The topic of depression and suicide has been in my mind since the death of Robin Williams’ two days ago.
These are my thoughts. They are slightly jumbled, because this is an extremely triggering topic for me. All in all, I think I did quite well.
* I will be writing about depression and suicide, and what people can do to help those with depression. That’s the angle. If you are triggered by these topics, proceed with caution.
* As always, all my knowledge is derived from personal experience. Especially on the topics of depression and suicide. I don’t claim to know what works for everyone, forever, but this is how things work *for me*
People are losing their proverbial sh!t
When we talk about suicide, everyone loses their sh!t. And they lose it bad.
People panic, because suicide is such a panic-sounding topic.
They post things like “ring this helpline, now!!!” and they add twenty billion exclamation points.
The last thing depressed people and suicidal people need is for everyone around them to lose their shit.
Depressed people and suicidal people have an internal system in complete overdrive.
They are absolutely frazzled. Their minds are a screaming rage, 24/7. (Actually it’s not just the mind, it’s the emotions as well, but “mind” is close enough for now).
The mind doesn’t quiet down for one second. It’s one self-loathing “thought” after the other, forever, and ever. The only thing that gives some form of rest or “relief” is sleep. And that’s when sleep comes…
Depressed people and suicidal people trigger everyone’s sh!t
There you have it.
People panic because nobody wants to be reminded of how much pain one human being can carry, or what “plan Z” looks like when things get too much.
Everyone is put off by the “depressed” person. (You have my word on that)
Everybody’s “stuff” gets stirred up because nobody wants to acknowledge the very real fact that depression and suicide can happen to any of us at any point, and there isn’t much we can do about it.
In fact, this “trigger” is a very smart mechanism: it’s indicating where we have stuff, and it’s our responsibility to go inwards and work with it.
But that’s the last thing that people do. Instead, it’s much easier to pretend that depression and suicide will never happen, and it’s definitely easier to banish depressed people from one’s life.
There is plenty we can do to help people who are depressed and suicidal. And by doing so, we are helping ourselves. Because that’s the way of things: we help others and we help ourselves *at the same time*.
The “depression is an illness” argument
Some people have been trying to raise awareness by reminding others that “depression is an illness”. This is well intended, so I’m acknowledging that. And it is true: depression is an illness.
But not the way we think.
Depression is a more “extreme” state of something all humans go through, ie: experiencing sadness and pain beyond the point where we can process it.
Depression and suicidal thoughts are internal flags, they are created by the self to alert the self that something needs to be paid attention to. And we all have pretty much the same flags.
Labeling depressed people as “ill” may sound useful, because the label “ill”, in our screwed up society, tends to give people the space to not-have-to-be-normal (at least for a while).
But we should also be cautious, because if someone is “ill” then “they are not like us”.
And depressed people are already deep in the story of “I’m not like everyone else”.
Here’s what depressed and suicidal people need
They need calm. Cool, quiet, calmness.
They need to be taken seriously.
They need to have their thoughts and emotions validated.
This one is important. I went to my parents once and told them I wanted to kill myself, and they pretty much laughed at me.
Not-useful. To say the least.
Whatever thoughts and emotions a depressed/suicidal person is having, they make sense.
They always make sense. And they need to be listened to. Always.
Holding space is the key
Here it is.
The way to help a depressed person is by holding space for them.
This is much harder than people think. It’s not something you read on a blog post once and bring into your life the next minute.
It’s a challenging, ongoing “practice”: You keep doing it and you keep doing it. Over and over again.
Here’s what “holding space” means.
Important: all of the following are to be done by yourself on yourself. No need to interact with the depressed person. It’s all about changing our attitude when we’re around depressed people.
- First, you work with your own stuff.
Whenever you interact with someone who is depressed, (or really, with any human being, ever), your “stuff” will come up to the surface. It just does. Mindfulness helps you notice it, and this is the first step. (It’s pretty much the only step, in my humble opinion)
- Second: don’t lose your sh!t.
You take ownership for the fact that, if something triggers you, then that panic reaction is your stuff, and it’s yours. You have to work with it, nobody else.
Important: it’s not depressed people’s responsibility to not trigger your stuff (ie: “make you depressed too*”). It’s your responsibility to work with your own emotions and thoughts.
It’s always *our* responsibility to work with *our own* emotions and thoughts.
* nobody can make you feel anything. That’s a “Truth” you can take home, forever.
Oh, and by the way.
Screaming on Twitter some variation of “If you’re feeling suicidal, call this number*!!!” and adding twenty billion exclamation points, THAT thing is also “losing your shit”. It’s well intended, granted, but it’s also “losing your shit”. And it’s not what depressed people need.
* remind me to tell you the story of when I called one of those “suicide prevention” lines. It wasn’t pretty.
- Third: make it normal.
After you work with your emotions, you reach this space of “yeah, depression, it sucks, it happens sometimes, it’s normal”. This is how you want to feel.
You acknowledge that this person is going through tough times, and you also know that these moments of tough-ness are normal and they happen to people.
Depression is a big deal and… no big deal. At the same time.
- Fourth: holding belief.
This is one of my favourite techniques.
What you do is this: you believe that this person can heal.
I know it may sound wacky, and how on Earth does one go around making oneself believe something?!
But after you work with your stuff, this belief arises naturally. All you have to do is acknowledge it.
And then you tell yourself that you believe this person will heal, eventually. In their own time.
You may wonder how any of this can help at all, but it just does.
It helps you, for starts, and it helps the depressed person to “sense” that you actually believe that they can get through this. It’s important, because when you’re depressed, you can’t believe that you are capable of ever getting through this. And knowing, or “sensing” that other people hold this belief for you at a time when you can’t do this for yourself, helps.
I hope some of this helps.
I’m wishing calm, cooling vibes of light and ok-ness to everyone struggling right now.
Oh, and cling on to yoga and mindfulness for dear life. Especially if you have tried all the “western” techniques and they have had zero effect on you (ahem!).
PS: I have plenty of stuff about Robin Williams’ suicide. I just know that it’s my stuff.
Example: “What the Hell, dude! You had all that money, all you had to do was go to yoga classes! You could have paid for all the yoga you needed! What the Hell!”.
And “Seriously? People with blue eyes can’t commit suicide. That just makes no sense.”
Yep. All my stuff!