Posts Tagged ‘Suicide’

Michael Buble "That's Life"I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet,

a pawn and a king.

I’ve been up and down and over and out,

and I know one thing:

each time I find myself, flat on my face,

I pick myself up and get back in the race.

“That’s Life.”  Lyrics by, Dean Kay & Kelly L. Gordon

Ok, so I’ve reached rock bottom.  I hope.

Needing a respite from rejection I stopped sending out novel excerpts and short stories to literary magazines and agents.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t put an end to the negative responses.  Yesterday I received another form letter from Berkeley Fiction Review.  It was a lovely little missive submitted to me in response to a story I sent them on December 1, 2008.  Ten months ago.

That’s not the worst of it.  The rejection that’s been the hardest for me to take is one that never came.

Several months ago I volunteered to teach prisoners at San Quentin.  I sent them cover letters, resumes, a detailed suggested syllabus and numerous e-mails, and in return I received nothing.  No acknowledgement.  No “thanks, but no thanks.”  No “message undeliverable.”  Nothing.

What little self-esteem I had left was shattered by the realization that I was being rejected by the California prison system.  By virtue of their non-response, I was being told that I was not even worthy of teaching writing to convicted felons.  Here I was, willing to risk my life working side by side with individuals incarcerated for crimes they’d committed against society, and I, a law abiding citizen with a MFA and a desire to do something positive with my free time, was being told by the University Prison Project that I wasn’t even worthy of a dignified response.

My bipolarity is a blessing and a curse.  In some ways I believe it is partially responsible for my creativity, my desire to write in the first place.  But it’s a challenge because of the inconsistency it causes to my attention, to my ambition, and to the very source of my creativity.  So, here I am, trying to navigate the biochemical fluctuations in my brain without pharmaceuticals, while still being plagued with the emotional/ego issues that affect every one: fear, stress, rejection, etc.

I never know if my reaction to something is nature or nurture.  It would be ideal if I could separate them, study them independently, but I can’t.  Is the hopelessness I feel relative to the situation?  Is the despair triggered by the rejection or does the rejection merely amplify feelings that were already there?

I can be overly sensitive, susceptible to depression from even a simple (and perhaps unintended) slight.  So how do I forge ahead when I can’t be sure of what’s real?  Are others just insensitive brutes incapable of recognizing my significant talent?  Or is my wavering ego incapable of coming to terms with the fact that I don’t have any talent, that they are right?

I don’t profess to know why other writers have chosen to take their own lives, but I do believe on some level it had something to do with either the process and/or the business of writing.  You see, the thing with writing is that there is no right way, no one-way.  It is (to some extent) subjective, even to the author.  The brilliant sentences, the beautiful metaphors, the inspired alliteration that made it to the page yesterday, today sound flat, tired, clichéd.

That’s life

and I can’t deny it

many times I thought of cutting out

but my heart won’t buy it

but if there’s nothing shakin’ come this here July

I’m gonna roll myself up

in a big ball

and die

For various and unknowable reasons, the following authors died at their own hands.  Gifted individuals who had managed to make a name for themselves, support themselves doing what they loved, at some point decided that life wasn’t worth living.  The thought that these artists had come to such a conclusion even after they’d achieved success (and became the basis by which others would be measured), scares me to death.

The Snows of KilimanjaroThe lion still stood looking majestically and coolly toward this object that his eyes only showed in silhouette, bulking like some super-rhino.  There was no man smell carried toward him and he watched the object, moving his great head a little from side to side.  Then watching the object, not afraid, but hesitating before going down the bank to drink with such a thing opposite him, he saw a man figure detach itself from it and he turned his heavy head and swung away toward the cover of the trees as he heard a cracking crash and felt the slam of a .30-06 220-grain solid bullet that bit his flank and ripped in sudden hot scalding nausea through his stomach.  He trotted, heavy, big-footed, swinging wounded full-bellied, through the trees toward the tall grass and cover, and the crash came again to go past him ripping the air apart.  Then it crashed again and he felt the blow as it hit his lower ribs and ripped on through, blood sudden hot and frothy in his mouth, and he galloped toward the high grass where he could crouch and not be seen and make them bring the crashing thing close enough so he could make a rush and get the man that held it.”  “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” by Ernest Hemingway.

