Alone On A Cliff

CW: mental health content

About three weeks ago I was doing really bad with my mental health. Down to the point that I was perpetually emotionally numb. I did have bouts of irrational anger over stupid little things, but those were always brief, and then I was back to numb. At some point I asked myself how could I measure what I was going through. I had heard of both Spoon Theory and Fork Theory, and love the explanations they offer. Yet, they did not work for describing a lack of emotion, a sense of no attachment to those around me. I needed another type of litmus test. Oddly it came from the Avengers. (spoilers for Infinity War and Endgame if you continue)

In the most recent Avengers movies there are similar scenes of someone trying to retrieve the Soul Stone and the unique requirements to do so. In the movie, you have to sacrifice someone that you love, by throwing them over a particular cliff. If the Soul Stone judges that you truly love that person, you get the Soul Stone, at the cost of your loved one. For some reason I found that I was placing myself at the top of the cliff and wondering if I could potentially retrieve the Soul Stone. When I first thought of this, I could see no way that I could get the Stone. I did not love anyone, not even myself. Zero potential to get the Stone. I say potential because, I cannot see myself ever pushing someone off the cliff. Not even in a thought experiment. The idea here is to see if the Soul Stone would judge another as a worthy sacrifice, judge if I love someone enough.

So for the next several days I would ask myself if I could get the Stone. It would be my litmus test to see when my depression was beginning to lift. After a week, I saw another on the cliff beside me. Someone the Soul Stone would accept as a sacrifice, but I also saw myself desperately trying to protect them. Hold them away from the edge, away from the Stone. I was able to feel again. Just a little, it was a list of one, but I could see progress. In a few days there were more on the list. I was coming up, out of the depression. At least somewhat. And I had a means of measuring it, if a bit odd.

The cliff of the Soul Stone is not about whether or not I would sacrifice someone, it is about if I am alone on that cliff. The more people the Soul Stone would deem worthy for me to sacrifice is a sign of how well I am able to function emotionally. A sad truth of depression, a deep depression, is a numbness so deep you cannot love, because you cannot feel anything. It is what leads some to cut themselves, because they’d rather feel pain than nothing at all. Some drink or use drugs to cover the lack of feeling. Sadly, some look to escape the numbness via death and take their own life. Been close to that a few times myself.

In the end, this line of thought also brought about a whole new line of questions for me. That first person next to me on the cliff was a surprise, not who I would have expected. As more people joined me on the imaginary cliff they too surprised me. Even if you don’t suffer from deep depressions, I challenge you to ask yourself who might be on that cliff with you. Who do you love enough that the Soul Stone would take them from you? For me, it helped to know that I care about others so much, and that I never once thought if they felt the same for me.

I’ve also resolved to never share my list of people for the simple reason that it changes as my mental health changes. Telling another they are on, or not on, the list can be taken the wrong way for many different reasons. The point is to help me know I am not alone, and if the list gets empty again, to seek help.

The Stigma of Suicide.

When people talk of mental health issues there is often a glossing over of the topic of suicidal thoughts within depression. A lot of euphemisms are used if any mention at all. When I hear or read about someone going through a period of dark thoughts or despairing, do they really mean thoughts of suicide? Are they just too scared to use the word. I know I’ve been taught to not say it in the past. Yet I cannot help but think that by not talking about it we only make it more difficult for those suffering those thoughts to seek help in times of need. If you cannot say suicide when you are well and discuss what that struggle is, how can anyone be expected to feel brave enough to admit it when in crisis?

I’ll be forty-four in less than a month, at the time of writing this, my first suicide attempt was when I was sixteen. I’ve only had one other attempt since and that was in my early twenties. Since those attempts I have been able to get myself into the hospital or get other help before getting to the point of trying to end things. However, I have many times needed that help over the years. What I deal with living with bipolar and anxiety disorders is a chronic and incurable condition. I am able to manage it most of the time with therapy and medication. At this point in life, mostly therapy. This was not always the case for me though.

I see how mental health is stigmatized overall within society and that things are slowly changing for the better. Yet, I also see that the talk about suicide is still not occurring enough. That people still seem too afraid to speak of it. It has been my experience that suicidal thoughts are not a black and white thing. There are a lot of shades of grey. One does not go from simply depressed to jumping off of a bridge most of the time. There are many stages in between. The healthcare system itself needs to find a way for those with the in between stage thoughts to be able to express the need for help without worry of an overreaction. I’ve lost count of the number times I stopped talking to a healthcare provider because they overreacted to my using the words ‘suicidal thoughts’ when I was not at a point of crisis. I’ve had to lie to therapists and doctors both over the years when not in crisis to avoid them being uncomfortable with the word suicide.

The therapist I have now is awesome though. I can talk to them about the stages of suicidal thoughts that I go through and get the help I need before I hit a crisis point. So many others just assume crisis or worse will not help you unless you are in crisis. I actually spent nine hours in an emergency room once only to be turned away in the end because they felt I was not in enough of a crisis to warrant attention. That’s a long and bitter story not for here though.

A person with diabetes gets to know their own ups and downs with that chronic illness over time. Many chronic illnesses are like that. What most also share is a medical knowledge that can be shared with friends, loved ones, or care givers to help aid the sufferer. This came with openly talking about that illness and not making it taboo or stigmatized. The suicidal thoughts that can come with deep depression should be the same. The brain is an organ of the body like any other and we need to realize that it malfunctioning is a medical condition that can be discussed like all other medical conditions.

I know my own ups and downs, have learned many coping skills, when to get extra help, what the warning signs are for me. But, I only learned all this through trial and error and almost died along the way learning it. If there had been open conversation about this, if I had been able to talk about this sooner, I could have gotten to where I am today with a lot less hurt and pain. Most of all though, and please really think on this one, most of all I wonder about all those that did not make it like I did. How many people took their own life due to this lack of conversation, lack of information, this stigma?