Delving into the Depth of Depression and Addressing Suicide

Trigger warning for intense suicide depictions.

Depression has always been a swift descent into an illuminated darkness. Around me the world loses colour, loses the glimmer of hope, but the days themselves are not dark. Yet I find myself in an abyss where logically there is no light, just an obfuscating fog I want to get lost in. Here, in the depth of depression, are contorting shadows and vicious voices that belittle me — whittle me down until I am only fragments of a person. Or at least that’s one way to experience it.

My other, more recent experiences with depression have led me down different paths. I fancy myself an explorer of the dark in order to gain mastery over it; I believe I find myself on a new journey to begin to understand the depth of my depression. It’s a depth that has involved self-harm, psychosis, and suicide. Self-harm controls the voices; self-harm prevents the suicide attempt. Voices no one can hear circle around me and cackle at me while I scream at them — all in my head. Suicide. Suicide. Suicide.

What can I learn about my urges to kill myself? Why would I want to die? There have been many reasons over the years.

They’re better off without me.

No one would miss me.

I’m worthless.

Please just make the pain go away.

The methods have been much more creative.

I’ll drive to a mountain and take a long hike, then I’ll jump.

I’ll sit in a forest until I die of starvation.

I’ll slit my femoral artery but in the bathroom — don’t want to ruin the carpet.

There’s got to be a better way than pills. I’ll google it.

To be in the depth of depression is still being in the abyss, but I’m not alone anymore — I’m sitting next to the person I used to be in depression. I’ll look at that person knowing I am that person, but also knowing I can wander off and bring that person what she needs to be comfortable. I’ll exercise for her, eat well for her, take care of myself for her. Eventually a rope falls down from above and I tie it around her waist. We’re like two climbers ascending a mountain, except this mountain is a shapeless void with low visibility. I watch her climb up just to make sure she gets out, then I follow.

But what happens during that time in the abyss? Suicide, perhaps. That’s where I’ve always wanted to go. I’ve felt lifeless so many times that I’ve questioned ever being alive. Why is suicide the logical conclusion to end my suffering, to end the knife twisting in my stomach? Death, I believed, is the ultimate end to suffering. But I could never know that. No one knows what happens to the mind when the body dies. For all I know, I could have killed myself and wandered into more suffering — as some religions imply.

People don’t like to talk about the idea that death is appealing. My truth is that suicide is alluring in depression; it’s the golden fruit at the top of a tree. To want death so badly and to be so aware of that presents a paradox of wanting to die without actually dying. In my mind that means being a ghost, feeling numb, disappearing. It’s ironic considering I also feel those things at the same time. So in a way I’ve already achieved my suicidal convictions by simply being depressed. But, of course, that’s not satisfying at all.

So the weird part about it is the idea that somewhere in my depression I’m striving for satisfaction, and not just the satisfaction of not being depressed. The goals of a depressed mind are complex in this way, and I can’t entirely explain the phenomena as I experience them just yet. But stay tuned, and maybe this will make more sense for both of us.

Why Depression Doesn’t Scare Me Anymore

I felt it necessary to elaborate on a post I wrote about my identification with depression, but from a different perspective. Depression doesn’t scare me anymore, but why it doesn’t probably isn’t what you’d expect. Sure, I have the personal tools, social support, and medical interventions that I need to deal with it when it arises — and sure, that’s comforting. But I look at it all and know there’s something deeper inside me that turns fear into curiosity and despair into solace. Something spiritual, if I had to put a word to it. It’s grim poetry, but that has fascinated me for a long time. I’ve had frustrations about the conversations people don’t have when we talk about depression, despite my relief that people are finally beginning to talk openly about it. There are other conversations to be had. This is one of them. I imagine it will resonate with few, but I can hope there are kindred spirits out there. Many people are scared of the dark. There’s nothing wrong with that. We should be scared of things that end lives — it makes evolutionary sense. I’ll take a step back and explain my orientation toward this, which will — I hope — situate this conversation in its appropriate context.