Being There

Once in a while Chance would turn off the water and sit on the grass and think.  The wind, mindless of direction, intermittently swayed the bushes and trees.  The city’s dust settled evenly, darkening the flowers, which waited patiently to be rinsed by the rain and dried by the sunshine.  And yet, with all its life, even at the peak of its bloom, the garden was its own graveyard.  Under every tree and bush lay rotten trunks and disintegrated and decomposing roots.  It was hard to know which was more important: the garden’s surface or the graveyard from which it grew and into which it was constantly lapsing.”  “Being There,” by Jerzy Kosinski

Fear & Loathing in Las VegasBy this time the drink was beginning to cut the acid and my hallucinations were down to a tolerable level.  The room service waiter had a vaguely reptilian cast to his features, but I was no longer seeing huge pterodactyls lumbering around the corridors in pools of fresh blood.  The only problem now was a gigantic neon sign outside the window, blocking our view of the mountains—millions of colored balls running around a very complicated track, strange symbols & filigree, giving off a loud hum….”Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” by Hunter S. Thompson

Like the song says, “I’ll pick myself up and get back on my feet.”  Or, perhaps, “Roll myself up in a big ball and die.”  Only time will tell.  But for now…I’m still writing!!!

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Touched with FireThe fiery aspects of thought and feeling that initially compel the artistic voyage—fierce energy, high mood, and quick intelligence; a sense of the visionary and the grand; a restless and feverish temperament—commonly carry with them the capacity for vastly darker moods, grimmer energies, and occasionally, bouts of “madness.”  “Touched with Fire: Manic-depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament,” by Kay Redfield Jamison

I received another in a seemingly endless series of “not for us” letters in the mail yesterday.  One of those impersonal form rejection letters sent out by students and volunteers at literary magazines when they find a free moment to shove an 8 ½’ x 11 guillotine into a number 9 envelope and send it off to me using the stamp that I supplied.  The cut is quick, but it is not painless.

It does however leave me headless for a few days.  Especially when those successive mornings are spent in front of the television watching Nancy (Dis)Grace hawking her novel on Good Morning America and the Today Show.

Is her writing that good?  Is mine that bad?  You be the judge:

He couldn’t just leave the body lying there like that. There was something missing. It was biting at him. He’d tried to go, walking back to his car in the dark twice now, but the nagging in his brain wouldn’t let him leave until she was absolutely perfect.  He looked at her lying there in the moonlight. Her dead body was absolutely stunning. Before, when she had been alive, sitting in the passenger seat of his car, talking and talking about her life and herself and her journey from Anniston, Alabama, to Atlanta to break into acting, he thought his head would blow up like a bomb. She just wouldn’t shut up.”  “The Eleventh Victim,” by Nancy Grace.

It makes me wonder, and I don’t say this lightly, if a world in which Nancy Grace is a published author, a “novelist,” merely because she has “a platform,” is a world worth living in?  This being the same world that offers Levi Johnston movie roles, John and Kate Plus 8 their own TV series, and rewards talentless singers like William Hung with recording contracts.

Now, to cleanse your literary palate and to inspire you, for whatever creative outlet you might have, here are the words of some true artists who died long before they should have.  By their own hands.

A Confederacy of Dunces by J K TooleAs I was wearing the soles of my desert boots down to a mere sliver of crepe rubber on the old flagstone banquettes of the French Quarter in my fevered attempt to wrest a living from an unthinking and uncaring society, I was hailed by a cherished old acquaintance (deviate).  After a few minutes of conversation in which I established most easily my moral superiority over this degenerate, I found myself pondering once more the crises of our times.  My mentality, uncontrollable and wanton as always, whispered to me a scheme so magnificent and daring that I shrank from the very thought of what I was hearing.  “Stop!”  I cried imploringly to my god-like mind.  “This is madness.”  But still I listened to the counsel of my brain.  It was offering me the opportunity to Save the World Through Degeneracy.”  “A Confederacy of Dunces,” by John Kennedy Toole.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia WoolfFirst, the pulse of colour flooded the bay with blue, and the heart expanded with it and the body swam, only the next instant to be checked and chilled by the prickly blackness on the ruffled waves.  Then, up behind the great black rock, almost every evening spurted irregularly, so that one had to watch for it and it was a delight when it came, a fountain of white water; and then while one waited for that, one watched, on the pale semicircular beach, wave after wave shedding again and again smoothly, a film of mother of pearl.”  “To the Lighthouse,” by Virginia Woolf

