter what though, I just hope you feel better soon. That place is not a fun one to be stuck. <3

    • bellejarblog February 2, 2013 at 2:53 am #

      “I didn’t want to kill myself, but I wanted to die. I wanted to go to sleep and never wake up because that would be so much easier.” Yes. That is how I feel, exactly. Like, I want to be in a coma and then wake up in three years’ time and suddenly, magically be better.

      I’m going to check out that Victor Frankl book for sure. Any others that you’d recommend?

      • Britni February 2, 2013 at 5:34 am #

        “Thich Nhat Hanh: Essential Writings,” if you’re looking for something Buddhist-y. For daily inspiration Thomas Merton has a 365 day book, I believe. “A Year With Thomas Merton,” I think? It’s a little religiousy, but if you can get past the language, he changed my life. His book “New Seeds of Contemplation” completely blew my mind wide open. Again, he uses a lot of Christ-y language but if you can look to the idea behind the writing, it’s pretty amazing.

  4. invinciblealive February 1, 2013 at 3:41 am #

    I’ve literally just gone through all of these thoughts myself…though I actually attempted (and thank goodness it didn’t work). I feel the same as you, I didn’t really want to die, it’s just that I don’t necessarily want to live. Or maybe it’s just that I feel out of place.

    I hope you can find your happiness and cling to it. It seems like your son is a big source of happiness for you. I hope you start feeling better and I am glad you got to help yourself.

    • bellejarblog February 2, 2013 at 2:59 am #

      Man, I’m sorry. It sounds like you’ve walked such a rough road lately. I’m glad your attempt wasn’t successful.

      My kid is definitely a huge source of happiness. I can be at my lowest and seeing him just lights up my day. He’s just the best.

      Thanks and I hope things are better for you soon <3

  5. E. February 1, 2013 at 4:07 am #

    You are lovely and inspiring and although a year ago I didn’t know any better, I know now that my life would have a hole without you. <3

    Thank you for writing this. It's hard to explain the days that you don't want to get out of bed. That the whole world sees sunshine and all you see are shadows. I know those days intimately. I call them code-word Mexico days, because I tell people those are the days I want to drop everything and run away from my life. Just disappear. To Mexico, maybe. Because I can't tell them I want to die. I'm lucky, I haven't had a Mexico day in at least 6 months. I feel strong. But you never know what could trigger something deep inside and I'm glad you're talking about it. And you explained it so beautifully. So, thank you.

    Do something everyday that is self-indugent and try not to feel guilty. Follow the prescription. :)

    • bellejarblog February 2, 2013 at 3:23 am #

      Mexico days – I love that idea, and the rationale behind the name is perfect. I’m glad you haven’t had a Mexico day in a long time – and I hope you stay Mexico-free (hah). But I know that you’re right; you never know what will trigger one, or when one will come along.

      And thanks. I feel like my life would have a hole without you, too <3

  6. Torontonanny February 1, 2013 at 7:22 am #

    I love you. I wish there was something I could do for you that would help you . . . I guess all I can do is just be there. And I’m here. I’m here always. <3

    • bellejarblog February 2, 2013 at 3:01 am #

      I love you too. And I love that you’re here for me. I never doubt that fact. <3

  7. meghan rose February 1, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    Thank you for this. I’ve felt the same way most of my life. You’ve written in though far more poetically than I ever could.

    I am wishing you luck on your journey.

    • bellejarblog February 2, 2013 at 3:02 am #

      Thank you. It’s good to know that there are others who feel the same way.

      Wishing all that good stuff right back at ya <3

  8. Jen February 1, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

    Thank you for this. You captured how I am feeling right now, and how I have felt for a majority of my life. I sent it to my husband because I don’t have the words to help him understand.

    • bellejarblog February 2, 2013 at 3:06 am #

      Oh buddy. I hope things get better for you soon. And I hope this helped your husband understand, maybe even a little. That’s really flattering.

      xoxo

  9. Arlene Somerton Smith February 1, 2013 at 5:44 pm #

    This was difficult to read. I’ve never felt this way, but I’m a family member of someone who felt this way, and I can tell you, that’s not picnic either.
    Prompts the question, what’s more difficult? Feeling that way? Or helplessly (and angrily, I have to honestly say) watching someone else feel that way without being able to fix it?

    • bellejarblog February 2, 2013 at 3:10 am #

      I’m not sure! I know that it’s really hard on Matt to have a depressed partner – not just because he’s worried about me, and doesn’t know what to do, but because it means that more of the parenting/housework/whatever stuff falls on him. Maybe it’s just equally awful for everyone.

      • Arlene Somerton Smith February 2, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

        Yep. I hope your “witness” helps you find your way through this.

  10. Jenna Tenn-Yuk February 1, 2013 at 11:16 pm #

    Thank you for your raw and beautiful honesty. It takes a lot of courage to share what you just wrote, especially with the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health issues. It’s important to talk about it and to start the conversation.

    I’m glad you have writing as an outlet, and it’s powerful to see everyone else who is also experiencing similar thoughts and feelings to you. You’ve been able to put words to an experience many others can’t even vocalize, let alone share.

    I could remind you of all the people and passions that are important to you, but you already know that. Instead, I’ll share a song. I hope you can find solace and encouragement in this piece.

    Remember, all you need to do is just breathe. Sometimes, that’s all you can do.

    • bellejarblog February 2, 2013 at 3:21 am #

      Thank you. I think I’m (finally) ready to have this conversation – hopefully other people are too. It seems like it!

      And thank you thank you thank you for this beautiful song <3

  11. Krissy February 2, 2013 at 1:44 am #

    It is very brave of you to get help. We need a health system that addresses depression and feelings of suicidal despair without removing patients of their rights… I wish there was some kind of comfort clinic like they have in Germany that people here could go to and get some peace and balance out and power up. The problem with suicidal ideation is that the stigma is so intense that people rarely get help or even find someone to talk to. Its hard for even friends and family to understand. I had a close friend take her own life 10 years ago and its still very painful, and the worst part was realizing how alone she must have felt. Its very powerful that you document these observations and experiences. The medical and psychiatric fields really need the direct insights of patients to make the system work better.

    • bellejarblog February 2, 2013 at 3:18 am #

      Thank you.

      The idea of a “comfort clinic” sounds so appealing. I keep thinking I would like to go to a Victorian-type sanatorium or spa and take a water cure or clean air cure or whatever it was they did.

      I’m so sorry to hear about your friend. That must be such a painful memory for you.

      And yes, agreed, our mental health services need to improve by leaps and bounds.

  12. Kira-Lynn (@Cupcakes_n_Rap) February 2, 2013 at 4:18 am #

    Wow. When I went to the ER in Toronto because I was suicidal they let me just walk out.

  13. theyellowblanket February 4, 2013 at 7:47 pm #

    I know this feeling. I’m sorry you’re still in that dark place. I hope you’re getting therapy from someone who gets it, and that you’re taking meds if you’ve found any that help. I hope the clouds lift a little for you. xo

    • bellejarblog February 7, 2013 at 2:57 am #

      Thank you xo
      I am in therapy and taking meds. Hopefully things will click soon.

  14. Megan February 8, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

    Hugs to you…would you consider reading the Bible, starting in the book of John. Jesus loves you so much and he came and died for us and we don’t have to carry that kind of pain anymore. ” the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10
    “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:16-17
    I also highly recommend “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” by Dr. Frank Turek. As someone who has had a real struggle with dark times and a struggle knowing how to know the truth about God and the Bible, I can’t recommend these two books highly enough. God will see you through this if you turn to Him. Much love.

  15. Amara March 9, 2013 at 11:39 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this with us. I can relate to almost all, and yet I don’t think I would be able to put it into words so beautifully and honestly. I certainly wouldn’t be able to share it with the world, not even anonimously! When I try to talk or write about these things I end up making fun of myself, and I’m not sure if it is a coping strategy, or just plain avoidance.
    But you have inspired me, I will get around to writing something about my feelings one of these days, even though I will keep it to myself – my hope is I will be able to end up on an uplifting note.

    So, again, thank you.

  16. fredphillips March 10, 2013 at 12:17 am #

    Goodonya for having the courage to tell your story. I heard someone say recently, ‘what we hide keeps us sick.’ Talking about it is the first step in healing.

  17. Sydnee March 20, 2013 at 3:48 am #

    I stumbled upon your blog by accident, but it’s like reading from my own journal. I’m glad that you have the strength to speak out about this very difficult invisible illness – I tend to call it “mind cancer,” because it’ll continue to eat away at your sanity for as long as you’re still able to breath. Thankfully, there are always remission periods. I hope one comes very soon for you. <3

  18. Shary Dapron May 13, 2013 at 6:14 pm #

    For years I’ve tried to explain to the people around me what “my holes” were all about. Your words articulate it in the most accurate, heart breaking way. Thank you for putting words to the feeling I haven’t yet learned how to describe.

