I’ve had a few extreme low periods since I started presenting with PTSD, and its shitty bedfellows depression and anxiety in November 2015. The worst (in my view, more on that later) so far spanned August through September 2016. I think each of them was important, but this one is the most important to write about because of how completely blindsided I was when it hit me.
As I’ve discussed before, my day to day life with PTSD is not a particularly good time. It’s worth considering that most of my attention during this period was focussed on trying to get a handle on and a bit more day to day control over how my PTSD presents. It also wasn’t going very well, so my persistently lowered mood didn’t really seem too surprising. Then that lowered mood invisibly (to me) started to get worse, and before I knew it I was progressively falling into an acute depressive episode.
It started with isolation. With a few exceptions, I generally feel like I don’t belong or fit in anywhere. Most of the time I just shove that feeling aside and hustle onwards, making sure to spend time at those rare places I do feel that way, with the people who I feel comfortable with.
The trouble was, I had moved across the country at the end of May. The majority of my support network now lived interstate, and I had travelled far away for a job and a new life in a new city. I knew four people here, all of whom had their own lives, schedules and difficulties. I made some small plans with people, I did go out a little, but by and large I spent most of my time alone and not talking to anybody. I couldn’t really connect with the people in my new team at my new job, and I felt bad for asking the people I knew to share their time with me, so I didn’t.
The trouble is, I needed that interaction and that time to act as a sort of counterweight to my general day to day experience. As I’ve since learned through therapy, it’s very important to have some kind of lighter interaction and activity in your life to offset the heavy stuff. It’s also useful to have people in your life who can point out if there’s been a recent change in your behaviour.
That isolation slowly turned into a time where the only place where I felt like I belonged ended up being my apartment. Everywhere else, I felt not just out of place but straight up unwelcome. The more out of place I felt, the harder it was to connect with people, and the less I felt like I belonged. I started to feel like a stranger even to the people I felt closest to, and blamed myself by making half assed apologies for not being a good friend. This feeling of not belonging anywhere, and the loneliness that came with it caused a paralysing feedback loop.
I didn’t feel like I could reach out to people who’d unconditionally said they’d talk to me anytime anymore. I sometimes dropped the ball on doing things I should have done to help myself. I stressed out the few people around me who could sort of get that things were getting worse by doing that, and I felt bad for it — which just made me want to pull away more.
At this same time, I’d been grappling with PTSD for 7 months, and found my confidence that things would ever get better dwindling. I wondered, was it okay for me to keep living like this? Was trying to get treatment just wasting everyone’s time on something that wasn’t going to get better? Was it okay to bother other people with these bad feelings I had? Wouldn’t the people I cared about be better off if they didn’t have to deal with me and my bullshit?
I rationalised with myself, deciding on what I would do if I truly was stuck feeling this way and what my bottom line would look like. I decided that it looked like a situation where I was constantly feeling truly, truly awful, those feelings appeared to only have prospects of getting worse, and I’d hit a dead end with trying to make things better. I also decided I was pretty close to that point.
I started researching suicide methods on my phone when on breaks at work, and when I got home at night, analysing statistics and studies released by public health organisations research to understand the different possible methods, their rates of completion, requirements to achieve and the consequences of surviving them. I methodically considered and discarded options I thought I ethically couldn’t condone or wouldn’t be able to bring myself to carry out. I decided death by falling was probably more accessible than a lot of others.
While I felt even more terrible than normal on a daily basis, and was thinking about suicide almost any time I wasn’t otherwise occupied, I still didn’t feel like anything was more wrong than it had already been or that I had any right to speak up and ask for more help. I just kept going to therapy (where I never thought to bring this up), going to work, going home, researching and scoping out potential jump sites around the city and watching for that bottom line that didn’t seem so far away anymore. My research had come up with a couple of buildings with inadequate safety measures that almost met the height threshold I gauged I needed if things really went to shit, and I figured I just have to suck it up and keep moving.
Then I woke up on a Sunday. It was September 25, 2016. I got up and I started methodically cleaning my apartment, moving with an energy and vigour I hadn’t felt for months. I went through my stuff and threw out a whole heap of stuff. I vacuumed, I mopped. I looked around, turned everything including the mains power off, and stepped out of my apartment feeling absolutely and gloriously free of all of my burdens.
It was only as I heard the click of the locking door behind me, that I realised I hadn’t intended to ever come back. I was okay with it. Unbelievably sad, but okay with it.
I took public transport in to the city, and looked at the building I’d picked out. I re-ran the numbers in my head. The building was above the median lethal height, but about 6m short of the threshold I understood was needed. I briefly considered that if this failed, I would likely have permanent injuries. Suddenly, the realisation of what I’d been about to do actually hit home and my brief period of euphoria was replaced with crushing despair, panic and shame at how desperately bad I’d somehow let things get.
Heading to the hospital and feeling like some kind of attention grabbing fraud because I hadn’t actually hurt myself, I told the triage nurse at the emergency department that I was having suicidal impulses and was scared I’d nearly done something dumb. As I sat in the chair furthest from the door where the nurse asked me to wait, I couldn’t understand it. PTSD had been kicking my ass recently, but that was something I was working on in therapy. What was going on with me? Where had this come from? How the fuck had things gotten so bad and without me ever noticing?
For me, depression had eroded my sense of what was and wasn’t normal, leading me to passively just accept as things got worse and worse. It was like falling down, only so slowly that I hadn’t even noticed until my face was almost parallel to the pavement, figuratively and literally.
As for my hospital visit, I was given a 35 minute chat with a nurse from the psychiatric ward, a 2 minute chat with a doctor, a valium, a medical certificate and a referral to the outpatient unit before being sent straight on home in a daze.
More on how all that panned out some other time.