Brief Interviews with Hideous MenAnd dreams.  For months there have been dreams like nothing before: moist and busy and distant, full of yielding curves, frantic pistons, warmth and a great falling; and you have awakened through fluttering lids to a rush and a gush and a toe-curling scalp-snapping jolt of feeling from an inside deeper than you knew you had, spasms of a deep sweet hurt, the streetlights through your window blinds cracking into sharp stars against the black bedroom ceiling, and on you a dense white jam that lisps between legs, trickles and sticks, cools on you, hardens and clears until there is nothing but gnarled knots of pale solid animal hair in the morning shower, and in the wet tangle a clean sweet smell you can’t believe comes from anything you made inside you.”  “Forever Overhead,” from “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men,” by David Foster Wallace.

True genius often finds reality unbearable.  But the likes of Nancy Grace would never consider suicide.  They are too pleased by the sound of their own voice, however shrill.  Too enamored of their own reflection in the mirror, in the toaster, in the window at Bloomingdale’s.  While I don’t wish Ms. Grace any harm (although I can’t stop smiling at the thought of her being the twelfth victim) I do wish she would just go away.  She is not the type to put rocks in her pocket and wade into a lake.  Her ilk just makes the rest of us want to.  So in effect, she is spared, as WE are the twelfth victim.

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Boy InterruptedBipolar depression is definitely more severe than just depression, and that’s why suicide attempts are more common in kids with bipolar depression.” From “Boy Interrupted.”

I had to pause the film “Boy Interrupted” to make a comment, to take a breath. I see much of myself in Evan and yet I also see things from a new perspective. It’s enlightening to watch someone like yourself be dissected and second “guessed.”  But the film does a remarkable job of capturing (from my experience) what it’s like to be bipolar or to live with someone who is. I started blogging about it back in April of this year, not to expose myself à la reality TV, but as a way of thinking about it in an open forum in which a community is built, stigma is removed, and coping skills are shared and learned.

I attended Stanford University’s School of Medicine’s 5th annual Bipolar Education Day and learned that because of the genetic make-up that causes bipolar disorder, it’s unlikely there will be a cure in the foreseeable future. Drugs are not a cure and the “trial and error” method of prescribing pills simply adds more torment and dashed hopes to sufferers. I believe strongly that films like these are necessary. It’s imperative that the sufferer and family and friends comprehend the dynamics. This understanding gives the bipolar person some perspective and a bit more control (at least from my perspective) and it gives the family a frame of reference so that they know how to handle certain situations and don’t take things (like irritable outbursts) too personally.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Also on Huffington Post: “Boy Interrupted: Interview with Filmmaker Dana Perry

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Comfortably Numb by Barber“[Major depression is] immediately detectable to people who know what they are doing. It is an advanced psychological state of despair that one can see in the patient’s eyes, in their slow movements, in the sense that they are in physical pain…” “There is no covering up; they exude naked and pure pain, like a wounded animal. There is absolutely no pretending that everything is okay. All pretense of normalcy goes out the window.” “Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry is Medicating a Nation,” by Charles Barber

The title is not exactly true.  I’m not really apathetic.  I’m hopeless.

Anyone who’s ever studied depression has come across the maxim: depression is anger turned inwards.  I beg to differ.  I believe that the major cause of depression is the loss of hope.

Anger is a feeling.  Depression is about the loss of feeling.  I know.  I’m in it right now.

I can’t write to save my life.  Nothing matters.  And if there is anger, perhaps it’s caused by the hopelessness.  A dozen topics swirl through my head but I can’t choose one to write about.  None of them matter.  Nothing I have to say on the subject will make any difference to me or to anyone else.  I don’t matter.  And that makes me feel hopeless, which, yes, makes me feel angry (but not the other way round.)

