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There is a Predator in my brain. Sometimes it is quiet, dormant, napping, but it is always there. If I am not on guard, if I am not constantly vigilant, always on the ready, when it wakes up, it may kill me, and all of those closest to me could suffer. I don't know when The Predator arrived, or if it was always there. I don't remember a time in my life without it. It has been my closest companion in this life. Sometimes I have fallen into its embrace and let it soothe me with its poison. Other times I have rallied against it, screaming and biting, clawing, my way out of its grasp only to realize, it is never really gone. Whether I accept or fight, The Predator does not care. It knows, in the end, it will win either way.
The Predator goes by other names, most commonly it is called Depression. I have dealt with depression for my entire life. It runs on both sides of my family, and I have tried every trick in the book to get rid of it, but the fact of the matter is, my depression is treatable, but it is incurable. I will live with it forever, and if I do not take the right steps I will die from it. I get offered a lot of advice upon the subject, usually by people who suffer either from a lesser form of depression like Seasonal Affective Disorder, or people who miraculously have never met this particular predator. So before anyone starts let's clear some things up.
Yes, I know it is all in my head.
Yes, I know that it affects other people.
Yes, I know sunshine and exercise can help.
Yes, I have taken my medication.
No, I do not want your essential oils.
No, I do not want to visit your clairvoyant.
No, your raw vegan diet will not cure me.
No, I do not want your therapist's number, I have one already.
Now that we have that out of the way, here are some things that I wish people would do when The Predator comes to call.
As always I am not a medical or psychiatric professional. This list is based purely on my own lived experience and preferences and is in no way exhaustive. If you are suicidal please call the National Suicide Hotline (US) 1-800-273-8255.
1. Be Quiet with Me
When The Predator gets really close, I know I need to be around people in order to stave off the pervasive intrusive thoughts of ending my life. The problem I encounter is that so many of my very well-meaning friends want to "cheer me up." While this is a very nice instinct, there really isn't much anyone can do, I am already in the embrace of The Predator, and all I really want is someone there so I don't do something that I would regret. Occupy the same space as me. Be quiet with me, watch a movie, play some music. Let's share a meal together. If I want to talk I will talk. Hold my hand, and let me know you love me. Please don't tell me it gets better. Of course, it does, and then after that, it gets worse again. Come over with a box of gluten-free cookies and watch weird British sitcoms with me. Be with me in this moment so I know I am not as alone as I tell myself I am.
2. "Just checking in."
If you normally hear from me regularly, and it goes a few days without contact from me. Call me. Text me. Check in on me. I can't tell you how many times my life has been saved by the text tone. Standing in my bathroom with a handful of pills, and my phone goes off, it's my best friend and it says, "Thinking of you." This initiates me thinking of you. Thinking of you pulls me out of the headspace. The pills go back in the bottle. I don't die that night. Saving my life is not your responsibility, but to my friends who check in, know that you have probably saved me from myself more than once. I am forever grateful to all the people who inadvertently kept my mother from planning a funeral.
3. Help Me Help Myself
When I am in the thick of battle with The Predator, I lose my ability to prioritize myself. I will stop showering regularly. I won't brush my hair or teeth. I will let dishes languish in the sink. My house won't get vacuumed and the mail will accumulate on the kitchen counter. I also more likely than not will stop eating regularly. If you see me with greasy hair, come over. Tell me to take a shower, to brush my teeth, to wash my face. Help me clean my house. Please offer me no shame about the state of my house, or my body. I am already wallowing in it. Just help me return to some semblance of normality. I know that a clean body and a clean environment help me feel better, but I can't muster the motivation to do it on my own. Help me get there, even if it is just a reminder.
4. With a Grain of Salt
I have often been criticized about my fatalistic sense of humor. I make jokes about killing myself pretty frequently. I know this can be kind of alarming to people who don't know me. Here's the honest truth about this, when it comes to me at least. If I am making jokes about it, I won't do it. If something embarrassing happens, and I say something along the lines of "Well I am just going to jump off a cliff now." The probability that I will actually end my life over a small thing is slim to none. If I have survived all the big things that I have been through and still manage to breathe, tripping in the street in front of a lot of strangers won't be the thing that finally pushes me into the abyss. I have developed a lot of coping mechanisms. Not all of them are particularly healthy, but I handle all things in life with humor. It's when I stop making jokes about it that you should probably pay attention. If I can't view the thing with humor anymore, than I am probably getting way too serious about it.
5. Depression Food
Sometimes I will subsist on a spoonful of peanut butter or chocolate soy milk for days at a time. I have a few friends who when they see me starting into a downswing and losing my battle with The Predator, will call me and ask me if I have eaten. One of my best friends, whom I also happen to work with, has been known to bring me lunch for a week at a time, so that he know I am eating at least one meal a day. If the food is in front of me I will eat it, but it's all just another form of self-care for me. If I can't muster the energy to make myself brush my teeth, what makes you think I am going to have the energy to cook myself a balanced meal? It seems like such a small thing, but it really isn't. When The Predator has it's talons sunk deep into my heart, the simple act of breathing feels like a chore.
In short, thank you to all my friends who have put up with me during my fights with The Predator. I hope that I have offered you similar solace as you battle your own demons. If we talk with any regularity, please know, you have probably saved my life more than once, and I am so appreciative I can't express it adequately.