There is No Easy Check Box for This: Stigma, Mental Health, and Silence

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Trigger Warning: This article discusses depression, suicidal thoughts, and similar concepts.

The nightmares, they really fuck me up.

Two or three times a night, I’m jerked out of a sound sleep into immediate full wakefulness. Heart pounding, I come to, like a fish yanked out of water. Desperately gasping to find my breath.

Every. Single. Night.

When I get to work, I can’t admit that something as simple as a bad dream or two (or three, or four, all hail the gorgeous perverse creativity of the subconscious mind to reinvent the traumas it is trying to process) has wrecked my coming day.

I can’t sit across the table from my boss and bring myself to say “Well, last night I dreamed of an ominous black mailbox with something buzzing inside and it woke me at 3 a.m. and I couldn’t breathe and the sheets were drenched in sweat and then I had to go lay on the couch playing mindless computer games for two hours in the hopeless hope that this would soothe me back to sleep before the alarm went off at 6 a.m. so I did not complete task XYZ.” This is not normal language for the workplace.

I won’t admit even to my closest friends that for the past many years I’ve exhibited every symptom of clinical depression, or that I’ve contemplated killing myself more times and in more ways than I can count. (Oh, the overpasses I might have driven off. Oh, the pills I might have hoarded. Oh, the sharp edges that never tasted my blood.)

I don’t tell my partner, although I know he knows. This is patently unfair to him. He married me in better days, when the darkness was not so deep. Now he lives with a being who runs hot and cold–mostly cold, mostly defensive, mostly scared. But to start a real conversation with him about this stupid weight on my soul would unfairly burden him. And he might wrestle me into some kind of therapy. And I can’t have that, because I don’t deserve that. It might make me face the torments that secretly delight me because they are so familiar and because they make me right.

I am not worthy, I am bad. I will smile and smile and be a villain. Sleep all day, drown the pain in alcohol at night. I’m sorry, baby. You deserve better.

In a post about Robin Williams’ suicide, a good friend inadvertently gave me a useful metaphor: “Drowning looks a lot like swimming.”

I think I’m still swimming, not drowning. There are plenty of people on the shores of my life, and I’ve kept them there on purpose, to spare them my pain.

But it might be time to start swimming toward shore.

Photo Credit: Nicolai Abraham Abildgaard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons