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].