Reasons to Stay Alive
June 9, 2015 1:09 AM   Subscribe

"Yes, depression lies. And it's very hard to not believe it when it's there, because it's very much in the foreground and it totally convinces you. And it's not always that it necessarily lies, but it gives you the very, very worst interpretation of your reality. Yes, so I think time proves that life doesn't always get worse. And also very few things get worse than wanting to jump off a cliff, you know. You're kind of at rock bottom by definition of being suicidal. So it's almost ridiculous that depression says everything's going to get worse from there, because very few things get worse from there." Matt Haig talks to Lynne Malcolm about his experience of depression and the reasons he found to stay alive.

From the ABC Radio National (Australia) show All in the Mind. Includes audio, download link and transcript.
posted by Athanassiel (42 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is a very good piece (I read the transcript) - I must get a copy of his book Reasons to Stay Alive.

That first pull quote is really on the money - at least for me. It's not so much that depression lies explicitly it's that it "gives you the very, very worst interpretation of your reality".*

The one bone I would pick with that quote is the rationalization that life doesn't always get worse as evidenced that it is difficult to get worse than wanting to jump off a cliff. The problem I have with that (although I have never had severe enough depression to be realistically contemplating steps toward suicide) is that it is the thought that life would be worse, so unbearable, if you went on that drives the thinking towards suicide.

*Unfortunately evidenced by revealing the strong optimism bias "normal" people have shown in studies of neurotypicals vs. depressed persons on accurately assessing their current position, likelihood of good outcomes from chance events, possibility of future events etc.
posted by Beware of the leopard at 1:45 AM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sorry for implying that Depressive Realism was a done deal at the end of my previous post. There are studies either way but again "normal"* people do show unrealistically high levels of optimism.

Now, I think this optimism bias is needed to function in everyday life. Otherwise, for example, when you think about applying for any one job the chances of getting it are slim but you have to approach it as if you will get it to show the best side of yourself - and over numerous applications you will get a job - it's just somehow keeping the optimism in the face of rejection.

Same applies to almost all areas of life, seeking a life partner etc. Exceptions being boring (I kid!) science/engineering situations like aircraft safety where you want to be as pessimistic as (fiscally) possible ;)

*Sorry for using "normal" again - has anyone come up with a better way of phrasing it. In my ex-day job I would use neurotypical but that seems almost offensive in everyday conversation.
posted by Beware of the leopard at 2:05 AM on June 9, 2015


I was looking forward to his book on depression - it got a very negative review from someone I follow on Twitter which put me off it a lot though.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 4:26 AM on June 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


...but again "normal"* people do show unrealistically high levels of optimism.

I would love to feel "normal" levels of optimism--even just for a day.
posted by dashDashDot at 4:38 AM on June 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm a heel to contradict someone else's reasons to be alive, but I've felt plenty of things that were worse than the desire to kill myself. I wanted to die to get away from those other things.
"Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling." -- David Foster Wallace
posted by milk white peacock at 5:15 AM on June 9, 2015 [27 favorites]


it is the thought that life would be worse, so unbearable, if you went on that drives the thinking towards suicide

I think he talks about that at some point too - it's not that you've stopped being afraid of death, it's that all of a sudden you're afraid of life. Which makes a lot of sense to me. At my bleakest times I've wished I could be dead (not wanted to kill myself - an important distinction) simply because I couldn't bear the thought of life with all its concomitant, ceaseless pain. Except time does pass, and the pain eases - sometimes only a bit, but sometimes that's enough - and the thought of life continuing isn't quite so terrifying.

I also find it interesting that his is yet another variation on the theme. Just as some parts of, say, Allie Brosh's experience of depression resonate and others don't, I feel the same about Haig's. But there's enough commonality, and I like his ideas about time.

I've always marvelled at the idea that mindfulness, staying anchored in the present moment, is somehow meant to help with depression. Being anchored to the present moment of despair and misery, feeling like it is an eternity? No thanks - Haig's approach makes a lot more sense. I'd say I'd report back but honestly am hoping to avoid those moments for a while if I can!
posted by Athanassiel at 5:17 AM on June 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I've always marvelled at the idea that mindfulness, staying anchored in the present moment, is somehow meant to help with depression. Being anchored to the present moment of despair and misery, feeling like it is an eternity? No thanks - Haig's approach makes a lot more sense. I'd say I'd report back but honestly am hoping to avoid those moments for a while if I can!

For me mindfulness can be double-edged sword in that my predominant issue is with social anxiety and for that I have found mindfulness to be very helpful.

But when the effects of the symptoms of social anxiety tip me into depression then mindfulness does *seem* (to my depressed brain) like the most idiotic thing in the would - at that moment. Just taking the time to go through the steps of mindfulness when you're so far down is very difficult. One of the main parts of mindfulness that it takes discipline* to get right is that, yes you are paying attention to yourself in that moment, but in a nonjudgmental way. So you recognize each thought and feeling and accept it but don't latch on to it and just let it pass by.

I've described it poorly and it did take me a long time to really *get* it but for me it least it has been very helpful but mostly as a preventative measure.

