I’d like to think I don’t struggle with depression, but that’s a lie. I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety and insomnia most of my life. The insomnia started when I was in third grade, but the anxiety and depression came before. I know it was there, I just don’t know when it first came.
It all got worse when I lost JoAnna and Maggie. JoAnna was one of my people who I talked things out with so losing her was a double blow. It was an awful loss and my person I would have talked that out with was also gone. And no parent should lose a child. When I lost Maggie, I wanted to talk to JoAnna again because she had lost a child before and she knew how it felt. But I couldn’t because she was gone.
On bad days, I want to talk to my sister. On good days, I want to share the time with her. Fun times, she should be there because she was the fun one. Boring times, she should be there because she would make them fun. There are few days that don’t make me think she should be there. And even fewer when I don’t think Maggie should be there. All times are harder for their absence.
I feel like I have a bucket that I’m supposed to fill and both of those losses put a hole in my bucket. I can’t fill it no matter what I try, but I kept trying. Because filling the bucket is my purpose so even though I’m pretty sure it can’t be done, I still feel like I have to try.
Giving up is not an option I want to consider. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s an option. It’s always an option. Sometimes it’s even an appealing one. But it’s never a good one.
I used to go shooting with my husband. I was good at it. I loved it when I shot better than him. But I haven’t been able to look at a gun since losing Maggie without thinking about giving up. For a while there, I had him lock up all the guns because I wasn’t sure I could resist that thought.
Now, it’s a little easier, but the thoughts are still there and I still don’t have any desire to go shooting. I still avoid razor blades and holding guns. They just don’t feel like safe things to be around.
I don’t want to die. I don’t want to give up. But if I’m honest, in the back of my mind, it is always there as an option. It just seems so much easier than continuing to struggle.
In middle school and high school, it was an option that I pursued and I have the scars to prove it. It was a dark time and a bad path and I wish I could forget it, but once you walk down a painful path it’s hard to forget it’s existence. The pain makes permanent marks on your memory.
So now depression and suicide are a hot topic. Everyone is concerned with suicide because some famous people killed themselves and no one expected them to. But I’m not surprised. Suicide is just the final conclusion — the death from a thousand cuts or the final straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Depression and life in general inflict cuts randomly and with no warning. Cuts you can’t block. And we take them and go on our way, doing our best, fighting as best we can as long as we can. Until we can’t.
A depressed person doesn’t necessarily walk around with a sad face. They are faking it til they make it and fighting with all they have to fill up their holey buckets until one day the bucket just falls apart. And what do you do then? You can’t fill a bucket that has disintegrated.
It’s no surprise to me that no one sees it coming, that suicide takes the smiling faces and the funny people. Because funny people are just trying to cheer up the whole world, hoping it’ll work on them, too. Depression doesn’t always look like an overwhelming mess. Sometimes it just looks like someone doing their best.
For me, it often looks like a red bucket covered with papers I haven’t gotten around to yet. Because it’s all I can do to give my kids what they need and I don’t have the energy to look at all the papers they bring home, too. Right now, it looks like a very messy corner, blocked off by couches that I filled with all the junk that had piled up the last time my friend came over with her baby. And that red bucket has a new pile started, too.
Because that bucket I need to fill? It gets filled with energy. Emotionally energy. But when I have no emotional energy, that drains my physical energy as well. When that bucket is empty, I don’t have the energy to do anything.
I can push through to an extent and I do. But I know when I’m pushing through that I don’t have the energy to do it all. So I prioritize what’s most important and do what I can and the other stuff literally and figuratively piles up. Piles — that is a sign of me struggling. And the piles remain until my husband gets fed up and takes care of them or until I have a good day and I can take care of them myself.
So I’m seeing all these posts about how to help those with depression and why people don’t just ask for help when they’re struggling and how a depressed person should just “swallow their pride” and ask for help. For me, it isn’t just a pride thing, though. It’s also a not wanting to be a burden thing.
The truth is, I struggle most of the time. I’ve been struggling in one way or another most of my life. Sometimes I struggle just to get out of bed. Other times I struggle with piles. If I asked for help every time I struggle, if I show people just how much I struggle and how needy I am, I feel like that would just push away all my friends and I need my friends more than I need less piles. So I just don’t worry about what I can’t do right now. I do what I can and the rest can wait.
I also don’t ask for help because I haven’t given up on myself yet. I’m still holding on to the hope that another good day is coming and then I will take care of my piles. And that day, I will feel like I’ve accomplished something. Because I will see it in the clean space on my red bucket. It makes me feel good to accomplish that when I can. And when I can’t, I let it wait for me.
But therein lies the problem. People who struggle with depression don’t ask for help until they give up. And when they’ve given up, they don’t ask for help. They just quit. And that is why after they’re gone you hear that no one expected suicide to happen. Because they hadn’t given up until they did.
They kept a smile on their face and kept trying to fill their buckets. They kept cracking jokes and cheering up the whole world until they just couldn’t. Until the world was too hard to exist in. No one could see the giving up because it was done in a private moment. And in that moment, they found they no longer had the ability to ask for help. And then that moment was over and they were gone.
So how do you help someone who won’t ask for help? I think really the only way to help someone who struggles with depression is by reminding them that you love them and you’re there. By talking to them on a regular basis. By just being kind to those around you.
Because you can’t always tell if a person is struggling by looking at them. You can’t tell how close they are to giving up. You never know what will be the last straw. And some people will just never ask for help. It doesn’t cost a penny to be kind and you never know how it will impact those around you.
I know, it sounds overly simplistic. And I’m not saying it’ll save everyone. But it might. And if not, what will you have lost? A couple extra minutes waiting in line? A couple dollars to buy someone else coffee or pie? The energy it takes to offer someone a word of encouragement? The cost of a stamp and a card?
You can’t fix everything with kindness, but I can tell you life is a lot easier to do when you’re surrounded by kindness. It doesn’t fix depression or anxiety or dead baby, but it does make the world a nicer place to be in. And sometimes that makes all the difference.
There have been plenty of those times for me in my grief journey. When a card or a package arrive just when I need encouragement. When a friend sends a text and I can feel my spirits lift just knowing I’ve been thought about and prayed for. Feeling loved is a powerful, uplifting thing. It makes a difference.
Please don’t worry about me. This isn’t a cry for help. I am not giving up. I’m actually in a pretty good head space right now. I just know how it feels to be on the edge and I’ve spent a couple weeks now thinking about depression and anxiety and how they can lead to suicide and what I can do to help and this is what I’ve come up with and I don’t want it to end with me.
And remember, all of these acts of kindness can help a grieving parent. It’s bereaved parent awareness month, y’all. It’s a great time to talk about the acts of kindness that have helped us and act some kindness to help someone else.
So be kind with me. Be part of the change with me. Join me. We can call it a social experiment if you want to. Tell me what you do to add some kindness to this world. Tell me how someone’s kindness helped you through a low moment. Raise awareness, spread some kindness, all that jazz. . . And maybe together we can make this world a better place to live in. Maybe we can save someone from despair. To me, it’s totally worth the effort.