I have a confession to make – I have depression. Like a lot of people with depression, I tend to hide it a little too well. Mostly people know me by my upbeat albeit loud, big personality. They see the helpful nature. The smiling visage. My service to hospice and to our military veterans.
What they don’t see is when I come home on some days and just can’t deal with the world around me. When I’m crying in the bathtub with a straight razor on the side and contemplating slicing my wrists. They don’t see I’m afraid to reach out for fear of being labeled “attention seeking” or even worse…mentally unsound which could lead to losing my job.
I’ve been in and out of therapy most of my life. The worst of it was in my 20’s. It got significantly better after cancer and for a long time I thought something magical happened because I didn’t feel the overwhelming sadness or preoccupation with death. Having come so close to losing my life for a long time gave me a renewed sense of wanting to live. I do still mostly feel that.
I’m also incredibly introspective and know myself and my habits very well. I know that I am not suicidal and my therapist agrees with me on that. A month ago I had to switch to evening appts with my therapist and I am still waiting on a night slot. She was the one person I felt I could tell my challenges to and knew how to handle it. I haven’t gotten a lot of positive experiences with sharing this side of me with people before so now I feel I cannot reach out to people who are not trained mental health professionals. In my experience people mostly want to tell you to “just stop it” in one form or another (“Stop being so negative.” “You have so many things to be thankful for” etc.) or they want to talk more than listen. For anyone with depression and especially suicidal ideation, you always want to get them talking and listen. So often have I thought while I was trying to reach out to well meaning friends and acquaintances “I am not having a positive experience” and would just wrap up the conversation, smile and go on pretending nothing’s wrong.
The suicide of Robin Williams affected me deeply last year. He was never someone I thought of on a daily basis, but I have always enjoyed his work. Especially his drama’s like the Fisher King and Awakenings. I understood immediately how he could fool the entire world with his bombastic personality and yet feel so alone. The world is not a safe place for these kinds of feelings to be aired. When you’re already so sensitive and already feel like nobody really cares.
I went walking across the bridge to Sausalito this weekend to give myself the gift of a beautiful day. I would like to state I did NOT go walking across the Golden Gate Bridge because I was suicidal. I was not. But everyone knows this bridge has a tendency to draw people who are suicidal from all over the world. As I walked across it I thought to myself about this. How in the very affluent bay area these views are “million dollar views”. How depressed persons can be in such a beautiful place and kill themselves.
On the bridge there are many signs and even phones for people to call for help. Suicide and death are things we don’t discuss in our culture. I needed an outlet to express what I was feeling internally. I have a hard time verbalizing these feelings so my photos from this day are really my attempt at expressing some of the things I feel inside. This is my art. This is my perspective. I hope it sparks a conversation. I hope it moves people. I want the viewpoint of the patient to be expressed. So often we either demonize the dead or lament what we could have done when the cause of death is suicide. We empathize with the family who survives them but not really the people who killed themselves. We label them as “selfish”. I want to empathize. To let everyone out there who feels like I do sometimes that it’s ok to feel that way. That you’re not “crazy”. That it is ok to trust a mental health worker. That it is ok to seek help. These are things I wish I heard.
Overall in analyzing my photography I’ve learned some things about myself. You can see how disconnected from others I feel in my lack of photographing actual humans. When I take self-portraits, I typically avoid intimacy with the viewer by looking away. I photograph objects in a loving way because I can connect with them. I find people incredibly difficult to photograph so I typically photograph the remnants of them. Things they’ve scrawled on the side of a bridge. Things they’ve made (the bridge itself).
This day actually turned out to be a really wonderful day. I ran into a friend and spent the rest of the day with her and the her friends having fun. The invitation to join them was exactly what I needed.
If you’re feeling suicidal, please reach out for help. The national suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255. Their website is www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. They have people taking calls 24/7.