* I in no way mean to imply you (or anyone) lacks discipline - it took me months-years to get where I am with mindfulness meditation.
posted by Beware of the leopard at 5:38 AM on June 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I caught some of another interview this guy did and it was driving me mad because I had no idea who this guy was. I meant to go back and find out (I was driving). I never did.

Glad you posted.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:39 AM on June 9, 2015


I've likewise found mindfulness unhelpful for depression in the past but helpful more recently for anxiety and PTSD issues. I'm not sure if it's a tool that really doesn't work well for depression, or if it's just a timing issue where it didn't click for me then but for a variety of reasons is something I'm better able to commit to and practice actively now.

Has anyone read the book? I really like reading mental health memoirs for a variety of reasons, but the snippets from this one as presented in the transcript really aren't doing it for me. Is there any actual substance or narrative there or is it all more or less like those snippets? The chosen bits sort of read like someone's Pinterest collection of random inspirational thoughts so vague as to be applicable to anything at all, and aren't really encouraging me to pick up the book.
posted by Stacey at 5:49 AM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, I find mindfulness helpful for other things, including when I'm still depressed but not at crisis levels. Just not so much at those bleakest moments.

Haven't read the book but honestly, I would guess the excerpts are pretty representative. It's not meant to be a substantial read.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:55 AM on June 9, 2015


I should note that I did really like the interview, and am glad you posted it! Just the book excerpts didn't do much for me.
posted by Stacey at 6:00 AM on June 9, 2015


The problem with mindfulness as it seems like it has been secularized is that, when you remove it from its Buddhist underpinnings, you may lose the insight aspect. It's not enough to be present unless you're also seeing clearly. Being able to sit with discomfort, pain, depression, dark feelings, can with practice allow you to see through the thoughts and stories that get added to the feelings, to see the impermanence of the feelings, to see with a little more clarity how to carry on. Easier said than done of course, says the practitioner who also goes through (is going through) depressive episodes.
posted by kokaku at 6:58 AM on June 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


In the two suicide events that happened in my orbit, in addition to having a long history of depression, both people felt overwhelmed by immediate practical obstacles that they felt were insurmountable, and, it seems, were unable to see a way out other than suicide. One firmly believed they were going to lose their job. The other was on the verge of being denied assistance due to a series of bureaucratic snafus.

I've since read that depressive rumination is thought to impair problem-solving in people vulnerable to suicide - they get stuck in a rigid loop, and connect temporary facts with general beliefs about themselves (their past and an imagined future) and the world (unfair, unjust) - they lose the cognitive flexibility that would allow them to get onto another, more constructive track. I think the idea behind mindfulness as therapy is that it supports detachment from those obsessive thoughts and feelings, so that it may free people from that loop. Whether that actively promotes problem-solving is another question (I don't think it does?).
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:45 AM on June 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


I want to say "Good on him" for finding a way to conquer his depression. I guess, though, the biggest issue I have with this is the idea that it was a "bout" of depression. This is the point where I move on. That word..."bout"...seems, for me, to be a line of demarcation when it comes to describing depression. "Bout" is how most people, I think, encounter depression. A life event of some sort happens and, for whatever reason, you fall into a bout of depression. My experience with depression, though, isn't a "bout". Not unless you define "bout" as all day, every day, for 50 years.

Haig and others speak about depression as something apart from themselves. An invader. And, as they describe their work to defeat it, that certainly seems an apt way to look at it. But, what does one do if the depression and you are one and the same? When the dark, dangerous feelings are as inseparable from one's self-image as your eye or skin color? At that point, fighting the invader is a fight with one's self. You sort of live your life bouncing from days of depression to days of severe depression. It's the rare moments of light that are the interlopers.

Luckily, most people's dealings with depression are like Haig's...bouts. Temporary downturns (though, they may not feel like it, of course). An invader into an otherwise stable life. And, in that, Haig may have some workable methods to deal and defeat it. YMMV.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:47 AM on June 9, 2015 [13 favorites]


kokaku: The problem with mindfulness as it seems like it has been secularized ...

Yeah, there's definitely a kind of disconnect between pop mindfulness and what might be useful to depressed people, but I'd note that MBCT does have, as an explicit practice, learning to turn towards difficult thoughts, feelings, and memories...though later in the practice, after someone has spent a good bit of time with body scanning, breathing, etc., rather than springing it on you early on.

Beware of the leopard: Just taking the time to go through the steps of mindfulness when you're so far down is very difficult.

SO TRUE. Even if you feel it has worked, even if part of you longs to go back to the practice because you know it helps, that feeling of, forget it, it's not going to work, it's fake and life really is exactly as shitty as it feels...that is a rough place to be. And even, while you are sitting, just letting that thought of "this isn't working, this is so stupid, it can't work and I'm failing at it," letting that thought exist-as-thought, is so hard. The habit of judging everything is so ingrained.

