The silent epidemic of depression affects millions of people and takes dozens of lives everyday, while our culture grapples with a stigma against open discussion of mental health issues. Editor Amy Ferris has collected these stories to illuminate the truth behind that stigma and offer compassion, solidarity, and hope for all those who have struggled with depression.
My name is Amy Ferris.
I am a writer, an author, a screenwriter, a playwright, and an editor.
I have written a few books, a couple of movies, some television, and co-authored one off-Broadway play.
I have edited magazines and co-edited an entire anthology.
I live in a really nice house. I’ve been married to a good, kind, cranky, awesome man for 22 years. I have some very wonderful good/great friends, a truly fucked-up family, and two cats who are very sweet but not declawed. I have many shoes, but no matching bags. I went through menopause, and wrote a funny, poignant memoir about it. I love most foods, but I believe – through incessant Googling – that I am allergic to most soy products.
Let me tell you, depression, addiction – it grabs you by the throat, and it digs its ragged nails into you.
It’s a liar and a killer and a stalker.
It does not discriminate.
The girl down the street, the actor/actress on the stage, the shy neighbor, the local bartender, the guy/girl sleeping next to you, the old man down the road, the funny lady who works at the supermarket, the charismatic politician, the chirpy girl with the sassy hair, the quiet sexy one, the rock star, the introvert, the extrovert.
And, it’s not always a deep indigo blue, sometimes it’s baby blue, but blue all the same.
Millions suffer. Millions upon millions suffer from depression. A massive epidemic, someone just wrote. A deadly, silent annihilator, someone just said. Robin Williams’ death shook us to our core. Robin Williams? Really? No, really? But he was so… so…so… so… geez, what’s the word? Sad. The word is sad.
How many of us suffer through depression? How many of us attempted suicide? How many of us have fallen into despair, darkness? How many of us have crawled, scratched our way out?
How many of us can’t admit how godawful we feel?
That’s a huge small word. When I decided to take on this topic – depression, suicide, mental illness – I thought I knew what courage was, what it looked like. I was wrong. I say that without any hesitation. I have often thought of suicide as a way out. A way out of my pain, my heartbreak, my sorrow, my mood swings, my abusive past relationships, my fears and crippling self-doubt. For me, truthfully, it was a second thought. An impulse. The first being, how do I get out of here?
I understand why folks take their life. I do. I understand that moment, that fierce, mighty, blinding moment. But I also understand why we’re told to count to 20, breathe in and breathe out, put the gun down, place the pills back in the bottle, remove the scarf. Sit. Breathe. Make a call. Ask for help. Reach out. Reach out again and again. And again. Life is precious. It is precious even in the worst of times. Because even in the worst of times, there is always something – a memory, albeit, a small teeny memory – that can reel us in. Back. Home. It takes massive courage to say, “I’m not happy.” To declare out loud, “Please, help me, hold me.” It takes huge courage to share our lives. The messy, dirty, crappy and complicated pieces of our lives.
It also takes enormous courage to keep that pain a secret. After all, we live in a world where the round yellow happy face was the single biggest seller for years and years. People love happy. A frown would have never sold. It takes massive, huge courage to wear a frown. It takes guts to wear it, and own it, and say, “Here’s my story, maybe it can help you.’
Right after Robin Williams committed suicide, my friend asked me, “Did you ever try it?”
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I tried suicide.”
I was young, much younger, and so sad, I was so miserable and so unhappy and I felt all alone in the world. I felt like nobody knew what it was like, this damp darkness. Everything was pitch black. There was no color anywhere. It was dark and lonely, and the best way I can describe how I felt at that time in my life was that it’s like being in the middle of a forest, and it’s eerily dark, and you don’t know which way to turn, and so you take baby steps. Teeny steps because you don’t know where you are, and you can’t see anything, and you don’t know how to find your way out, and you reach out for something to touch, but it’s not there.
You fall down, and you don’t know how to get up, so you start by getting up on your knees, and then slowly, very slowly, you straighten up…and start to walk through the darkness. And you’re not sure you’re gonna make it out, but you silently hope and wish and pray that you do.
I said to my friend, “You know that saying, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel? Well, the truth is, there is no tunnel. No tunnel in the pitch blackness. Forget about finding the light at the end… you can’t even find the tunnel.”
So, yes…I tried suicide. The pills, the stomach pumping, and all that follows. I was lucky. Fortunate, blessed, whatever you wanna call it, because someone wanted to save me, help me, hold me. And then at 19, I started practicing Buddhism. I battled my demons and unhappiness and self-hatred every single day. Well, not every day. Some days, they got the best of me and I could barely move, but I fought hard and mighty.
Some days, I won, and some days, the demons won. Some days, it was a match. Some days, I wanted to die, and some days, I wanted to not only live, but to live with passion and to find beauty in my life and to find love. And then what I found out was…I found out that you gotta save your own life. Because the person holding your hand, they can get really tired. They hold on so long and so tight that their arm aches.
That’s when I had my epiphany, my breakfast at epiphany moment, my ah-ha moment: If you really wanna save yourself, you gotta be willing to throw someone else a line, grab onto someone else and save them, help them, hold them. You gotta be willing to see another person’s suffering and pain and look them in the eye and say, “I know how you feel. I. Know. How. You. Feel. I have your back. I’m gonna hold you and I’m gonna hold you tight.”
And the truth is, the balls-out truth is this: those of us who suffer from bouts of depression, who don’t believe we’re good enough, who can barely make it out of bed some days, who struggle with self-esteem and the whole concept of self-love…when we use our own pain and suffering so that we can understand another persons heart…it doesn’t eliminate our pain, or make it vanish, or go pouffff. But, it does make it bigger than ourselves. It makes it worth the struggle.
I look at the folks I know – some very personally, some on the periphery – who have gone through hell and back a million times, and they use their lives every day to inspire, encourage, awaken the good and greatness in others because they know what it was like to be flat out broken, broken into little pieces.
So, yes, I tried it.
And I’m awfully glad that I didn’t succeed at it.
I’m glad, wholly glad, that I was a failure at that attempt.
Because I get to rise up every single day and work through my life-stuff, face my own demons, and strut my stuff, and then I get to tell each of you that you are awesome, you are magic and glitter and all that’s extraordinary in the world.
Because the truth is, we are. Even in our darkest moments, even in our saddest moments, even in our most broken moments – we have magic in us, we have glitter and sparkles; we are goddesses and gods, buddhas, kings and queens.
And we are amazing beyond belief.
So go on, strut your gorgeous stuff today knowing – absolutely knowing – that you are not alone.
This, I know for sure.
This, I’d bet my life on.
SHADES OF BLUE is an anthology about depression, suicide, sadness, and that flicker of hope in the middle of crazy.
We need to say, write, scream, shout out loud: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
This anthology is about coming out of that dark, damp, and scary closet.
Amy Ferris is an author, editor, screenwriter, and playwright. She has contributed to numerous magazines and literary anthologies, and her memoir Marrying George Clooney: Confessions From a Midlife Crisis was adapted into an off-Broadway play in 2012. Ferris co-edited (with Hollye Dexter) Dancing at the Shame Prom, and authored the young adult novel A Greater Goode. Ferris has written for film and television, and was nominated for best screenplay for Funny Valentines. She serves on the advisory board of the Women’s Media Center and is an instructor for the San Miguel Writers’ Conference. She lives in northeast Pennsylvania with her husband, Ken, and two cats who think they’re human girls.