In early June 2016, I drove my car onto the tracks and waited.
When the train rumbled in approach, I heard the whistle. Relief washed over me. Finally.
Finally I will escape this deep, black Darkness. Finally I will wake up from my living nightmare.
I would have said a prayer for forgiveness, but I believed in a God who could not want me to suffer one more hour.
I would have said goodbyes to my family, but I wanted them to believe it was an accident.
“The safety rails didn’t come down,” the police would tell them. “The warning lights malfunctioned. It wasn’t her fault; she didn’t see it coming.”
I closed my eyes, braced for impact… and when the last moment came, my body decided it did not want to die–even if I did.
Survival-instinct pressed my foot to the petal just in time.
You’d think brushing so close to death would have shaken me, but I just drove away, hollow, as though nothing had happened.
I didn’t tell anyone. Not my husband, mother, sister, not my therapist, not even my dog.
But the next morning, I told myself the truth: Depression tried to kill me.
Depression wanted my life, and if I stopped fighting, it would win. It almost won.
“I WILL NOT LET DEPRESSION KILL ME!” I shouted at the bedroom wall, as though it could hold the resolution for me like it held up the ceiling, the resolution I did not feel strong enough to make.
I’d already fought so hard for so long and in so many ways: medication, meditation, yoga, running away to the other side of the world, pet therapy, art therapy, journaling therapy, water therapy, and of course therapy-therapy. How could I fight any harder, or any more?
I didn’t know. But I did know I had to try.
So. I declared WAR on goddam fucking depression.
[Yes. The cursing is entirely necessary.]
I got a new doctor. I found a new therapist. I took all the pills and the advice. I did all the Things That Are Supposed To Help Depressed People. And I still wanted to drive back on the train tracks. I still cried every day–four or eight or ten times a day. Everything made me cry. Well–almost everything.
Since I could not think of one thing worth living for, I decided to make a list of things that did not make me cry. They were very little things: a latte, minute of sunshine on my face, Oxley-dog wagging his tail.
I got a pink Mead notebook, the little fat kind easy to carry around in a purse. I listed everything, all day long, numbering the things that didn’t make me cry. One by one, I counted. And One by One I began to see tiny spots of hope: things I felt–could it be?– grateful for.
#207 My cousin Emma, who does yoga with me at home when I am too sad to leave the house. #312. My mom keeps calling every day, even though I don’t answer. #405: The YMCA sauna where it is dark and hot enough to make my thoughts stop spinning. #516: The purple orchid in my kitchen.
One day, as all the inner work and outer help started catching up with me, I did a random act of kindness for the neighborhood. Nothing big. But it made a neighbor I didn’t know stop and smile at me. “Thank you so much!” she said, beaming– and something beamed within me.
I wrote down that act of kindness in my little book.
The next day I did a few acts of kindness. I wrote them down, too.
In a few weeks, I looked down and realized I’d written my way through the entire pink book. 700+ tiny moments to be grateful for, 700+ tiny ways to be kind, 700+ reasons to be alive
I ended my Gratitudeness Book #1 (as I titled it, because Gratitude + Kindness= Gratitudeness) with
#719: I wrote again.
I, the author who was certain she wouldn’t live long enough to write again–I had written a book.
I bought another little, fat Mead notebook: This one red. Gratitudeness Book #2. As I filled the pages with gratitude and acts of kindness, I filled my heart with healing. #1054. I prayed again. Down by the river. And while I was there I left post-it notes of encouragement on the benches.
By white Gratitudeness Book #3 I was seeing gratitudes left and right–so many I couldn’t keep track of them all. Doing random acts of kindness had become a way of life. I was living for the smiles of strangers. And then, #1372: I smiled today, just because. No gratitude, no kindness. Just a moment a joy.
Lime green Gratitudeness Book #4 and goes with me everywhere, a witness to the life I live, the life depression did not steal from me.
On that day in June, when death seems the one way to escape, I could not envision the coming 1614 moments worth living for. Or the countless smiles of strangers for whom my small acts of kindness would make a difference.
I had no idea I would be on the other side of Depression, looking backwards at those train tracks, so grateful I was saved.
Now that Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome has been out for nearly two years, people ask me: “Are you writing a new book?”
“Yes,” I tell them, laughing a little in my heart. Because while it is true I am writing two books– “I Declare WAR on ****** ******* Depression: How I defeat defeat and you can, too” and “Couraging: Brave Is A Verb”– the most important books I’ll ever write no one will ever see.
Today’s entry is #1615: I am well enough and brave enough to write the story of the train tracks, and how 3.5 books of Gratitudeness saved my life.
If you are depressed and considering suicide, please call the national Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255.