I’m enchanted by the macabre. That might make me sound like a serial killer, but I state it as a researcher who states her interest with as much objectivity she can muster. I’m rooted in subcultures that embrace dark imagery, from those who understand what Satanism actually is to those who have been applying black lipstick before it became trendy (and before I was even born). That sentence is saturated in many, many misconceptions (anyone remember the second red scare?). The point in my mentioning it is this: Rejection of this darkness, of these corners of reality, has been a deep source of depression for me. Yes, I was the misunderstood “goth/emo/metalhead” in high school — the stereotype that many people jest about without understanding the seriousness of such jokes. The meander into these subcultures is not the topic of discussion here, but it will partly explain my orientation toward depression at this stage in my life.

When you find out what’s in the dark, you either run away or stop being scared. Or you find somewhere to sit and watch. Or a combination thereof. My darkness consisted of depression and a mind that was intrigued by people who were living in the dark. It wasn’t a conscious acceptance — both simply were, and are, how I exist. I remember feeling sorrow as a child, and that feeling has always been there for me in one way or another. Last year I had a moment riding home on the bus, staring out the window listening to music; I was, by all definitions, feeling depressed. It doesn’t entirely make sense to me, but I also remember feeling extremely comfortable — almost in an endearing way. I remember the song I was listening to, hearing familiar black metal growls and suddenly the word “suicide” rung in my ear, echoed even. The song continued, but I lingered on that word. I wasn’t scared of it. I am very well acquainted with the idea of suicide.

Talking openly about depression and suicide saves lives. That’s what the research says, and it’s proven true in my own experiences with others. These are themes that have followed me for a long time. I talk about them openly; I invite the conversation eagerly. In my own personal context, these are not negative words. They are for most people in my life, which helped prompt my writing this. It’s a dark conversation to have and no one seems to like having it. But I do. There’s a peculiar part of my brain that imagines sitting next to Death and having a delightfully meaningful dialogue. Perhaps it’s simply my philosophy that Death has no power over me, despite those moments when I meant to take my own life. I think it goes beyond the realm of making sense.

I acknowledge this as a complex conversation, at the very least. Maybe another way of putting it is 2 + 2 = 5, which obviously isn’t correct, but that’s how it feels to me right now. You know when you have that thought that you can’t possibly be alone in thinking something? My thoughts became words today. I’m wrangling with the frustration of not entirely knowing how to handle these ideas, not being able to keep it to myself, and hoping I’m not isolating myself by doing so (which might be a tad bit ironic). As always, I invite thoughts on the matter. I’ll leave it with a quotation from a song:

The texture of the soul is liquid that casts a vermillion flood / From a wound carved as an oak it fills the riverbank with sanguine fog

Limbs by Agalloch

Does that sound scary? I think it sounds beautiful.

Longing For Darkness

From my personal perspective, suicide will always be an issue until we become comfortable with “negative” emotions (or really just emotions in general). In a perfect society, I can talk about what I’m going to talk about and compare my thoughts on the myriad of others on the same topic. In this current reality, I’ll hope that someone out there has felt/feels the same way.

My depression has always had a numbing effect, and a lot of people — even in the absence of illness — long to dull emotions. Usually these are the negative emotions — grief, anger, shame, guilt, what have you. Sometimes I don’t want the “positive” emotions either, though; it can feel exhausting to feel good, to be jolly and hopeful. For me this is why there’s a piece of me in the background that picks away at me. It’s a warm yet cold feeling of surrender, a solace in a world that feels overwhelming. I don’t necessarily liken this to depression, though it has often been a component of my depression. It’s the allure of emotional anesthesia that welcomes me into a place where I can be frozen yet functional. This is a state, I believe, that many people long for and live in. Yet when was the last time you thought about this, let alone talked about it?

While this may be a slippery slope into suicidal ideation, from my own experience it’s simply a place to hide for a while. It’s what makes me understand why substance use is highly correlated with bipolar disorder, since this emotional intensity that we all seem to feel to some degree or another can be disabling. Even during my periods of stability, I find what I call emotional noise to be extremely tiring. There are many theorists who claim emotion and cognition cannot be separated, but this couldn’t be farther from my truth. A daily problem for me is not being able to connect my feelings to what I’m thinking, like they’re on distinct radio frequencies. They align only with effort, which is something I seem to run out of more frequently than I’d like. Solving an emotional and cognitive puzzle that’s constantly adding new pieces and taking away others seems daunting, if not pointless in some ways. This is why I long for darkness.

