A few years ago I broke a bone. It hurt at lot. I’d never felt anything like it before and even though I’d been aware that breaking a bone is painful it surprised me just how much it actually hurt. Nobody could ever have described it in a way that could have prepared me for it.
But now I can’t really remember what it felt like exactly. I know it hurt but I can’t actually grasp how bad it must have been. The feeling somehow vanished. Just like it’s hard to imagine that I couldn’t move my head when I had a pinched nerve. We tend to forget those kinds of things. And I think it doesn’t just happen with physical pain – it also happens with emotions.
I’m pretty stable right now. There are good days, there are awful days but it’s been a long time since I’ve felt suicidal. Wait, what?! I wanted to kill myself? That’s right. But (fortunately) it’s totally not imaginable for me right now. I know that I’ve been there. But I can’t feel it anymore. I can’t grasp that I actually felt so low that suicide seemed like an option. And if I’m able to “forget” this feeling that used to be so familiar within a few months, I can only imagine what it must be like for a person who has never experienced mental illness. I don’t want to find an excuse for stupid remarks like “Suck it up!”, “Suicide is selfish!” or “Change your attitude!”. By now, everyone should be aware that mental illness is an actual illness, not a choice. But I can imagine that it’s really hard, if not impossible to empathise with someone who is depressed when you’ve never experienced it yourself.
Now, I am very glad for anyone who has never felt that there are about twenty levels below “very sad” and countless stages of panic that make it seem like there are no words fit to describe them. I am also very glad that we are able to “forget” how painful things can be – both physically and mentally. It’s probably the only reason women have more than one child. I don’t actually believe that time heals all wounds but obviously it can dull the pain.
What I want to say with this post is that this “forgetting” makes it so important for people in pain to tell others what they feel – by talking and writing about it. Otherwise those who have never been in such dark places can never imagine what it feels like and those who have been there cannot help. When I first felt suicidal at the age of fourteen I figured that I was the only person in the world who had such disturbing and painful thoughts and that it would never get better. And when people told me that “everyone feels confused at that age” it only confirmed that they didn’t hear me the way I needed to be heard. It would have helped if someone had told me that they used to feel exactly like that – and that it passed, that they were able to change their situation and that they couldn’t quite remember just how much it had hurt after some time. It would have helped to know that it is always possible to feel happy again.
If we don’t tell people how terrifying mental illness can be we can’t expect them to understand. And if we don’t tell someone who is suffering that it can get better – and that it’s not just a stupid motivational phrase but our own experience – they might very well give up.
So this is for everyone who is completely “sane” and always has been – please know that mental illness is so much worse than every “normal” feeling you experience and that it’s so important to treat those who suffer with respect even if you don’t relate to what they’re going through.
And it’s for everyone who is suffering right now – please know that there might come a day where you can’t imagine that you’ve felt this low. I will never say you have to “stay positive” all the time and I will never say that the fact that things can pass makes them any easier to cope with in the present. But I hope you can somehow get through this and experience that things actually do get better.
Stay safe out there!