A friend asked me to “Like” a FaceBook page recently (Run for Lisa King), and when I arrived at the page, I found a story that I wanted to tell, a story about depression and suicide, a quiet story that affects so many so deeply and in such unquiet ways.
It is part of my story and the story of my family, and it is part of the story behind the page I liked and hope you will like. I admire Philip’s effort and am inspired by it. Please support his campaign. I will follow his story in this post with my own.
Philip King’s Story
Run for Lisa King
A personal campaign sponsored by Philip King
March 28, 2016 — October 5, 2016
On January 8th, 2014 I lost my mother, Lisa King, to suicide. A few months later I lost a great friend In a similar situation. Dealing with those losses has been difficult, and as usual, I turned to running to help get through the hard times.
A couple months ago, I decided that I wanted to find a way where running all those miles could help somebody other than myself.
Next year I plan to run across the country on the northern portion of the American Discovery Trail from Delaware to California to raise money and awareness for suicide prevention. The trail covers 4,803 miles, and my goal is to average about 180 miles a week. I will leave on March 28th, 2016 and hope to finish by October 5th.
Help us complete this journey by visiting my donor page. You can read more about us on FaceBook, www.facebook.com/runforlisaking.
Many years after the life experience I will share below, I thought that part of the difficulty was that I had no idea what was happening with me or what I could do about it and thought the way I felt might just be the way it would be for the rest of my life.
I wondered if I might have found help more quickly if depression and suicide hadn’t been such a “quiet” story. Yet 45 years later, it remains quiet. The media and public consciousness are filled with news about the things that can kill us and undermine our health. Not so much about depression and suicide.
I believe it’s important for people to share their stories. Despite my belief, I have shared my story with very few and would like to do that now.
In 1967, as a freshman in college, I struggled with my first depression, an event that occurred each year for the next five years until the birth of my first son in 1972. These experiences usually lasted at least four or five terrifying months, beginning just after Christmas and extending until summer. As anyone knows who has experienced an episode of severe depression, it can be very difficult to explain to others who haven’t “been there.”
I’m not short of possibilities for what the roots of these depressions may have been: S.A.D., hormones, genetic predisposition, extreme family instability, a beloved grandmother to whom I always looked for refuge and anchoring and who was in a long battle with cancer that she lost in 1969, the instability of changing relationships that are usually a normal part of the dating years, leaving home for a college far away (not the right thing for everyone), lack of a community network, lack of a faith community or community of any sort with common values and a sense of mission, poor diet, lack of appropriate and regular exercise, depressing music, pot, alcohol . . . and it was the sixties. It seemed as though the world was disintegrating.
The decisive moment of my depression came in 1970. I was out in a field on a night I had been in a car accident. I’m pretty sure the sky was filled with stars, but that’s not how I experienced it. I was overwhelmed with a physical sense of the blackness and emptiness of the universe and felt totally alone in it, although I wasn’t alone, even at that moment. I was absolutely certain I was going to die if I moved or left that place, although nothing in my physical condition suggested that was a possibility. That’s why I say it’s difficult to communicate to another person what you’re experiencing because it’s so out of synch with their reality.
That night I understood something. I understood that the ultimate question and answer are very simple. The ultimate question is “Do you choose life?” And the answer is either “yes,” or “no.” They got that many, many centuries ago: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that you may live . . . “ (Deut. 30:19)
I realized that I was on a self-destructive course, sliding toward suicide, and I decided that I needed to make my decision: I had to decide if my answer was yes or no, and if no, end it — and if yes, change course.
Perhaps it didn’t need to be that stark, an either-or equation. Perhaps a professional advising me would have said it’s good to recognize the question but postpone action because perceptions change. The professional wasn’t there, and that’s not what I felt to be true.
