Suicide without dying. It happens more often than you might think when someone is suffering from depression.
I have suffered from depression my entire life. I was born with it. Due to a genetic mutation, my liver was never able to metabolize a usable amount of a simple substance my brain needed to function properly. The chemical my body could not metabolize is needed for the manufacture and transportation of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Because my body could not make the substance my brain needed, my own body struggled to make the neurotransmitters it required and the paltry amount my body was able to make had no way to get where they were needed. Even antidepressants did not work because my brain lacked the substance required to transport them where they were needed.
The discovery of my genetic mutation is fairly recent. For most of my life, I struggled with a depression that appeared untreatable without ever knowing why. Over the years, I have seen multiple doctors for the treatment of my depression. I have rotated through a myriad of combinations and dosages of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. Nothing worked. I was labelled treatment resistant.
I have never experienced a single day without depression looming over me.
Nothing any of my doctors did seemed to help. They would increase dosages until the side effects were unbearable or until I was a nonfunctional zombie. Then the process would begin anew with different doctors, different medications, different combinations, different dosages. It was a living nightmare.
No one around me understood. They were all confused by the fact that I had been in treatment for years and had taken all types of medications without any results. Their questions were hounding and relentless. How was I not better yet? Was I even trying to get better? Was it really THAT bad that I was struggling to function and needed help? Was I even being honest about how I felt or was I exaggerating or faking it? What did I even have to be depressed about anyway? So many people in my life who I tried to turn to for assistance were unsupportive and quickly became tired of dealing with my depression. The nightmare just kept going and going.
Life felt unbearable. Nothing my doctors did helped. I had very little support system or assistance. Every single day, it felt like I was not only fighting against myself and my own brain, but the rest of the world as well.
I couldn’t keep living like I was.
So I gave up.
I didn’t kill myself. Instead of ending my life, I just stopped living it.
I stopped going to see doctors because nothing they did helped anyway. I stopped turning in or following up on paperwork for assistance for my depression because it all felt futile.
I was too tired to fight anymore so I just gave up. I began shutting down and isolating myself. I put off responding whenever anyone reached out, tossing out apologies for not seeing their messages sooner and making endless excuses to friends about being busy or being sick. I kept everyone away so they could not see how bad things had become. Avoidance was easier than explanations.
I stopped talking about how I was doing and feeling because there was nothing anyone could do to change things anyway. I’d mutter something about being fine then clam back up or changed the subject. In truth, I was the farthest from fine a person could get. I had given up. I didn’t have the energy to explain how I felt or to defend myself from their judgments. I didn’t want to burden anyone. I didn’t think anyone would want to be there anyway if they knew how much of a mess I had become.
As I spiraled farther down into the dark abyss of depression, I began avoiding things that used to spark even the slightest happiness. Why bother partaking in anything that used to give me joy when my numbness would only serve as a painful reminder of how bad things have become? I cleaned up less often around the house, hiding dirty dishes, clothes and clutter if anyone was coming by. I put off even basic self-care, showering once or twice a week instead of daily and keeping my hair pulled back so I wouldn’t have to tend to it. I’d stay in pajamas for days because it wasn’t like I had anywhere to go, anything to do or anyone to see. After all, my friends all thought I was sick or busy and going to my doctors was a waste of time.
I spent whole days laying in bed crying. Even more days, I sat or laid around feeling completely numb, bingewatching shows I barely paid attention to or remember, puttering around the house doing nothing in particular and just napping on and off, letting the days pass me by. I often didn’t bother eating because it felt like too much effort to even move. I would ignore the growls of my stomach for hours much like the cramps in my bladder until the pain became too much to bear. What I did eat was usually chosen for ease and convenience not desire.
Days and weeks blended together in nothingness.
I tried to put on a brave face, a smiling face for my children on the portion of the week they were with me, but it was just going through the motions. Instead of fun outings, we had more and more family movie nights at home. Instead of the bigger meals I used to make, I would throw together quick and easy cheater meals. I made endless excuses to them for the funk I was in. I was tired. I just wasn’t feeling well. But I was fine. But I wasn’t fine. I had given up. As much as I tried to shield them from it, looking back, I have no doubt that on some level they knew. That my depression had such an impact on their childhood will always be one of my biggest regrets.
I have gone through this cycle where I have pulled away from everyone, isolated myself and stopped living numerous times over the years. It always seemed to happen the same way. Treatment wasn’t working, getting assistance began feeling impossible, nothing felt like it was ever going to get better and no one else seemed to understand or truly care. I felt completely broken and all alone in the world. It was not a world I wanted to live in so I just gave up and stopped living altogether.
Finding out about my genetic mutation and its role in my depression has changed my perspective on many things and has sparked a new journey in self-reflection and self-improvement. It has also forced me to accept many hard truths. Perhaps one of the biggest is the fact that every time I gave up, every time I pulled away and isolated myself, every time I stopped living my life, I was committing suicide without dying.
Yes, I was still technically alive but I was barely doing anything more than existing, going through the bare minimum of motions to get from one day to the next. I had stopped living my life, stopped finding reasons to enjoy life, stopped taking care of myself and shut myself off from the rest of the world. I may have been breathing and had a pulse, but I was not living. I had given up just as surely as if I had taken my own life.
I was also putting those I cared about in the position of having to mourn me again and again, to deal with the loss of who I used to be and the bonds we used to have. I was removing myself from their lives, forcing them to face that loss again and again. Every time I would resurface and reenter their lives, I considered it a victory that I had climbed back out of that hole, never stopping to consider how much they must have struggled to reconcile with the endless roller coaster I had put them on, being slingshot repeatedly between mourning my loss and having me back to varying degrees.
