I’ve been there. In that dark place that no one likes to talk about socially. The pit of emotional hell that feels impossible to crawl out of. I struggled with addiction and depression, which for me went hand-hand, for over a decade. I’ve sat with a shotgun in my mouth and finger on the trigger. I’ve swallowed a bottle of pills with a bottle of peach schnapps hoping to end the pain I was feeling only to have my stomach pumped. I know sadness that seems impossible to explain. Ultimately I took a razor blade to my wrists and violently tried to end my life on November 10th 1997. I was fully intent upon ending it all, I saw no hope. No future. No other way. Thankfully, I survived.
Every 13 minutes in this country a person dies from suicide according to the CDC. When I heard about Robin Williams’s suicide my heart literally broke, not because I knew him, but because I knew his pain intimately. No one can truly understand depression and addiction unless you have experienced them and while no one’s experience with depression or addiction is exactly the same, there are commonalities. Hopelessness, futility, anxiety and desperation are all common elements. Depression and addiction alone can be life altering but when coupled together they often result in death.
I write this not to focus on Williams’s death, as requested by his family, they have asked us to focus on his life. And just like Williams’s prior to his death, for millions of people that means life with depression and/or addiction. Our country needs to finally have an honest dialogue about mental health and addiction so we don’t hear of another incredible soul taking their lives. The stigma that surrounds the diseases of addiction and depression leaves too many people in the dark suffering the way that Williams’s did and the way I once did. There are ways people can be helped; I am living proof of that. It’s been close to 17 years since I have felt so depressed that I wanted to end it all, since I have thought there were no other ways to live and since I have engaged my addictive behaviors.
Anyone suffering from depression and addiction need never suffer alone; there are so many resources, people, support groups, hotlines, centers, and online communities there to help. I understand how heavy the phone can feel when one is sick and suffering, there is always someone on the other line waiting to listen, provide supportive counseling and to connect you to life saving resources. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA)1-800-662-HELP (4357) are just two free and confidential hotlines. Recovery is possible.
When I got clean and sober my life affecting depression began to dissolve. But life on life’s terms has brought rough times for me when that depression has come back and today when it seeps in, I enlist the help of the following tools:
1.) Writing-I had to start bringing the dark thoughts out of the shadows of my mind and start writing them down. My head was a dangerous neighborhood for me to be wandering around in alone so I began to journal daily. By writing down your darkest secrets and fears you expose them for what they really are, just thoughts, not facts. They are just words, thoughts and the power of those words and thoughts is lessoned when you get them out of your head. It is best to keep this type of writing in a safe place and not in public or online as not everyone in cyber space has your best interest at heart or should hear your private thoughts.
2.) Talk to Someone- By sharing your experiences, thoughts and fears with another person you can allow yourself permission to be human and to allow another person to bear witness to your pain. This is truly the first step in getting help. Do this only with someone you trust, a parent, loved one, counselor or someone safe. If you don’t have anyone like that in your life call one of the hotlines I mentioned earlier, staff there are fully trained to listen to you and to provide you with unconditional and non-judgmental help.
3.) Exercise or Activity-Physical activity in any form, whether it is a simple walk, jog, sporting activity etc. whatever your fitness level, can help. It is scientifically proven that physical activity helps to naturally release endorphins which make you feel better about yourself, help reduce stress and helps to reduce the effects of depression.
4.) Find a Therapist and/or Doctor-I had to find a skilled therapist that allowed me the safe space I needed to explore many of my demons. My demons were the reasons behind why I was turning to drugs and alcohol as a coping method, which led to depression in my life. By exploring the why’s of my disease I was able to build healthier coping mechanisms. Additionally, when I first got clean and sober I was placed on an anti-depressant. Medicinal intervention can be a life saving method for many and it should be looked into if your depression becomes severe, you have thoughts of suicide or you feel you cannot manage your depression using any other methods. Depression is a chemical imbalance within your brain and depending upon the severity of the imbalance, medication is necessary to create a balance. Often times there is shame attached to taking medicine, however, you would never shame a diabetic for taking insulin, would you? It’s the same thing.
5.) Meditation or Mantra-Finding quiet time for my mental health is vital for me, especially because you cannot always find someone to talk to or have an opportunity to call someone. A good solid 30-60 minutes of meditation 3-4 times per week is best. But even just 5-10 minutes can help calm your mind and bring you peace. It can also be used anytime you are feeling anxious or out of sorts. Close your eyes, take five deep breathes slowly in through the nose and blow out the mouth. Think of yourself breathing in all the good in the world and forcefully blowing out the pain and darkness you feel inside. If sitting quietly feeds your anxiety then find a mantra, prayer, poem or saying that you can repeat to help calm you. For me it’s the Serenity Prayer. There have been times when I repeated this prayer ten times in my head or out loud to find some calm in a rough moment.
6.) Support Groups- 12 step programs saved my life; I find so much support, love and kinship in the rooms of the support groups I turned too. Thankfully there are so many different support groups all over the country for any issue that your are facing, you just have to go. In the rooms of support groups is where you truly understand that you are not alone and never have to be. I have never gone to a meeting and left feeling worse.
7.) Music-For me it is singing my head off to one of my favorite songs. If I am feeling anxious, sad, mad or if I am just in a funk and cannot pin point what it is that is bothering me, I turn on one of my favorite songs and sing my heart out. It could be drums, piano etc. for you. Also I enlist the help of Bilateral EMDR music when I am feeling anxious. It is a calming music that must be listened to with headphones. I have several EMDR tunes on my iPhone that I find extremely helpful if I cannot sleep, my mind is racing or I just want to relax a bit.
8.) Cry, Scream, Feel- You have to let it out some how. Feelings are just that feelings, they are not facts and they cannot kill you. Sometimes we cannot find the words or we are tired of talking about something. Crying is a cleansing for the soul. Screaming can allow you to release anger, frustration and fear in a safe way. Allowing yourself to feel is critical as you must be able to get your feelings out of your physical body, otherwise untreated feelings will linger inside of you and turn into anger and eventually depression.
9.) Reading- Finding books, articles, blogs and materials that help you to understand more about your particular issues and can help you learn to cope in a healthy way are great keys to success. I find that personal stories help me best as I can understand another person through their own journey and relate that to my own. I can guarantee there isn’t a thing you are dealing with or feeling that someone else hasn’t dealt with or also felt.
10.) Sleep- I know this sounds like a no brainer but when you are depressed, anxious or dealing with something it is not always easy to get a good nights sleep. By enlisting some of the above methods, you should find that sleep become a bit easier to come by. Try and allot the amount of sleep your body needs to function at your best. For most people that is 7 – 9 hours of sleep per night.
These are just ten tools you can enlist to start breaking the cycle of whatever you are dealing with, I hope some of these tools can help you the same way they helped me or get you thinking of ways that can help your specific situation. You do not have to suffer in silence, you are not alone and you can survive what you are experiencing and learn to live a happy and healthy life. I promise, I am living proof.
Jennifer Storm is the author of Blackout Girl, Leave the Light On and Picking Up the Pieces Without Picking Up.