I may be coming off as hopeless, but I don’t see it that way. I write about this because I find it curious and seek to answer questions about myself. I wonder if this is a product of bipolar or just me, or both. It’s hard to know when people don’t engage in these kinds of conversations, and harder even when research doesn’t take these perspectives into consideration. Scanning the literature is interesting because a vast majority of these themes are reported by people who don’t claim to have these experiences (to my knowledge); as I wrote in this post, people with the actual conditions themselves are only beginning to be involved in the research process. Sometimes it’s dismaying to think about. Sometimes it’s why I long for darkness.

Sometimes I want to experience this phenomenon simply to learn from it, but it holds no guarantees as to what the result might be. In my last major depression, I was tremendously confused because it was the first time the emotion/cognition split had happened to me in that state. Usually depression and mania are states where cognition and emotion are inseparable; perhaps the latest account of my depression was simply a heightened awareness of an oncoming depression, but I really couldn’t say. If I could safely explore depression, I would do so. There are answers in the darkness, but most people are still afraid to ask the questions. Perhaps this is why I long for darkness. Its seemingly intangible nature intrigues me, calls out to me sometimes. I want to answer, and I want to know what I’ll find. It’s not the call of death; it’s the call of those who won’t die. Maybe.

The Hidden Creativity in Depression

This article will be discussing suicide and self-harm, so for those of you who find this triggering, you may not want to read this article.

A depressive episode, at its worst, is often described as bleak and devoid of life. For me this is true — for others, maybe not. But a thought occurred to me the other day that there are moments of my deepest depressions that have been immensely creative, or at least utilizing tools to create something new. For once I want to delve into the darkest corners of depression for all to see, and to see what I might find. We stray from these conversations because of how close it brings us to grief and other uncomfortable emotions; it can challenge our belief systems and makes salient the reality of death and the dying. The topic of suicide has been creeping into the public eye for the past few years, though the topic of self-harm still remains quite buried. What I offer in this article is my experience and my interpretations of the events in my life that no one really talks about.

Creativity and depression are two terms that I never thought were anywhere near each other until I began thinking about music and art. I listen to a lot of metal, which is a complex genre despite many people passing it off as “noise.” I can’t for the life of me remember where I heard this or who said it, but essentially parts of metal exist as an outlet to release, experience, and resolve emotions; anger, sadness, and often dark and “disturbing” depressions are evoked in (what I consider) auditory beauty. It reminds me of Vygotsky, a Soviet psychologist, who has an article with a chapter called “the agonies of creation.” There is, indeed, what appears to be at the moment an intangible relationship between depression and creativity.

Imagine, then, in the midst of a depressive episode. I’m in bed, curled up on top of the covers. I feel hollow, as if someone had carved out my abdomen while still leaving me alive but in immense pain. Over and over in my head I’m repeating, “please make the pain go away.” I begin the familiar suicidal ideation — and so the creativity begins. Where will I kill myself? How will I do it? What technicalities will go into this? I begin constructing a narrative, telling myself a story in my mind through visuals. I see myself getting out of bed and putting on outdoor clothes. I wonder if I should leave a note or not, or what it might say. I decide that I do want to leave a note:

I’m sorry. I just wanted the pain to go away.

No, I can’t use that. It doesn’t feel like that. Maybe I don’t need a note. Maybe I’ll just go to my car and drive north, find a fire road somewhere. I guess it doesn’t matter where I leave my car. I’ll walk into the woods, climb a mountain, and keep climbing until I find a view. I’ll sit on the ledge for a while, then I’ll fly. I always wanted to know what it would be like to fly. That’s how I’ll do it.

