There have been so many moving things written in the wake of Robin Williams' suicide, it makes it a little easier to accept his death. Who knew Robin Williams had made such a large impact on the American psyche? I certainly hadn't suspected how much his death would affect me, let alone my friends and family on Facebook.
A lot of people have taken this time to relay personal stories of depression, and that is incredible. I feel the need to add my own voice, but I have no idea what to say. I get the impression that most of my blog posts are reactions to other people's ideas, responding to other people's take on things and focusing all my energy on proving myself right and their position so clearly in the wrong. (Gods forbid I ever find something to blog about that I agree with!)
So I told myself, this time, I need to write something that's just me. I'm going to talk about what depression and suicide have meant to me.
Depression is terrifying. Sometimes, in moments of clarity, I will sort of become "awake" within my own mind, the rational part of me seeing my thoughts and actions, knowing they are incorrect and/or harmful and/or dangerous. This doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it makes everything so much scarier, feeling trapped within my own mind. I have, however, had some success with using this part of myself to overtake the rest, and at the least get me out of an especially dark or dangerous situation. Part of the painful and yet more successful parts of my treatment for depression has been tapping into this rational area, so that I can notice when I'm having the downward spiral and talk myself out of the endless loop of self-hatred and self-pity. Painful because the two parts of my psyche resent each other. Truly. "Sane Me" resents having to deal with this crap, resents that we're here *again*, resents how hard this fight is going to be. "Crazy Me" resents that someone wants to take away the pity party. Sanity always wins once I get to that realization, because it's just so easy to see how silly the Crazy has become at that point.
But Sanity doesn't like to pop up until things have gotten too close to the edge. So most of the time, Crazy has free reign. She has some wicked tricks in her bag.
The soul-sucking, color-leeching, joy- and love-banishing Giant Invisible Suffocating Wet Blanket is her stand-by. And it's the most effective, the most insidious. Because she just creeps in when I'm not looking, and slowly pulls the wool over my eyes and my head and my soul and suddenly the world looks like crap. Sometimes it's months before I notice. I'll start trying to trace my mood backwards when I realize I don't have a reason for feeling this way. And I never find the beginning, not the moment that it crouches behind me, not the moment it starts to cover me, not the moment that I am finally swallowed whole. If I'm lucky, I'll find a "before", a moment of happiness that has enough information and emotion connected to it that I can realize that not only was I happy in the moment, but I had been breathing easier before the laughter and saw things just fine immediately after. This can be a good tool to use against the blanket. For a moment, or an hour, maybe a day.
Oh, I guess I left that part out: everything in Crazy's Big Bag of Nasty Tricks is indestructable. Sanity and memory and good friends and happy moments can push the blanket off, halt a downward spiral, pull me back from the brink.
But nothing makes them quit. I think eventually they wear out for some reason that I'm not privy to. There is no pattern to it. It certainly has nothing to do with anything that I do. But when that happens, I can find myself without the blanket and blinking at how bright and beautiful everything has become. And I ask myself, when did this start happening? And again, I can't recall. But I quickly tell myself to forget it, because I don't want to lose or destroy or waste this moment.
No, it's not medication that does it. Medication is a life-saver for me. The support of friends and family is immeasureable. Training myself to halt my natural thought processes has been helpful now and then. But nothing overcomes that Blanket. Nothing. All of those things mentioned help lighten it, make it a little less opaque, a little less heavy. Medication helps the other things help more, if that makes sense, a sort of boost to the power of outside support. It makes it easier to find the Sanity voice in my head. It makes it easier to find a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It makes it easier to leave the house to meet people and share joy.
But nothing I've ever done or experienced has bested the Blanket. Ever.
So let's talk about suicide now. I'm not a fan. If we're not talking about me, I have somewhat different responses to it.
My mother has attempted to take her own life on more than one occassion. The first terrified me, then angered me, and now leaves a bitter taste in my mouth when I recall it. I still have her, and I console myself with that, but she still hurt me deeply, and there's still a chance she'll try it again and this time succeed.
When Kurt Cobain did it, I was devestated. He had touched something in so many people, and now he was gone. He had been in so much pain and couldn't take it any more. He would never see his daughter grow up. This all made me so very, very sad. But not angry or hurt. As much as he had touched me, as important as he was to the world and his family, it wasn't about us. It was about him. I was sad for him.
When the singer of Blind Melon died from a heroin overdose, I felt rage. I still can't listen to their music. I cannot forgive him for accidentally killing himself. In my mind, every hit of heroin is like a gamble with your life, but a gamble that you take willingly yet with almost no thought at all. If a person is in so much pain that they need to end it, I feel for them. If someone is in enough pain to do something stupid that may or may not have any impact in either direction, I feel contempt for them. I have a feeling this is blaming the victim. But there it is: I would rather you kill yourself out of pain than seek out a way to just play with the idea that can backfire permanently in your face.
When Michael Hutchence died... I was even more devastated. The fact that there are so little facts is a problem. They have not to my satisfaction proved that he died intentionally or by accident. This makes it easier not to feel anger. There are the circumstances of his life, his wife's death, the custody disputes over their children, and recently the death of one of those children now grown (who is always referred to as Geldof's daughter and not Hutchence despite his hand in raising her). The whole thing makes me miserable. Then there is the personal aspect. I can't explain it, but he meant more to me than Kurt Cobain did. So it hurts more. It hurts the most. It's hard not to cry when I hear some of my favorite songs, even though he's been gone for so long now.
Robin Williams has been hard, because it was so unexpected. The event itself, and the effect it's had on me and most Americans it seems. None of us were very prepared to face just how much he had meant to us, and then he was gone and now there will never be any more magic for him to create for us. But also I find it to be ironic, in a rather horrifying way, that he would kill himself after his film "What Dreams May Come" made such an impact on me. Granted, I never bought much stock into the idea of a special Hell for suicides to go after they die, but the message and beauty of that particular Heaven resonated deep within me. There are some versions of an afterlife that I yearn to discover are true, despite being an atheist-leaning agnostic, and that one is pretty near the top.
But I said this was going to be about me, so I might as well get it over with. Do I have a more personal experience with suicide than these? Yes and no.
Yes, because I have had suicidal thoughts at multiple points in my life. No, because they were usually fleeting.
There have been... less than a handful of times that I have given it any serious thought. I can't and won't talk about them here. That's not fair to my family. But I can explain that just about the biggest reason why I am still here today is because I cannot stand pain. I am more terrified of causing myself pain than I am of living through whatever anguish has driven me to those thoughts. The physical pain I've accumulated over the years has been good for something, at least.
I'll tell you what kind of bothers me more than those moments, are the countless times that the thought has popped into my head and had to be dismissed. Countless because they are all so similar, the all blend together.
Yes, I managed to talk myself out of it, usually rather quickly. But the mindset... it's harder to shake the memory somehow, so maybe that's why it's scarier. I guess because I was rational enough to talk myself out of it, I have a better memory and understanding of it after the fact than the times when I was crazy enough that it was serious.
The utter hopelessness that births these thoughts is soul crushing. There is no other way to describe it. I can only speak from my own experiences, but these thoughts usually come from a very specific place: fear of being alone. I already have so little steady connections in my life, the idea of losing those last, most basic pillars in my life is more terrifying than death or pain or nuclear holocaust.
How to describe this in a way that an outsider can get some glimpse? Do you truly understand what a downward spiral of negative thoughts is like? The real pity party, the kind you can't control? They say that in a near-death experience, your life flashes before you. Well, what if it was just the bad parts? The really bad parts. And it was by no means a flash. You are somehow capable of bringing to life the perfectly preserved feelings of pain and anguish, physical and mental (usually mental) of these moments. And you play them back-to-back, going in circles to revisit them. And each moment seems to carry on for a day, so that it feels like you've always been in this place and you always will be. There is absolutely no hope for you, because the only thing in your life that ever was, ever is, and ever will be is the most excruciating pain you can imagine. When suddenly, you've had enough. Either your brain snaps you out of it, or you come to realize the only way for it to stop is to end everything. If your entire existence is pain, the only solution is to end your existence.