To Thorzdad's excellent point, I'd add how surprised I was by the interview, that Haig had not gone through repeated rounds of therapy and medication, as I thought that would be pretty standard for anyone who had had enough depression to write a book about it!
posted by mittens at 8:13 AM on June 9, 2015


Yeah I don't like "I got through a bout of depression like this" articles because a bout of depression implies the sort of infrequency thar suggests having done nothing about it would be nearly as effective. I remember reading that "bouts" of depression tend to resolve on their own in three months and thinking "I wish."
posted by aydeejones at 9:04 AM on June 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't think I've ever found a reason to stay alive so much as no reasons to go ahead with termination? Since it's just a state, and the pressures and arguments haven't been convincing or overwhelmingly in favor of either, I continue.

So I closed the ticket with "worksforme" and "wontfix". At least for now.
posted by qcubed at 9:14 AM on June 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


...but again "normal"* people do show unrealistically high levels of optimism.

what's normal, even with the quotes?
what's realistic?

I've been doing this thing recently where I make a big deal of rejecting someone else's public expression of despair. It's usually not a personal despair per say, more an overall societal, apocalyptic sort, "we're all gonna die" and all that. Their response to my response is generally that they're just being realistic, to which mine is, "well, fuck realism then".

Maybe all my encounters with depression have been merely "bouts". All I know is my way out has always involved getting angry -- taking the bastard on like the enemy it is.

The problem with mindfulness as it seems like it has been secularized ...

I'd go one step further and submit that for many being mindful now just seems to mean thinking about something.
posted by philip-random at 9:26 AM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am not impressed by what he says in the interview. It really sounds like boilerplate self-help/encouragement stuff.

There's something about these accounts of depression like Haig's, that impose a kind of pat, neat narrative closure that is completely at odds with the experience of being depressed and living in a kind of chaos and hopelessness where you're not only psychologically in crisis, but your life is on the brink of disaster due to your inability to cope with ordinary things. The accounts of "how I overcame my depression" remind me of, say, a movie where the character is supposed to be depressed but even his depression is somehow "picturesque" in the sense that he has a cool apartment in Greenwich Village, a hot girlfriend, and a healthy circle of wisecracking friends, and his version of depression is being slumped on a tastefully tattered sofa surrounded by beer bottles and empty Chinese food containers watching old movies.

Why I am not convinced by this kind of writing: if you just look around, you see people whose lives have ended up as the most abject dead ends. Squalid, destitute, no hope, no friends, estranged from family, rusty personal qualities resulting from years of isolation, few marketable skills, a history of financial irresponsibility, mental illness, bad credit, poor transportation, etc., all of which has one teetering on the brink of complete breakdown. And honestly, I sometimes consider suicide a preferable alternative to that. It is absolutely not the case that "things will get better," necessarily. We are surrounded by evidence that often things don't, no matter what kind of self-help pablum is directed at people.

But, good for him to put this out there. I think of a book like this as almost a form of "therapy" that will certainly help save many people. I have thought it possible that suicide will become de-stigmatized in U.S. society as a result of the absence of a safety net and more people reaching retirement age and its associated illnesses and debilities with absolutely nothing to allow them to survive. I sort of expect a gradual increase in various forms of media that, in subtle ways, dignify the choice of suicide in those circumstances. So more people arguing against suicide are a good thing.
posted by jayder at 9:28 AM on June 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


I still can't bring myself to listen or read the interview. Mostly because I don't know if I really enjoy stories about how people "beat" depression--to me, it doesn't seem to be something you can "beat" or "cure". It's not like the measles, which visits, causes misery, and then leaves.

It feels more like a cancer or herpes or something, in that once it visits, it stays. You can push it into remission for a while. You can keep running, keeping busy to stay away from it, you can do the CBT exercises and what not that keep it under control and asymptomatic, but then you have a bad week. And then a whole bunch of things go sour, and before you know it, none of the coping mechanisms work and you're falling, right back into it, and it starts devouring everything.

But hey. What do I know? I haven't beaten it and written a nice little story about how I did it and you can too. Join us in creating excellence, folks.
posted by qcubed at 9:45 AM on June 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


I've been thinking about this further and remembering how, at age 20, when I had just "beaten" depression, I felt really lost and confused that there did not seem to be any guidebooks or accounts of someone who was in the same place I was. I didn't really understand how to get on with my life after depression had derailed it pretty impressively for a year or so. I sometimes joked that I should write a book about Life After Depression.

In my late 30s, I have two additional major depressive episodes under my belt and a more nuanced understanding of my childhood that makes me think I probably had my first one way back then but didn't know it at the time.

I am now so, so glad I did not ever try to write that book. It would have been such a disaster and probably given some really terrible advice, given my near-total lack of understanding about how depression would continue to play out in my life. I would have to hunt down and burn every copy.
posted by Stacey at 9:53 AM on June 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


what's normal, even with the quotes?
what's realistic?