But that’s not what happens, thankfully. The pain begins to seep out of me, but I don’t want it to because I know that’ll be the end of me. So I know what I have to do now; I have to hurt myself to stay alive. I need to hurt myself, but I need to do it in a way that hides the pain. I get up to find a needle in a sewing kit. Goodness knows how much dirt is on it, so I need to sanitize it. I find some rubbing alcohol and give it a good once over, then I sit down. Where do I cut? The standard seems to be the forearms, but I won’t be able to hide that well. There’s the upper arms, but then I would mess up my tattoos. So what part of me do I hate the most? Where is my pain? I decide my pain is in my thighs, so that’s where I cut. Symmetrically as possible, to make it look more natural — could have been a fall onto some sharp objects, maybe a hiking accident. At least I can hide it well and come up with some sort of explanation.

The act is done. I cry. The pain has been released. I’m still sobbing when I stumble into the bathroom for the first aid kit. I clean myself up, make sure to tend the wounds. I still feel numb, but I no longer need to do anything; I can rest now. So I take residence on the couch and wonder how to explain myself. I run through scenarios with different people who all react negatively. “A hiking accident,” I’ll say as I pull down the dress that rode up too high. “Don’t fall on barb wire,” I’ll joke as someone shares an awkward laugh with me. The thoughts go on, and on…

Beyond the worst of an episode, there is still depression, still the residue of the event that has passed. While I have been in that post-episode phase, I turn to music and art. I listen to the sounds that resonate with my emotions. I draw ugly creatures and sad portraits. I try as much as I can to release the shrapnel from my thoughts by lingering in an artistic melancholy. The imagery of my suicidal ideation and the overall experience of my depressive episode are reconstructed into something slightly more positive.

You never think about killing yourself until you think about killing yourself. Obviously. But the very act of that is creative in nature; it’s a narrative that is either something you build or is built by you, or perhaps both. This is, of course, not a thought that occurs during depression; however, depression itself can be a creative entity. My definition of creativity is the creation of something novel; this is most certainly what my depression has done and what I have done in my depression. There is an eerie beauty to be found in depression. At least that’s what I think when I’m not depressed.

My Perfect Bipolar

The simple question: Would you get rid of your bipolar if you could?

The not-so-simple answer:

The question itself, from my perspective, implies a sense of ambivalence. On the one hand, bipolar is an illness and no one wants to be ill. On the other hand, it’s a unique experience that offers insights that you can’t truly enjoy any other way. But few things are black and white, and the picture is complicated by the reality that it’s not always an active illness. But let’s unpack this further using my experience (and, of course, I don’t speak for anyone but myself).

At the beginning of my mental health journey, I would have absolutely said yes, take this away — probably would have screamed in glee as if being granted a wish by a genie. I was depressed and I have spent, quantitatively speaking, more than a few years in depression and experiencing subthreshold symptoms. That’s when I usually say yes. Last week I rhetorically asked “why me?” and cursed the universe for the lot I got in life. Going through tumultuous behavioural, cognitive, and emotional changes has been exhausting on its own, never mind having to do so in a reality that doesn’t always accommodate for that. The episodes themselves are frustrating roadblocks, and there’s the added challenge of figuring out how to feel, how to behave, and how to think all over again. It very much feels like starting over in life. It can be a second chance, but to me it’s often felt like an unpaved forest road and I’m in a Mini.

The weather conditions can often be harsh immediately following a diagnosis of bipolar — it was for me. I had to cultivate a new life, a new way of being. The funny thing is I ended up with a really rich and fulfilling life, and part of that was because I have bipolar. I didn’t have much direction in life before my diagnosis, but post-diagnosis I decided to throw myself into mental health 110% and the recovery process started. Through that I have begun the journey of analyzing my episodes and my life before treatment (because I’m a grad student and this is how I cope). Part of the complexity of this dilemma is my experiences with mania, because my manias were magical and launched me into worlds beyond imagination. That’s not something I would ever wish away because of how much impact those experiences have had on the way I think and perceive reality.

