I Feel Depression and Anxiety – that means I’m still alive. Good.
May 18th, 2017 by Mike Coughlin
How do I stop myself from vomiting?
Swallowing all of the pills is simple enough, then mix in a bunch of alcohol, but my body is going to protect itself. It’ll force things out. Even if I pass out, there’s no guarantee it works. I could still vomit in my sleep before everything kicks in. I’m not even sure if it’ll work. That would suck. Failing at suicide has to be a downer.
My head hasn’t moved from the pillow. The only sign I’m awake are my eyes flittering back and forth between a bottle of Xanax and a bottle of Ambien.
My clock now tells me I’ve been awake for five minutes but I know it’s longer. I’ve been here at least a month, staring, trying to solve my vomit problem. I better get up. I have to get dressed and go to work. I have court later today. And so I do. And I will tell everyone I’m ok. And I will be ok for periods of the day. I’ll keep busy. I won’t have time to sit and think. Thinking is bad. Thinking causes my problems.
These are not thoughts caused by you. The world causes none of this.
It is 2011. I’ve finished law school. I have my first SUPER DUPER real-world, big-boy job. I’m a lawyer! At a law firm!! I just got a big raise. I’m excelling at jiu-jitsu. I’ve met a woman. I’m in love. I’ve just gotten engaged. I have more friends than ever. It’s now just a few weeks until Christmas.
And: My head is on the pillow. My eyes are staring at the bottles.
It’s now April, 2012. It’s almost 2 in the morning. My mother doesn’t know what to do. My father hasn’t been awake for almost a day now. The doctor talks to us. I read between the lines – understand the professional way he’s telling us there is no hope. I’m the “man of the house now.” My Aunt Amy is there. My fiancee. My brother. My mother. We’re all in a room staring at the husk that was my father. The man I rode the train with three days earlier as we both went to the same courthouse. I walk into a hall and tell the doctors that it is time. I tell them to let my dad die.
I don’t feel any depression. I feel no anxiety. My head has no desire to be on that pillow. I’m ok. I’ve just killed my father.
It’s five months later. I think it’s a Tuesday. I got another raise a few weeks prior. I’m still engaged. I’ve spent 57 hours with my head on the pillow, no matter what my clock says. The only thing that makes today different than any other day is nothing. I get up. I’m not ok but I’m ok for the world.
It’s July, 2014. I’m married. I just watched the World Cup Final. She’s telling me she wants a divorce. We haven’t been married for even ten months. I’m crying as I drive to my mother’s home. I’m crying because I feel loss. I’m crying because I feel I let my family down. I’m crying because I feel like it’s all my fault.
I don’t have a desire to put my head on the pillow though. My marriage has fallen apart but I’m ok.
Hurricanes have no reason.
Things are better now in the world. Anyone reading this has heard of depression and anxiety, even if only generally. That’s much better than at any time in the past. Medication helps. Zoloft helps reduce and manage depression. It’s still only managed. Maybe it’s gone. Maybe this is how everyone in the world feels all the time. I don’t know. Xanax for sure helps with panic attacks and anxiety.
I’m addicted to Xanax though. At a minimum, I take one pill every morning. If I’m awake for more than 30 minutes and haven’t taken one, I can feel it. I usually have to take a second one during the afternoon.
I’m more in tune with my anxiety now. I used to have panic attacks and not know what was going on until I was in the midst of the storm. My forecasting skills have improved. I can prevent panic attacks with regularity.
But sometimes they hit. Most are hurricanes, off in the distance with enough time that I can prepare. But occasionally they are tornadoes: instant, destructive, almost impossible to see coming. But I’m better with those too. I know where my storm cellar is and I know how to get there.
But I need my pills. I need Xanax. I once ran out and had to go two days without before the refill was approved. It was hell. After the first day, I simply grabbed alcohol. I drank and drank and drank. I had to do something – anything – to not feel that terror. It worked.
It wasn’t healthy, I’m sure, but the withdrawal from Xanax was immediate. I’ll never let that happen again. Now, I call in my refills a week in advance. I have a stash of pills in my car at all times just in case. If I’m going out for long periods of time during the day, I’ll usually take one right before and almost always have one or two pills in my pocket just in case. I do not know when a storm will happen. I have to be prepared.
I am a drug addict. I know this. It is better than the alternative.
I am not alone with this. My father had depression and anxiety. He didn’t understand it. He was born in the ’40s. He was from South Dakota. His generation was the first to acknowledge things publicly but not everyone did. He didn’t. He had a degree in chemical engineering and worked at DuPont. He went to law school at night and graduated first in his class. He married my mother, a woman about whom no one has ever had a bad word. He was successful as an attorney. He made a lot of money at times and also helped a lot of people who needed it. His nice house became a really nice house. My brother and I were good kids. Never arrested. No trouble at school. Never really did anything wrong besides occasionally fight too much (my little brother is responsible for every mistake I ever made while playing a video game, you see).
He drank a lot. Too much. That was how he medicated himself. It killed him.
My mother is idyllic. She is what everyone on earth would want in a mom. She is calm and patient but stern and tells me I’m an idiot. She tells me this a lot which is good because if she didn’t I’d have gone through with a prank to convince my family my brother was expecting a child and in hindsight that would’ve been really really
She was a French teacher before becoming a full-time mom. She never wanted for anything as an adult. She had us aforementioned good kids and a husband who provided every physical comfort there was. Of course, she was also married to a devastating alcoholic. That wasn’t easy.
She had depression before meeting him though. Her story is hers to tell. But she’s dealt with depression for probably her entire life. When I talk about panic attacks, she asks me about them. I’m relatively certain she experiences those too. She’s had to live alone with all that though because until I opened up, I don’t think she knew what was happening. When I described a panic attack, I saw a light go off. I’d put to words what she felt. She knew there was another.
My name is Mike. This is me.
I’m good with words. I can write. I can speak. This is why I’m telling you all of this. My conversations with her are why I’m telling you all this. Silence is killing people. If nothing, I know how to be loud and get attention.
My head has never left the pillow. I have never taken all the pills. I have never tried to kill myself. I’ve only planned it. Tried to figure out how to do it without hurting anyone. I can’t let my mother or brother find my dead body. That would be too much. That would not be fair.
I’d like to go off on an adventure. Let my family and the world think I’ve decided to live off the grid. I could die then and no one would know. Oh, they’d figure it out after a few years but there’d be enough room for plausible deniability. They could live life thinking I’m out there, happy. That would be good way to end.
Sometimes I move because I don’t know what else to do.
Little things have kept me going. I wanted to read the next issue of Spider-Man (I can’t die and not know how Spidey will regain control of his body from Doc Ock!). I wanted to see the next episode of a TV show (How is Lost going to end?!)(That one almost did me in though). I wanted to see a movie (I can’t die without seeing Batman fight Superman!).
I suspect these little things will keep me going for the foreseeable future. If you can kill your dad and get through a divorce. If you can be broke at a level where you live in terms of quarter tanks of gas. If you can be “let go” from a job a week before you get married. And if none of that has pushed me over the edge (and, in fact, seems to not get to me as much as I feel it should), then I’ll probably make it for a while longer (I can’t die without seeing Luke Skywalker again!).
It’s not you, it’s me, me, me…
I hear people call suicides selfish. I understand where the sentiment comes from. It’s only worse when the dead are parents, or people upon whom someone relies. You’re letting those people down. If you’re religious, your life is a gift from God. Your life isn’t yours, it is His. You better take care of it.
But that isn’t the mindset when my head is on the pillow. It isn’t always the same. Sometimes it’s the thinking that everyone will be better off without me around. Mostly though it’s the thought that it won’t matter. No one will miss me. I’m inconsequential. The fact that I spend a lot of free time reading about the mechanisms of the universe doesn’t always help. The scope of the known plane of existence puts in perspective how small I am. It’s exponentially increased when I think of how long things have existed. If I multiply the size of the universe by the length of its existence, I’m not sure if I’m even a single grain of sand on one beach that sits on an island of thousands of beaches.
My life is God blinking once.
Selfish isn’t the right word. Self-centered is better. Self-focused. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I don’t want them to feel sad. I don’t want my family and friends to cry. I just don’t want to exist. I don’t want to die. I want to travel back in time and make it so I was never born.
This is not the end.
Then I get up. I do something. Anything. The more productive I am, the better I am. I like to accomplish things. I’m a goal-oriented person. It doesn’t have to be a big goal. I just like to look at a project and say, “I did that.” I fixed that lamp; I fixed the leaky roof; I won that case. I get fat if I don’t have an upcoming BJJ tournament. If I have one though, it makes life easier.
I live in the future. I don’t generally experience the present all that often. Without a goal though, the future becomes too big. I start thinking about God blinking. Goals focus me. They stop me from looking too far into the future. Goals keep me a bit closer to the present and that keeps the depression away a bit.
Conversely, once my goal is done I get very depressed. I never feel anxiety the day of a BJJ tournament. I may win or lose but it is what it is. I did my work. Some days are good and I can perform. Some are bad and I don’t. But almost always that following Monday is a Day of Sad. I kind of look around and don’t know what to do.
I’m learning all this. I’ve been dealing with it for more than a decade – I should say, actually, I’ve been acknowledging it for more than a decade. I’m trying to create more goals for myself. But not too many. Too many balls in the air and I’ll get overwhelmed by the juggling. Damned if I do; damned if I don’t.
Tomorrow is another day. It isn’t a new day. Most days are the same, probably for everyone. But it’s another one. I hope this reaches someone. Cliched, sure, but “If it helps just one person…” You are alone. I’m sorry. I could be there next to you but you’ll feel alone. But there are things that can make you less alone. The bubble of darkness can brighten a bit. You may not see the entire sun but one ray can become two can become three.
I don’t know if I need to link to suicide prevention hotlines, or websites and organizations that help with depression and mental health issues. All I’d be doing is going to Google. You can do the same and probably find a site that fits you better. Your problem is unique. Your solution will be unique.
There is shame but there shouldn’t be. Not a new analogy but one I’ll use anyways. If your doctor prescribes you a pill to lower your blood pressure, you take it. You don’t hide it from people. You don’t think, “I’m defective.” You simply shrug and acknowledge there’s a physical issue and that doctors fix physical problems. My name is Michael Coughlin: I take Zoloft, Xanax, and Ambien. And that’s OK.
Depression and anxiety are not only physical, but they are not exclusively a “mental” issue either. I know they are in part the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. For some people, there may be natural remedies that help; eating clean and regular exercise are good. But I’ve felt the panic attack coming. I’ve been in the middle of a storm. And I’ve felt the physical relief that Xanax brings. That isn’t me needing to “get over it.” That’s my body needing medicine.
This doesn’t have a traditional happy ending. I can’t write and tell you I found a magic solution that cured me, that turned me “normal.” The happy ending is I’m writing this and you’re reading this. The happy ending is I woke up with my dog on my chest ready for food. The happy ending is that there isn’t a sadder ending.
The happy ending is my head isn’t on the pillow right now.