Not meaning to having a go at you directly but I did mention in one of the up top comments where I started using "normal" that it is of course (god I hate this word) problematic:

> *Sorry for using "normal" again - has anyone come up with a better way of phrasing it. In my ex-day job I would use neurotypical but that seems almost offensive in everyday conversation.
posted by Beware of the leopard at 10:12 AM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Why I am not convinced by this kind of writing: if you just look around, you see people whose lives have ended up as the most abject dead ends. Squalid, destitute, no hope, no friends, estranged from family, rusty personal qualities resulting from years of isolation, few marketable skills, a history of financial irresponsibility, mental illness, bad credit, poor transportation, etc., all of which has one teetering on the brink of complete breakdown. And honestly, I sometimes consider suicide a preferable alternative to that. It is absolutely not the case that "things will get better," necessarily. We are surrounded by evidence that often things don't, no matter what kind of self-help pablum is directed at people.

How do you know how they feel about their lives? How do you know they're hopeless, or have no objective reason to hope? This is you looking around, that's not what I necessarily see. Poor, unemployed people with outdated or no cars can still find value in life and their lives are not without inherent value.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:19 AM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Actually I should have been clearer ... I meant suicide might be preferable to the condition of complete breakdown and absence of any safety net. Isolation, no prospects, feeling a total loss of dignity and connection and self-respect, hopeless, homeless, etc.

Not that having an outdated car (!) is worse than death.
posted by jayder at 10:51 AM on June 9, 2015



Why I am not convinced by this kind of writing: if you just look around, you see people whose lives have ended up as the most abject dead ends. Squalid, destitute, no hope, no friends, estranged from family, rusty personal qualities resulting from years of isolation, few marketable skills, a history of financial irresponsibility, mental illness, bad credit, poor transportation, etc., all of which has one teetering on the brink of complete breakdown. And honestly, I sometimes consider suicide a preferable alternative to that. It is absolutely not the case that "things will get better," necessarily. We are surrounded by evidence that often things don't, no matter what kind of self-help pablum is directed at people.


Except it does get better. It just depends whether you decide to live because of your circumstances or in spite of them. You can always make new friends. You can make a new family. Credit can be repaired. You can walk away from your past. If you are dependent on your environment, you will always be let down. If you are dependent on yourself, no one can make a dent in you.

And when everything is hopeless, what do you have to lose? Take a risk. Nothing can hold you back.

People don't understand the difference between optimism and retreat: when people put a sunny spin on bad circumstances, they aren't being optimistic: they have determined it won't get better and now are trying to make things sound good.

True optimists see it can get better and don't settle. They defy their circumstances and get things better on their own and not wait for the magical good luck fairy or the mysterious organization called Somebody Else to do it for them.

And things can get worse: we could be in the middle of a war. A plague or cataclysm could tear everything to shreds. You could be in a dungeon somewhere trapped alone.

People have survived through all that and still fought to live because they weren't going to let the gods break them without a nasty fight and even the gods have to bow to them.

Depression is more than a liar: it is a set of blinders that obscures reality and holds you back from seeing the big picture. I have known several people in my time who did end their lives and every single one did not have it as hopeless as they thought they did.

And I also know people who had it a million times worse and fought hard to live -- and you know what? They were right.

On all the endless discussions of depression, we really don't look at how people who survived torture in camps came out of them wanting to live. We don't look at those in the most trying of circumstances who are happy to be alive.

Perception is not truth. It is not reality. Once we truly grasp that what we see is not what is, then we can better understand the mechanisms of depression.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 11:04 AM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Except it does get better. It just depends whether you decide

I agree with the majority of your comment but after the word decide in your second sentence things get dicey.

The problem as I see it is depressed people are clearly not behaving rationally (as if any human except for Randian heroes ever reliably does). I would say they are not "deciding" to live or die at all. Leaving out the quagmire of free will and souls for a second. Their state of mind leads them to (attempt) to take their life - and I really don't want to get into "cry for help" suicide attempts vs. successful but I think it is unfair to say that they are deciding to do anything in the mental condition they are in at that time.

All your other points are excellent and are exactly what you need to here when you are not the depths of your deepest depression but just have no bearing when someone is so low that they may proceed to suicide.
posted by Beware of the leopard at 12:30 PM on June 9, 2015


Sorry jayder. I was a little angry, and a little flip. There are people living in utterly broken-down countries who still find things - people - to care about, reasons to laugh and show kindness and love, who even make music to dance to. Despite how things look to you.

There are a few situations that are truly hopeless. Unspeakably hopeless. Most people do not face those situations.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:32 PM on June 9, 2015


Alexandra Kitty: I think your points come from a good place but I don't agree with them, really.

If you are dependent on yourself, no one can make a dent in you.

It is very hard to be dependent on yourself these days. Perhaps I am wrong, but I have the impression that in earlier times one could more easily scrape by on a subsistence level income ... there wasn't the tremendous overhead associated with merely existing in a dignified manner that we see in the contemporary West. And I think this is exacerbated in the US with things so suburbanized and spread out.

And things can get worse: we could be in the middle of a war. A plague or cataclysm could tear everything to shreds.

I actually think that a cataclysm might be a preferable condition for some people on the margins. One thing so alienating about the contemporary US is that hitting rock bottom can render you untouchable and shut out of opportunities in the mainstream, above-ground economy. I have oft thought that a crisis that dramatically unsettles living conditions for a big percentage of the population would level the playing field in favor of some of the more desperate people in society and give them the toehold they need to prosper, which is denied to them in a more settled and ossified society.

