The Why / by Anita Cheung

This is the “Why” post that I’ve been meaning to write for a while. I’ve shared bits of this story with people during MOMENT, however I’ve never really been open to My “Why” until now. I guess I wanted to be “sure” that I was ready to share; however, let’s be honest- when are we ever really sure of anything? If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that nothing is for certain.   

During MOMENT, when asked about my interest in meditation, I often said “it saved my life”. And here’s how.

 

I’m sure I could peel apart the onion layers to this story and it’ll take me back to some traumatic child hood event; however, I’ll stick to what I know and remember.

Have you ever had a moment or a time in your life that was so impactful, things would forever be known as pre- "____" and post -"____"?

 About three years ago, I started to find myself sad for seemingly no reason.  I say no reason because on the very superficial level, things weren’t too bad. I was in my last year of university and acing my classes, actively involved on campus with my sorority & other organizations, held multiple fun and engaging part time jobs and had a good group of friends as well as a significant other. Pretty damned good. 

See, totally normal university student. 

See, totally normal university student. 

However, I began to be overwhelmed by a sensation of a “heavy heart”. There really is no other way to describe it and no way to explain what triggered it. It was almost as if I suddenly saw the world and life, not just my life but life as a whole, as this miserable, melancholic place to be and couldn't unsee it.   

So the stage is set. Let me just mention that a lot of this unhappiness was definitely NOT visible from the outside looking in. Additionally, the negative thoughts didn’t live with me every minute of every day. They would pop up every so often and stick around for a day or two before leaving again. 

I don’t actually remember too much about how I felt prior to leaving for Australia in July 2012. It sort of felt like I was on autopilot. I do remember a few things:

  • I remember HUGE fights with my family
  • I remember HUGE fights with my significant other. Screaming matches, he said she saids, unrealistic expectations, and a bit of physical violence to keep things interesting.
  • I remember entertaining the thought of wanting to escape. That this just wasn't worth it & I wanted it to end. I called the suicide hotline one time hoping in the back of my head that they could persuade me to not think these thoughts . They didn't "say what I wanted/ needed to hear" and so I hung up.
  • I remember one night, while my significant other was out with his friends, I was feeling so absolutely alone. I started to google all the different over the counter pills and concoctions one could take to end their lives. I called my significant other asking him about different pills (he has a few pharmacist friends) and I knew a part of me wanted him to come see me and tell me not to have these thoughts. He told me to stop thinking crazy thoughts and to go to bed.
  • I remember telling two of my closest friends- one girl and one guy about how I had really dark thoughts that would leave me crying for no reason. I don’t remember what they said but I remember wanting to hear a certain something- I just didn’t know what that something was.
  • I remember at some point I switched gears- I got excited about the possibility of leaving this cruddy city behind and starting new in Australia.

 

Now, in all the time in Melbourne, not once did I feel or think any of these thoughts. I still don’t know why but I can guess it’s probably because I was living in this care free, idealistic world with no consequences (at least in my head). In the year after returning from Melbourne, all I wanted was to go back. So much so that the night before leaving to fly home to Vancouver almost two years ago, I was so ridden with worry about those “dark thoughts” finding me again that I started to bawl.

Image not mine- found on pinterest

Image not mine- found on pinterest

 

Upon returning home, the first thing my ex-significant other (& at the time- friend) said was- “it’s clear to everyone you don’t want to be here.” He couldn’t have been more correct. I was just waiting for the dark thoughts to spring up on me again. I found work, started to find a new life back in Vancouver and it didn’t feel too bad. I felt like I had things under control with my personal life- it was just my romantic life that was an absolute shit show. It wasn’t until the whole love life blew up in my face when those thoughts crawled back and burrowed themselves into my mind.

 

Around the Fall of 2013, I was on the edge every night. As in THE edge- between wanting to tough it out and wanting to give up. The straw had finally broken the camel's back. I had just ended things with my long distance boyfriend and had completely cut communication with the ex before him. I was basically ping-ponging between the two. (Which sounds way more sexual and way more fun than it actually was.) I told my Vancouver ex how low I was feeling and he was terrified & wanted nothing to do with me. So I bounced back to the Australian ex in hopes that we could rekindle something. I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted to matter to someone because I didn’t matter to myself. 

 

At one point, I remember feeling so alone and so hopeless and thinking

"I hope to god no one else ever feels this way. "

And then I thought

"maybe everyone else feels this way, they’re just better at dealing with it."

At which point I then thought-

"Well, I’m just a shitty human being then. Why bother?"

The best way to describe how I was feeling is with this metaphor I came up with one day in the midst of it all:
 

“It’s like being in a cold, dark, terrifying circular funhouse room with many doors. I’m rushing, frenzied, from one door to another hoping for a way out. Looking for happiness but not finding anything.”

via @frenchwords on instagram 

via @frenchwords on instagram 

 

I didn’t feel comfortable describing myself as “suicidal”. Heck, I still don’t like that word. I mean, thoughts of suicide don’t happen to me! I was trained in suicide prevention at my workplace with the Student Health Center on campus for pete’s sake.

Yet these thoughts persisted. I found a website that rated the different ways to end your life in terms of efficacy, pain, etc.

I ruled out hanging because I didn’t want anyone to find a swollen, blue body. I ruled out OD’ing because there was a high chance of surviving with terrible side effects. I wanted something that was quick, guaranteed, and relatively painless. There was absolutely no emotion behind any of this process- it was methodical.