If given a choice between angry and hopeless, I’ll take angry.  Part of that is not a choice but a symptom of being bipolar, irritability, which can easily escalate into anger.

I watched it happen this past weekend over something stupid: a walk with the dog.  My ADD was acting up and while I was doing my best to get ready and out of the house, my partner got impatient.  He made a couple of comments (and a few exasperated facial expressions) and a switch was flipped in my head.  Literally an on/off switch.  I got as angry as a person can get and I refused to go.  And there was no turning back, nothing he could say or do that would change my mind, that could fix it, that could flip the switch the other way.  I became “invested” in my anger.

I have seen that over the years, that willingness to “cut off my nose to spite my face.”  Why?  Because the anger feels good.  It feels great.  It’s HELL, but it’s better than apathy.  If you’ve been walking around like a zombie for weeks or months, the opportunity to feel anything is a welcome respite.  And anger can be delicious.  Intoxicating.

I spent the rest of that day by myself nursing that anger.  Not because I wanted to, but because I couldn’t control it.

I think suicidal thoughts are like that too, when you suffer from chronic depression.  For me, suicidal thoughts were never so much thoughts of suicide, but the idea that, if it ever “really got bad,” there was an option.  Just knowing that I could end it if I needed to was like having Xanax in my side pocket (knowing it’s there can reduce the anxiety and thus the need to take it.)

I always looked at suicide as a free-floating life raft, never seriously contemplating it because it was always there in my side pocket.  But ever since taking Lamictal*, another switch has been flipped, one that put suicide on the table as a real option.  It’s like those images—vase/face or young woman/old woman.

Rubin vase:face

Old woman:young woman

Once you’ve seen both you can never go back to seeing only one.  And once you’ve seen suicide as a real-life (pun not intended) tangible option, a way out of the hell that you are in, you can’t go back to pretending it isn’t.  You can’t go back to the day when taking your own life was like a pill in your pocket because you’ve tasted the sense of relief lingering in those thoughts.

Today I am stuck in a state of mind(s) I’ve been in for a couple of weeks now, somewhere between hopeless, depressed, angry and suicidal.  And occasionally manic.  Thank God (I can’t believe I’m saying this) for mania, otherwise it might have been several more weeks before I was able to make another post.  So please pardon my brain-dump, but I felt that after a two-week hiatus, a rambling, nonsensical post was better than none.  And I wanted to make sure that those kind people who worry about me when I disappear for a period of time know that I’m still kicking.  Thank you for your support.  You are the reason I got out of bed today.

*Note: From the Lamictal website: “Like other antiepileptic drugs, LAMICTAL may cause suicidal thoughts or actions in a very small number of people, about 1 in 500.”

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HappierWe often enhance happiness to the greatest extent when we pursue activities that provide us with meaning and pleasure and that help others.”  “Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment” by Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph. D. 

I want to state, for the record, that I am no longer suicidal.  While there was a brief period of time when thoughts of taking my own life did occur to me, days when I did in fact lay in bed praying to God not to wake me up in the morning, those were, while perhaps not entirely, at least predominately, drug induced.  I say that lest you interpret my recent behavior as (covertly) suicidal.  

By recent behavior I mean that I spent the afternoon at an information session for the Prison University Project, a half day long meeting to explore the prospect of teaching college level courses to the inmates at San Quentin. 

Why, you ask, would anyone in their right mind (okay, so I’m off the hook right there) willingly place themselves into a real life episode of “OZ“? 

First of all, in my quest to manage my bipolarness without medication, I have discovered that one of the things I need to do is get out of my own head.  Let me clarify that, in case there is any misinterpretation; out of my head, not OFF with my head.  And secondly, I believe that one of the reasons I (and others like me) have such a hard time managing the disease is because we are incredibly self-centered, and not because we want to be.  We have to be.  The very nature of the disease demands that we spend the better portion of our lives trying to establish some mental equilibrium. 

By self-centered I don’t mean narcissistic, I mean we practice self-preservation.  What might appear to others as self-obsession, the constant monitoring of drugs, moods, circumstances, alternatives, of things we must do, or not do, are simply ways in which we try to maintain some sort of status quo that others simply take for granted. 