So you might be thinking, “okay, that sounds good, but who wants depression?” No one, I hope. But to play devil’s advocate, experiencing depression deepens you. I know this will sound somewhat newage-y, but to me it feels like depression makes the soul see the world with more depth, and more compassion in my case. There’s a certain connection to reality that depression makes for you, whether or not you want it. Some of the most meaningful conversations I’ve had with people I’ve just met have been the result of having experienced that tainted view of reality.

So, at the end of the day, it’s not like this question is relevant anyway — I can’t wish my bipolar away. “My Perfect Bipolar” (thank you to the friend who I stole this phrase from) is kind of what I already have. It’s the moments when I’m functioning optimally, when medication is stabilizing my emotions/behaviours/thoughts. It’s those lifestyle changes that sometimes I dislike (like sleep hygiene), but ultimately would make my quality of life better even if I didn’t have bipolar. It’s being able to know that when I feel depressed, it’s because I’m “doing everything right” and there are no major life stressors. So it’s not perfect and it never will be, but there are moments in everyone’s lives when there is an overarching peace and tranquility. For those moments, I can reflect on the experiences I’ve had with my bipolar and have both sides of the coin. So perhaps this simply isn’t the right question to ask, and perhaps it’s a sign we’re moving in a direction to help people with bipolar have their “perfect” bipolar.

Mania, Depression, and Body Image

Like many other people on this planet, I still struggle with loving the body my DNA formed. Body image is a big topic that needs addressing when it comes to talking about mental health. A unique twist on this topic is how the psychology of body image is manifested in bipolar. Episodes of mania and depression take on different cognitions and behaviours, and thus body image is something to analyze on the bipolar mood spectrum.

Generally speaking, I often don’t have time to think about my body image. I also exercise a lot and watch my diet, so there’s no real cause for concern. Every once in a while I feel down about myself, but it’s never for that long. On occasion, though, it can be a sign that I’m slipping into depression. I start by picking myself apart, limb by limb, with interim periods of not wanting to think about it. But it becomes more frequent and more intense the more my mood drops. It’s a slow process, but I suddenly come to the conclusion that I’m horrendously ugly, like it’s a wall I just crashed into. It’s like walking through one of those mirror mazes at carnivals; I see myself as bigger, fatter, in all the places I don’t want to be. My eczema and acne problems make my skin feel like a rough, volcanic wasteland. When the depression sets in, I feel the pain of my appearance and I need to let it out — I can’t live with that much pressure inside me. And that is, unfortunately, where self-injury comes in. That’s the worst case scenario, but that’s depression for you. Body image is harshly manipulated for me in depression.

On the other side of the spectrum lies what seems like the exact opposite. I’ll start by noticing features of myself that I usually nitpick, and I’ll think to myself that those features are actually pretty nice. Those thighs are looking smooth and the place where my clothes rest on my hips seems a little softer. I’ll remember the compliments people have given me about my eyes or my hair and think about how right they are. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing to do every once in a while, but it escalates. My skin will start feeling like silk that curves in the most perfect way, and the shape of my limbs are beautifully proportionate. It comes to a state where I feel electric, like there are no flaws — not even neutrality. The thought process is that I am a goddess reincarnate; I have a body worthy of worship. Inflated self-esteem, in this way, makes complete sense as a manic symptom. Every piece of my physical self is perfect.

What’s interesting to me is the delusions about body image present in both states. They seem to be coloured by mood, but at the core they seem to be exaggerations of euthymic thoughts. I like to think there are truths to be taken out of both mania and depression, but with caution. Having a stabilized mind, I know I am not a monster but I also know I am not a goddess. The thoughts that sometimes lead me to pinch my fat also keep me exercising and eating well. The thoughts that I am endlessly desirable are kept in check by the negative thoughts, but they also help me maintain a positive body image by being modestly body positive. I believe this disorder is about balance. I’ve chosen a journey in life where I try to embrace the teachings of mania and depression; I hate that I have it, but it’s allowed me a unique perspective in life. I try my best to make the best of that. It’s a challenging task, but I hope it will allow me to live a fuller life. Body image is part of my struggle and part of many people’s struggles, and perhaps finding creative ways to obtain a positive body image is something to consider.