I’ve been there; in that dark place that no one likes to talk about socially, the pit of emotional hell that feels impossible to crawl out of. I struggled with addiction and depression, which for me went hand-in-hand, for over a decade. I’ve sat with a shotgun in my mouth and finger on the trigger. I’ve swallowed a bottle of pills with a bottle of peach schnapps, hoping to end the pain I was feeling, only to have my stomach pumped. I know sadness that seems impossible to explain. Ultimately, I took a razor blade to my wrists and violently tried to end my life on November 10, 1997. I was fully intent upon ending it all; I saw no hope, no future, and no other way. Thankfully, I survived.
Every thirteen minutes in this country a person dies from suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When I heard about Robin Williams’ suicide, my heart broke, not because I knew him, but because I knew his pain intimately. No one can truly understand depression and addiction without experiencing them, and while no one’s experience with these issues is exactly the same, there are commonalities, such as hopelessness, futility, anxiety, and desperation. Depression and addiction alone can be life-altering, but when coupled together they often result in death.
I do not write this to focus on Williams’ death; his family has requested focus on his life. Yet just like Williams prior to his death, millions of other people have also had to live with depression and/or addiction. Our country needs to finally have an honest dialogue about mental health and addiction so we don’t hear of another incredible soul taking his or her life. The stigma that surrounds the diseases of addiction and depression leaves too many people in darkness, suffering the way Williams did and the way I once did. There are ways people can be helped; I am living proof of that. It’s been close to seventeen years since I have felt so depressed that I wanted to end it all, since I have thought there were no other ways to live, and since I have engaged my addictive behaviors.
Anyone suffering from depression and addiction need never suffer alone; there are so many resources available to help—understanding people, support groups, hotlines, health centers, and online communities. I understand how heavy the phone can feel when one is sick and suffering, but there is always someone on the other end of the line waiting to listen, to provide supportive counseling, and to connect the caller to life-saving resources. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at (800) 662-HELP (4357) are just two free and confidential hotlines. Recovery is possible with help.
When I got clean and sober, my life-affecting depression began to dissolve. But life on life’s terms has brought rough times for me when that depression has come back; today when it seeps in, I enlist the help of the following tools:
1. Writing—By writing down your darkest secrets and fears, you expose them for what they really are—just thoughts, not facts, and the power of those thoughts is lessened when you get them out of your head.
2. Talk to Someone—By sharing your experiences, thoughts, and fears with another person, you can allow yourself permission to be human and to allow another person you trust to bear witness to your pain. This is truly the first step in getting help.
3. Exercise or Activity—Physical activity in any form, whether it is a simple walk, jog, or sporting activity, can help. Physical activity releases endorphins, which make you feel better about yourself and help to reduce stress and the effects of depression.
4. Find a Therapist and/or Doctor—I found a skilled therapist to help me explore the why’s of my addiction and depression so I could build healthier coping mechanisms. Medicinal intervention can also be a life-saving method for many. Depression is a chemical imbalance within your brain, and, depending upon the severity of the imbalance, medication may be necessary to create a balance.
5. Meditation or Mantra—Finding quiet time for my mental health is vital for me, especially because finding someone to talk to is not always possible. Thirty to sixty minutes of meditation three to four times per week is best for me, but even just five to ten minutes can help calm my mind and bring me peace. Or find a mantra, prayer, poem, or saying that you can repeat to help calm you.
6. Support Groups—Twelve-step programs saved my life; I find so much support, love, and kinship in the rooms of the groups I turned to. Thankfully, there are groups for most any issue. In the meeting rooms you never have to be alone. I have never gone to a meeting and left feeling worse.
7. Music—If I am feeling anxious, sad, mad, or just in a funk and cannot pinpoint what is bothering me, I turn on one of my favorite songs and sing my heart out. I also listen to bilateral EMDR music on my headphones when I am feeling anxious, cannot sleep, or just want to relax.
8. Cry, Scream, and Feel—You have to let it out somehow. Feelings are just that—feelings—but they are not facts and they cannot kill you. Crying is cleansing for the soul. Screaming can allow you to release anger, frustration, and fear in a safe way. You must be able to release your feelings; untreated, they can eventually turn into depression.
9. Reading—Books, articles, blogs, and other materials that help you to understand more about your particular issues can help you learn to cope in healthy ways. Personal stories help me best, as I can understand another person through their own journey and relate that to my own. I can guarantee there isn’t a thing you are dealing with or feeling that someone else hasn’t dealt with or also felt.
10. Sleep—I know that when you are depressed, anxious, or dealing with something else difficult, getting a good night’s sleep is not always easy. By enlisting some of the above methods, you should find that sleep becomes a bit easier. Try to get the amount of sleep your body needs to function at your best. For most people, that is seven to nine hours.
These are just ten of the tools you can enlist to start breaking the cycle of whatever you are dealing with. I hope they can help you the same way they helped me, or get you thinking of other ways to help your specific situation. You do not have to suffer in silence; you are not alone, and you can survive what you are experiencing and learn to live a happy and healthy life. I promise—I am living proof.