Suicidal Thoughts At 10 Years Old - Depression w/ Mark Henick
What depression taught me
I’ve had a diagnosis of major depressive disorder for longer than I haven’t.
It started when I was about ten years old. Between the ages of twelve to seventeen, it was severe. I became addicted to suicide. I saw death as the solution to what I felt like was a constant catastrophe inside me.
It seemed like every time I reached out for help, in whatever way I knew at the time, something bad would happen. If I seemed vulnerable at school, I got punched in the head. If I showed weakness at home, I was called a fag. I was told that I would go to hell, that I would probably grow up to be a serial killer, that I should snap out of it, that I was hurting my family.
It’s Psychology 101 – when you perceive punishment or negative reinforcement enough times for something, you learn that you shouldn’t do that thing any more. That thing becomes associated with pain. Asking for help had been conditioned in me from a young age to be painful.
I feel bad, over time and feedback, became I am bad.
At first, I thought that I deserved to be punished. Then I changed my mind, and started to think that I deserved to die. I thought that I’d be doing everybody a favour by sparing them the trouble of me.
It surprises me that nobody saw my first trip to the emergency room coming.
“Mark is a good boy,” my mother said to the nurse on that first visit. I saw her words in print, many years later, when I pulled all of my medical records for my upcoming memoir.
I didn’t get the help that I needed, when and how I needed it. Without anyone to teach me how to get better, and under the crushing silence of stigma, I just kept getting worse and worse. It wasn’t some mystery. The system failed me, but I felt like I was the failure.
I ended up being hospitalized so many times that I became known as a “frequent flyer,” someone who spins through the revolving door so often that people stopped noticing. At one point, I was hospitalized three times in less than three months. I was selfish, just doing it for attention, being overly dramatic, I was told. I was unhelpable, useless, a burden, I thought.
Then, on my last attempt, I tried to jump off a bridge late at night. A stranger, who wasn’t part of the plan, saved me. He listened to me, got to know me. When I let go, he reached out, and he dragged me back from the wrong side of the railing. Then he disappeared.
I stopped trying to kill myself after that because I wanted to be like him. I wanted to be a stranger who reached out and helped others at their most vulnerable times. Finding that purpose, something to be passionate about, that’s what saved me the day after the bridge, and every day after that.
Besides, I thought, I’d come to the edge of death by my own hand already. I didn’t really have much else to lose. If it doesn’t work out, death is never far away. So I might as well go all in on this.
Don’t get me wrong, I still struggled for a long time after that, and I still do sometimes. Recovery doesn’t happen over night. Sometimes you don’t even realize how far you’ve come until you take a moment to stop and look back. I eventually found the stranger who saved me, more than a decade later. That’s when I started to understand.
I realized then that I don’t want to die any more. I’ve learned over the years how to get really good at depression. When I relapse now, I can usually feel it coming. When I see it, I grind through it, and eventually I trigger some of my coping and recovery strategies. Sometimes it takes longer than I want it to, but I always come back. This too shall pass. This too always passes. Even the longest night of the year eventually gives way to day.
My fifteen-year-old self wouldn’t believe me today. That’s the depression-blindness that I lived with at the time. Do people who are born blind know that they’re blind? Back then, I had forgotten what it was like to see. I’d have never thought then that I’d become what I am now. I told myself, convinced myself, that I’d never amount to anything. It was a lie, courtesy of my depression.
Depression lies so loudly that it can be hard to hear anything else. Depression lies in your voice, using your own deepest secrets, so that you think it must be the real you. It’s not. Depression is a parasite. It’s tricks your mind into attacking itself, and you think that since it comes from inside you that it must be true. It’s not. I didn’t want to die, no matter how loudly my depression screamed that at me. I wanted to feel needed, fulfilled, passionate, free, and at least occasionally happy, but I didn’t know how.
Then, I started to learn how. I learned, slowly, that I was in charge. I could turn the tables on my depression. I could use it, I could learn from it, and I could be better because of it.
Depression taught me gratitude. I love what I have because I very nearly couldn’t have it. Over and over I nearly gave it all up. Over and over I got another chance to figure out that my life was happening for me, not to me. It taught me grit. Yeah, this is hard. Who said that it was supposed to be easy? That’s ok. Keep going.
Depression taught me perspective. Is this moment, this insult, this temporary emotional hurricane that I’m feeling, however all-consuming, is it really such a big deal, all things considered? Probably not. I learned about risk. Pushing yourself beyond what you think you can do is scary. Do it anyway. If it doesn’t work, do it again, and do it harder. If it still doesn’t work, do it differently. If it still doesn’t work, do something else. There’s always something else.
Most of all, depression taught me hope. Nothing is permanent, not joy, not suffering, not life. I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but this will pass. I won’t cling to the idea that I can control the universe and all things in it and everything in me. That was the old me. I can never be that again, because everyday, with every passing experience, I’m a new me.
I wouldn’t be who I am, if not for who I was.
So, for now, I’ll just live, and enjoy the ride.
There will be plenty of time to die later.