The first time I tried to kill myself, it was just before graduation. My first girlfriend ever had broken up with me, and I realized that there was nothing left to live for. I chewed a handful of pills, called some friends, and when they brought me to the hospital it turned out that I had swallowed twenty antihistamines.
That was the first time.
The second time I tried to kill myself, it was just before summer started. I realized that community college sucked, yet I had to go there because I had flunked out of the New School for Social Research... And the girl I loved had dumped me. I put my affairs in order very cleanly, took a bunch of the right kind of pills this time, and waited for death.
About twenty minutes in, a packageful of sleeping pills dissolving in my stomach, I realized I might be wrong. Rather than call and go to the hospital again, I stayed up all night, watching the ceiling and realizing that letting my eyes close would lead to death. I refused to call anyone, since I was too vain to have to go to the hospital again, and I didn't want to have to go to the Psych Ward.
There was a spot on the ceiling, a little black smudge. When I laid down on the bed, I thought it was a spider. In my drug-addled state, I got up a hundred times to check, and every time I got up it was a smudge, but when I laid down it was a spider again.
If it wasn't for that smudge, I'd probably have died. My arachnophobia is all that kept me alive.
The third time I tried to kill myself, well, it was mightily half-assed, because I was coming to realize something: For the third year in a row, it was June, and for the third year in a row here I was with a razor to my throat. That time, I just cut myself a lot with broken glass.
The fourth June confirmed it: June meant death. Every June, I went into a tailspin of depression where everything tasted of ashes, coming out just in time for my birthday on July 3rd. I clutched tight to my Elephant Blanket and my Puppies, the symbols of childhood happiness, trying to remember that this will pass, this will pass, this will pass.
The fifth June, I finally attached a name to my enemy: Seasonal Affective Disorder. Most people get it when the light fades - but as if I needed more proof that I was a night owl, I got depressed when the daytime lengthened.
The Black June used to be fairly regular, cycling like clockwork, but moving to Alaska - where the daylight can last eighteen hours - threw me off-schedule. Now my crushing depressions start at the end of May, leaving me roughly at the middle of June. I've been to doctors to talk about medications for this, but psychotropics usually take six weeks to kick in, and since I don't like the side effects I didn't want to commit to a three-month schedule for a three-week period.
I'm hip-deep in 'em, now.
I woke up this morning and could barely drag myself to the keyboard. Why bother? I asked, as I edited my latest story (thinking full well about how the last three things I'd gotten had been rejections, knowing that I'm a terrible short story writer and how the last time I cracked open a book of short stories it was like acid to my eyes because they were all better). I found some markets to send my rejected stories off to again, even though it was useless and I should probably just drink a lot and maybe run out into traffic.
I followed up on some roleplaying I had started via email and realized what a pathetic GM I was, and I couldn't hook the players into the campaign I ran. I started work and was saddened because I'm not a good programmer, and Pete will probably fire me soon and then I'll have no job.
I thought of my wife and realized that she wouldn't care if I went, either. I could just take those mighty sharp Wusthof knives and get it over with quickly, and great I'm gone. I looked at LiveJournal and said shit, nobody would miss me.
These days are rough.
But if I killed myself, my Uncle Tommy would undoubtedly follow - I mean, he's been depressed for awhile. It would scar Gini on some level, and my daughters certainly wouldn't understand. Killing myself would be a hammerblow to the web of people I live in, tarnishing their world forever... And as much as I'd like to pretend that it doesn't matter, which would give me a convenient excuse to step away from this grinding misery, it does.
So I do what I advise other people to do: Keep moving. Yes, it's hard, but writing stories and stuffing those stories into envelopes is what I need to do, even if I don't think it will work at all. I'm going out to the Velvet Tango Room tonight, even though I just want to curl up in a ball and ignore everyone, because being alone is really bad for me right now and making friends is important.
And yet when I give this advice, people sneer: "You don't know what it's like!" they cry.
Fuck you, buddy. I've got an idea. I get a real good peppery taste of suicide and chemically-induced depression every year, and just because I do it doesn't mean it's not like crawling on broken glass. I've learned over the years that difficulty is not an excuse. You really do have to find a way to do the things that need to be done, to set your life up in a way that you'll have something left when the anguish passes.... Or maybe even to create something that will lift the depression away.
It's hard. It's real hard, swimming upstream - I'll never deny that. But when you're down, you have to create happiness, or you're going to pull everything down around you. My wife said it better, so I'm going to instruct you to look over there.
But I think about the funny ways people define depression. See, as far as a lot of people are concerned, the people who kill themselves are always the people who were overwhelmed by forces beyond their control.
That's a funny definition, because the force of the depression is defined by results. If you committed suicide, there was nothing else you could have done. I saw that a lot back when I discussed Spalding Gray. "You don't know how bad it was," they said. "Who are you to judge?"
If I don't kill myself this week, well, then I guess my depression isn't that bad and I can't really talk about suicide. And if I had succeeded way back in June of 1988, then by definition I'd have been overwhelmed and I would have had no other choices.
Which is funny, because it's very convenient: Everyone who kills themselves had no other way out. Everyone who lives doesn't know what depression is.
Only the dead can judge the dead.
Whereas I believe something different: Depression is horrible. But there are ways of fighting it, and there are ways of giving into it. Back when I was suicidal for that second time in 1988, back when the fear of a spider saved me, I was immature. There were other ways. I just was too stupid and self-centered to see them, and I was so selfish that I was able to lie and say that my mother and uncle and girlfriend wouldn't be upset by what had happened. I could callously disconnect myself from them, and ignore what my death would do to them. And that wasn't a good thing.
Only one thing separates me from the living and the dead: A stain on the ceiling.
Without that brown smudge of lighter residue, I'd be some other statistic you all could use, and you could say that I had no other choices. Poor guy. Nothing we could do, we should feel sorry for him.
Except I was there. And within two weeks after that time, I saw exactly what it would do, and I learned to cope a little better. There were other options. I just was too fucked-up to see them. And "being fucked up" is not an excuse when you think about what my death would have done to my family.
I believe there are always choices, and some people make the wrong ones, and most of the people (not all) who commit suicide are selfish bastards who care more for themselves than for their families. As far as I'm concerned, the more we can help people to see that suicide is a selfish option, that it does hurt those around, and that yes, we will blame you and curse your name for hurting us so badly should you decide to slip off into the lightless void, the better.
You can still make the choice to do it, of course. You always can. But you don't get to fool yourself and think, "Hey, it won't matter. They'll know how overwhelmed I was." You'll have to die with the consequences, knowing that people will hate you for it.
If you can take the knife to your wrist knowing that people do care and they will be angry and hurt, more power to you. I guess it was that bad.
There are those who fight the battle against their chemicals and brain patterns every day, and that is something that is worthwhile. There are people who struggle through worse depressions than I ever will - and they have to do it every day, not just for a couple of weeks out of the year. That means something.
For some people, living is a choice, and they work it hard, and those people are the ones who should get the sympathy. Not the ones who failed. Not the ones who decided to leave young children and grieving relatives behind.
If you're struggling with depression, and some days wonder why you're alive, today I'm with you. And I salute you. You're a brave, brave person for getting this far, and I want you to take a million more steps, to slog through this, to find the seeds of happiness inside a black, endless cavern. They are there, even though it's hard to dig them up sometimes.
If you're sad and are still finding a way to follow your dreams instead of sitting on a couch and drowning in self-misery, you are my hero. Every step you take forward is weighted. If you're still going for that job or drawing that picture when your eyes burn with unwept tears, today is your day.
You are beautiful for trying. The dead have failed, but at least for today you've done something glorious that never gets hailed by others. I hail you; I shout your name and celebrate your life, for it's harder for you.
You've broken the lie that the depths of your depression are determined by the results - that you can only hit rock-bottom when you kill yourself. I know: You're scraping rock-bottom now, and you're still climbing for the stars. That is incredible.
I celebrate the power that is you.
People frequently ask me, "If you had one wish, what would it be?" And that wish would be "That people who have to struggle to be normal would get credit for their efforts." It doesn't happen. I know that. You do, too.
But for today, you're beautiful. I thank you for that glory.
Now carry on.