Lethal Impulse

Call it dumb luck or a mother's intuition.

Maureen Irwin jumped up from watching TV to check on her 14-year-old daughter, stirring upstairs.

"Cait! Are you all right?" she shouted up the stairwell.

Jolted, Cait plucked the silver artist's knife off her bare wrist and crawled back into bed.

Her mom's voice triggered the one thought keeping Cait going: Her suicide would hurt everyone around her.

Mom interrupted the voice pounding inside Cait's head. The lethal voice haunting Cait for weeks. The voice that said: "This is it."

Cait called this voice the beast. She drew the beast in her sketchpad, journaled about it. Later, she would publish a book about depression.

It took a year of hard work for Cait to beat back the beast. Along the way, she leaned on her Council Bluffs family, a trusted psychiatrist, patient teachers and friends. She endured five changes in medication.

The beast had begun whispering to Cait in eighth grade. She slogged through school. She didn't care about the things that used to matter -- volleyball, swimming, friends. Her vision blurred. Noise bothered her. She was tired all the time, and sleep did not come easily.

By summer, Cait told a psychiatrist about the X-Acto knife.

She spent nine days at now-closed Richard Young Center in Omaha, undergoing tests and treatment for depression.

Maureen Irwin took a leave from her job and taught Cait at home, until Cait could ease back into ninth grade at St. Albert High School.

A year later, Cait's uncle self-published Cait's musings and sketches. Random House picked up the book, calling it "Conquering the Beast Within."

In high school, Cait flew around the nation to talk about the book. She also landed mural-painting jobs in Council Bluffs.

Mike Irwin couldn't talk about depression with his daughter, although he struggled with his own melancholy. He got her hooked on restoring a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle with him. Cait drove it in the St. Albert homecoming parade senior year.

College took Caitlin Shea Irwin to Lake Superior's shore in northern Wisconsin.

At age 25, she makes her living there helping disabled people live independently.

Cait also makes and sells her art. She carves figures into wood, paints and is working on another book. Free time is spent kayaking, dog-sledding or just enjoying the outdoors.

She takes the same mix of Wellbutrin and Zoloft and uses the same Omaha psychiatrist, keeping up by phone.

Though she gives talks on depression, it seems far in her past.

"That's so done right now in my life, " Cait said. "You wonder how it happened."