At that moment in my universe, I saw nothing that required either choice from me, that supported me or provided me with a reason that I could perceive or hold onto, to choose life. I’m not sure why I did. Perhaps I had a faith that I wasn’t able to recognize at that moment. Perhaps it was just an innate desire to live, whether or not I could see any reason for it. But the choice I made that evening was yes, and for the next three years, I struggled to find the kind of equilibrium that would allow me to live a constructive life, to overcome the yearly terror that this time, I might not make it.
Whatever the reason for my choice, I was fortunate. Others come to that moment and are not so fortunate. When you are unable, for whatever reason, to grasp and hold onto a reason for a “yes” decision, it is a profoundly dangerous moment. Not everyone makes it past that moment.
I admit, many of my decisions for years were driven by the fear of returning to that place. Eventually I did have help and support, but many of the most important steps I took away from depression and suicidal urges were steps I discovered and took on my own. That is the story I want to share here, what I learned on my own about finding emotional stability and living a constructive life. I think you will see why I find Philip King’s story so meaningful.
What I learned about depression
What I learned . . . is just what I learned, no more and no less. It’s how I came to understand the experience with depression I had so many years ago. What I want to say may correlate to some medical information only accidentally, and it’s not meant to be a guide for anyone else. In sharing experiences with each other, though, we may find commonality, and there may be some part of what I know for myself that is useful to others.
A couple of years ago, another family member experienced a depressive episode, ultimately diagnosed as a “panic attack.” The knowledge of what it feels like to be in that space never leaves you. That doesn’t mean, though, that what worked for you will work for another. Each person’s path is their own, and as painful and even frightening as it may be to see a loved one suffering, all you can do is be there. Perhaps you will have an opportunity to offer suggestions from your own experience that are useful, but in the moment of choice, the decision is theirs. If their answer is “yes,” the path back that they find is also uniquely theirs.
I didn’t even realize I was doing most of these things during the years they counted, now 45 years ago. It was later reflection that helped me understand how I had somehow managed to help myself.
12 things I did to banish depression
Today you would never imagine that I am the person I just described of forty years ago. I am happy, even joyful in my life. It is possible to get there, I can promise that.
- Get past that moment – somehow. If you don’t make it past that moment or moments, the rest of what follows isn’t worth much. It is possible to get to a different place, a place where you can experience joy and meaning. Take the word of others when you can’t provide it for yourself.
- Love isn’t always enough – have a backup. I knew my parents and others loved me. Everyone has their own life, though, and for me, there was a particular set of conditions that demanded the attention of people I loved and left me feeling as though the enormous emotions that were overwhelming me just didn’t matter. Even if people who love you do hear you and are able to let you know you matter, no other person can be present at every moment of your life, moments that may include that awesome moment of decision. I needed backup support but wasn’t sure what or where to get it.
- Do some simple homework on foods that contribute to mental and spiritual health, and be careful about what you eat and drink. We learn more about nutrition every day. Eating the right foods and drinking the right beverages can make a difference. I didn’t have that information in those early years. At a later time when I wanted to get off antidepressants that I took for two years, I pumped up my nutritional awareness and exercised caution and was able to discontinue the meds with no difficulty.
- Exercise every day, preferably outdoors. Now we know that exercise increases the production of serotonin, associated with well-being. Then I just knew I felt better when I took a walk or went running or biking along the lake.
- When you’re outdoors each day, no matter for how short a time, look up. I heard Deepak Chopra say this once. It works. It works especially well for me to lie on my back in the grass and watch clouds drift by overhead.
- Be engaged in your own survival and the natural cycle of death and rebirth. Most of us have little involvement in our own survival and are far away from natural processes. We don’t grow or prepare our own food or drinks, and most of us are so disconnected from their sources that kids can’t recognize common raw food items and know where they come from. We are sheltered and alienated from the process of life and death, including our own. I don’t mean to suggest that you go on a wild boar hunt. I found it meaningful to have an organic garden or forage for food, dig in the dirt, have a compost heap, and to make my own yogurt and cheese and bread and pickles. Cooking real food with the products of the earth satisfies me deeply, and probably one of the reasons I love it so much is that it is a way I can be involved in my own and my family’s survival.
