I was in the middle of writing a post about why I spend so much time in the bathroom when I received a call from my girlfriend. We had been bickering for a whole day now and I was trying to convey to her that I thought some of her life choices were entirely self-destructive. In her moment of realization she completely lost it and called me, sobbing. She sounded dangerously depressed, as she was fully wailing. She went on to state that I was completely right, she was putting herself in harm’s way, and the realization of her failures was too much to handle. My girlfriend told me she wished to walk off the roof of her dorm room building.
I had always suspected that my girlfriend suffered from anxiety and depression, but it became obvious to me today. She’s the kind of person that goes all or nothing. Her long-term ideals consist of complete perfection, but when failing to meet those she loses any sense of aspiration. Having to face the consequences of not giving a damn about her manner of conduct sparked a trail of suicidal thoughts. Seeing my grandmother lose the will to live from depression, scarred from my mother’s earlier bouts with depression, and finally winning the battle with depression myself made me very determined to save a life.
You may think I am overly dramatic, but when it comes to mental health I never take a chance. I would not be able to live with myself if the thought of “bothering” a couple of people at 2 am was what caused my girlfriend to have the opportunity to commit suicide. While it may feel like you are constantly reacting to a boy crying wolf, I was not willing to take any chances. My first reaction was to call her father. He didn’t pick up directly and I told my girlfriend to try her parents numbers again; there was a greater probability that they would break their slumber reflexively to answer her call. From there I stayed with her on the phone until her dad arrived. I made sure I heard his voice on the phone and talked to him before I called it a night.
My second responsibility was to reason with my distressed girlfriend. It can seem somewhat hopeless at first when trying to regulate a person’s breathing while they are constantly wailing nonsense into the phone. Persistence was a key factor to my success and I made sure she had stopped wailing furiously before I tried speaking any full sentences. At this point my girlfriend kept repeating how she was worthless, a failure, and unworthy of living anymore. My next task was to bring her out of that illogical state and give her reasons to be hopeful. Having experienced severe depression myself, often times sadness is not a continued state, but is expressed in short intense bursts.
1. First I explained to her that she has so much more time to improve herself. She is only 19, and with an average age of 80 she has 61 years to become a better person. Giving up now would be such a shame because there is so much potential for improvement left in her. I told her she was underestimating the power of small steps towards bigger goals and focusing on the inability to achieve a larger goal. A grand success comes from small day-to-day actions that build up to that point. Many times, if done right, extraordinary accomplishments feel ordinary out of habit and repetition.
2. She was perceiving herself as a failure for all the wrong reasons. I made it very clear that her parents and I fault her for not trying. Any attempt by her to move forward in the right direction was encouraged regardless of the actual result. We see failure in the fact that she completely ignored our advice and never tried to meet any of the goals we set for her. One cannot say they have truly failed their goals if they have not even begun to try. I emphasized that being unable to achieve a goal, but trying hard to obtain it is nothing to be afraid of. If that is ever truly the case, you can go to bed content that you tried your hardest. In that sense she just has to slowly build the willpower to work towards her goals, instead of giving up at the first sign of a struggle.
3. I made her acknowledge that she has a real problem, which is depression. Having watched her for some time now I never thought she would need clinical help, but she was always very capable of putting herself down. I said that there is no shame in recognizing that you are depressed. People around you may think you’re lazy or incapable, but that in fact is coupled with the truth that you are depressed. Depression is pretty much a mental disorder and there is no sense in putting yourself down over something that is beyond your control to a certain extent.
4. My girlfriend really struggles with visualizing her responsibilities to others and expectations others have of her. In this moment she was too worried that there were so many sins she had to confess to her parents, that she really wouldn’t be able to tolerate the shame. I quickly squashed that by explaining to her that her parents truly do love her, and beyond expectations of academics and career accomplishments, parents have some simple desires for their children. Most importantly good parents like hers just want her to be happy and healthy. Even if she has to take a semester off, so be it. Her parents would immediately sympathize with all the suffering she has put herself through for an entire semester and take the appropriate steps towards improving her mental stability. Besides it would be impossible to make any further improvements in school without first improving her mental image of herself.
This reasoning process was tailor-made for my girlfriend since I know her quite well, but this embodies some of the things depressed people aren’t understanding properly. Depression in my opinion is a very selfish act in the sense that the suicidal individual is usually ignoring responsibilities held to family members and close friends, while focusing on their inner concerns. First demonstrating that given so much time left in their lives they can fix their current situation is really important. Then showing that they are really letting down people they love by thinking such things is equally important. Make sure to do this in a supportive manner by explaining how much people care about them and need them in their lives. Next explain to them it is okay to accept their condition, okay to say they are depressed and that it is a legitimate problem. I would recommend this for people who are actually capable of reasoning in the first place. More desperate situations call for professional help.
Unfortunately I feel that depression is often downplayed as laziness or incapability. This only adds to the difficulty people like my girlfriend will have in admitting to themselves and society that they are mentally unstable at the moment. Even though I had a hunch that my girlfriend would be alright for the night after talking to her, I still called her parents and made sure she had physical support standing right in front of her. She lives by herself in a dorm room and leaving her to her own thoughts simply was not worth the risk.
With many emergency situations, first aid taught me that the majority of people start rationalizing whether they should react instead of actually reacting. There is that story floating around the internet of a man murdered in the street whose body was left there for several days without report or concern from the array of onlookers over that period of time. I once called 911 for a pretty poor reason, but once the paramedics arrived they told me that they were happy I had called just to make sure the scene was safe. I treat depression and suicidal thoughts the same way. Why take the chance of letting it happen; you can simply react and save a life.
Small disclaimer: While this post may make my girlfriend look like a bad partner from all my descriptions of her mistakes, I wish to emphasize that that is not the case. Obviously I’m with her because I value her and on top of that I have enough perspective to understand that this is her darkest hour. I believe that if you truly wish to continue supporting someone, then you have to take the dark moments as well as the good ones. I love her enough to do this for her and I made it very clear that I knew she would do the same, and I didn’t have to think twice about helping her. Everyone feels depressed at times. Sadness is quite a natural feeling and even if you are not faced with such an extreme scenario, a little positive reinforcement goes a long way. It’s very easy to criticize and construct a path to success for the person you care about, but often times they may not have the willpower to continue on that path. Understand that positive reinforcement along with truthful statements about the character behind their actions leads to a better incentive to improve.
One of the cardinal rules I live by is that I don’t try to restrain or punish people. I simply advise them. Often times sadness stems from expecting certain reactions from people you are responsible to and you can provide a lot of relief by simply stating that you understand without getting angry. This is incredibly difficult to do, but it really has done wonders for me. If you truly have nothing nice to say to a person and are done with them, you are better off walking away than trying to punish them out of a need for revenge.
Lastly I wish you remember to react accordingly in these emergency situations. It’s surprising how often people die due to a lack of response in a timely manner. That is never a risk worth taking. I’m not embarrassed to call 911 or my girlfriend’s parents at 2 am. If someone actually calls you in such a desperate state, you have the opportunity to react and that is the most you can do.
I’m sorry if the editing and proofreading is pretty poor on this one. I wrote this immediately after the fact.