On being chronically depressed and suicidal
Trying to understand depression? TMG offers a prelude to our upcoming content on mental illnesses with this primer by Winnie Lim..
by Winnie Lim
A FEW days ago, I told a roomful of people — both strangers and friends — that I am chronically depressed and suicidal.
Notice the present tense. I am still chronically depressed and suicidal. I am pretty certain people don’t really believe me. I look like I am the furthest away of being a person you would think is thinking of ending her life every other week, if not day.
That is the whole point though.
There is no telling how someone with chronic depression and suicidal tendencies should look.
Before I go on, I want to make it clear that what follows is entirely my personal telling of my story, I am not speaking on the behalf of all depressed and suicidal people, because they have complex conditions — they cannot be reduced to one person’s story.
I have had countless people tell me that I have so much light on my face, that I am full of life. I tell them paradoxically, I have so much light on my face, and I am full of life, precisely because I think about killing myself all the time.
Life becomes a choice. It is not something I am automatically wired for, just for mere survival. Every single day, it becomes a fight. Do I want to live?
When I was younger, that answer often came back with a flat “no”. I did not want to live. Life was meaningless, often tedious. I did not understand why I had to exist.
I consider myself lucky. I had a few years when it all went away, out of my thirty-plus years of living. I stopped questioning my existence and I had thought I was recovering from my chronic depression. I know of many others who are less fortunate. They had never seen a day of light.
I now know. My depression and suicidal tendencies will likely not go away, ever. They are always there, just waiting. It takes only a split second to feel that sinking feeling all over again.
Life has gotten a lot more complex and also simpler. I have stopped looking at life in binary terms: do I want to live or die? I started to understand I could want to live and die at the same time.
I have learned to see nuances between being neurologically depressed and psychologically depressed. They are intrinsically tied, some would say they are one of the same. Yet I have some days when I know I am experiencing shitty emotions not because I have an unbalanced psyche. I know that is just my neurological system malfunctioning because I was not careful about up-keeping it through sleep, diet, and movement. I exert an extraordinary amount of effort just to be relatively functional. I know I cannot fight the hormonal imbalance during my monthly menstrual cycles. Once a month, I just try to let myself be. If I am weepy, I just let myself weep. I keep myself away from people because I know I have magnified reactions to everything.
Some other times, I know it is my un-excavated emotions that are affecting my physical health. Unexpressed emotions, repressed grief, denial of some sort, overwhelming sadness or triggers of old wounds. If I don’t address them in some ways, I start to fall physically sick.
Once in a while, I cannot deal with myself. I have overwhelming melancholy and I let myself go. I start to binge eat. I hide from the world. It snowballs. I start losing all perspective. My hormones and neurons are all over the place. My emotions are out of whack. There seems to be nothing left in me. I cannot move. I feel like dying. All that pain, it can just go away.
Else, I could be experiencing one of the most balanced periods of my life, and yet I experience moments of existentialist suicidal tendencies. I think of dying not because I am sad or numb or empty. I think of dying because intellectually, I question all of this. Yes, my life could be amazing and it could have meaning, but so? It is a rabbit hole.
I can tell myself: it is the process, the journey, the love, the evolution. I can look at it spiritually. But what if I just don’t care — about spiritual growth, about human evolution, or anything?
Sometimes, it is not the pain that drives me closest to death. It is when I am at my most sane self, and I find tiny moments in between when I just simply don’t care.
Here is what keeps me alive. I cannot find it in myself to end my existence knowing that people would have to spend the rest of their lives dealing with it.
How can I be someone who knows what it is like to carry so much pain and be the same person who delivers exponential pain to people I love?
So I try. I try to live. Since I don’t see the point of survival, I try to be brilliantly alive. My life has to be extraordinary, on my own terms. It is not enough for me to merely exist.
And I am curious. I love to create. As much as part of me is borderline suicidal all the time, I am curious about what I can make out of this. When life itself is not an incentive, it can be incredibly freeing, because I have a lot less I am afraid of losing. For me, it is not about losing money, people, reputation, it is about losing my will to live, so I am unafraid of most losses just so I can feel truly alive. It is easy to quit that cushy job or make a seemingly insane decision when the other side of the equation is feeling like I want to end my existence.
