What is it like to experience suicidal depression?

What is it like to be suicidally depressed? What is the pain like? Why is the pain so bad that people kill themselves to get out of it?

I experienced severe depression for about 27 years that I was miraculously healed of by Jesus in 2006 ( https://graceinsightandart.wordpress.com/2016/12/30/my-divine-healing/), after crying out to Jesus for healing in a moment of extreme pain. 

I also knew that I had to forgive, because depression is very often a result of unforgiveness. 

Even after Jesus delivered me instantaneously, permanently, and miraculously from excruciating depression, it returned like a terrifying black cloud about 400 times (Yes, I counted. Counting these things helps make them more real because they are, “all in your mind.”)

While the pain is not able to be described in a way that gives a feeling of the experience, I’ll try to somehow approximate it.

I know that if I remembered and felt the pain of depression (that is bad enough that a person wants to commit suicide) I would be in the experience of it again, and you cannot remember it without experiencing it, because it is a brain/mind/emotional event.

***One of the unbelievably great gifts that God gave to me: even though I suffered this horrific indescribable pain for 27 years, I’m able to look back at my life without the memory of the depression!***

I can even remember being in a psych hospital without feeling that pain. I needed to go to the hospital about 20 years ago, in order to get lithium which I was not able to get unless I made a hospital stay there, even though I didn’t feel I needed it.

Yes, I have been in a psych hospital as a patient, and yes, it is exactly as you would imagine and have seen in movies. I was voluntarily locked in with people who thought they were Napoleon Bonaparte and were completely and utterly crazy. (As much pain as I was in, I was thinking, man, this is quite an experience and what a story I will have to tell!)

I have been on most of the medications for depression: Lithium, Prozac, Depakote (Seroquel was absolute hell). (I realized this while I was watching the movie SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and the two main characters are listing the medications they have been on.)

My mother did call me when I was in there (Cedar Springs).

I remember the despair and fear and loneliness of looking at the prison bars in the twilight of my room before I went to bed.

I remember the idiot white coat doctor who told me there was no hope for me, my condition, or my life.

Maybe he was trying to cheer me up. 

I sat in a circle with these people talking about their experiences. I also sat next to a young man who was in the army and had severe posttraumatic stress disorder. He was shaking constantly, and spoke with a jitter, seemingly reliving horrific indescribable moments of pain and bloody horror and war. (Not everyone in the military has the same experiences, nor are they the same person having that experience.) 

Anyway, in the 27 years that I experienced severe depression, it was not always at an eight or nine level of pain out of 10. 

Sometimes it was at maybe a three or four, and music could distract me (God bless the music of YES and Jon Anderson!) 

The pain would come every few hours, every other day, every morning, every night.

But very often it would completely ruin experiences. You’d be at a movie and it would be like worrying about not having enough money to pay bills, or that your house was on fire, or that your car was being stolen, or some other worry that prevented you from enjoying the film.

Day and night it was always there, lurking in the shadows, low or high intensity.

Anxiety is a very piercing experience. Depression for me mostly was not piercing (except in the final experience), but a dull crushing extremely painful and terrifying darkness. 

The pain of depression, if I were to attempt to approximate the feeling, which is definitely impossible:

I was experiencing it, yet my conscious thinking mind was trying to explain this to myself: how could I be feeling this much pain? How is this much pain even possible? I certainly did not believe this much pain was even possible much less that I was experiencing it.

Imagine that you’re watching it a movie. Someone holding a match flame under their fingertip: it doesn’t hurt you at all. 

Now, actually go get a match and hold the burning flame under your finger. Notice how completely different imagining it or even seeing it is to actually experiencing it. 

So the description of it that I give here is kind of like that— unless you have experienced something analogous you may not even get 1/10th of it. 

Imagine that you have the ~emotion~ that you have from being burned plus being in a very confined claustrophobic space like an elevator that’s getting smaller, plus the elevator is falling, plus it feels like you’ve been in that elevator forever, plus imagine that you will be in that elevator forever, plus, you are being crushed to death without dying, plus imagine that you have been given a lifetime prison sentence in that confined suffocating space and at the end of it you will receive the death penalty. 

In addition, you have the fear of this pain. You have worry about this pain, and you have depression. Imagine the normal depression people have experienced and they were crying. This is not an experience of crying. (I have had both normal depression and severe suicidal depression so I definitely know the difference.)

Imagine the worst emotional feeling you’ve ever had (unless you’ve had severe suicidal depression). (It is by far the worst experience of pain of any kind I have ever had.) (Absolutely nothing compares.)

Imagine whatever pain that might be, but imagine that it’s not anxiety, which is fear, which is one of the other worst feelings you can have.

Imagine the worst emotional feeling you’ve ever had and then take that times three all the way up to eight or nine, literally eight or nine times as bad. I don’t want to say 100 times as bad, although at times the pain was so bad you couldn’t even put a number on it.

People often wonder why people commit suicide.

They do it because the pain is so bad. 

Another misery that is associated with the pain of depression is that it is completely invisible. 

It’s not as if you have been burned and are in a burn ward and you are receiving love and sympathy and understanding from other people. 

Also, you have people telling you “it’s not that bad,” or to “just snap out of it,” or, “you don’t have any reason to feel bad,” or some other statement that is infuriating.

Depression is a private hell from which you think there is no escape. 

There are things that will help a little bit with it, and then of course if you get healed and you were able to persistently forgive with God’s help, and you have that kind of depression, you will be delivered from it .

The mind is its own place, and the suffering that you experience, the intensity and duration of it, is not something that can be seen or understood by other people.

I remember feeling incredible amount of pain and then realizing that there might not be any limit to how bad this could get. I visualized looking down into an abyss.

People have no idea of the amount of endurance and heroism that some other people have in working a job while being in extreme mental and emotional pain.

There is no applause, and no award, and no cash payment, and no recognition for enduring this hell on earth.

Many people, myself included, would fake their emotions out of survival. They would act normal even while they were experiencing this horrific pain.

Once, in deep pain, I was very close to cutting my left pinky off at the first knuckle and showing it to my mother to try to convey that I was in so much pain that in comparison to how much pain I was in, the mere physical pain of cutting my finger off was nothing.

Thank God that reason prevailed and I never did any self harm like this, although I do totally understand people who do it, and also people who kill themselves.

It’s not out of some “insanity.” 

It has to do with wanting to get out of pain.

The great writer David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide maybe 12 or 13 years ago, said something very similar to what I’m saying here. He said that suicidal depression is like people in the Twin Towers who jumped after the airplanes hit the towers. 

There were painful and terrifying and massive flames coming toward them. 

Outside the window there was pleasant air. 

They were so terrified of the pain from the flame and the searing heat that was approaching them that they jumped out of the window, not even caring that jumping out of that window to get rid away from the flame would also result in falling and being crushed to death on the pavement below.

It is a miracle of Jesus that I did not commit suicide with the amount of pain that I was in.


I guess I felt the need to write this now because it’s been months and for the most part, years, since I’ve felt even a twinge for one second of the pain or felt the memories of the pain of depression when coming out of a dream in the morning.

To remember or feel the pain of severe depression literally for even one second could demoralize me for up for four or five hours, or maybe the whole day.

As I said above, to remember it fully would be to re-experience it fully, so for my own survival, I’m sure my brain knows that is necessary that I forget it completely in terms of remembering how it felt.

But since the experience of depression destroyed the greater part of three decades of my life, destroyed prime years of my life, and things I could have done, I felt it was important to memorialize it in words as articulately as I possibly could, as I gratefully leave even the memories or twinges of it behind.

There is an extreme heavenly comfort in just realizing that I am no longer in that pain to any degree, and that it will not come back.

Thanks for reading.