  19. theresa hays May 13, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

    I just had this discussion this morning with my psychiatrist. The last several years have been beyond challenging and if there was an easy way out, I would take it. But the thing that keeps you from tearing a hole in your life’s fabric, is the very same one that keeps me from doing so-the kids. I cannot let them see that this is the way “their mother” solved her problems. And my problems are the majors, ovarian cancer, manic-depressive illness in two generations and more. So thanks for writing about that what should not be spoken of and I’ll keep holding my hand out for the touch of yours.

  20. Natasha May 13, 2013 at 9:54 pm #

    I love reading your blog, it’s comforting to know that “I’m not the only one feeling this way”. Most people that I try and talk to this kind of stuff about, seem uncomfortable or else tell me I should seek a therapist, because it helped them deal with their depression. But all I can think is how am I going to explain something to a stranger that doesn’t make sense in my own head. The closest I’ve ever come to putting it into words is a spoken word poem I wrote one day after struggling to get through the work day:
    “I lie!
    I pass you by and you say hi, how are you and I say fine.
    But I lie…
    because inside I’m screaming, I’m crying, I’m dying, but yet I keep on lying
    because you don’t want to know how I’m doing
    you’re just pleasantly passing, passing by and being courteous
    as though it would be rude not to even ask
    as thought acnowleging my existence is enough to get me by
    and so I lie
    but inside the pain it fills me, it eats me and then spits me out
    I’m am unequivically filled with self doubt
    I question my very meaning, my abilities and my worth
    I question whether or not the world would care if I told the truth
    or if it would only mean that I have inconvenienced you
    because you weren’t looking for a answer, you only wanted a reply
    something as simple as a comment on the weather or the birds flying nearby
    and because I’m not willing to face, your face, as I wait for your reaction to the truth
    to the real answer to your question of how are you – I lie!”
    Reading your blog gives me hope that I can be strong and get through it; because there are others out there like me fighting the same battle. Thanks!

    • susieq777 May 15, 2013 at 12:14 am #

      What’s the deal with that whole thing, as soon as someone shows any evidence of vulnerability or struggling to cope, it’s always, “I think you should see a therapist.” Yeah, okay. Thanks for that socially-sanctioned way to dust off of your own hands the dirty bits of my life. Thanks very much.

  21. lejardinbleu May 13, 2013 at 10:43 pm #

    Thanks for writing this and for sharing it on Facebook today. This is the poem that I read when I’m in the dark place that you describe so well. http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15920

  22. susieq777 May 13, 2013 at 11:39 pm #

    What if your head *is* your body? What if there’s not that distinction between something in your head and something in your body? What if what is going on in your body feeds back into your head and not just simply the other way round?

    I’m so sad you feel like this (I do a lot too) and sheesh, isn’t the online/writing space so weird that it’s such an intimate space that it’s easier to talk about things on here than face-to-face?

  23. susieq777 May 13, 2013 at 11:43 pm #

    PS: I love your doctor’s prescription. I have severe adrenal fatigue at the moment (which makes me feel sometimes like I *will* die on top of the wanting to) and one of the prescriptives for that also is to do things you love. And it’s true, all the things that give me energy have sat by the wayside in recent months – clay and paint and paper and glue and pencils. Why is it so fucking hard to be good to ourselves? It’s got something to do with the totally screwed world out there but noone’s holding a gun to my head stopping me from doing things that might make me feel better.

    I like all the comments here. I totally get that it’s not wanting to kill yourself so much as it’s wanting to be dead. And even more confusingly, when I’m feeling like that I think what I’m really feeling is that I want to be alive. I just don’t want to suffer anymore.

  24. Rebekah May 29, 2013 at 6:55 am #

    I have depression too, and the pain and weight of it are sooooo entirely impossible to explain or describe to anyone. I can’t even tell my best friends what it’s like. Your post is the sort of thing I wish I had the courage to do, but I’m still just hiding in the corner. In a lot of ways it feels like something I don’t want the whole world to know about–then it won’t be mine anymore, and I won’t have anything left that’s my own to protect and hold close. Although that kind of makes no sense. Anyway, I identified deeply with this. You write with such honesty, a blatancy that’s so refreshing and raw and beautiful. I hope that things do get better for you, and I do know that time brings healing–even in small amounts, even if temporarily. Time helps. And doing the things that you love. Which is freaking impossible half the time because of everything life requires of us. But what is life if not our only chance to do what we love? You’re a beautiful soul, and you deserve to feel better. I hope you do soon. <3

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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