19 months ago my Auntie drank a bottle of antifreeze and went for a walk, waiting to die. There was no trigger. There was no big event. In her case, it was a not-uncommon side effect of a widely used anti-depressant. She was found the next morning, lying unconscious on the beach at the bottom of an embankment, covered in gashes with a broken collarbone. A number of her organs were basically dead. It was not thought she would survive.
After hellish weeks in hospital, by some freakish miracle, she went home.
Part of me was sad for her. That she survived. I love her deeply, and value our relationship immensely, but she lives in a constant state of anxiety and depression and emotional pain. Dying was a possible way out of these torments. And I don’t judge her for that. Ever.
Some people suggested she just needs something to look forward to, more fun in her life….that would change her state of mind. Others said new drugs. Still others suggested exercise. Nutrition. Therapy. There was a parade of hospital visits with bells and whistles and insincere cheerfulness. Even people she doesn’t particularly get along with were there holding her hand. All well intentioned, but the biggest obstacle remained/s her lack of interest in any of it.
My point is, we don’t get it. We just can’t. This isn’t to say that there isn’t hope or effective treatments. One of the most challenging elements over the last 20 years of this has been proper and appropriate diagnosis of her condition. There have been as many diagnoses as there have been doctors. No one seems to really know. In my Auntie’s case, she had seen a commercial for this anti-depressant on TV and insisted her doctor give her a prescription. TV isn’t the place to diagnose illness or decide on appropriate treatment. In my opinion, that drug companies are permitted to advertise is obscene. (come to think of it, Bell may want to consider that in the spirit of this campaign).
Auntie continues to struggle. To find the magic cocktail of treatment. I have no conclusions here. Only compassion for those who suffer. And deep understanding for the families who live through it. The more we can talk about this, the less of a stigma it becomes. That in itself removes one great barrier…which sometimes feels like the only thing we have the power to do.