Curtis Smale

The Resurrection of RUSH music


The grieving turns into resurgence. I remember in college, a guy used to say he was feeling a RUSH mood coming on. I can relate. Once you hear this music and get into it, you too might feel a RUSH mood coming on. The amazing thing about leaving behind words, or music, or movie images, or paintings, or sculptures, or architecture, or anything, is that they remain to touch people when you have entered the next reality. https://youtu.be/V4vauh7x7e4

My Brother, Bryan

I’d like to tell you about Bryan, my brother.
Bryan, my only brother.
Bryan, my loving brother.
25 years ago, let me stay at his house when I was suicidally depressed and unemployed.
He bought me meals.
He gave me a place to stay.
He gave me money.
He gave me a car before I left for Texas.
It was a Mazda, and it was destroyed in the easily-could-have-been-fatal car accident in Texas a few days later.
(The story of this of this event is also on this website. Just search “Texas.”)
Bryan has been sensitive, loving, and caring toward me throughout my entire life.
No one has ever made me laugh harder.
No one gave better hugs.
He has been a good listener.
He has been supportive and positive.
He helped me when it hurt him.
He has been self-sacrificing and kinder than you know or can imagine.
But a couple of things stick out in my mind…
Once, he was wearing a very cool shirt with a huge white UP arrow on it.
We were at his house, and I said, “I really like that shirt.”
Right after I said that sentence, he unbuttoned his shirt, took it off, and gave it to me.
I wore that shirt at work and karaoke until it fell apart.
I felt like I was wearing love.
Another time, I told him that I really liked the feel of the silverware he had. Metal utensils with big thick heavy ends, conical shaped, felt really good in the hand.
He said to his wife, “Shelly, wrap those up and give those all to Curtis.” He immediately gave me the entire set of silverware.
I learned not to say I liked something he had.
I have been eating with those utensils for 26 years.
This is how I know my brother has a heart of gold, and no one is going to talk negative about my brother Bryan.
People talk about someone who gives you the shirt off their back, as a metaphor.
My brother Bryan literally did that.
Please don’t come back with anything negative to say about my brother Bryan.
My brother has shown me a lot of Christlike love.
I love my brother Bryan.
Jesus bless my loving Brother Bryan, in every way.

THE AERONAUTS Movie Trailer… and Flying in a Balloon

This movie actually looks interesting. It has been a long time since I saw a movie trailer that actually looked like it was advertising an interesting and enchanting movie. 

Seeing this movie preview reminds me of my own balloon trip in Chandler, Arizona about 15 years ago. My friend Matt A. needed me for ballast on a balloon, so I got the trip for free. 

Being up in a balloon is everything you would imagine it would be, and more. It was one of the most wonderful (and uplifting!) experiences of my life. 

I did not realize it at the time, or really think about it. But this trailer triggered memories. I realized that the actual experience had all of the enchantment of the Wizard of Oz balloon and Jules Verne’s balloons. It’s all real. It’s all there in that experience. Every last bit.

When the balloon gets about 75 feet off the ground, and it’s still rising, it takes your breath away with fear and excitement. The exhilaration happens again with twice the breathing-hard intensity when you are way up, thousands of feet up, lost in the windy clouds, at the highest, but it’s still going up. You see the planet far below as if you are no longer part of Earth  life. Up, up—and away. It is incredibly high and is still going higher—will it ever stop rising? Aren’t we getting too high up?! Is anyone in control of this thing? Can we steer this or are we just being blown along? 

You think you’re going to get lost in the clouds and be blown to another country or planet, or lost in the universe. I’m not being melodramatic, that’s how it feels. 

It’s unbelievably exciting and intense and yet completely quiet and peaceful and serene in great stretches. 

I’m happy I had such a wonderful experience. What a heavenly blessing. 

I have the entire experience recorded on video tape. 

I have high hopes that this movie will be good.

PS: The animated balloon movie UP was also great. 

– Curtis 

Grandpa Carl and the 4-Leaf Clover

Once, and only once, about 45 years ago, when I was about 8 years old, my grandfather and I were walking in the park near his house.

He said, “I wonder if you can find a four leaf clover.” I immediately bent down and Bam! there it was! and picked up a four leaf clover! We could not find any other four leaf clovers around, anywhere.

He was not Irish, he was German, but man, that was a moment!

