Last week I talked about how I’ve been treading water for months, struggling to stay afloat as friends and family were plagued by depression, health issues, and loss.
For the most part I was very vague. It wasn’t my story to tell.
Bobbi just went public with her story.
For months I have wanted to share what it was like from the support person’s point of view.
I’m going to talk about the evil that is depression, so if you want something light, stop reading now.
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Depression has only grazed me at various points in my life. Early adolescence. When I was sixteen and had my heart broken. I remember the seductive lure as it wrapped me in its arms and replaced pain with apathy. As it stole my appetite for food and life.
As it whispered, “No one would care if you left this world.”
I almost believed it, but I knew one thing to be an absolute truth: my mother would be devastated.
The depression was strong, but no matter how it tainted every other aspect of my life, years of unconditional love from my mother could not be twisted.
This small, simple thing allowed me to wrest depression’s power away and find joy.
I beat depression into a nice, helpless lump and locked it away where it could never find me again.
Only it did.
This time it didn’t attack me, but preyed on one of my closest friends.
I knew something was wrong, but depression hid behind the badger that she fought every day: OCD.
The OCD was bad, worse than I’d seen it in years. She was wound tight, an anxious rubber band that snapped into repeated panic attacks with no warning. The dry washing increased and so did other rituals.
The flashing increasing – mini-movies in her head looping on repeat, playing out scenes where loved ones were killed, sometimes by her hand.
She couldn’t sleep.
It was midnight on October 24th and I finally confronted her. All week she’d waived off her issues as “just a bad day” or “I’m allowed to have a bad week.” She was flashing again, so I did an exposure, talking her through it as I’ve learned to do.
2 AM rolled around and she was calmer. I invited her to stay, but she assured me once again she was “fine”.
It was almost the last time anyone saw her alive.
She went home fully intending to commit suicide. She swallowed one pill. Two. Three. Four.
Then she stopped, not knowing how many she’d have to take to succeed.
Her OCD kicked in again, worried she would fail and be hospitalized.
Failure was not an option. For anything.
I slept away, unaware of how close I came to losing her.
It would be the last restful sleep I’d have for over month.
Through a small miracle, the next day someone in the Gender and Sexuality Center asked her outright if she was suicidal.
She admitted she was.
She found me online later that afternoon.
Based on a deal she’d made with Shane – the person she’d talked to – she finally came clean about being suicidal.
Blindsiding me. Terrifying me.
How could I not have known?
I still have a copy of that conversation, and just reread it. I went from disbelief, to anger, to trying to say everything I could think of to spark her will to live, to trying to get her to promise to never, ever harm herself.
She couldn’t do it. She said she could only give me today.
I didn’t learn until later about the pills she’d taken. How she’d done research since then and knew how many she’d have to take to ensure success.
It only fanned my fear.
She moved onto my couch, because if left alone, there was no doubt she would succeed.
She couldn’t make decisions, the apathy too strong. She handed me the power to boss her around – something she never would have done in the past.
I had to make sure she ate food. Got showered. Had someone to take care of her dog.
Every time she left my presence, whether for an appointment or before she fell asleep, I asked her, “Promise me, Bobbi. Promise me you will not hurt yourself or try to kill yourself until we talk again. And if you get the urge, you will call me or your therapist and you WILL DO NOTHING until we speak to you. Promise me.”
I would wait for the weak promise to fall from her lips and pray it was the truth.
Every day. Multiple times a day.
For over a month.
I feared every second she was not next to me. I panicked when she didn’t answer her phone. I worried if I went to workout or shower and would not be able to answer my phone if she called.
I screamed with helplessness (to several online friends she’d cleared me to share the details with) over the inability to make her see light through the darkness. Over my lack of power to fight the depression for her.
About my fear of losing her forever.
My heart nearly burst as that first night my son crawled into her lap and said, “I love you, Bobbi,” without any coaching or prodding.
It wasn’t enough.
I told her the truth.
I knew she was responsible for herself, but I would always blame me if she succeeded. I never wanted to explain to my children why “Auntie Bobs” would never be back.
How a part of me would never heal if she was gone from my life.
Not to give her guilt, but to show her how erroneous her statement of “your life would be better and easier without me in it” was.
I told her I loved her. She was family to me, to us, by choice, not blood.
I don’t know if she heard it then, if she could, and it frustrated me.
How powerless I was to fight the depression of a loved one.
She was told by her therapist to go back on medication for her OCD – the extremely high anxiety suffered since facebook outed her leading to the depression. The medication also was used to treat depression, so it would function two-fold.
