A friend of mine called the other night. We talked for awhile and he told me about a dear friend of his who'd just committed suicide. The man had been married to his wife for a long time, and she had passed on about a year and a half ago. He didn't get better after that. Nothing really reached him.
So he walked outside and lay down in the snow. And never got up.
After listening to the story I told my friend "it's hard to be mad at the decision he made. You can't really be mad at him for this."
"I'm not," he replied. "I just miss him."
There is no such thing as theoretical suicide. It's a zero sum game in that regard. Within the act there are two outcomes. You either succeed, or you fail, and success and failure have its opposite effects. To succeed at suicide is to successfully die. To fail is to live. From a certain perspective it could be said that failure is really success. It depends on where you come down on the issue.
We seem repulsed by the idea. We attach a morality to it. It has been said before to be a selfish and wrong act. It has been called the most selfish of acts. I guess it is. But that logic also relies on selfishness being an inherent ill when in point of fact it is not. Some of the best decisions of my life came in my most selfish moments. It could also be said, again from a certain perspective, that there is accountability to it. Society always tells us that we should hang in there, that give it tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and eventually those days will peel back to reveal a life that, gosh darn it, was worth if after all. Most of the time, though, it comes down to one. Just you. Your responsibility to yourself and yourself first off, and within that, perhaps, responsibility for your own death.
And no, I am not advocating for suicide. And no, I am not suicidal myself. I'm not playing my tune to get a thousand drab teenagers gathering around this screen and sending them off on some universal death mission, that makes no sense. It goes against everything I know and believe in. But it just seems the topic has been oversimplified, pared down and stripped to the bone. Maybe I think there needs to be more meat. Perhaps I just see this differently.
Understand this: I have been suicidal in my life. More than once actually. It's a bit of a recurring cycle. When you are born with the type of personality I was made with, the pendulum swings to extremes. You get all the highs, and fuck me if you don't go just as far to the other side. It balances itself out, all in all, I'm sure, somewhere, but it's never exactly made sense either.
I remember being very young the first time I heard the term. Suicide. Jennifer, my mother, told me about her suicide attempt in her late teens. This might have been my advanced degree course work on handling my own personality, which resides closer to hers in extemporaneous wind changes, but has a bit of my father sprinkled in for grounding and a hefty dose of my own thrown in for good measure. But the ride Jennifer is, or maybe was, thrown around on is something I understand all too well.
The first time I was depressed I was rather young. I was a student at Laura Engles Wilder elementary school in Littleton, Colorado. I just remember being gripped for a time by a paralyzing loneliness. I was no recluse. I didn't wear dark clothes. I wore whatever my parents bought me. I had friends. I just became silent for awhile. Stuck. I would grow to recognize these times as being trapped in my own head as I got older. Then I had no idea what it was. I just got sad.
Since then it's been a steady progression. The down times just come. There's really nothing to do about it. Part of my genetic code, I guess.
College was the worst. The lowest. After Jennifer left our family I hit bottom as I never had before. Then I broke though the bottom and just kept going. It's awfully fucking dark in there. I would wake up mornings with a handle of Jack under my bed. I had a Swiss army knife I kept in a compartment over my bed. The reflection of my eyes in the blade, the way light shafts would temporarily blind me.
I remember digging my nails into my skin. You've heard that before, that desperate search for sensation, for feeling, for anything. Just feeling. Desperately clawing away.
I lost 35 pounds in those weeks. I was so skinny. One day my friend Ramon came into my room and sat down on the bed opposite me.
"I think you need to go home," he said.
There's either a voice in the back of your head or there isn't. When your there something talks to you or it doesn't. I've often thought about what might have happened if there hadn't been that voice. If there hadn't been a number of things around me then-my father and sister, my friends, music-I probably wouldn't be here right now. But if it hadn't been for that voice I know I wouldn't be here, and it's not even a voice. It's more like a denial of what you are about to do, what you are thinking of doing. It doesn't say anything, it just affirms something in it's denial of the moment. What seems like an unending, everlasting moment.
People say you get better. Of course, the people who say this are never the one's who've been through it. We speak differently. "I made it through it" is how we think. There's a difference, because not everybody does.
It's not like you come out on some other side, either. I've been forever changed since that time. You don't think of ending it all and not carry that scar beneath the skin, somewhere in your chest. Not when your personality can bounce like an ocean buoy, carried by some unknowable and untraceable current.
I don't fight them anymore. I did when I was young. I would try and stave them off and beat them back. I would try and shorten the duration. I was stupid.
Now when they come, from shadows and around corners, I just know it. I just deal with it. That's what you do. You just deal with it.
The first depression is the worst. Not the first time your sad, or the first time things go a little pear shaped. The first depression. The one that knocks you in the gut and leaves you stunned. The one that sits its fat ass square over your face and doesn't get up. It's the worst because you don't think it's ever going to leave. You think it's there, permanent, fixed.
People don't generally help. Our society doesn't really provide for this type of... genetic disorder. There's a reliance on sunny outlooks and optimism, confusion over anyone who might not see the same landscape you do. And there are pills. Smiles in a bottle, an easy answer, a simple way back, back to us, over here, just over the hill, on the sunny side of the street. Welcome to our pharmetoligically-enhanced-take-us-for-how-we-are-therapist-approved little pasture.
The friends I've known who've take these have all quit them. They all, to a one, say they felt caged in, trapped, not themselves.
Part of the way I know myself, part of the way I understand the world around me is by relating to it as I do. I know it through the foggy window and blacked out room just as well as I do when the shades are up and the day is fucking brilliant.
There has to be a way to distinguish your body and your mind. We know how they influence each other, but we don't allow that they might be separate as well. We feel comfortable when someone's body gives out and stops. But what if that same truth holds for the mind as well? What if, one day, your mind stopped living in a similar manner as your body might? Is it possible for your mind to "die," to not allow you to live anymore, at least not in a way that you would want to?
I've never been back there. I've been a floor or two above that place, but never back there. And I never will be. I've come to an amazing place in my life, a place I cherish and hold. I find myself looking around at times when I'm with my friends or family, or even on my own, and thinking, "Remember this." I've even taken to pulling out my cell phone and snapping a quick undercover photograph that I save for later. And not just of people. But some object that I instantly recognize as being from that time.
So take from this what you will. Perhaps you see proof that things do, because we feel more comfortable thinking this way, get better.
If someone ever came to me thinking thoughts I had once and asked me for advice, and they have many times (we seem to recognize each other), I would never tell them not to do it. I never have. I would just tell them what I went through, what happened, what I was thinking, how it all happened.
When I was at my absolute lowest, when things fell off, I would lie in bed in the mornings and refuse to open my eyes. I wasn't going to open my eyes until I thought of something worthwhile. This is not as easy as it seems.
I remember one day looking at my hair. I had long hair then. I stared at the mirror and this thought clicked in my head. Hair grows slowly. Mere millimeters and inches at a time. When we look back at old photos of ourselves we always notice our hairdo. "Look how long it was back then," or "God, that was a terrible look," or "What was I thinking," or "Niiiiiiiice."
I looked at my hair in the reflection and realized that hair grows inches at a time. Slowly. I took a razor and shaved my head. As my hair grew out, as it eeked its way from my scalp, puffing out and then finally heavy enough to fall, as it grew, I would get better. That's just the way it would go.
I measured my road by the stubble on my scalp. It worked for me.