I still have that four-leaf clover somewhere. It’s on a little 2-inch by 2-inch double-sided plastic, taped on the sides, with my Grandpa Carl’s perfect capital-letter, mechanical engineer felt-tip handwriting on the white paper inside.

Curtis Smale



Four Music Stories from My Life

I’d like to tell you four super-short stories about the joy, power, and enjoyment of music in my life. 

My first little story is one I’ve told many times, but can’t seem to find in written form right now.  The first time I got addicted to music, I was about eight years old. This would have been about 1973. I was sitting on the green shag carpet of my bedroom at 5771 Oakwood Street in Greendale, Wisconsin, playing a little box record player, spinning a 45rpm of “Blinded by the Light” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band.

I was on my seventh or eighth playing of that song, when my mother said, “If you play that one more time, I’m going to snap it in half!”

Deep in the throes of music addiction, yes, I played it one more time…

She came into my room, and then I heard the now-familiar needle-on-the-record shrieking, and she snapped that baby in half! 

I have no bad feelings or trauma. It’s actually a pleasant memory. I don’t think I was even all that upset at the very time that she cracked my record in half. 

It was such an incredible experience being addicted to music for the first time.


The second experience is a hate-to-love story…

I was at Lutheran summer camp, and my bunkmate Daniel Mertz decided to put the boom box on endless repeat of “The Temples of Syrinx,” by RUSH. I was about 12 years old. This was shortly before STAR WARS came out.

I was exhausted and laying on the top bunk. It was early afternoon. The song came on, and it played over and over.

I absolutely hated the high shrieking voice of Geddy Lee, who I didn’t know was Geddy Lee at that moment, of course.

The song played over and over, torturing me. It played over and over, about eight times. 

(I just realize now that that was about the number of times I played “Blinded by the Light” when my mother snapped it in half.)

On the eighth playing, I was hooked. I loved it. I loved the voice I had just hated seconds before! What a surprise.

I loved the guitars. I loved the drumming. I loved it all, suddenly, with a passion. I was exposed to something new, enough times, and it took hold.

I have been a RUSH fan ever since, and I bought every single one of their albums, timing my life by the sudden appearance of a new album on radio and in stores about every three years.


The third story is a karaoke story. One of the first rocking songs I heard in my youth in Wisconsin was “Back in the Saddle” by Aerosmith. Trust me, I didn’t get the double entendres at that time. It sounded like a hard-rocking cowboy song to me! This was in Daniel Mertz’s brother’s basement, in his dark wood- paneled room.

Many, many, years later, about 15 years ago, maybe 2003, I was at the new-location 8th Street Paul’s karaoke bar, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and I was singing “Dream On,” by Aerosmith…

A musical miracle happened. Only one time in my life have I been able to do this. I sang Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” and I hit every single note in that song. (If you really listen to Steven Tyler’s singing on that song, you can tell that it was a struggle even for him to sing it, even back in his prime.)

I tried several times, but was never able to do it again. (Go back, Jack, do it again.) I think it was a combination of late night crazy energy, a couple of drinks, relaxation, passion for the song, melodic inspiration, and some other kind of X-factor musical magic.

It was truly a memorable one-of-a-kind performance. Many people applauded, commented, and were amazed. So was I, even while I was singing it.

That only happened one time in my entire 10+ year karaoke “career.”


The fourth story: I was about 14 years old and there was a guy at high school named Chris Hill. Chris was quite the music aficionado. I was at the Kohl’s Department Store in Southridge, in Greendale, Wisconsin. 

There was a clearance bin in about the center of the store. Chris walked up. I said hi, and I asked him if there was any music he would recommend. I was trying to be avant-gard and expand my musical experience. He flipped through the stacks for seconds only. The album he recommended was “Tormato” by YES, with a guy in a proper English suit standing and playing air drums with smashed tomato all around on the album cover.

I bought the super-inexpensive album on Chris’ recommendation. The album was absolutely magical. Unlike anything I’d ever heard in my entire life up to that point. “On the Silent Wings of Freedom.” In the darkest days of my suicidal depression many years ago, I looked to YES to “Lift Me Up”: Here is the story.