I know there are some who will question my comparison of severe depression to suicide without dying. There will be others who will angrily declare they are nothing at all alike, swearing that they know because they have lost loved ones to suicide and I am still here, still breathing, that it is not at all the same. Please know that I am in no way diminishing the tremendous loss that comes with suicide. I have been on both sides of that fence, having been both suicidal myself and having lost people I loved to suicide so I would never trivialize it in any way.
People ask so many questions after someone commits suicide. Why would they do this? How did this even happen? How did their life get so bad that they felt giving up was the only option?
As someone who has struggled with suicide myself, I can tell you – it all starts with giving up. It starts with that feeling that you just can’t go on anymore like you are, that everything is hopeless and that nothing is ever going to change. It starts with that feeling that you just don’t want to live anymore so you don’t. You pull away from everyone, you stop taking care of yourself or seeking out help or treatment, you turn your back on anything that used to bring you joy. You sink so deeply into depression that you just don’t see the point of doing anything anymore. From that low point, it isn’t a far leap to physically ending your life because you have already stopped living it anyway. After you’ve already mentally and emotionally committed suicide, you can rationalize physically letting go, as well, because you believe you have nothing left to live for.
I can also tell you that it is a slippery slope. At first, it’s easy to consider withdrawing and isolation as a kindness to others because you’re still around in some way. But isolation often leads to thoughts of others being better off if you were completely gone, if perhaps you never existed at all. While not everyone who pulls away due to depression is actively planning to physically kill themselves, that isolation makes it easier to rationalize taking that final step. When someone has reached the point of wanting to give up and stop living, it’s not a far stretch to decide to stop breathing, too.
What starts as feelings of hopelessness and despair transitions easily into suicidal ideation, where you don’t want to die but you don’t want to keep living like this anymore either. Many people suffering from depression experience suicidal ideation from time to time, sometimes frequently. When thoughts of suicidal ideation turn to action or inaction, and someone stops living altogether, it is not a hard transition from not going through the motions of living anymore to deciding to stop living anymore altogether.
Even consciously knowing and acknowledging the cycle, I still find myself pulled down towards it again whenever my depression gets bad. When things in my life aren’t going as planned or they begin to fall apart, everything starts to feel hopeless again and I struggle to pull myself up, keep myself going, to not give up. It is a dangerous edge to walk on and one I fight daily to distance myself from. I fight a constant battle to stay vigilant and self-aware, to catch myself whenever I start to spiral down and begin to withdraw from life. Whenever someone is struggling with depression, it’s important to watch for those markers of isolation and giving up because once someone has decided life is no longer worth living, it becomes so much harder to justify continuing to live it at all.
If you see someone in your life start to withdraw, talk to them. If you notice they are lessening their self-care or beginning to cut everything they enjoy out of their lives, talk to them. Don’t buy into their excuses and allow them to isolate and pull away. Be there. Be persistent. Listen even if you don’t have any resolutions to offer. Listen just so they’re heard. Chances are their feelings might feel uncomfortable or overwhelming to you at first, but know that they need to get them out. Better out than in. Encourage them to get help and stay positive but don’t judge them for their struggles to do so. They need support and encouragement not judgment. Be a consistent presence in their lives, a counter to the negativity trying to pull them down. Just be there because them being alone and isolating themselves is the worst place they can be.
If you’re struggling to find reasons to keep going yourself, let those feelings out. Don’t hold them in. Talk about them even if they don’t make sense to you just to get them out. Talk to someone whether it’s a friend, a doctor, a clergyman – anyone. Just don’t sit home alone in the dark and let those feelings fester because they will only continue to grow and get worse over time if you never let them out. Don’t push away people that care enough to ask whether you’re okay or lie to them that you’re fine if you’re not. Don’t worry about scaring them with everything you are going through – if they truly care about you, they would rather deal with some discomfort and worry now than to lose you entirely down the line. Don’t give up things that make you happy. If anything, keep seeking out other things to make you smile, even if you have to force yourself to multiple times a day. Surround yourself with positive things, good things, things that remind you that the world is not completely dark, ugly and hopeless. Take care of yourself the best that you can. Eat. Go to the bathroom. Shower. Even if the only thing you manage to do today is take care of yourself, that is enough.
When someone commits suicide, it is permanent. There is no bringing them back, no changing anything. It is final. When someone takes those first steps and decides to stop living, it is often a precursor to suicide. We need to be more vigilant, with ourselves and with others, when we see those signs of withdrawal and isolation, when we see ourselves or someone else starting to give up and stop living their lives. We still have the power to change things before they reach that point of no return, before that loss becomes permanent. I have stopped living a few times before and am still alive to tell the tale. It is possible to die inside, to give up on life, while still breathing. It is also possible to come back and live again even after you’ve mentally and emotionally given up. It is not an easy task but it can be done.
Please know that I understand how hard, lonely and hopeless life can feel. I know how low depression can pull you. I know all too well that feeling of not being able to take anything anymore, of just wanting all the pain, all the stress, all the struggling to stop. I know how unbearable it can all feel. I understand how someone can reach a point where giving up feels like the best option, the only option.
But it doesn’t have to be. Please stay strong. Choose to live. Choose to keep going. Even if you can’t do as much as you’d like or as much as you feel you should be able to do, do whatever you can do. Just don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t stop living. Don’t allow any part of yourself to die.