Last week, I wrote out 99 reasons not to kill myself.
That sentence sounds pretty alarming, doesn’t it? I wince every time I look at it, the same way I wince every time I see “99 Reasons Not to Kill Myself” in my phone’s notes. But I leave it alone. I wrote those reasons on my phone for a reason, so I could reference them when I need to and edit them at my leisure.
I distinguish “gray days” and “black days”. Gray days are when everything seems dim. Gray days are when colors, emotions, life is sucked out of my routine. When I forget purpose, when I can’t remember why I’m here, when all I want to do is crawl back into bed. But gray days are functional. Gray days are autopilot days, when I can’t feel anything, but I eke out, I muddle through, I keep calm and carry on. Black days are bad days. Black days are when I spiral, when I can’t get out of bed, when depression takes over and infects my mind and soul. Black days are when I Google ways to harm myself, black days are beyond exhaustion, black days are suffering. Black days are when my roommate doesn’t leave me alone. Black days are scary. But I surface, like a drowning man breaks through the water and breathes deeply. They don’t last forever.
The truth is, I have a good life. I have a great job and healthy work environment. I am on the Dean’s List at my university and am well on my way (barring certain awful unforeseen delays) to being successful in my field. I live with my best friend. I see my other best friend on a near weekly basis. I am nearby my family but I also have a nice big river between us, to give me some semblance of independence. I am in debt, but not horrifyingly so, not compared to some of my friends. I have a bratty cat that likes to cuddle and a mournful dog that greets me when I come home. I have a lot of friends who love me, who care about me, who support me.
But the truth is, I have depression. I have days, both gray and black, where my brain tries to persuade me not to get out of bed. I have days where I struggle. I have days where my brain makes a very convincing case that my life is meaningless and everyone would be better off if I left this world. I have days where the slightest slip up causes me to breakdown. I have days where I spiral. I have days where I swing back and forth between despair and self-loathing. Sometimes I have to bribe myself to do things–to shower, to do laundry, to get groceries, to go to class.
The truth is, there’s no real way around that. This is something I’m going to deal with for the rest of my life.
So my little list is my contingency plan, my morbid little reminder that even during the gray days, during the days where I forget myself, I have something to keep me going. Some of them are big things–“I haven’t seen the Grand Canyon”, “I haven’t camped at Dragon Lake, Greece”, “I haven’t been to the Holy Land and walked where Jesus walked”. Some of them are little things–“It’s my friend’s birthday week, I would ruin her birthday” “My coworker is bringing in bagels tomorrow” “I have a paper due Friday and I would ruin my GPA” (Yes, the fear of ruining my GPA does halt my suicidal ideation at times.) This list is constantly updated, constantly revised, because it also serves as a bucket list. And it serves as a reminder, a reminder of all the people who miss me, who love me, whose lives would be scarred if I left.
There are small comforts. Validity is one of them. I can’t express to you the relief I felt when a therapist told me, five years ago, that I was clinically depressed. The sheer relief that I wasn’t making it up in my head because “I had no reason to be depressed”. I actually cried that night, because I was so relieved that I wasn’t “just lazy”.
Finding out that depression runs in my family is another comfort. I was shocked to learn that my great grandmother ended her own life and more than likely suffered from depression too. This added to a deeply important revelation: I am not alone.
The writer/blogger Jenny Lawson has a mantra I use myself: Depression lies. Depression lies, depression lies, depression lies. I repeat this. I write this down. I cling to it when the lies overpower the truth.
I talk it out. I even joke about it–only to people I trust. It’s a dark thing to joke about and wildly inappropriate. But I have to laugh at it. I have to. What’s that quote, that the devil hates to be mocked? I think depression is the same way. It doesn’t want to be mocked, it wants to be taken seriously. It wants me to succumb, to surrender. But if I laugh at the darkness, I bring a little light into it. I may not be able to leave the dark room, but at the very least, I can light a candle.