One of depression’s cruel tricks is making untrue thoughts feel true. Perhaps the most dangerous of those is, “I will never get better. This is who I am.” This feeling of inevitability is a depressed mind lying to itself. I know the lie’s power.
I also know that depression is treatable. I know because I have lived to see the other side of my darkest days. And I know because research has started to shed more light on the treatments likely to be effective.
As Montana communities continue to work together to prevent more suicides, it is vital that we build room to tell stories of resiliency and successful treatment. Those who are currently suffering should hear loudly and with certainty that life can be better tomorrow than today and that many of us are living proof that depression’s darkest hours and most dangerous impulses can be overcome.
My first memory of a suicidal thought was in seventh grade, with no particular triggering event, just an intense fatigue and general feeling that life was more painful than it seemed worth.
Thankfully, I didn’t kill myself then, nor at 18, 21, 27, or 32, when I battled the desire to end my own life. Too many of the days between I would have preferred to be dead even when I wasn’t acutely suicidal. For decades, when I felt bad turbulence on a plane, my first depressive feeling was that a life-ending crash would be a relief.
I was deeply embarrassed by my internal agony and was mostly successful at hiding it behind the outward trappings of achievement. The distance between my external life and internal reality only intensified depression’s inherent loneliness.
Yet I couldn’t imagine another way of being. Part of me believed that even if successful treatment was possible, it would erase some central part of me.
I know now that depression is treatable and that its lifting has allowed me to be more of who I am, not less.
I credit my life now to the fact that the desire to protect my family from devastation always outweighed the desire to end my life. Although this protective impulse did nothing to address the pain that permeated too many of my days, I am deeply grateful that it kept me alive long enough to eventually get the help that did.
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It wasn’t until my last bout of acute depression that a psychiatrist at the University of Washington changed my life. In addition to prescribing a short-term medication cocktail, he talked to me about the proven benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy. At the time, there wasn’t a licensed CBT therapist in Montana to whom he felt comfortable referring me, but he shared that a growing body of research demonstrated that CBT could be self-administered with books.
He recommended “The Feeling Good Handbook” by Dr. Richard Burns. It has been almost 15 years since that book helped me tackle the depression that had colored gray a life otherwise filled with an abundance of love and blessings. I still use its exercises when I feel dark clouds looming on the horizon.
CBT gave me the tools to expose irrational and damaging thought patterns and begin creating healthier ones. The tools provided me almost immediate relief and, over time, changed my thought patterns, my brain, and my life. CBT has allowed me to live and feel a meaningful life, filled with love, family, and the privilege of contributing in small ways to a healthier and more just community around me.
I share this sketch with hope that it may provide a pinprick of light to someone being swallowed by darkness. I share because media coverage about suicides can unintentionally risk more suicides, but research shows that stories about resiliency and recovery from depression and suicidal ideation can be protective to those in its throes.
I share because thanks to the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Montana, Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and Montana State University’s Center for Mental Health Research and Recovery, online access to CBT is now available to every adult Montanan, no matter where they live or how much money they have, at ThriveForMontana.com.
CBT won’t be the answer for everyone. But there are other treatments that can be. When you are interviewing potential therapists and medical providers, be sure to ask them what therapies they use to treat depression and what the research says about their effectiveness.
If you are suffering or you love someone who is, do not give up hope. Get help. Keep looking until you find something that works for you. Hold on to whatever life rafts you have until you do. Know that depression is treatable.
If you are in crisis, call the Montana Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or text “MT” to 741 741. If you want to get more involved, support NAMI Montana (http://www.namimt.org/donate.html).