This is my experience. I share so you know. I share because I am a member of this club.
I am not an expert on mental health. If you or someone you love is clinically depressed or contemplating suicide, get help now:
I never had the courage to tell my co-workers why, but I always volunteered to see patients in the hospital recovering from injuries sustained from a (lean in so I can whisper) failed suicide attempt.
My patients’ stories differed in the details, but all shared one thing. Shame. It hovered in the corner of the room in the darkness. I heard it in the whispered words, saw it in the uneaten food, felt it in the room uncrowded by visitors. It draped across my patients, suffocating them. None dared complain of pain or hunger or thirst.
I understood their shame. My attempt was in high school, and I was shamed for it. Silenced. Tell no one, hide the family secret.
When I was finally diagnosed with clinical depression in my twenties, I was horrified. Sneaking into therapy like a spy, hiding in the corridors so no one could see my shame. I was weak. I told no one. I looked up the diagnosis. The words blurred, a one-two gut punch.
Clinical depression is a highly recurrent disorder…
Wait. What? I could feel myself becoming depressed, about being depressed. It was funny, almost.
My Therapist: “How are you doing?”
Me: “Depressed, and sad. I’m depressed about being depressed.”
But there was nothing funny the day I called her. I was cutting up veggies for my adorable toddler, safe in a high-chair across the table. The sorrow wound up from my empty womb, strangling me. I was deep in clinical depression after losing a pregnancy no one wanted to discuss.
“You’ll have more.”
“It was early, this is common.”
So I pushed it down. Shame smothered feelings, even better than food.
But the combination of excess drink and food helped me build shame even faster.
Like a hamster wheel of self-loathing:
I eat too much.
I drink too much.
I am a bad mother.
What’s wrong with me?
I have nothing to be sad about.
And the circle went around and around, distorting my reality and my thinking until I was numb.
Living was exhausting.
My bones ached, images blurred, a vice gripped my back, I alternated constipated and diarrhea. I forgot simple things, like to eat. Even breathing was work. I stared up at the ceiling for hours every night, after the food and alcohol wore off. Thick tendrils held me underwater, offering freedom from the struggle to survive. The darkness called, soft and yielding. Let go, let go.
That morning I held the knife up, glancing over to my dimpled toddler eating Cheerios, babbling and banging with a spoon on the tray. I could picture the knife going in, along my wrists. Red blood pulsing onto the chopping board, down table legs, dripping and pooling in the black squares at the edge of beige and white linoleum tiles.
Shame flowed over me, how could I even think such a horrible thing with my child sitting right across from me? My sob stirred the quiet room.
I was fortunate - I had a therapist and the number was easy to find. I called, and heard my voice loud then choked into a whisper at the end, “I’m scared. I am having frightening thoughts about killing myself. Please help me.”
She called back and told me, “I’m glad you called. The fact you reached out gives me hope. Let’s talk.”
There was only love in her soft tone. Acceptance pulled me out of the water. She helped me understand how shame held me, rocked my fragile emotions, and threw me into dark, cold waters. It wasn’t sorrow that nearly killed me. It was shame and denial and resistance.
What saved me from another attempt?
Acknowledgement. Being seen and heard without shame gave me the strength to climb back into the rickety boat and begin the long paddle home.
I carried this lesson into my clinical practice as a physical therapist. Walking into patient rooms, I kept my tone even, made eye contact, and shook hands. No whispers, no taboo topics.
“Hello. I’m Vicky. We can talk about anything or nothing. I want you to know I am so glad you are here.”
And so that is my story, at least a little part. And even if we never meet,
I want you to know, I am so glad you are here.
Make a call today because there are so many people who want to help you.
People who want you to live. And to live without shame. Because I believe there is no shame in the past, only lessons.
Resources available to you NOW:
International List of Suicide Crisis Hotlines: