A few years ago, I first became aware of what was being called “impostor syndrome.” It takes one of my own most challenging struggles with clinical depression and puts it in a silo as someone narrowly defined as a person who feels like they are a fake, that they will be found out, discovered, exposed or unmasked. The backhanded compliment is that impostor syndrome is associated with highly achieving, highly successful people. I am with Groucho Marx: “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.”
No one invites you to be depressed. The initiation, like mine, could be doing very badly in school, struggling with reading and math, having an abusive father, and being bullied and teased. Your graduation, ironically, into full blown depression could, like it was for me, come from being what gets described as a “late bloomer;” the perfect set up for believing that you are counterfeit, an impostor. The scarring from being illiterate until the 5th grade has never gone away, neither has the feeling of being separate and apart.
Feeling like a fraud is only just the first ring of hell. Clinical depression, for me diagnosed when I was hospitalized as “agitated depression,” takes you much closer to the fire of self-hating/loathing, the desire to do yourself harm, and thoughts of suicide. The agitated piece is the anxiety and panic attacks.
You make life miserable for those around you, whose only sin is that they want to help, want you to feel better and see yourself as they see you as a beloved father, husband and friend. These are the moments that are the true crossroads in fighting depression. If you go down one road you manage to convince yourself that they and everyone else would be happier and better off if you were gone.
You want to save the people who love you from further pain and hardship. For many of us, thankfully, that is when you can actually save yourself by realizing that this would be the worst thing you could do to the people who love you, who you will be setting up to punish themselves for the rest of their lives for not having been able to prevent your suicide, to have not been able to save you from yourself by finding the right words, being there at the right time.
I disagree with what has often been assumed as the motivation for suicide, that it is an act of anger, to get back at the people, the universe that rejected, abused, teased, and bullied you. Were that it would be that simple, one single emotion you needed to gain control of. But depression is far more complex, it’s visceral and in your gut, your soul is sick, your heart aches much more than your brain. I am sure that most people struggling with severe depression come to suicide wanting to end that very real, suffocating pain.
I am very grateful to Joe Mazza, and Nicholas Provenzano for leading the way for me and the many other educators who are sharing similar stories and lending their support and understanding today at #semicolonEDU as part of the larger Project Semicolon. The decision to get the tattoo was also driven by my on-going work withCritterKin - to promote emotional literacy; to bring out, inspire and support the intrinsic kindness, compassion and empathy of children.
I began this post talking about how alone and isolated you can feel battling depression. Getting my own very first tattoo yesterday, just before my 71st birthday, is an important rite of passage, and another powerful example of how remarkable my Professional Learning Network (PLN) is. What a gift it is that July 14 was selected as the day we will all together as a community see each other and hold hands and even get hugged. Today, like it is every day, will be the first day of the rest of our lives.
If you — or someone you know — need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for theNational Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.