In a parallel universe, if I didn’t know people love me, curiosity and the desire to create may not be enough to sustain my life. It is also not enough to live just knowing that people love me. Both are essential in keeping me alive.
I deeply empathise with those who end up taking their lives successfully. I am even envious. I know what it is like. To exist at that brink, to feel so much pain that even the mere thought of death is a relief.
Or to feel so numb that nothing is capable of being an incentive to live. Or to look at humanity sometimes and be like, “really?”.
I am not sure if I will always be capable of reasoning. To be reminded that people love me, so I just can’t. But I have also lived through moments when I am not capable of remembering. To be so overwhelmed that I don’t give a shit about my curiosity. I understand why some people make that choice.
Yet it breaks my heart each and every time I know of someone ending their lives. I understand, I empathise, I am envious, but I still get so heartbroken. Life is not binary. The world is less without them. We have lost permanently, what these lives could have brought to us.
People get all confused when I tell them I am chronically suicidal and depressed as though I am describing the weather. Maybe some of them think I am doing it for the attention.
It is important to reduce the stigma, the misconceptions. There are so many others out there who are less lucky than me. I have been blessed with people who love me. I never used to know, but I have lived long enough to know, to be capable of knowing what love feels like. There are some of us who do not experience that. Some of them are unable to express the weight they are carrying until the deed is completed. They are afraid to be judged, censored, dismissed.
We wouldn’t judge someone for telling us that they have diabetes or any other long-term chronic illness. Why do we not acknowledge the life-long suffering of people whose brains are attempting to eat away every single bit of them?
We tell them it is not real, to get over it. If they could, why would they choose to tell us about it, even though they know how they are going to be seen?
The chronically depressed/suicidal people I personally know are the most empathetic, generous, creative souls I have known. I shudder to think what I, individually would have lost if life had taken them away from this world. I would be so much less without them. I don’t know who I’ll become if I thought that I was alone.
It makes me really upset and angry when we lose people this way, especially young humans who haven’t had a chance to experience a fuller spectrum of life, or for reasons that can be mitigated — bullying or trauma. They experience all that pain and they think, that is it. Why live? They think they are their wounds. They think their wounds make them unworthy of life.
And there are some of us who because of unjust circumstances, never ever got to get a hold of this condition. They did not get to experience anything else other than pain. They have never gotten the breaks I have been given.
I am not sure if I would still be alive if I didn’t make the decision to visit San Francisco in July 2011. If I didn’t have that one single friend who told me it was okay to be me, when I was in my early 20s and numb. If I didn’t fall in love when I was 15. If I wasn’t afraid of heights when I was 10. If sleeping pills were accessible in Singapore. If I didn’t start to meet people who saw me beyond my pain and chaos.
I was an extremely pale shade of myself for two decades of my life. My life only truly turned when I hit 30. Even then, even now, it is still questionable.
I discovered agency — that I was capable of making choices. I can now choose to live. I felt back then I was forced to buy into a life I didn’t want, now I am capable of consciously choosing to live. I started to see myself and accept myself, only because people saw and accepted me first. I learned more about my condition. It started to feel more like a blessing and a curse, instead of just seeing it as a lifelong affliction.
I have accomplished a lot. For my work, for the people in my life. My accomplishments are not to be seen in my resume. They are to be felt. This is the life I consciously choose.
But if you, the reader, have in any way derived value from me — whether through this post, through something else I have written or made, through my love or friendship, through something I am not even aware of; think about all those times I chose not to die; think about the ones who are still trying to make that choice.
Think about the ones who have chosen the other way. Think about what we as a whole, may have lost, or are still potentially losing. Because we saw them as less. Because they are afraid to tell us. Because they didn’t know we love them.
Winnie was a multi-disciplinary designer for 15 years. In 2015, she decided her life was not sustainable as it was, so she embarked on a journey to discover a new way of living. In her spare time, she works on interactive narrative experiments at http://lucent.space, and intends to spend her life on three areas: individual power, mental health and education. She has been publicly writing about her suicidal tendencies and chronic depression since 2011, in a deliberate effort to reduce stigma and challenge perceptions. You can read more of her writings on Medium, Twitter and her website.
This article was first published on Medium.
Featured image by Natassya Siregar.
If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!
For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.