Obediently she followed the steps to get the medications.
But I had to order her to take them that first night – the fourth night she’d been on my couch.
She yelled and glared and stomped and fought. She knew she needed them, but detested the side effects and the “weakness” of having to take medication again.
I didn’t let her back out.
My husband helped, engaging her in old school Tetris to keep her mind busy as the drugs hit her system and skyrocketed her anxiety.
You see, OCD drugs often make the symptoms worse before they get better.
When Tetris ended and it was time to take the downer, she couldn’t hold still. In fact, she was lost into OCD.
This beast I knew.
I helped all I could, but my job was to wait for the second medication to take effect and she could break free of the OCD and hear again.
We would sit on the couch and talk – her medicated lucidity opening the box of secrets she normally kept hidden and closed.
This is when I would learn about the previous suicide attempt.
This is when I would hear about years of verbal abuse lashed at her by her PTSD and schizophrenic father.
This is when I would discover the core of what made her who she was.
A nightly pattern formed.
She would always be with me when it was medication time – usually between 8-9 PM when my children were in bed.
She would play Tetris, either with me or my husband to distract her from the raised anxiety of the upper medication. My husband more often than not. This was my one window of time without my children when she was taken care of – the only time I had to write a blog post or confess the crushing fear to another friend that I would fail.
I was so afraid I’d fail to keep her alive.
Often I was exhausted before 1o PM – as the nights of late night chats compounded and my body ran on little sleep.
Sometimes I panicked, because I dozed off during Bobbi’s “talk times”. What vital confession had I missed because I’d failed to stay awake?
I couldn’t go to bed even if I was tired. I had to stay.
I couldn’t leave her.
I know the time your mind screams at you loudest is often when you are laying in the dark, ready to fall asleep. I couldn’t leave depression alone with her during such a critical period.
I learned a new routine.
I’d get ready for bed immediately after the kids went to sleep. I would sit on the couch – always my favorite spot – and try to write.
Sometimes my eyes refused to cooperate and I would doze and the Tetris soundtrack and trash talk floated in and out of my consciousness.
Always I would open them when the games were done, placing myself into “vigilant mode” until enough time had passed to make her take her downer.
Only then I would relax, sometimes sinking into sleep, her head often in my lap.
On nights she was shaking with anxiety – like someone hyped up on twenty shots of espresso – I would stroke her hair and her face, working the tissues and muscles until her legs ceased twitching.
It proved very successful for panic attacks as well.
Almost every night we would sleep together for at least a part – because I would not leave her awake and alone.
I remember guilt over the relief consuming me the night her mother was in town. It was the only night she did not sleep on my couch.
It was the only night I slept more than six hours.
I slept nine.
Far too slowly, the medication beat back the depression – its lies becoming obvious.
I celebrated her twenty-second birthday with her as she confessed she never intended to witness it.
I left for a family trip to Colorado, still afraid of what might happen while I was gone. Even though she was “better”.
I think a part of me will always be afraid, because she lied to me before. She could do it again.
I dread the day she weans herself off the medication – because she fully intends to. I fear depression will sneak back and she won’t tell me.
I will likely drive her crazy asking frequently if she intends to kill herself.
She’s just going to have to accept it means I love her.
And I want her around for a long, long time.
I write this marathon long post for a reason.
Depression is a mental illness. Someone cannot just “get over it” or think happy thoughts.
It is powerful and taints everything, even joy.
But it has a stigma, and that needs to stop.
Depression happens, and sometimes it is deadly.
Only by educating others, those who suffer from depression and the family and friends caught in the wave, can we help rid the world of this formerly taboo topic.
As I stood by my friend to help her fight it, depression seized my exhaustion, fear, and anxiety to wrap me in its arms again.
I tasted it.
It pulled me closer.
But I reached out to a few. To scream my anguish to.
They kept depression from trapping me.
Thank you Cameron, for listening even when I warned you asking “What’s wrong?” would give you more than you bargained for.
Thank you Kimberly, for talking to me for two hours when I thought I might break.
And especially, thank you Leanne. Because I screamed to you the most and even when you were exhausted you found the time to listen.
The reason I now share the depth of what I experienced, is Bobbi has now posted her part of the story.
It is something everyone should read, because it shows how quickly life can take a turn… for the end.
Thank you for reading this record length blog post.
Please share it if you, or anyone you love has ever suffered from depression. Break the stigma.
Maybe save a life.