Testing My Resolve Against Depression

Content warning: The following blog post talks about depression and suicidal ideation.

I debated on whether to even use this photo, but I err on the side of being as open and raw as possible with these things.

The last three months have really tested my resolve to not be self-destructive and in the most irreversible way.

I’ve written some here and more elsewhere (for my newspaper) about my struggles with depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. I’ve alluded to how this time last year, I was in the deepest of holes and thanks to daily writing on this blog, I was able to pull myself out of it.

As someone once told me, catharsis, as that writing was and is, is still not therapy. So, since January of this year, I’ve taken steps to truly address my issues. That’s when I obtained a primary care physician and told him about my depression. I received my first prescription for antidepressants. I’ve since switched to a different kind.

About six months after that in late June, I finally started therapy and I’ve had five sessions so far. The therapy is designed to be a “six month program” of sorts to learn the tools of cognitive behavioral therapy, which will enable me to fight back against negative thinking and re-wire my brain.

But before I started therapy, the first testing of my resolve occurred.

On May 13, my dog, Dallas, died. She’d been unwell for a number of weeks and when I took her to the veterinarian, she was diagnosed with cancer all over her body. We thought we’d get another two nights and day with her, and then do the humane thing of putting her to sleep. Instead, she died that night. I found her dead on my parents’ porch. That image will never leave me nor the fact of having to scoop her up and put her in my backseat to take her back to the same veterinarian I had left only a few hours prior.

She was the best dog and my only regret with her is that I will never have adequate words to describe what she meant to me and did for me. That emotional wound is still raw and perhaps always will be.

I’ve been fortunate that my self-destructive habits, while still self-destructive, are not vices of an even worse self-destructive kind, such as alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling, anger and aggression, and so on. Instead, I turn to overeating and over-indulging on alcohol. By that I mean, I was in a period there where I was nightly having a few IPAs. Not enough to get drunk or anything, but enough to “take the edge off.” It was a crutch.

Dallas dying was one of those potential floodgates opening kind of milestones. That is, in my head, I figured the day she died and I no longer had her, would be the day I’d be free to die. After all, I can’t kill myself while she’s still around; she’d be sad and miss me. But now that she’s dead? I can kill myself.

So, those thoughts were flooding into my brain in the wake of her death and it was hard to resist them. Again, I still wasn’t in therapy. I had even stopped, at that point, writing as often with the blog for any sort of catharsis or outlet here.

To be honest, I’m not sure what stopped me. I know I indulged in alcohol and overeating and the like, but I don’t know what stopped me from ending it then. In reflecting, I think at that point I knew my sister was getting married at Myrtle Beach in late June and I wouldn’t want to mess up a wedding by adding a funeral to the business. So, perhaps that.

Future date-setting has always been a way I stave off killing myself. I’ve been doing it for years. For example, annually, prior to the pandemic, I’d buy WWE WrestleMania tickets when they went on sale in October (or sometimes later, but still, in advance). The show isn’t until April. That would be a way of keeping me alive, at least through the show. I’ve done that with other things, like Christmas, birthday parties, anniversaries and so on.

Then, as I said, I started therapy in late June and that’s been going well. I think it’s helped. I stopped thinking about suicide on a daily basis. As I’ve written, I’ve also started eating better and regularly exercising and moving. That’s helped. I’ve also re-started more regular writing on this blog. That’s helped. Talking and writing about my depression with family and friends and for my newspaper has also helped.

But on Thursday, the next floodgates opening, milestone moment happened. For context, I had a girlfriend for four years between fall 2015 and late 2019. I loved her a lot and in my head, she was the proverbial “one.” She also has a daughter who, despite my difficulties with children (I’m admittedly not much of a kid person), I loved her, too. One of the struggles I’ve had is feeling that I lost them both because of my depression. Because of coming into myself, as depression does, and forcing other people out. I’m not perfect and I made other mistakes I can’t put at the doorstep of depression, but I feel as if a big reason she split from me was the depression.