Perception is not truth. It is not reality.

I think it is truth, for a lot of things.

cotton dress sock:

Sorry jayder. I was a little angry, and a little flip. There are people living in utterly broken-down countries who still find things - people - to care about, reasons to laugh and show kindness and love, who even make music to dance to. Despite how things look to you.

I totally agree with you, actually. But I think the ability to access this capacity is not always there for people in the US, at least. When I practiced criminal defense I was struck by how ill-suited middle class people are to dealing with reversals of fortune. They would embezzle money and engage in fraud just to keep up with the Joneses. On the other hand, the poor tended to have more survival skills. They knew how to scavenge and sell scrap metal, engage in tiny little micro businesses (one guy sold hotdogs he was grilling in his front yard to pay my fee!), taking odd jobs that would be "beneath" middle class folks. And I guess I am saying that the security and prosperity that many people consider their birthright comes with the dark side of creating massive feelings of powerlessness among some people when they have a downfall or run of bad luck. They feel very alone. Their former friends and estranged family make it hard for them to feel the joy that you point out are still possible in poor countries.
posted by jayder at 1:07 PM on June 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have thought it possible that suicide will become de-stigmatized in U.S. society as a result of the absence of a safety net and more people reaching retirement age and its associated illnesses and debilities with absolutely nothing to allow them to survive. I sort of expect a gradual increase in various forms of media that, in subtle ways, dignify the choice of suicide in those circumstances. So more people arguing against suicide are a good thing.

I was with you up until your last sentence. I've often wondered why we stigmatize suicide, and why we don't consider it a valid expression of self-actualization. We make such a big deal about how people should fulfill their destinies, and how great it is to reach the proverbial finish line, but everyone's destiny is death, so what's so bad about skipping right to the end? And this isn't a new phenomenon, either; ancient religions reject suicide just as strongly as modern authorities, even-- and this is the most ironic part-- the ones that promise eternal rewards after death.

The best answer I've been able to come up with stems from the fact that all self-perpetuating power structures are exploitative. Whether temples and monarchies in the past, or corporations and oligarchies in the present, they require a reliable underclass (namely us) from which to extract value. Without us, they can't exist. And since we can't feed them if we're dead, the power structures instill in us the belief that no matter how self-evidently futile our existences may be, suicide is an unacceptable choice. They need to take from us our most effective means of starving the beast.

I'm sure I'll get a lot of disagreement about this, but I've been mulling this over for a long time, and it feels good to express it. Suicide is so stigmatized that we can't even have an honest, balanced discussion about it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:56 PM on June 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


And things can get worse: we could be in the middle of a war. A plague or cataclysm could tear everything to shreds. You could be in a dungeon somewhere trapped alone.

My $0.02, as a person who has had depression all of her life, is that "other people have it worse" and its silent corollary "so get over it and stop complaining about your dumb mental illness" are extremely damaging points to impress upon people who are already suffering. For some of us, depression manifests precisely as being in the middle of a war (inside of your own mind), a plague (inside of your own mind), a cataclysm tearing everything to shreds (inside of your own mind), entrapment alone in a dungeon (inside of your own mind). Since no one can see it, since all of the machinations happen entirely inside of your own mind, the people around you will insist that it probably doesn't exist, but even if it does, there's just no way they'll agree it can possibly be anywhere near that bad. But it is, I swear.

It's a living hell. I know that sounds super doubleplus megadramatic and everyone thinks we just need to turn our frowns upside down or whatever, but damn, it's horrible in a way that I've never been able to find the words for. It ties consciousness to inexpressible, inexhaustible psychological agony. It reaches in and leeches every ounce of happiness and contentment from all of what other people would consider your victories, large and small. When it's more than a bout or a spell, when it stays for weeks and then months and the months turn into years and the years turn into decades, you start to realize that the most you can ever realistically hope for is a slightly mitigated version of misery. You can't think your way out of a thinking problem, and even though everyone around you parrots the same line, underneath it all, they're really just waiting for you to get over it already. "Jesus, don't you know how good you have it?" And you do, but you don't. So the spiral continues.

Repeatedly being fed variations on "come on, at least you're not starving in a refugee camp" has probably made me want to kill myself more than my depression ever has on its own; it serves no purpose but to compound my innate weakness and worthlessness. It makes me feel even less deserving of 'help' than I already do, which is saying a lot, considering that I have yet to spend more than a few hours fully convinced of the notion that I might ever truly deserve food, clothing, or shelter. On my very best days, the most I can aim for is acting like a robot whose only remaining program is basic survival: get up, engage in perfunctory performance of personal hygiene, go to work, try to smile through dead eyes, go back home, attempt some form of caloric intake, take some sleeping pills, whisper a dozen little useless prayers that I'll die in my sleep, wake up anyway because that's how human bodies work after all, do it over again. I don't fear death, I fear life because I know that barring a literal miracle, the rest of it is going to be a hell of a lot like this. I know I'm lucky, I do. I can honestly say that I feel like one of the luckiest people in the entire world. I know it could be worse, that it has been worse and that it has gotten better. But I still have depression.

