The best days are the ones where I don’t hear the voices. They tell me things like “you don’t matter,” or “everyone hates you,” or “nothing matters anyway.” Some days the voices aren’t there. Some days I’m left alone and feel intact and strong and empowered.
I love those days.
But every depressive knows that to expect good days is dangerous, and that the only way to handle the burden of those voices is to remember that when they do come, eventually it will pass. Even if it doesn’t feel like it. Even if it feels like you’re drowning. Even if it feels like life is an exercise in frustration.
Depending on your mental health issue, suicide becomes a real danger for most depressives. Robin Williams lost his fight with his sickness to suicide. So did Wade Belak, the genial Maple Leafs enforcer. And last month, after battling depression and suicidal tendencies for nearly twenty years, Amy Bleuel lost the fight as well.
She was 31 years old.
Those outside the mental health community might not know her, but she was a giant in the field. In 2013, she started a campaign called Operation Semi-Colon. Our lives were not complete; we could choose to finish them. She touched millions with her campaign and efforts to reach out to those dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts.
I didn’t know Amy personally, but she was a leader in my tribe, and I cried when I learned of her passing. Like most depressives, she was extraordinarily kind and empathetic and lived a life that blazed a trail of hope for so many.
She lost the fight to her sickness, but she remains a hero in what she overcame to live the life she did, even if she was taken from us far too early.
I made a promise at the beginning of this year that I would be more open about my mental health issues. That I’d be as raw and honest as I could about what it meant to live with depression and anxiety. For all that I have been blessed with, great friends and family and a blossoming career as a writer, every day remains a fight.
I’ve said often that I wouldn’t wish my struggles upon anyone. They are invisible to the eye, easily disguised and easily dismissed by people around you. The struggle to get out of bed, to accomplish basic tasks, to look forward to the next day, are not a given. The bad days are random, and they lurk around the corner like a coming storm.
Over the past few years, my depression and anxiety has heightened. Some days I have the shakes. Some days I avoid human contact as much as possible. Some days I wonder why I bother at all. Or why I exist.
I wish I could tell you why this happens or give you a simple answer as to the prevalence of depression within Western society. And therein lies the problem. We have become so used to “simple” answers we dismiss those who struggle with something beyond our comprehension.
How could Amy establish an enormously successful anti-suicide coalition and fall victim to the very thing she fought against? When Robin Williams died in 2014, multitudes on social media blasted him as “selfish.” Selfish? I guarantee you that when he died, he was thinking of the people around him, of what a burden he was, of how unworthy he was of their love and affection. Selfish? No. He was doing the most unselfish thing he could think of, to rid the world of another parasite.
Every depressive has an affiliation with ending their life. We all know it, though it affects us differently. A friend of mine used to tell me it gave him comfort, knowing he could end his life if he needed to. That is the level of pain many depressives face, and whether it’s because of faulty brain wiring or psychological issues or both, the result is the same.
We’ve come a long way the past decade or so. Brave people, particularly sports celebrities, sharing their journey and pain, have helped diminish the stigma. That said, I’ve had numerous people over the years tell me that I’m lazy, or that I’m not praying enough, or that it’s “all in my head” (Ironically, this is true) and to forget about it.
And so the issue remains. What do we do?
I go to counseling, and some of my friends are on medication. Some of us do both. But we all hear the same voices. We feel beaten and discouraged. Some of us fall prey to addiction in an attempt to quiet the voices and self-medicate. Relationships get burned. Life becomes a step-at-a-time process. A day of “normalcy” is a victory.
And yet, with all of that, with all I’ve lost, including loved ones who could not understand my fight, I am grateful. I am part of a tribe that is immensely empathetic and kind. We know what it’s like to hate tomorrow. To fear it. And we recognize pain when we see it. If only because it occupies so much of our emotional space.
Amy Bleuel was part of my tribe. She was a constant reminder that our lives were a semi-colon, a sentence yet to be completed. She understood that depressives linger in the past, linger on their failures, and have a hard time forgiving themselves. She knew what it meant to live with chronic pain and make a difference.
Her voice helped block out the ones that lied to us about who we were and what we worth. And though she is gone, her voice will continue to resonate in me. Continue to remind me what it means to fight. And continue to push me in my struggle towards a meaningful life.
We will miss you, my friend.