Depression Among the Timberline

By Charlie ColeJune 26, 2023

Note: This piece talks about suicidal ideation in detail. Please use your discretion.

The bend in the road matches the bend in my spine. Hunched over the wheel I anticipate rounding the corner and seeing The Tree. It is one of many as I am driving alongside a forest after all, but the small parking lot always guides me towards the one at the entrance. The one I have looked at so many times, from my youth to the point I’m at right now. That point of being suicidal, but that’s not quite correct. Suicidal, but just not enough, is more what it feels like. Not enough for people to notice, to care, to receive more treatment, or to be taken seriously. Suicidal enough to think about smashing into that tree though.

Let’s just say it—ideation is a bitch.

Here I have the urge to dismiss myself and say, “Not as bad as attempting anything though.” This is the problem. Although I’ve come close, I’ve never truly tried to unalive myself, and while that’s troublesome enough the saddest takeaway from it is how much of a phony I feel for admitting that. Mental illnesses are oftentimes not given light and space unless the worst is tried. Why must I wait until my match is entirely burned? Wouldn’t it be better to address it at the first sign of ignition? I only think about it though and lay people and professionals alike make a clear distinction there. My suicidality is a phase, a fad in the fast fashions of a depressed mind, and not the macabre familiarity of the kind everyone knows of and what makes the news.

Imposter Syndrome exists for mental health too.

So many years of stigma and shame have created a paradigm of those not trusting their own experiences and well-being. The rigidity of perception forces sickness into boxes. If I don’t present this way then I’m not depressed. If I don’t do this thing then I’m not anxious. If I don’t try to kill myself then am I really even sick at all? How lovely, a negativity spiral, hello old friend. I lived too many years without properly confronting what I was going through, not necessarily because I was being talked out of it, but because I didn’t believe it myself.

All of the misrepresentation and suppression of it in society conditioned me to think I was exaggerating, making it up, or the most dreadful sentiment of all, “seeking attention.” No, dudes, I was freakin’ depressed and have been since I was a teenager. Hell, maybe even before that! I would feel less like a fraud if I were forging signatures on checks. That’s just the pitiable truth. My mental illnesses have not always manifested in the expected or obvious ways and that leaves me wondering if they exist, to begin with. Deep in my bones I know they do, I’m living within that murky soup and would know more than anyone, but my internal validation isn’t always enough.

I arrive at the nightmare of The Tree and think a smack into its thick bark would feel more real than whatever pain I may currently be in. That’s not a thought most want to hear or to contend with, it may even be hard to be reading it right now, but these are the ruminations of depression and if I can’t be honest about that then there’s no point in talking about it at all. There is almost this perverted want for me to be worse so the proof will be there. If I met the criteria neatly, or if I paraded around in the ways we see it shown on TV, or even if I sat on the couch and resisted moving for over a week. Maybe then this would all feel more tangible, then maybe more people would get it, or at the very least suck it from my mind into the world.

After all the advocating I do, all the learning I’ve done, and the compassion I have for this subject I still fall into the trap of wanting it to be as valued as something more physical. That is the lasting damage of stigma, everyone. Much like homophobia or sexism, it too can get internalized and compound upon the already mountainous piles of problems. I’m gonna need some sturdier boots and a harness if I hope to make it up and over this insidious line of thinking.

Trees are good metaphor-makers. I often find myself using them in my writing. They’re at once terribly strong, yet delicate to the ways of the wind, outlasting, but vulnerable to being uprooted, and anciently miraculous with the ability to be cultivated anew. Perhaps, then, my pull toward that one tree isn’t a warning sign, but a reminder of all the nuances contained within my own rings of life. I, too, can topple and be struck down, but I also can replant and grow even taller next time. Whenever I come around that bend again, still hunched I’m sure, I’ll focus on its rustling leaves rather than the roar of my engine.

Depression has a way of making us feel incredibly isolated. We’re here to remind you of the truth that you are not alone. We encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool to locate professional help and to read more stories like this one here. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Comments (4)

  1. Vani

    I relate to this so much. These are my exact thoughts right now. I too feel invalid and all of this “evidence” keeps popping up in my mind that confirms my thoughts. I somewhere know that my brain is the wrong one here and It’s not my fault but I just can’t help it. I too think that I might be attention-seeking or exaggerating and it doesn’t count if I don’t meet the set criteria or that it doesn’t mean anything until I’m totally miserable and not able to get out of bed.

    Reply  |  
  2. Robin

    I can really relate to this. The outside world sees us as “high-functioning,” including close friends and family. Little do they understand how deeply sad and empty we feel internally and how much strength it takes to “look normal.” And then we question our own feelings and it’s like a punch that knocks the very wind out of you. It is so so hard to live like this.

    Reply  |  
  3. Lucey

    This story really resonated with me. In fact, just about 3 months ago, I DID smash my car into a tree… the first tree you see when entering my apartment complex. Now, I didn’t crash my car or hit the tree on purpose, but the airbag went off and I was unconscious for several minutes. When I awoke, my car CLEARLY totaled, my whole body aching, I must admit… I was a bit disappointed that the crash did NOT kill me. When the police arrived, they told me that the cars they’ve seen that were this badly damaged almost always involved someone either losing their life or being paralyzed or having some other extreme injury. They said I was lucky to be alive. All I could think of was, “I don’t feel lucky AT ALL”. I WISHED that I WAS either dead or in a coma.. I don’t know. Then I immediately felt extreme guilt for all the people who DID pass away from a crash this bad. People who wanted to live. People who enjoyed living. Not just me… someone who is struggling just to exist, never mind actually ENJOYING my life! I ended up being extremely lucky and getting a new car, which I was so grateful for! However, 3 weeks after I got THAT car, I got into ANOTHER accident. The car is in the shop and my insurance says it might ALSO be totaled, which is absolutely DEVASTATING to me. I just want to give up. I feel like if I lose this car… end up with no vehicle and NO insurance company that would want to take me on… I will wither away and mentally & emotionally I will be dead. It’s all just too much. This is all on TOP of a list full of OTHER problems going on in my life right now, so for me to think about having totaled 2 cars in 3 months makes me want to just disappear. I’m not “brave” enough to die by suicide, but I feel that if I lose this car (I live in an area with little to NO public transportation), I will die inside. I will be dead in my heart and in my head. Just a shell of me will remain. I’m praying for a miracle. I’m praying to whatever higher power exists… I’m praying to my dear Mother (may she be at peace) that the car situation turns out to be okay. That things will work out in my favor. I’m praying, and I really never pray, so maybe this could be called a “Hail Mary”? Whatever it is, I pray that at least I will get my car back… this will ensure that I will be able to address my other many problems MUCH MORE EASILY & EFFICIENTLY. Anyway, my depression and my anxiety are definitely getting the best of me. I pray that I don’t have to mourn the loss of this beautiful new (used, but new to me) car. I strongly believe that if I lose this car, that will push me over the edge. It will be the straw that breaks the camels back. I pray for a miracle. My mom believed in miracles. I love you Mommy, I miss you so much. Every day. With my whole heart. Please 🙏🏻 help me.

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      Lucey, we are of course grateful that you survived the accidents, but we understand the array of emotions you experienced before and after. Since you last wrote, we hope things have started to settled and sort themselves out some. Please know we are rooting for you and our team is here if you need the space to share some more and if you need any assistance connecting to/finding professional mental health care. You can reach us by emailing [email protected]. We read and respond to every message!

      Reply  |  
Get Email Updates

Sign up for our newsletter to hear updates from our team and how you can help share the message of hope and help.