Column: Finding my hope after the grip of depression

08/21/2014 5:22 PM

08/21/2014 5:24 PM

I knew I had to die that day.

The pain was unbearable. The weight of sadness was crushing me. I was drowning in despair.

I had experienced the agony of depression before. And like so many people who suffer from the disease, I tried anything to bring relief.

I took countless antidepressants over the years. I got electroconvulsive therapy, a controversial treatment in which electric stimulus causes a seizure. I went to psychotherapy sessions. I stayed in the locked wards of hospitals.

Depression had become a big part of my life – an intruder who would take hold and wreak havoc before finally letting go, only to return again later with a vengeance.

It started early on. From a young age, I seemed acutely aware that the world could be a sad place. Children’s innocence is ripped away from them. People stop loving us. Planes fall out of skies.

My worst day

On a snowy December day in Raleigh four years ago, I couldn’t take it anymore. A part of me knew that things would get better someday, that I wouldn’t feel so hopeless forever. But it wasn’t enough to convince me to stick around.

I woke up at WakeMed after my suicide attempt, mad as hell to be alive.

I spent a month in a hospital, trying to come to terms with what I’d done to myself, and to my family. My mother and sister visited faithfully, even when I didn’t make it easy for them.

When I finally left the hospital, I didn’t understand why there wasn’t some sign from above, something to explain why I didn’t die that day. Why I should keep on living.

It’s a brutal reality of depression: There is no simple solution, no quick fix, no sure-fire cure.

We’ve come a long way in understanding depression and breaking down the myths. The disease can affect anyone. It doesn’t care how much money you have, how educated you are or what you do for a living. It doesn’t care anything about you.

Often, people suffer in silence.

Robin Williams aftermath

Maybe the death of Robin Williams last week will help us better understand suicide. It’s tough to comprehend why Williams, a man who brought so much joy to the world, would choose to stop living.

But we can’t fully understand someone else’s pain, even if we have experienced depression ourselves. Suicide is never the answer. But those who kill themselves, or try to, are not selfish cowards who take the easy way out. Nothing about it is easy.

Writer William Styron described his depression as “madness.” That always resonated with me – the insomnia, the inability to concentrate. It’s madness.

Feeling unsafe from yourself is a bizarre experience that I still can’t effectively put into words.

And it shouldn’t be judged – any of it – especially when people don’t survive the battle.

I did survive, but it took a long time for me to be OK with that. The recovery process required hard work – the hardest work I’ve ever done. It was also the most rewarding work.

I took part in dialectical behavior therapy, a treatment widely considered effective for chronically suicidal patients.

I learned to identify my emotions. I learned that emotions are tied into our behaviors. I learned that I can experience sadness without being swallowed up by it.

Through it all, I never did come up with a grand explanation about what life was supposed to mean for me after a suicide attempt.

But I do know this: If I had died on Dec. 27, 2010, I never would have gotten Lucy The Dog, a hound I adopted from the shelter as part of my recovery. She’s happy to see me every day, even when I don’t feel so happy.

I would have missed the birth of my nephew, an adorable little guy who’s starting to walk now.

I wouldn’t have met the most wonderful man in the world – a man who loves college football as much as I do and who indulges my obsession with “Law & Order” reruns.

The world is indeed a sad place sometimes. But it’s also a good place. A hopeful place.

A place I’d like to stay for a long time.

Sarah Nagem is editor of the North Raleigh News and Midtown Raleigh News.

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