Haig and others speak about depression as something apart from themselves. An invader. And, as they describe their work to defeat it, that certainly seems an apt way to look at it. But, what does one do if the depression and you are one and the same? When the dark, dangerous feelings are as inseparable from one's self-image as your eye or skin color? At that point, fighting the invader is a fight with one's self.

So, so, so much this. It's been 33 years... it hasn't gotten appreciably better, I just grit my teeth more. How am I supposed to view depression as a defeatable entity, separate from me, when it is me? When it's been with me since before my first memories, when it's been with me longer than anyone or anything else has? (Bonus: Was it Kierkegaard or Dick Van Patten who said, "I miss the comfort in being sad?") I identify more as "a person with depression" than "a depressed person" nowadays, I take medication and meditate and do yoga and go to therapy, I do everything everyone always told me I had to do to Finally Beat This, but I still can't get the kind of clinical distance that seems to be necessary to say, "OK, my struggle with depression has come to a close. I want to live!"

When it comes to reasons to stay alive, I've only ever had one: I'm alive because I'm too weak, timid, and fearful to do anything else except maintain the status quo. Wake up, breathe, keep breathing. That's it. And for today, it's enough.
posted by divined by radio at 2:12 PM on June 9, 2015 [25 favorites]


everyone's destiny is death, so what's so bad about skipping right to the end?

I both agree with you, and I don't.

I have considered -- and I believe this idea is well founded -- that for some (many?) people who kill themselves, the act really is experienced as a moment of tranquil closure. And that, if we could see how they felt it, we would see that it is experienced as freedom, release, and self possession. It is taking control of their narrative and giving it a finality and meaning that they choose. So in some sense, after a period of suffering I think it can almost be a happy moment to end one's life.

But I'm also opposed to destigmatizing suicide because I think it is our screwed up society, where community has faded and individualism reigns, that has created conditions for people to feel this loneliness, depression, and despair. I am opposed to people allowing these powers to "win." I wish people would use their suicidal moment as impetus to change their lives and rebel by fighting, in some way, the fucked up society that I think is to blame for much of the pathology that results in suicide.
posted by jayder at 2:17 PM on June 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


Alexandra Kitty, about halfway through your comment, my brain started itching. I was trying to recall where I'd heard similar thoughts before. Then I remembered:

What do I care for your suffering? Pain, even agony, is no more than information before the senses, data fed to the computer of the mind. The lesson is simple: you have received the information, now act on it. Take control of the input and you shall become master of the output.
Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, "Essays on Mind and Matter"


I'm glad that, for you, it's all a matter of stick-to-it-iveness, of just continually throwing yourself forward with such zeal that even the forlorn hope would envy. I'm glad that, for you, reminding yourself that things could be so much worse is the kick in the butt that propels you forward.

Here's the problem: like divined by radio points out? That's not always a helpful tack to take. I mean, holy shit, during the worst days, if I ever got to the point of thinking, "hey, it could be worse", that line of thought is exactly what would cause me to spin down again, precisely because of the guilt factor.

I mean, I live in a very model of a modern major power. During one of those episodes, my income was already above median income, my debt was manageable, and I had a support network I could rely on. And yet I had the very gall to spit on all that and feel bad? Welp, fuck, pack it in boys, I'm worthless because I can't even appreciate this shit. Might as well end it. Give my spot to one of those starving children, I'm outtie.

You're right--perception isn't necessarily truth. But the insidious thing about how depression seems to work, at least in my experience, is that, like some godforsaken piece of firmware-flashing malware, it hijacks the entire process at boot. It doesn't matter that, under normal circumstances, ones not poisoned by depression, one could reason oneself out of it. The algorithms aren't necessarily broken, but they can't reject the corrupted data being fed in--and then with consciousness in a lot of ways being garbage-in, garbage-out, it starts forming a positive feedback loop where that bad data, those negative thoughts, get fed back into the machine and just grow bigger, and bigger, metastasizing, infecting more data, that even with ultimate control, nothing can be trusted.

And at that point, well, the rational mind realizes everything is fucked and tries to find an out. Might as well end it. It's not able to process data correctly. And what's worse, is that it should. It's not like it's starved of nutrition, or constantly on edge because shells are falling all over outside.

Fuck, it could be worse. And it's complaining about how it can't think straight. Worthless. Mediocre. Might as well end it.
posted by qcubed at 2:39 PM on June 9, 2015 [13 favorites]


The 2 most useful insights I've come across, that I fall back in constantly: 1, that within you is a caregiver who lives for the purpose of nurturing that scared, hurt, guilty person who's stuck thinking about suicide. 2, that life is so short that suicide would be like jumping out of an airplane and shooting yourself in the head on the way down. Those, and the Buddhist notion that you're just going to have to pick up where you left off, karmically, when you start your next biological cycle.
posted by mmiddle at 4:31 PM on June 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


divined by radio :

I just wanted to chime in and say that your own experience mirrors my own in many ways, and I totally get where you're coming from on this. The knowledge that things could be worse, in many ways, fills me with even more despair and hopelessness than anything else. It's just one more reason in a long list of reasons why I should probably just give up the fight, because if I can't handle *this* right now, how could I possibly handle it if things got *worse* somehow? and like, if other people can go on living and finding joy and reasons to get up in the morning when they are in a more dire situation than I, how does that make me anything less than an utter failure of a person for not being able to cope with where I find myself now? It truly is a different world being chronically depressed. I don't really have anything else to contribute, I just wanted to echo everything you said and then paraphrase it for my own so that people will maybe read your (excellent, by the way) comment and understand that for people like you and I, this is kind of all we know, and every day is a battle, a struggle, and oftentimes we don't even know WHAT we are battling for! To see another day, like this one? It seems insane on the surface that anyone who feels like I do would even bother to consider living another day as a reasonable response to the suffering I experience, admittedly at my "own" hands, each day. Death does not scare me either, indeed, as you said, it is the fear of waking up tomorrow, alive, and in this mindset, that I dread. Is there a way out? who knows, but I'm pretty sure "get over it", "snap out of it" and "it could be worse" are not going to help. I appreciate the senitment, I really do, I don't think these people are not well-meaning when they say these types of things, but they truly just cannot comprehend what we are dealing with.

I'm rambling now, so I'll stop. I guess the TL;Dr is : THIS!!! divined by radio
posted by some loser at 4:40 PM on June 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


also seconding qcubed comment above, this is another aspect that I was trying to touch on but you put it far more eloquently than I ever could have in my current state. So "THIS!!" for your comment as well. If you don't identify with what qcubed and divined by radio are saying, you're probably not clinically depressed, and there's a good chance TFA referenced in the original post might be helpful for you. No amount of sitting in the sun when the sun is shining, however, will save people like me from our demons. TBH, I'm not certain if anything can.
posted by some loser at 4:46 PM on June 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


When it comes to reasons to stay alive, I've only ever had one: I'm alive because I'm too weak, timid, and fearful to do anything else except maintain the status quo.

God, yes. I get headaches from my violent eye-rolling whenever I hear suicide referred to as a cowardly act. Existing day to day in dark, hopeless misery is the biggest act of cowardice. To take ones own life is a seriously brave act. And I'm a fucking coward.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:05 PM on June 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


Even though my experience of depression is a lot like what divined by radio and qcubed describe, I also feel like I go through innumerable "bouts" of depression. A bout could be a few hours, or a few days; a week or a month, or several. It depends how I define the focus. If I zoom out enough, I can see the pattern of bouts lasting for several years, but it contains those smaller patterns in it too. Kind of like a fractal - the more you zoom in, the more complexity you get, but you also get the same pattern repeating over and over.

So I guess that's why I find Haig's approach both helpful and deeply unsatisfying. It might help with the day-to-day business of living, so making it through one of the smaller bouts. But it doesn't help so much (for me, anyway) with that larger pattern, and in fact makes it feel like more of a problem. What good is it to keep on fighting these smaller battles and winning when the overall war is still raging endlessly? Or when you realise that there is no enemy, the enemy is your very self? That the only logical conclusion you can come to is that suicide is the only way to win, because it is the only way of eliminating the problem. You, yourself are the problem. (For me, the thing that stops me is knowing how many problems it would create for other people in my life. I have forced myself to believe that.)

And yeah, when you believe that you are the problem, being told that you have it so much better than so many people (while this is true) only makes you feel worse and like more of a problem. I call it the mousewheel of doom, where you go round and round the ceaseless wheel of "but I shouldn't be feeling like this - but I do - I am so broken - I feel worse - so many people are worse off than me - I am a loathsome creature for feeling horrible then" and generally culminates in a state of sheer misery and despair where thoughts don't really even come into it anymore, it's just a sucking mass of seething negativity. But you know, even that's not accurate because words make sense and depression does not make sense. There is nothing rational about it. As divined by radio says above, "you can't think your way out of a thinking problem". The thought mechanisms are corrupt, sick, diseased - whatever metaphor you want to use, they don't work properly.

When it gets that bad it is literally just one breath after another - the trick is to keep breathing. Just hang on until, for whatever incomprehensible reason, it is a tiny bit less difficult.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:34 PM on June 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Echoing what mmiddle, Athanassiel, and divined by radio have said, and going back to what I said earlier: what's worked for me, thus far, is holding to the simple fact that just because I do not find an unimpeachable reason to live, I also do not have an unimpeachable reason to die.

Entropy is a thing. It'll get me sooner or later. There's no reason that I've been able to consistently defend that would let me euthanize myself at this time; I fear the day when one reveals itself to me. Perhaps not as much as I fear the day when I find one to live for, because, given how things work, that'll be when it's too late to maintain it.

But consistently continuing to swim seems to help avoid such thoughts.

On a different note, touching on what some loser, Thorzdad, and Athanassiel hint at--one of the bits of vile pablum I really wish people would stop using is referring to suicide as "a permanent solution to a temporary problem".