I was and am a YES fan for life.

I probably have a few more music experiences I am not remembering right now, that I might add here in future times.

Thanks for listening to my music stories.

Curtis Smale

My Brother Bryan Has Drinks on an Airplane with Al Pacino

One workplace my Dad, brother, and I all were employed by, was the Airport.

My Dad and brother Bryan worked at, I think, both Mitchell Field (now Mitchell International), (MKE), and O’Hare Airport, in Chicago, Illinois. “CHI”?

My Dad worked for United Airlines for 38 years: at the ticket counter, the gate, the ramp, load planning, and lost and found, and maybe some other places. His supervisor was “Bates.” I knew that name very well. ”Tom,” was that his first name? I’m pretty sure.

My Dad got me into the cockpit of an airplane and up in the control tower. I felt privileged.

I was.

Anyway, I love the airport. It is an exciting place where people are quickly and dramatically transported to far away places. They leave, and are almost instantaneously, far, far away from you. Like death. Or a new life.

My Dad took the family on many airplane trips: Alaska (twice, A-Frame wilderness adventure; and a salmon fishing trip complete with Grizzly bear encounter), Hawaii, Colorado (Estes Park hiking trips amd the Stanley Hotel, the model for the Hotel in THE SHINING, New Orleans (trapped in a wrought iron gate elevator) Oregon (to meet my STAR WARS CLUB pen pal, Michael Madson), Virginia (the Halls of Congress, Lincoln Monument and White House), San Diego, California (for lunch once, and then returned home!), and Albuquerque, New Mexico, to scout houses for a possible move (which never happened.)

My Dad had a sense of adventure!

I myself worked in Airport Security, inside the airport, and at 5E-Gate 1, at DFW, Dallas, Fort Worth, Texas, around 1996.

My brother Bryan worked for SkyChef, the company that put food on the planes.

One day, brother Bryan was on a flight in coach, going where, I do not remember.

He was sitting in coach.

The bathrooms were full back there, so he walked to the front of the plane, to use the First Class bathrooms.

Now, you have to know that Al Pacino was my brother’s favorite movie star, and SCARFACE is his favorite movie.

So, my brother is walking back to his seat, and guess who eyeballs my brother.

Get out of here!

The man himself.

Scarface in the flesh!

Al Pacino!

My brother gushed all over him. Told him he was the greatest actor of all time! Loved SCARFACE, his favorite movie!

So Al, as we like to call him in the family, invites my brother to sit down and have a few drinks with him.

They are laughing and drinking those little bottles of rum.

My brother gets an idea.

Remember now, this was way before all of the strict rules and regulations on airplanes.

My brother says sheepishly, “Al, would you please do my favorite line from SCARFACE for me?”

Al says, “Sure, Bryan, what is the line?”

“That line where you tell the guy, “F*** You!”

Pacino laughs and delivers the line with gusto.

My brother repeats it back to him.

There they were, two high-class guys screaming FU back and forth at each other in First Class.

I can see the whole thing in my mind’s eye.

And that is my second-hand, high-class, Al Pacino story.

I hope you like this story as much as I do.

Curtis Smale





The first time I heard the name “Al Pacino”

It was on the back porch of Kenny and Lilly’s house. Their son, Mike Farley, the bodybuilder whose physique was on par with Schwarzenegger and Stallone in their prime, was talking enthusiastically about a new movie called THE EXORCIST, and how scary and crazy it was.

I remember at that same spot, the back porch, either at that same time or another time, Mike talking about an exciting new actor he had seen in a film. No one knew how to pronounce his name…

“Al Patch-in-Noe?” “Al Pah-SEE-noe?” We didn’t know.

It was Al Pacino.