Anyway, why the Prison University Project?

  1. San Quentin is (practically) in my back yard, making it an easy commute, etc.
  2. If I’m going to volunteer my time, and if I’m going to commit to something on a long-term basis, it needs to be something that will both stimulate and challenge me.
  3. I like the fact the students are not only disadvantaged, but motivated.  The program is not easy (the students are held to the same academic standards as any other undergraduate student) and they participate freely in the program.  They want an education.
  4. I enjoy reading, writing, and teaching.  All of these things have made a huge difference in my life.  I was raised by a single mother on welfare.  I know what it’s like to be disadvantaged.  And I know what a difference knowledge and the ability to communicate effectively can make in a person’s life. 

I must admit that there is (was) a certain amount of terror associated with the idea of being locked behind bars, sitting next to a criminal (whose reason for incarceration is likely something I will never know) and being totally at the mercy of the prisoners and guards.  No weapons obviously with which to protect myself.  No contraband with which to negotiate.  But worse than that, no cell phone.  I panic if I have to drive five blocks to the grocery store and I don’t have the ability to communicate via satellite in case my car breaks down.  Having gotten so used to the ability to connect with someone anytime, anywhere, the thought of being untethered to my iPhone, its contact list and apps, is more frightening than the idea there’s a chance (regardless of how slight) that I might actually incur physical harm. 

I will tell you this; the information session was fascinating.  I fully intended to have the shit scared out of me in the way they do at skydiving class.  Before they let you jump out of a plane they spend a good hour or two telling you how dangerous it is.  “Are you sure you want to do this?”  But everything I heard today only made me want to participate even more.  I’d start tomorrow if they’d let me.

I felt good just sitting there, just knowing that the opportunity of assisting someone else in realizing their dream of education and a better life was available to me.  

I believe in education.  And I believe in second chances.  I dropped out of high school in my senior year.  A decade came and went before I earned my GED.  It took another two decades of enrolling in one or two classes a semester at community colleges and universities before I finally graduated (magna cum laude) with a bachelor’s degree.  Five years later (and thirty-five years after my early departure from high school) I earned a Master of Fine Arts degree.  

There are many who would have written me off.  In fact there were many who did.  Poor.  Product of a broken home.  High school dropout.  That is all they saw when they looked at me.  Let me tell you, those judgmental looks, those condescending comments by people who were often wealthy and educated (not always a sign of good breeding) did much to contribute to my low self-esteem. 

It took me a very long time, but I prevailed.  Living well, as they say, is the best revenge. 

Why have I chosen to share this with you?  Because of the warm, positive feeling that still flows through my body several hours after the information session ended.  The mere thought that I might be able to contribute, to give back to society, in a way that is meaningful to me, gives me hope that I have found yet another tool to put in my arsenal, another way to keep the depression at bay. 

I am not a particularly altruistic person.  Bipolar disorder has a way of making you feel like you are not even capable of contributing to your own wellbeing.  And while in theory I understand the concept of helping others, the occasional Thanksgiving Day spent serving up turkey and mashed potatoes at Glide Memorial Church never did much for me.  Never made me feel like I was making the world a better place. 

“…do something regularly to make a contribution to the larger good.  Based on what I know about depression…that means more than writing a check.  It means taking the trouble to get involved, on a personal level, in a way that challenges our comfort.” “Undoing Depression; What Therapy Doesn’t Teach You and Medication Can’t Give You,” by Richard O’Connor, Ph.D. 

I would say that teaching in a prison is likely to do both, contribute to the larger good, and challenge my comfort. 

Here’s to shaking things up, to stepping out of our comfort zones, and to doing good deeds.  If the reality feels half as good as the anticipation, I’m sold.

