Recently I watched a short clip by Pets for Vets. A soldier was explaining how his service dog has given him a new reason to live and saved him from killing himself. It reminded me of the day I didn’t kill myself. It’s an uncomfortable subject for some people. For some it is shameful. But not for me because I lived. And I talk about it because I want to keep living.
I have a mental illness called depression. It’s not sadness. It’s not feeling blue. It’s not fatigue. It’s not shameful. It’s an illness. It’s part of my chemistry. It is actually part of the whole beautiful package that is me. It is the same chemistry that allows me to feel emotions very deeply. It is the same “illness” that makes me so passionate about making the world a better place. But left untreated, it is an illness that makes my life a black pit. My depression makes it hard for me to breath. It makes it impossible for me to see a way out.
So it was on that day 18 years ago. In a marriage that was killing me and also still part of a religion that said I couldn’t get divorced. There was no way out. At the same time I was working on a PhD that I didn’t really want anymore and couldn’t remember why I started it in the first place, but was too far along to quit. I saw no way out of that. There were 29 years of life behind me and many tiny and monumental events and circumstances along that way that had lead me to this place. I had a plan. After my husband left for work, I would get in the car in the garage, turn on the motor and wait to die. There was only ONE thing that stopped me. Actually, two beings named Roxy and Ripken. My dog and cat would be inside the house. What if the carbon monoxide seeped inside and hurt them or killed them? I couldn’t bear that thought. I added to my plan and thought I could put them in their carriers and put them out outside on the back deck, but it was the dead of winter and they would freeze before my husband got home. So I cried for four hours and lived another day.
There were other days and many other plans, but I was never as close as that day. A few years later I eventually got help when two doctors finally convinced me to take medication to treat my illness. There are many misconceptions about depression and about suicide. Is it a cry for help? Well, yes, but not a conscious one. I didn’t want help. I wanted O-U-T. Is it self-centered and selfish? Well, yes, but in a twisted way. Everyone in my life was unhappy with me at that time. The two most important people, my husband and mother were pretty disgusted with my depression and my inability to get a grip and shake it off. I still believe to this day that both of them would have handled my death better than how they handled my eventual divorce. I knew I was hurting them and that with my death would eventually be able to move on. When you want to kill yourself, you don’t see another way out. This is compounded by people around you who don’t “believe” in depression or therapy or medication or people who are giving you solutions that don’t work for you such as religion.
On that day my dog and cat saved my life. And sometimes it is as simple as that.