Mental Health & Recovery

The Day I Chose To Live Instead Of Simply Survive

I leaned against the bathroom door in my office, crying and shaking. My brain was fuzzy, unable to fully process what I was feeling. All I knew was that I was overwhelmed, frustrated, hated every minute I spent at work, and didn’t want to live anymore.

I had felt this way for weeks, months really. I was struggling to get up in the morning and through work that wasn’t engaging to me. Every night I was coming home exhausted with no energy left to enjoy the evening or even make dinner. After working all day I only had energy to watch Netflix. Most days I would come home, collapse on the bed, and be asleep in a few minutes, without eating dinner or even taking off my work clothes. 

Life didn’t seem worth it and I saw no hope for it to change. The worst part was that it seemed like most people were having the same experience of life that I was. If this is life, then I thought it was completely pointless. I wanted out.

And that day, having a mental breakdown in my office bathroom, something snapped. I knew something had to change. I was irrational, irritated, depressed, stressed out, angry, and hopeless. Yes, that’s a bad combination.

I made a plan to kill myself.

I had been fighting thoughts of suicide for several months, always sparked primarily by the thought that life just wasn’t worth living. And now, this was the moment. I needed an exit plan and I needed it now.

I thank God that after I stopped crying and shaking I became at least more rational. I remembered that the reason I hated life was primarily situational. But I also realized something important: that this compulsive desire to leave earth was based on something true. The life I was living really wasn’t worth living.

I don’t think it’s living when you only manage to eat, sleep, and work. Life becomes not worth it when there is no room in your emotions and mind for friendships and family.  It’s not living when you’re so sad you can’t laugh or think clearly. It’s hard to find joy when you’re surrounded by other people that hate life. I can’t accept that it’s normal to count down the days from one vacation to the next, miserable during the other 50 weeks of the year. I don’t think it’s ok that my home and my family are being neglected so that I can continue to be miserable making money.  Life seems pointless when there’s no joy.

But that doesn’t mean that life itself isn’t worth it or that joy can’t be found. It simply means that the specific life I found myself stuck in wasn’t worth it. With that understanding, I left the bathroom, went out to my car, and started reevaluating my lifestyle and work situation.

While I was making more money in this job, I simply wasn’t happy and was too burnt out to actually live. I remembered playing games, having dinner before 8pm, and having energy to do fun things on the weekend. I had time to visit family and friends.

I had less money, but it was a better life. Which makes sense, because life was never about money in the first place.

No amount of money is worth my life.  I mean that both literally and figuratively.

After changing my job situation I once again started on the road to recovery, having been told by professionals that I was burnt out and depressed.

At first it almost seemed like I got worse, because I had so little energy. I would work for about an hour, maybe two, before I needed to sit down and rest.  After only two cycles of work and rest I would need an actual nap.  (And this was after sleeping for 10-12 hours a night.) I felt like a toddler, unable to take care of myself or do anything productive. But as I allowed myself to rest, things started to get better and I started to notice the little moments of victory that mark recovery.

The first victory was the first day I got through the day without a nap. A couple weeks later I started writing again. I started being able to socialize for longer periods of time.  One of the last cognitive victories was when I finally was able to think clearly enough to engage in political, economic, and theological discussions again. Another moment was when I finally pulled out all the thistles in the yard, a task that two months prior had me sitting in the grass, overwhelmed and crying.

I wish I could say that changing my job situation was the end of my story of dealing with major medical depression, or even that it was the end of that episode. It wasn’t. Eventually I needed more serious medical interventions, but making changes to my work situation and lifestyle was an important step in the process.

However, that day I learned something profound and made an important decision: I am going to live, and live well. I look back on that day in the bathroom as the day I chose to live rather than as the day I chose not to kill myself. They are really very different things.

Choosing not to commit suicide is choosing to survive and it’s an important step for a lot of people.  I already was surviving but frankly that’s just about all I was doing. Surviving isn’t living; it’s merely existing at the most base level. I learned a lot about living a positive, sustainable life, something I think is crucial for everyone, not just those who suffer from depression.

I want to be more than a survivor. I want to love life, engage it, and live each and every moment.  I want my free time to be satisfying and enjoyable instead of merely a chance to bring myself from “very exhausted” to “exhausted” so that I can go back to work the next morning. I would like to enjoy my work and find it meaningful at least 70% of the time.  I want to both cry at life’s pain and delight in life’s joys.

I will take care of today and plan for tomorrow. I will take pleasure in the daily moments that make up life. I will rest when I need it and push when I must. I will invest in friends and family, treasuring the time we have together. I might not be able to change the world, but I will try to make a difference in at least one person’s life. That’s everyday heroism.

I will live, and live fully. 

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