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Night Falls FastThe “wondrous tunneling” into the sun and subsequent falling back into the sea conjure an image of the dangerous relationship between exploration and recklessness.  Mania…is an aggressive and volatile state, but it is generative as well, an influential condition of contagious enthusiasms and energies.  The elements that in part define mania—fearlessness, a fast and broad scattering of thoughts, an expansiveness of moods and ideas, utter certainty, the taking of inadvisable risks—often carry with them the power to both destroy and to create.”   “Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide,” by Kay Redfield Jamison

Even though it’s June in Maui, the water is cold and dark, the beach all but deserted.  And while it’s a little late in the day for snorkeling, the sun having made its way west and begun its descent, I put on a pair of fins (but fail to tighten them after the last user) and place the mask over my face (the blue plastic air tube facing the wrong direction) and ease into the wet blackness.

Maui Four Seasons

Even though I’m a capable swimmer, the Darth Vader quality that my breath assumes as I inhale, exhale through the snorkel makes me anxious.  It is one of those rare times that I am completely aware of the connection between life and breath.  Floating there for a moment before heading off towards the reef, it is evident to me that this in-and-out of oxygen is the only thing keeping me alive.  It is as if “life” is something I can see as separate from myself, something borrowed, something on loan.  It is tangible, yet transient.

After swimming for a brief time I find myself levitating above a patch of uninhabited dark coral.  Well, maybe there’s an occasional Long Nose Butterfly or an Achilles Tang wandering past, muted by a lack of sunlight, but that’s all.  The lack of marine life in the area leaves me with only my heavy breathing and an eerie stillness to concentrate on.

In addition to my earlier mistakes in judgment (fins and snorkel,) I remove my mask because it is starting to make me claustrophobic and because it’s taken on some water.  There are two problems with this act.  First, I am in over my head, and second, I am unable to put the mask back on.  My repeated attempts to reinsert the mouthpiece only result in my ingesting large quantities of salt water.

As I struggle to reapply the mask, I take in more and more water.  I am gasping for air and as I do so I mange to inhale what seems like more fluid than oxygen.  It is then that one of my fins comes off.  Foolishly I reach for it, grasping it in my right hand, clutching it like a life preserver.  It occurs to me (rightly or wrongly) that no fin is better than one fin, so I remove the other and hold that one in the same hand with its mate.

By now I am hyperventilating, flailing, taking in more and more gulps of foul tasting seawater, which makes me even more anxious.  And heavier.  I go under once.  Twice.  I look off to the shore and spy my partner, virtually alone on the beach, reading in a deck chair, oblivious to my struggle.  He seems very far away.  And even though he was on the varsity swim team in high school, (if anyone can save me he can) that was years ago, and now he’s miles away, so I don’t hold out much hope for rescue.

I am in trouble.  I know that.  I am at death’s door.  I have never been more certain of anything in my life.   But I am resourceful.  Independent.  I try to float on my back while “swimming” backwards towards shore.  But I am in a riptide and no matter how much I move my arms and legs, I stay in the same spot.  No matter what I do I make no progress.  All my efforts simply result in my getting more and more exhausted and more and more anxious.  One more error in judgment that could prove to be fatal: I hang on to the fins in my right hand, seriously hindering my ability to swim in any direction.  I take in yet more water as my feet flail below me searching for something solid to light on.

At this moment things begin to slow down.  I am panicked, yet I am calm.  Death is near, I can feel it.  I know that I have gotten in over my head, this time quite literally.  Being bipolar, I am always doing that; spending too much, driving too fast, jumping out of planes, skiing faster than I should given my skill level.  But never before have I been so acutely aware of the consequences.

I am conscious that my mind is merely assessing the situation, not judging it.  “Okay, so this is happening.”

Having experienced suicidal thoughts as recently as six months ago, there is a part of me that wants to let go.  It’s quiet.  Peaceful.  The water gently rocks me, back and forth, back and forth.  I am anxious, panicked, but not especially frightened.  I could very easily take in a few more gulps of salty liquid and disappear below the surface.  When my partner looks up from his book and doesn’t see me he will not be surprised.  He will think I’m on other side of the reef, or that my profile, flat on the surface as I observe aquatic life, is just not visible from his spot on the beach.

I can’t say it was a conscious decision.  I can’t take responsibility for saving my own life.  But something, somehow, some force beyond my comprehension, caused me to cry out: HELP!

And again, HELP!  Off in the distance my partner looks in my direction, but makes no effort to get up.