Curtis Smale

Click here for another Al Pacino story: https://storiesfrommylife13.wordpress.com/2018/07/05/the-time-my-brother-bryan-had-drinks-with-a-huge-movie-star-on-a-united-airlines-flight-in-first-class/

Curtis Smale

Memories that originated at Gimbel’s Department Store


Gimbel’s. I think my Mom worked there.
Gimbel’s. The parking lot where I think Daniel Mertz’ brother was driving the car left to right, in front of the store, a few lanes deep into the lot, when we heard Elvis died, August 17th. 1977. My Mom was going to take my brother and I to see Elvis in concert, but sadly, he died first.
Gimbel’s. The place I saw my first national celebrity, Anson Williams, who played Potsie on the TV show “Happy Days.” I could not believe he was sitting on a chair on a tiny raised platform, in the clothing section.
Gimbel’s. The Southridge shopping mall store you would first see, on bicycle or car, when you emerged from Kenny and Lilly’s neighborhood near the Greendale Village.

Curtis Smale

“The Gruff Old Lady at Leon’s Custard Stand.” Wednesday, May 16th, 2018, 8:30pm MST

My brother Bryan and I were talking on the phone the other day while he was doing errands around town, the town being Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (I asked my brother for his permission to tell this story.  He said “No,” but I am telling it anyway. Just kidding! He said yes.)

I remember our conversation as my brother and I texting. I was going to post a screenshot of the text, to put you more in the story, remembering the conversation as, “My First Great Texting Story.” But when I looked for the text, I realized that even though we text quite a bit, this was an actual talking conversation!

So my brother was stopping off at the end of his errands to have an ice cream. Really, not ice cream, but “custard.” My brother is a commercial painting foreman, so he works hard physically and deserves a custard. Probably the first cold treat of the almost-summer. A Hot Fudge Sundae, I think it was. But “Hot Fudge Peak” is what the gruff old lady behind the counter at Leon’s Custard stand used to call them. A tiny old lady with Brillo Pad gray hair that looked as strong as a Brillo Pad. Her beady eyes looked at you for a second, and then away. She was very efficient and helpful, but gruff and uncommunicative, which made her interesting, kind of funny, and, after all these years, endearing. 

I remember we might make a quick remark about her, and then forget it, diving into that great vanilla custard covered in delicious hot fudge and salty pecans. Several times, I remember trying to engage the old woman in a bit of conversation, trying to draw out another side of her personality. She didn’t respond, but would just start looking at the customer behind me. In some ways, she was a great employee, extremely about her task. Who knows how she was, or who she was, with her friends and family. 

Anyway, if you tried to talk to her, she wasn’t having any, whether it was sweltering hot and humid, or bitter cold outside (the two seasons available in Milwaukee.)

She was delivering you a hot fudge peak. 

So, when my brother Bryan pulled up to Leons’ Custard Stand, an institution in Milwaukee, I asked him if, come on, there is no way that lady was still there, she was eighty years old twenty or thirty years ago. Face facts, there is no way she could still be there. She must have passed on, or become too old to work. She would have to be 110 years old. Did she own the place, or was she just an employee? I don’t know, but she was an extremely dedicated employee.

We also had memories of a very nice and cool guy we went to high school with, Kurt Beffa, who used to work at Leon’s. I learned through the Internet that Kurt died of brain cancer a few years ago, at age 50. Sad. I remember he loved cars, was a kind person, had a good sense of humor, liked to draw cartoons, was an Episcopalian, never married and had no kids, his best friend was Eric Haglund, he smoked cigarettes, and he liked Echo and the Bunnymen rock music. Funny the things you remember about people with almost no effort at all. We had some good times and good laughs in high school. God bless Kurt Beffa,

“SHE IS STILL THERE!” my brother said. Neither one of us could believe it. She was just the same, he said. So, maybe she was 60, but just looked eighty, 20 years ago. Maybe she was 80 thirty years ago, and was now 110.

It is cool to have these little, almost forgotten, common points of reference in memory that take you back, connect you with others, and reassure you that the distant forgotten past was real, and not so distant or forgotten.

So, how old is the old lady at Leon’s?

One thing’s for sure.

You aren’t going to get it out of her.  

Just take your Hot Fudge Peak and move aside for the next customer.

Curtis Smale