People put pets to sleep who are in too much pain. We put murderers to death for the pain they cause. The average person would eventually kill themselves if they were in enough physical pain for long enough, each one of us just has a different breaking point. It's why torture is so effective, because eventually, everyone has a place where, if pushed beyond, they would rather die to end the pain than continue. Even if it means betraying everything and everyone they love. Pain reduces you to that lizard-brain place of survival-of-self over everything else. It's only a matter of finding the depth of pain that will turn death into a better version of survival than living through any more pain.
Someone with depression is very, very good at finding that place. This is where the "depression lies" concept comes into play. Because it's not enough to feel pain or to feel worthless, no, there is The Voice that compounds everything by constantly confirming your worst fears. You really are that insignificant, that stupid, that miserable, that evil, that fat, that lost, that hopeless. On a daily basis, The Voice convinces you that sitting on the couch will feel better than going for a walk. It will convince you that talking to someone will make you feel worse, or make them feel worse, and how can you burden another person with this? It will tell you you're selfish. It will tell you you're not selfish enough, that you deserve to reward yourself with something harmful. It will tell you that you deserve the pain caused to you and that you cause to yourself. It will tell you every single last lie it can think of, and then think of new ones.
It's hard enough to get off the couch or out of bed or pick up the phone when that's going on in your head. Can you possibly fathom what it's like to listen to that while you are stuck in an infinite loop of feeling all the worst pains of your life all at the same time? The Voice is sometimes your own, sometimes your mother's, sometimes the one you love the most, sometimes the one you hate the most. The pain is mental and physical, in your head and your ears and your skin and your gut. And you can't breathe. It is too much to breathe or think or move, what else can you do but use everything in your power to MAKE IT STOP!?
And this is what it feels like for just a moment in time, and the more you fight it, the more moments of eternity you will feel, when all you want is for it to stop.
I have been lucky. Something has stopped the onslaught of infinite pain and loathing before I acted on it.
Some are not so lucky. For them, The Voice and the pain together were just too much to take any longer. Their own minds convinced themselves to end it.
How do you fight that? How do you fight yourself? How does sane fight crazy if sane doesn't exist?
Feel free to judge. That's just giving The Voice more ammunition. Do you think we're unaware of what our death will do to those we leave behind? Do you have so little grasp of the power of The Voice to not understand that the moment those thoughts pop into our head, they are used against us to convince ourselves we are horrible, rotten human beings who don't deserve what little we have left?
There is no understanding the unexplainable. There is no way to comprehend insanity because you have to be sane to even attempt it, at which point you're no longer insane enough to be insane. Questioning your sanity is a sign of sanity. The fact that you're capable of questioning means there is hope for you. If you can't even question yourself? You're lost, utterly lost.
I think the difference between someone who contemplates suicide and someone who attempts it is that sanity is just completely gone in the ones who act. At least, I think that's why I'm still here.
I imagine there are some people who still have rational thought, who are still making decisions at the time of their suicide. They leave notes, they settle affairs. Maybe they are the majority. But is it any less awful? To be so desperate to end it, that you overrule your own sanity while there's still some left?
What is worse, to be so utterly hopeless that you kill yourself to end the pain, or to have enough hope to actually realize how little is left, and still feel there is no better choice than death?
Neither is selfish. Both are irrational. Both are devestating. Both are final, if you do it right.
And who does it help to blame someone at that point, now that it's over? Maybe it helps you. Maybe it scares away some of the shadows. Maybe your anger and blaming shouts out the Voice a little. I wish you well with it.
ps: no, there is no happy ending or revelation or lesson to take away. Because life is not a half-hour sitcom. It's not even a Saturday Afternoon Special. It's life. And life is messy and unexplainable, with no instruction manual or reward or even a moral to learn. No wonder I never finish any of my fiction or publish my non-fiction. Because I end things when I'm out of words, not when I've tied a finishing bow. The fact that I use so damned many of them before I run out probably doesn't help though.