HELP!  I can’t stop saying it now.  And yet it feels like a lost cause.

But there is a cost to crying out for help.  I have conceded.  I have given up.  I will be saved by someone else, or I will drown.  I know this.  At this point I am incapable of saving myself.  Once I committed my efforts to that option, all others came off the table.   There is not enough time for alternatives.

My partner slowly drifts towards the water, unsure if he hears me correctly, unsure if I am joking or not (we manic depressives inherently have a good sense of humor.)

As he dives into the water, my big toe briefly lights on a small outcropping of coral, just long enough for me to take in a breath or two of oxygen instead of saltwater.  I try to hover there but the gentle waves keep rocking me away from any safe footing.

My partner is on his way, but I am too far out and I have taken in too much water.  He’ll never make it.  And yet he does.  “Take my hand,” he says.  And I do.  And with only a few of my fingers curled around a few of his, he is able to swim backwards to shore, taking me with him.

And that was all there was to it.  That night at dinner at the Four Seasons, our table overlooking the very spot this all took place only a few hours earlier, we barely spoke of it.

And a month later I am not a changed person.  I had no epiphany.  No mad desire to live life to the fullest.  And I don’t know what that means.  Lately I’ve been reading a lot of blogs by writers questioning the meaning of life.  And I have never been more certain, because of this experience, that there is no meaning to life.  Any meaning we try to apply to it is merely our own ego trying to rationalize its own existence.  That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it, or do good while we’re here.  But searching for a reason for our own existence is as futile as trying to swim against the current.

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My Suicide

My Suicide

For some, suicide is a sudden act.  For others, it is a long-considered decision based on cumulative despair or dire circumstances.  And for many, it is both: a brash moment of action taken during a span of settled and suicidal hopelessness.”  Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide,” by Kay Redfield Jamison. 

A few weeks ago some friends invited me to watch a movie at the San Francisco Film Festival.  These are good friends that I don’t get to see very often, so I took them up on their offer.  I went even though the title of the movie, “My Suicide,” sounded like a rather unappealing way to spend a couple of hours on a Friday night.  But it had a good cast and friends of said friends had been involved in the making of the movie.  

Having recently been troubled with (drug induced) suicidal thoughts myself, I was both curious and reticent as I approached the box office.  The day had been cold and rainy, so when I sat down next to my friends in the balcony of the Kabuki Theater I was already damp and gloomy.  But I have to say that the movie engaged me right away, and even though the subject matter was depressing, the film wasn’t.  Perhaps it’s that “misery loves company” thing?  Perhaps it’s that seeing other people’s pain puts our own in perspective? 

The overall premise of the film is that a high school student enrolled in a film/video class has decided that for his major project (60% of his grade) he intends to commit suicide on camera.  Part homage to cult films (Matrix, Deer Hunter,) part MTV video, part Infomercial spoof, part animated comic novel, the movie was (is) interesting, entertaining, and thought provoking.  Even more so now, several weeks later with news of the death (assumed by some to be suicide) of actor David Carradine, who played a small, but important role in the film. 

I can’t speculate on why Mr. Carradine chose to take his own life, if it does in fact turn out to be suicide.  But I can speculate on suicide in general.  It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have, where you are or where you’re going, life sometimes just doesn’t seem worth living.   For those of us who suffer with mood disorders, every day we have to choose NOT to kill ourselves.  For others, it’s situational: the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, a major illness.  It really doesn’t seem to take much.  One seemingly insignificant (in the grand scheme of things) incident can push you over the edge. 

For some reason it seems that creative people (David Foster Wallace, Spalding Gray, John Kennedy Toole, Freddie Prinze, Margaux Hemmingway) are particularly at risk.  

It occurs to me that the downside to burning brightly is the risk of burning out. 

My condolences go out to Mr. Carradine’s family and friends.  I hope they take some small comfort in the role that he played in “My Suicide.”  It’s an important film and I encourage everyone to see it, especially if someone you know and love is at risk.  It’s important for anyone who may be suicidal to see it as it might give them a new perspective.  For all the others, it’s a powerful and accurate look into a state of mind you might not otherwise get to see or comprehend.

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