“I don’t want to exist,” is so much different from “I want to die,” and actually being suicidal, but normal people… well, they’ll just never get it.
Depression is a bitch, and I’ve suffered from it my whole life.
It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never suffered from it. It’s hard to explain the difference between being depressed and being suicidal.
It’s even harder to explain clinical depression (major depressive disorder) to someone who has experienced situational depression (like how you feel after losing a loved one or a job).
This can be even more difficult when you’re dealing with someone who has been depressed while drinking or getting high, only to suddenly have the depression lifted once they get sober.
There’s a huge difference between wanting to die, wanting to kill myself, and just wanting to not exist. In my experience, these are different levels of depression.
Thankfully, I’ve found freedom from depression through medication. The 12 Steps are nice and all, and they keep me sober, but I suffered from deep depression and suicidal thoughts since I was a child—this is clinical depression that only medication can address (usually).
The lowest level (which is still a completely miserable way to feel) is not wanting to exist.
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I Just Don’t Want to Exist
The first level of depression has nothing to do with actually dying. It’s not wishing for death.
It’s wishing for the pain to stop.
And every day, the pain goes away for a short amount of time—when we’re asleep.
Unconsciousness is bliss to someone who finds the waking world miserable. It’s a lack of existence, especially if you don’t dream.
Just because I don’t want to exist doesn’t mean I actually want to die. It usually means (even if I don’t know it) that I just don’t want to exist the way I’m existing right now.
For someone with clinical depression, life can look good or bad on the outside, but it doesn’t matter what life looks like—inside, we are deeply sad.
There’s no reason for it other than some dumbass neurotransmitters in our skulls doing shit they shouldn’t be doing.
This is why you see many successful people commit suicide despite having lives most of us dream of.
People like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Williams, and Chester Bennington had lives many people would literally kill for, and yet they killed themselves.
Because exterior circumstances cannot fix the little molecules in my brain that won’t act right.
To fix this, many of us will self-medicate, which rarely actually fixes the problem.
Incidentally, drinking to blackout or shooting opiates until you pass out is another form of non-existence that has nothing to do with death.
That’s one reason drugs like these can be so enticing to someone with clinical depression, though often that just makes things worse.
When you feel this way, it doesn’t matter what your life actually looks like, but death doesn’t necessarily seem like the answer, or even something you’d want.
I’ve talked to many people who just didn’t want to exist because the pain was too intense, but who would never kill themselves for a variety of reasons.
For many, they loved their family and friends, and they would never want to leave them. They would never want to actually die.
They really didn’t want to feel the way they were feeling right now. They wanted to escape existence. They wanted to feel better, and since that wasn’t happening, they wanted to escape the pain.
This is part of the reason I would sleep for 12+ hours a day in my depression. I just didn’t want to be in the world, just like someone with chronic pain only wants the pain to go away.
They might commit suicide because the pain won’t go away, but if the pain actually stopped, they’d be happy to live.
I’ve been deeply depressed in sobriety and still very much wanted to live, but I’d lose myself in activities that let me escape the world, whether that be work, hobbies, writing, TV, or videogames—all forms of escape, which is to say, forms of getting out of my head and forgetting my own existence.
What’s much different is actually wanting to die.
I Want to Die
Wanting to die is a lot different from wanting to not exist.
The difference is that I don’t care if the pain stops or not—I still don’t want to be alive.
This is a deeper level of despair where I see nothing good in my life, and I don’t see any way for things to ever get better except through death.
Now this is different from actually being suicidal. Being suicidal means I want to cause my death.
Wanting to die usually means I’m just praying for death to happen to me through no fault of my own.
Remember when I said many people who don’t want to exist still love their families and friends? This is often one of the reasons people who want to die haven’t gotten to the stage of being suicidal yet.
When I wanted to die but wasn’t yet suicidal, I would pray for things like plane crashes that happened to hit my house. I would hope a drunk driver would hit me. I would wish for death to come to me somehow so that I could leave this world without hurting those I love.
Now what if the depression were lifted? Would I still want to die? The answer is probably yes—life was shitty for me for a long time, and I didn’t see any point in trying to stay alive.
I was convinced by 25 that my life was permanently ruined. It wouldn’t matter if I was happy because I had no job, lots of legal issues, lived with my parents, and generally had a life that looked permanently bad.
Did I want to actually take my own life? Not at that time.
But I did a year before that.
I Want to Kill Myself
This is what most people think of as depression—they think the person wants to kill themself, and that’s rarely the case.
However, this is (obviously) common. Around 40,000 people kill themselves each year in the US alone.
When I was 24, I had just gotten raided by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, I had gotten a DUI a month or two before, and life not only seemed hopeless, but it seemed like something I needed to get out of ASAP.
I was suicidal, which means I was actively seeking ways to kill myself.
At the last minute I decided not to go through with it, mostly because my girlfriend at the time knew what I was up to and wouldn’t leave until all the drugs were gone because she knew I wouldn’t just shoot myself.
I was too scared of surviving and having an even worse life than I thought I already had.
I still loved my parents at this time. I loved my friends. I loved my girlfriend probably more than anyone because I had become so codependent on her.
But none of this mattered because the mental anguish of depression had combined with circumstance to become overwhelming. I was beyond wishing for death—I was seeking it.
On my second suicide attempt, I ate a handful of oxy that I knew would be enough to kill me. At this point, I didn’t even care if I failed—It was time to go.
Fortunately I failed. I’ve always wondered if there’s a version of me in a parallel universe who succeeded. It makes me hope that theory is wrong.
The difference between the time when I just wanted to die and my two suicide attempts is that I had a plan for the attempts.
I knew how I was going to do it, when I was going to do it, and where I was going to do it.
That’s the big difference between wanting to die and being suicidal—the plan.
It Gets Better
I’m so glad I failed because life eventually did get better, but only through therapy, medication, and not giving up on treatment.
With therapy and treatment, depression can be lifted, but there are definitely people for whom it takes significant work. Treatment-resistant depression is very much a thing, so you shouldn’t feel bad about yourself if you’ve tried a bunch of antidepressants, and they haven’t worked.
It took me 20 years to find the right medication for me. The fact that I survived that long is a miracle. Not everyone makes it.
It’s worth sticking it out though. I’m sure you can remember a time when life was good, when you were happy. I always wanted to return to my childhood, even though I was rarely happy then, there were moments where things were good.
Remember those moments. You can get there again.
I know it sounds exhausting. I know it sounds awful and impossible.
I know it hurts.
Keep trying. Change medications. Change doses. Change doctors. Try whatever it takes to get back to those times.
Because life can feel like that again.
It’s worth it.
Here’s what I do every week to survive. It helps me stay sane and not want to kill myself.