At one point, I was heading to the states alone and was talked out of irrational thoughts by the Aussie.  Whether he actually loved me at that point or not, he said he did and the fact that someone cared for me (because I sure didn’t care for myself at that point) stopped me. To that, I owe him.

And so I continued on. Highly volatile. Fighting with the Aussie, feeling alone yet not wanting to bother any of my friends because at this point, I was so cynical about other people. I remember telling some of my closest friends and my sister at one point. Once again, what they said wasn’t the “right” thing nor the thing I felt like I needed/ wanted to hear.  Granted, who can blame them? Even I didn’t know what I needed to hear. I know what I DIDN’T want to hear and that was the following:

- “It’s okay. Be positive. Everyone gets these thoughts sometimes.”
What I hear: You’re weak! Everyone feels these feelings, just suck it up and deal with it like the rest of us. Now stop wasting my time, I have __(insert tasks)___ to do.

-“Please don’t hurt yourself. Think of all the people who care about you”
What I think: All the people who care about me?? Like WHO. I’ve told five people I wanted to off myself and it's all talk. When I'm actually down in the trenches, these people are no where to be found. People don’t care about me, and I don’t care about them. I’m past that point and I just want to be selfish now because it really really hurts and it's too much for me to handle.

via @brodieandamanda on instagram 

via @brodieandamanda on instagram 

 

Now, I know it’s hard to know what to say in these situations and I really hope this doesn’t stop people from talking to those in their lives who are feeling low. Eventually, you will say the right thing. I think what happened with the people I told is that 1.) I was good at making it seem like no big deal and 2.) They didn’t know what to say so they didn’t say anything. The Aussie insisted that I get help and it felt right to do so, I just didn’t want to go alone and I didn’t want the only answer to be “take these pills”.  

 

It was around November/ December that I finally sought help. I think I only did it because the Aussie said we would get back together or something like that. (On his part, well played.) So I went to a clinic and let me tell you, answering the question “what are you here for?” with “I want to see a doctor because I have had thoughts of suicide” is PROBABLY the most awkward thing to say. Probably. Who knows, I might be wrong. Anyway, I chatted with a doctor/ nurse about my feelings and they told me that because I wasn’t feeling like I had a cloud over my head all day every day, they thought it was this thing where instead of getting grumpy & craving chocolate before my “Moon cycle”, I got depressed and suicidal. It was just something I’d have to deal with and they had the perfect pill(s) to fix it. These pills ranged from vitamin B pills (to boost mood), to birth control pills (to regulate hormones) to anti depressants. They also recommended I keep track of my moods just to see if they were correct. I wanted nothing to do with medication so I left feeling dejected. I opted for vitamin B supplements and thought my problems were solved.

 

And they did help, at least a little bit. Between December (when I started taking the supplements) to January, I didn’t experience any thoughts of suicide. Sure, there were some pretty low points in which I felt shrouded in hopelessness, but no suicide. So… I’m all better, right?

Well, I sure thought I was. I attended Landmark in January and during a break on the last day of the weekend, I went up to chat with the forum facilitator about a conversation he had with a girl just before the break. She was suffering from an eating disorder and they just finished a really intense “coaching” session which ended in half of the forum hating the facilitator’s guts because they felt like what he said was inappropriate. I wanted to go up and explain to him how, as someone with an eating disorder, the girl probably twisted his words in her head. Amidst  talking about my experience with an eating disorder in high school, I casually mentioned how “I’m still no stranger to poor mental health. Heck, up until a month ago, I couldn’t shake off thoughts of suicide.”

 

You know how in TV shows, the music just cuts out and it’s suddenly dead silent? Well, if my life had a soundtrack, that would have been that moment. It was as if the air changed. The forum leader told me I had to go get help. I told him I had tried and they just want me on meds. He told me to keep trying until I got to speak to someone who offered up an alternative. He personally took responsibility for following up with me the next day to make sure I went to see someone.

 

So I did. I went to see a psychologist who also happened to be a yoga teacher. I could almost hear her judgemental thoughts when I told her I am also a yoga teacher (at least, I thought those were her judgemental thoughts. It’s more likely they were a story I created in my head).  I only went to see her a handful of times and it always felt awkward and contrived because I was never suicidal or sad when I was around her. I had gotten so good at being smiley and performing that I didn’t even know how to be real around her. What I will credit her with is introducing me to a very simple meditation. And it is this meditation that saved my life. It’s gotten to a point where my body and mind crave meditation and mindfulness to help me push the “reset” button when things get hectic or when I start to get wrapped up in negative self talk.  I didn’t want a bandaid solution in the form of pills, I wanted a tool I could use and this is what meditation is to me.

 

I guess I’ve been afraid to open up about this because a part of me still feels like it’s  something that everyone feels and I was just incapable of dealing with it. I have read my fair share of internet comments and I know I risk being picked apart for my experience and my story. At this point, I’m just going to close my eyes and take the plunge. I wanted to share this as I wanted to demystify the whole process of low mood/ depression/ suicide and how there really is no “stereotypical case”. As my friend or coworker, you would never have been able to guess this was lying beneath my smiley facade. The whole experience has taught, and continues to teach, me many lessons in authenticity and self reflection.

 Note: Clinical Depression & Suicide is a very real thing. While meditation can certainly help with managing low mood and thoughts of suicide, I am not a doctor and I know that there are definitely situations where medication is needed. If anyone reading this feels like they're down, out, and ready to give up, I urge you to continue to reach out. It's exhausting- I know, but eventually you will find the person who can help you through this dark cloud.