- Use structure as a tool. It can substitute temporarily for meaning and helps build it. I stumbled on the value of structure. The year I was in the accident and found myself in that field, I had dropped out of school. I was always a top-level student, but in my sophomore year of college, I was simply unable to concentrate, and my grades started dropping precipitously. Although I may have done the right thing for my grades and for financial practicality, I did exactly the wrong thing for my emotional stability in dropping out of school and leaving town. I had no structure in my life. When I returned to town, I joined the YMCA and started swimming a couple of miles early each morning. The exercise provided benefit, but more than the exercise, going out to the pool structured my day and provided more benefit. As I came to understand that, I added more structure to my day. Later, in the course of my academic career, as I studied religious literature, I saw that the structure of a text contributed as much as the actual content to meaning. Initially I didn’t perceive meaning, but the elements of structure in my life helped calm my soul. Eventually those same structures allowed me to see and experience meaning again.
- Be part of a meaningful community, even several communities: family, work, faith, groups whose values you share. Community. Others have said it. It’s not new information. I had never gotten very involved in school or community activities. Since we moved a lot when I was growing up, I never integrated deeply into any community and hadn’t developed the skills to maneuver through communities, to enter them and exit them. Although I was involved in sports, it was an individual endeavor for me. I wasn’t part of a team and didn’t make friends through that avenue. I simply didn’t have a community network that could sustain me or give me a sense of balance and belonging when family failed.
- Maintain a spiritual practice. Choose a practice that points in a positive direction. Mine is Judaism. I like it because it provides a structured guide to living, a guide based on the deeply hopeful and optimistic premise that we can make the world better. In practicing according to that guide, I came to see things differently. Sitting around waiting for it to happen just didn’t work for me.
- Reach out to help others in some way. “Tzedakah saves from death.” (Prov. 10:2 and quoted in the Talmud). Tzedakah means righteousness, giving to others. I have always understood this verse to mean that when we reach out to help others, when we connect with them in their need, we affirm life and our common humanity. We participate in something greater than ourselves. I don’t know what the psychological or body chemistry explanation might be for why this works to elevate mood and generate a sense of well-being, but it worked for me. I wonder if this is why biblical law requires each person, no matter how poor, to contribute. I believe it expresses an intuitive understanding that reaching out to others is life-saving for all of us, no matter how much or how little we have.
- Find meaningful work. As I got involved in work that felt meaningful to me, my equilibrium improved. Now, at an age when many of my friends are beginning to retire, I can’t imagine not working. I don’t need to make more money than what’s required to pay basic bills, and if I didn’t need to pay basic bills, the money wouldn’t be the relevant part of work. It’s just a matter of using what I have to offer in constructive, world-building ways, even if it’s a drop of water in a vast ocean. It all counts. Like giving, work is life-saving for all of us, no matter how much or how little we are able to do.
- Set goals you can work toward. It’s probably also a good idea to set goals you can hope to achieve, and when you do achieve them, set more goals. The point is to keep a forward-looking worldview and feel that you are a necessary part of tomorrow. You are.
Why I like Philip King’s Run for Lisa King
As you read what helped me work my way out of depression, I think you can understand why I admire Phil King’s effort so much.
Phil’s lengthy run is a goal he set for himself, and it has a positive, world-building purpose that is greater than himself. He created a structure for his life and his project that will carry him through the better part of a year. In first creating, then living with that structure, he will have an opportunity to rebuild his own worldview after devastating loss. His run will work in some ways like a spiritual practice.
I believe Phil has found a creative, meaningful, life-affirming way to respond to the tragedy of suicide and to share his story with many others, who may also find meaning in the path he has found.
I hope you will support Phil King’s Run for Lisa King project and help him give a face and a voice to the quiet devastation of depression and suicide.
For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.