The following post is from Paul Currington. After reading about Paul online, I reached out to him to be on my podcast, The Depression Files. After he agreed to be on the show, he shared this piece of writing with me. To say that I was impressed is an understatement. This piece of writing is incredibly powerful and insightful. Both sad and inspiring. Paul speaks his truth, shares poignant insights into suicide and suicidal thoughts and the importance of sharing one’s story. I am privileged to be able to share his post on my blog. Enjoy the following piece of writing by Paul Currington:
A lot of people say they’d die for their child. Not many people can say they would live for them. Think about that every time you pick up a cigarette, a doughnut, a cocktail or a pill. If someone put a gun to my head and said you or your son? Easy choice. I take that bullet 100 times out of 100. If you put a doughnut against my head and said, “Eat this and die early,” a lot of us would say, “Well, it’s only one, and I did skip breakfast.”
The truth is we justify doing all kinds of things that put our lives at risk. We say, I’ll be happier if I eat this doughnut. I’ll be more patient if I smoke this cigarette. I’ll be more relaxed if I have a few glasses of wine after work. Ultimately, my kid will be happier if I give myself a break.
Most people understand this. Except when it comes to suicide.
When you cross the line from thinking about suicide to surviving suicide, you end up having to answer one question for the rest of your life. “You have a child! How could you have been so selfish?” Everyone seems to assume that we didn’t think of that when we made our attempt, but from my own experience, and my conversations with other survivors, I know many of us did think of that and came to the conclusion that our children were better off without us.
That’s the insidious nature of depression. When you’re deep in it, all the lies you tell yourself make perfect sense. I call it The Calculus of Despair. No rational argument or past experience can make you believe otherwise. You can have a wall full of gold records and still feel like a failure. You can have a hundred voicemails in your phone and still feel unwanted. You can be holding a handmade birthday card from your son and still feel like he would be better off without you.
Depression doesn’t give you choices. It gives you ultimatums. It convinces you that nothing will ever change and the only way out of this pain is to get out of this life. If your depression leads you to end your life, it doesn’t mean you haven’t thought about the consequences. It means you put everything into a spreadsheet, did the calculations, and discovered that ending your life was the best thing for everyone. You didn’t decide it, you discovered it using the upside-down mathematics of depression.
If you’re lucky, you survive. Someone stops you or you stop yourself. Maybe you just miscalculate and wake up on the floor of your bedroom in a fog, not sure if you’re angry or grateful. What happens next will shape the rest of your life. When I woke up the day after my attempt, I realized I had a choice to make. I could keep living the life that had brought me to my knees or I could do everything in my power to change how I lived. If I ended up a year later in the same place in the same state of mind, at least I would know that I went down swinging.
I decided to go down swinging.
For the next year I did everything my therapist and doctor told me to do. If they said take a pill, I took a pill. If they said eat healthy and exercise, I made a salad and went the to gym. I did everything I could think of so that in the end, if nothing worked, at least I could say I did my best.
But it did work. After a while, I could see my life changing. More importantly, I could see my outlook changing. I slowly started to see where I went wrong in the past and how my new habits were helping me stay on course. I stopped isolating myself. I started asking for help when I felt myself slipping. I swallowed my pride and joined support groups. All of these things together helped me achieve the emotional stability I never thought was possible.
The most helpful thing of all, though, was the one I was most nervous about, my decision to reveal to others that I struggled with depression. I was tired of keeping it a secret, and the longer I held it in the heavier it became. Shame gathers momentum in silence and I didn’t want to give those feelings a chance to grow. I figured if I told my story as a survivor rather than a victim, people would see me as strong instead of flawed, tough instead of fragile.
A year-and-a-half after my attempt I started telling people outside my close circle of friends what I had been through and what I continue to deal with. I didn’t do it all at once and I didn’t do it online. I just slowly revealed, one-on-one, to the people around me that I dealt with depression, and that some of the things I did that they joked with me about like eating healthy, not drinking, walking to the store instead of driving, were things that I did because they helped me stay happy and centered.
The only person I couldn’t bring myself to tell was my son. He was 22 and not living with me when I made my attempt. He had no idea what I’d been living with. In the beginning, I decided not to tell him until I was healthy enough so that he wouldn’t have to worry about me. As important as it was for me to stop keeping my depression and attempt a secret, I still wanted to protect him. I still wanted him to look up to me as the kind of man who never let life get the better of him. But I also knew that if there was any chance of my story becoming public he needed to hear it from me first. It was time to tell my son that his father had crashed and risen, and that for the rest of my life I would have to rise again at the beginning of each day and do the things that kept me alive.
So I sat him down in the place where we always have the hard talks. The car. There’s something about being side by side in a car that allows us to say things that we couldn’t if we were looking at each other. So I asked him if he’d like to go for a drive with me like we did when he was little and he said yes. I drove all over town and the surrounding woods before I found a way to bring up the subject. I started by telling him the depression that I’d dealt with all my life had gotten worse a couple of years ago. And then I told him about that terrible night in the apartment when I tried to end my life.
He was quiet for a minute and then he said, “I’m glad you’re still here dad.” I said, “Me too, kiddo.”
And then he did something unexpected. He revealed that he also struggled with depression. He shared with me that the difficult times I had chalked up to teenage moodiness were actually more than that. He said that those feelings were still inside him and that he was worried he was getting worse. We spent the rest of the drive talking about how he was getting by and what I could do to help. That drive led us to finding him a good therapist and the work he does now in his own recovery.
It’s been three years since that talk in the car and I’ve never regretted it. My kid still sees his therapist and isn’t embarrassed about needing one. He even gets onstage sometimes and tells personal stories like his dad. By sharing my struggle with depression, I showed him that his dad is just as flawed as anyone else. When my son feels sad and lost, he doesn’t have to add shame to the equation. He knows his father also sometimes feels sad and lost. There’s no impossible bar that my son has to live up to now.
When I shared with him the real reason I go to the gym, get enough sleep, and spend time helping others, I wasn’t just sharing my story; I was showing him how to get through his own hard times. Pretending to be fine when you’re not isn’t strength, and admitting you need help isn’t a sign of weakness. The hardest thing in the world is to tell your kid how far you’ve fallen. But sometimes it’s the one thing they need to hear. You can’t give your kids courage, but you can show them what it looks like.
About the Author: Paul is a former standup comic who now tells awkwardly personal stories on stage to strangers. Once a month in Seattle he hosts the show Fresh Ground Stories where he gets some of those strangers to walk onstage and tell their own stories. He’s a lifelong friend of depression and manages to keep it all together with humor, meds and therapy.