It took a long, long time for me to get over it. That aforementioned “hole” I was in for the first six months of 2020 is attributed to this; at that point, I wasn’t even “trying” to get over it, I was just in the hole. Over time, though, as the annoying but accurate adage of “time heals all wounds” goes, I did get over it, at least to the extent of it not dominating my life. I think there will always be a part of me that still loves her because I don’t think anyone can fully extricate that feeling from themselves, if there wasn’t a negative reason helping that along and there wasn’t here.

That part of me, which still loves her, was tested a few days ago when I saw that she had married someone. Married someone! I knew she was dating someone, because she told me shortly after our break-up, but to marry someone within a year and a half, and in what seemed like a hot-shot wedding, I was blown away. It was a jolt to my stomach in a physical sense. That’s the second ex of mine to get married to someone else shortly after leaving me. So, naturally, that invites the, “What’s wrong with me?’ self-destructive thinking.

When I learned of the news, I was at the movie theater to see The Green Knight. Prior to the news, I was going to treat myself to a pretzel, even though I knew it was calorie-loaded. Right after learning the news, I was handed the pretzel and learned that the pretzel I ordered was a pound and a half. Yes, a pound and a half. I didn’t realize it was that big!

So consider, you’ve just handed someone, who turns to self-destructive overeating when returning to his hole, a pound and a half of pretzel (with two cartons of nacho cheese, too), right after he heard something that would assuredly send him into said hole.

Like Dallas, I figured I’d be dead long before I ever saw my ex married to someone else. I figured she’d eventually marry someone else, because obviously, life goes on, but I figured I’d be dead before I’d have to see it. There again then, it was a moment testing my resolve. I’m supposed to be dead. And when that physical jolt hit my stomach, I thought about the pile of plastic bags I keep in my closet. Whenever I go shopping, I just put the bags in my closet and I’ve accumulated quite a bit. But that also is the method in which I’ve thought the most about how I would kill myself.

When I was thinking about suicide on a daily basis, my mind flashed to those bags and one of them over my head, suffocating me. It felt akin to Poe’s beating heart beneath the floor. Teasing me. Taunting me.

But something interesting happened. Yes, I had the jolt. Yes, I thought about the bags. Yes, I thought, “Time to die.” And yes, I thought about stuffing my face with a pound and a half of salty, thick pretzel with nacho cheese.

Instead, I put the pretzel down after eating what I ate and kept repeating in my head, “I will survive,” and then immersed myself within The Green Knight for the next two hours.

I didn’t want to waste a $16 pretzel (hey, I had a $10 reward applied to it!), so I did nibble on it some, eating perhaps a third of it, but I still stayed within my calorie count goal for that day. That represented another personal victory of self-restraint.

You know what else I didn’t do? I didn’t go home and drink alcohol. Not a drop. I had half a case of IPA in the refrigerator, easily accessible. Didn’t touch it.

You know what else I didn’t do? I didn’t kill myself. I didn’t keep thinking about those damn plastic bags.

Instead, when I got home, I wrote down three gratitudes, an exercise my therapist has had me do since we started talking. Gratitudes can be small or big, but the point is, it gets your brain thinking positively instead of negative. Here’s what I wrote, similar to what I’ve already mentioned:

I have such lovely penmanship.

Then, I sat down at my computer and wrote a new five-line poem, again, one of my goals attributed to therapy.

After that, in yet another goal attributed to therapy, I did some exercising via the FitOn app.

I survived the night. I survived the next day. And the next day after that. And here I am this morning writing this.

Sometimes, I don’t know why I’m still alive. Sometimes, I feel like I’m on borrowed time. Sometimes, I feel as if my destiny is to still kill myself.

But most times, nowadays? My thoughts are better. I still slip. I still have bad days. I still find myself in that hole. But most days? I’m surviving and better yet, actually doing what depression suppresses: living. I feel good.

If setting the benchmark of my dog passing being a reason to finally kill myself, or my ex getting married being a reason to kill myself, sounds irrational, that’s because it is. When I’m in that headspace of depression and that hole, it’s obviously not rational thinking. It’s not reality-thinking. Instead, it’s me being overwhelmed by those negative thoughts and reacting to them accordingly.

And I wanted to share with you, reader who also may be struggling with such things, my own journey. If it helps, it helps. I hope it does. That’s the thing, too. It’s a journey and I’m still on it.

Thank you for reading.

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