Monday, August 11, 2014

Depression. Suicide. Nanu Nanu.

I'm writing this after a long day of work and a tiring night with the kids. This afternoon the world learned that Robin Williams was dead and it's believed he took his own life. Dammit all to hell, but that's a kick in the gut. When I was young I loved Mork from Ork, even more so after finding out that we shared the same last name*. I always wondered if we were secretly related (I was young and had no idea how common Williams was as a last name) and hoped that somewhere, sometime I'd find out that he was my crazy uncle twice-removed or some such thing. Anyway, today is a tough day for a lot of people. Mr. Williams touched a lot of hearts in his relatively short life and almost everyone you meet has a favorite performance or a bit that never fails to make them smile. It absolutely rips me apart to think about his loneliness at the end, to imagine the way his heart felt before he decided he'd had enough. Damn. Just Damn. Damn, damn, damn.

Well, here goes. I'm not sure I believe in coincidence but I'm compelled tonight to share a story I can't seem to shake free and let go. I haven't talked about suicide in . . . ever, really . . . and this past week it's been the topic of conversation more than once in my circle of friends. Just the other night, a Tuesday, I had a rare moment completely free from all responsibility: no children, no friends, no appointments, no schedule. It had been so long since I was truly alone with my thoughts I almost didn't know what to do. I went for a walk. Then I went for a drive. I meandered through the aisles of the Goodwill. I wound up buying myself a nice bottle of scotch; thinking perhaps I would sit at home and listen to some jazz and enjoy the hell out of drinking alone. I stopped to get some dinner and  as I sat there eating a chicken bowl from Panda Express I started to rethink my plan to sip myself into a slow stupor. More about this in a bit.

Robin Williams, suicide at age 63. Sobering as all hell. This is a pretty difficult thing to admit and I feel like I can only do it because so many people are talking about it today. I am exhausted and want to stop writing and go to sleep but I'm afraid if I wait until tomorrow I'll never share this.

I've been suicidal.

I've cut into my arms and hoped it was deep enough that I would accidentally die. That time in my life didn't last long but it was a short, powerful period of depression that I had a really difficult time shaking. You probably wouldn't be surprised to discover it was Junior High. I remember one day after school sitting in my bathroom shower with a knife cutting criss-cross patterns into my forearms and thinking it was probably as good a time as any to see how deep I could go when my phone rang. It's the same story every kid who "almost did it" has - my friend called me and knocked me out of it and everything was all better afterwards. Was I serious? I don't know; it's hard to look back from 20+ years in the future and remember what it felt like to be a lonely 13 year old boy. My friend called me every day so the cynical part of my personality thinks I probably knew instinctively the phone call was coming. But maybe I didn't. Did God step in? I don't know. What I know is time has passed and I've managed to keep going to sleep and waking up again the next morning, every morning.

What terrifies me about this whole topic is I don't know anything about suicide. Is it like alcoholism? Is it caused by a disease that you can never cure or is it a fleeting moment that you can pass by if you manage to survive it. This is a big part of the problem for us, if you ask me - we can't talk about suicide in a way that's meaningful. As I type this tonight all I can think about is how my mom is going to feel when she reads it or the concerned phone calls I'm going to get from my friends wanting to seem super supportive and cool but secretly just afraid I'm going to kill myself tomorrow. I'm not. I love my life, I'm happy, and I love every day that passes - I look forward to every new day. But . . .

I still wonder if suicidal tendencies are like alcoholism. Am I cured? I have these brushes with paranoia when I look at a whole bottle of blood pressure medicine or I am driving down a steep mountain road or when I've got the 10" chef's knife out. Not, "I want to kill myself" but instead,"Holy shit what if I wanted to kill myself?" Do you see the difference? I could just do it and that terrifies me. It's not the desire to do it but instead the recognition that I could or the fear that I might want to.

This brings me back to the bottle of scotch I bought on Tuesday night. I was feeling a little down that night, not sure why. I bought the bottle thinking it would be a nice night to drink a few glasses and doze off with a warm belly. But on my way home I got scared, like I sometimes do, that it might be a bad night to drink. "What if I'm too depressed to drink tonight? What if I do something stupid and kill myself?" Not the desire, not even the feeling that I might do it. Simply the fear of putting myself in a position that could make me want to. What if that's all it takes for someone to kill themselves? What if it's really just about being in the wrong place at the wrong time? What if no one actually "means" to do it but they just don't catch the signs that tell them they're going to put themselves in a bad position? How can we know?

Well, this is why I braved some of my darkest fears that Tuesday night. I pulled out my phone and chatted up one of my oldest friends, one of the people you can talk to about anything. And honestly, one of the people I knew I could talk to that wouldn't call the police. I shared what I was feeling and (after the obligatory, "you're OK right?") we started talking about being depressed and having suicidal thoughts. Turns out he has had similar thoughts. We had an honest to goodness conversation about what it is to be a human being; what it means to live every day and not know what the hell you're doing. We shared our fears, we shared our self-loathing, we shared our regrets. In short, we talked about the kinds of things we're almost always too afraid to talk to other people about because we're worried they'll think we're going to hurt ourselves.

And then I had the same conversation with two other friends on Friday night. Same preface, same momentary concern expressed, same fruitful conversation. Are we all just walking around wondering whether or not we're about to swerve our cars into traffic? Are we all just 3 stiff drinks away from sliding off a bridge into a river? Why can't we talk about these dark thoughts with each other?

Well, I don't know why I'm writing this except there's some part of me down deep that thinks maybe, perhaps just maybe, I might just be the person you'd be willing to talk about suicide the one time it feels too real. I won't know how you feel but I'll listen and hopefully we can learn something from each other and find out what it will take to see another sunrise.

*I changed my last name after I turned 18 for reasons that extend beyond the scope of this blog post.


Ron Friesen said...

Chris, Thank you for your frank and open post. We don't know each other except through these pages. I am here for you. Glad you have friends you can talk to.

MagneticJOY said...

Proud of your courage! And so glad you're still here!

memyselfandkids said...

You're lucky to have good friends who you can talk to about this. Very fortunate.
Robing Williams' passing is just sad. He brought people so much joy and the fact that he himself was suffering is just so terribly sad.

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