Largely, because when you get down to it, when you're faced with a very troubling, but temporary, but also relatively frequently recurring problem, why wouldn't one want to find a permanent solution? Why would one use temporary, jury-rigged fixes instead of a long-term, apparently viable solution?

The thing that disgusts me about that line is that it doesn't actually provide any actionable methods or alternative solutions to what amounts to a scorched earth policy. It's a non-coder commenting on an outstanding ticket saying, "plz fix" without submitting any logs, any "this is when this happens", or "this is how to replicate it".

/close wontfix worksforme gofuckyourself
posted by qcubed at 8:19 PM on June 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


What good is it to keep on fighting these smaller battles and winning when the overall war is still raging endlessly?

The trick is to focus only on the battle in front of you. That's how you win a war. That is what turns the narrative.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:38 PM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


The thought mechanisms are corrupt, sick, diseased - whatever metaphor you want to use, they don't work properly.

I think it is possible to be kinder to ourselves than this. Kinder, without dissolving into a soft-focus inaccuracy that strikes us as false, inauthentic, with all the self-hatred that comes with being false.

Our thought mechanisms aren't that different than anyone else's. Think about someone going to the mailbox; she finds a letter from a creditor with very bad news: She's going to be dragged before courts due to debt. She thinks, concludes she is about to lose her home, to be cast into bankruptcy. She feels, on thinking these things, a sense of great despair. She cries, or does not cry. She retreats to her bedroom. She feels a sense of hopelessness, and absolute helplessness.

No one watching her would say "corrupt, sick, diseased." They would see this as a natural reaction to very bad news.

So back up a bit. Think about someone going to the mailbox. She is thinking of receiving very bad news. She feels a sense of great despair. She retreats, she feels hopeless, helpless. She ends up not getting the mail today.

What is the difference between these two stories? Only that, in depression, the reaction stems from a prediction. It's a matter of timing, rather than corruption and disease.

I am a rational beast. When I don't get the mail because it might have bad news, or because I'm too exhausted, or because who cares it's just mail and we're all going to die anyway, I recognize that something is amiss. And, rationally, I try to diagnose what is wrong. And, emotionally, because I am in pain and distress, my diagnostic questioning is not in the kindest form. What the hell? Who can't get the mail? Why do I feel so bad? What's wrong with me? All valid questions, all could be easily rephrased to determine a solution to a more objective, external problem. ("What's that? What's wrong with my toe? Why does it hurt? What's wrong with it? Oh, the cat is gnawing on me again. Go away, cat.")

DBR above says, "You can't think your way out of a thinking problem," and that's something I fundamentally believe. The kind of thinking we do with emotional distress isn't, I don't think, corrupt, sick, diseased; it's just misplaced. It's the same kind of thinking we do when we're trying to figure out where we put our keys, when we're trying to discover where that dripping sound in the pipes is coming from. When what we could be doing instead is experiencing our depression as something closer to grief.

Grief is a strange thing. Like depression, it separates you from the world. You have this little bubble where nothing outside gets in. And things mean differently there. They mean different things than they meant when you weren't grieving, and they mean in different ways, like you're speaking a different language. So much extraneous life-matter sloughs away when you are grieving.

Grief is easy to honor, in yourself. Your instincts so often are right with grief, and people notice, and they make space, or make casseroles, or do awkward things that you don't need right now but that's kind of okay because they can't pierce the bubble.

I think that when I feel despair--not the grinding questiony despair, not the problem-solving stuff that happens in the next few moments, but when I am at the moment of that first despair--I have to make room for it, and honor it like grief. I do not have to like it, do not have to want to stay in it, but I can't problem-solve my way through it.

What I can do is be kinder about it. And recognize it as a pain that is allowed to exist. And recognize that all my instincts say to reason it out, judge it out, hate it out--and that all those instincts are allowed to exist too, and can be honored in their way, and I can be kind to those instincts by not calling them diseased, and not fighting them either, and not entrenching them, but allowing them to just do their thing, have their own moment in reality, their own moment of language.

I've accepted, at this point, that I'll never be cured. But I've also accepted that my moments of greatest pain coincide with my greatest efforts to escape that pain. So, no more escaping.
posted by mittens at 5:17 AM on June 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


I couldn't remember where my brain picked up "you can't think your way out of a thinking problem," so I looked it up and it turns out to be a quote from the inimitable Paul Gilmartin, host of the (incredible, helpless-sob-inducing, uplifting, life-changing) Mental Illness Happy Hour.

If you're looking for camaraderie on the topic of grueling, relentless depression, check and make sure you're feeling pretty strong that day, then listen to some podcasts and read some surveys. It's so... relieving(?) to hear a bunch of smart, talented, "with it" people talk about the same struggles you experience every day.
posted by divined by radio at 6:07 AM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


[A few comments deleted. Alexandra Kitty, I hope things go well with your grandmother. Still, coming back after a month to continue criticizing depressed people for being depressed is not a workable way to engage with other members here. Please leave this alone.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:50 PM on July 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


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