There are a couple of points in the day, every day, where I consider if life is worth it. A couple of times a day, an action or an inaction- some monumental and some minuscule- an observation or sometimes a realization causes me to consider the world, my place in it and whether or not I even want one.
I call it my daily internal dialogue about suicide.
It's one of those conversations I don't ever like having, but I think there are more people out there that may feel this way and think they're alone, and this may help. It's also possible this is some shit that only happens to me, and may be the first sign of my impeding hospitalization....
It's not like I walk around all day, teetering on the brink of killing myself, but I do think, on far more occasions than I would have imagined or wanted to admit, reflect on my life, and the world I live in. And upon that reflection, as I look at the world I live in and/or the world as it's projected upon me, I think that either the world would be a better place if I wasn't here, or that the world is what the world is, and that like a shitty book or movie I'm in the middle of, I just need to remove myself from it, not for the good of the world, but for myself: that I deserve better than this world is willing to offer me: that this is just a bunch of bullshit and I don't need to deal with it.
The morning when you wake up and already feel like you're hitting against The World with a two-strike count, you walk by a homeless man who asks you for cash (aside: debit cards have gutted my charity-I almost always gave any extra cash away, now I never have cash). When asked, I have to say no, because I don't have any cash. His response to me:
"Fuck You Nigger!"
Now we can have conversations about homelessness and social location, but that seemed a particularly hateful response to what has to be seen as a predictable expectation. And it hurt me to my core. And most days, my Anti-Blackness Force Field is on point, close to impenetrable. But on this day, from this person, at this time, in this framing, for this reason, it shook me to my core. In retrospect, I'm pretty proud of my response, which was to go home broken and think about why it's even worth it to live in a world where that happens.
Let that marinade for a second.
I'm proud because my other possible reaction probably would have me in month nine of what would easily have been a 15 year bid, that would have, at best had me choking him out and at worst taking 45 years of anger and frustration out on him, which would have meant I had killed him. So my options were kill him or contemplate killing me: one option guarantees someone's death and the other just reflects upon the idea and desirability of my mortality, as a response to the world that is.
Or this morning, in my daily deluge of morning news, from the New York Times, I read this quote...
"It’s baloney to come out now," Dianne DeWolfe, a Donald J. Trump supporter, said. "They’re opportunists. Listen, no man attacks a woman unless she’s looking like she’s asking for it."
I think about the people I know and it seems every one of them has a story: about somebody taking liberties, they "thought you were kidding" when you said stop and no. Or "you wore that skirt and got drunk so you must have wanted it." Or "she said no at the beginning but stopped so it was cool." And I used to wonder how in the world, in 2016, do we have all these problems. I grew up in a time when a lot of fathers told their sons that "girls are supposed to say no" and that "no is really maybe"- that sucked and was the fuel for thousands of rapes. We should have learned from that, we should have recognized that without killing this mindset in the home, there's really no hope. A world this shitty, with no real hope for change (she's probably got kids who think that way too, set for untold damage just as a set of falling dominoes would on the lives of the people they touch. That also sounds like a world I want no part of and have no real ability to change.
These are but a snapshot of the myriad of examples that make me wonder: why is this worth it?
And in a world when I had nobody or lacked a reference for the devastation of suicide, I can't say that I'd be here today. And nobody would have had any idea when it would have happened: I might have just left a place where I was with friends and had an awesome time: I might have even been the life of the party that night, cracking jokes, punning all over the place, being the me that most of you know.
And then, I'm alone in my head- wishing that my mom would have gotten a chance to meet Carol and her family- gotten a chance to see me at my happiest. Wishing that I had courage to drop off the grid with Carol and try to make a living on the outskirts of Yellowstone, roughing out snowed in winters but the most amazing springs summers and autumns imaginable. Thinking about my friend Chris, who I was hanging out with 45 minutes before he hung himself in his bedroom. Thinking back about my friend Evan who I talked to about two hours before his heroin overdose. Trying not to be overwhelmed by the emotion that just thinking about those days: was there something I could have said or done to have maybe changed either fate? What if I invited Chris to my house for dinner, like I thought about doing but didn't? What if I'd gone to Evan's: he'd have never done smack in front of me: he never had and knew I'd have made us do something that would have made injection impossible (which was his main complaint with me-and I took pride in- his non addicted friend).
And that's the thing about depression: it hits when it hits and is largely oblivious to things that should matter: fun and connection and companionship, all things that should run depression off like a homeless man at a sorority party. But here's the thing about depression: it can happen in the middle of all that happiness.
Being happy does not solve being depressed. It pushes it back. Sometimes. But other times, seeing people who are enjoying themselves so purely, so completely, while you fake it and never understand why they are having so much fun, and why you're so miserable in the midst of so much fun. So many of the evenings when my friends have enjoyed my company and then spoken in reflection of the time we had, a lot of those times I have no recollection of specifics of that evening: I was just hoping the smoke and mirrors of the person I was that evening wasn't spotted, which would force me to answer questions I'd prefer not to think about. And so many of those same evenings, I've truly enjoyed myself, had a great time, connected in those instance where connections can happen, with full knowledge those are short term, temporary feelings that change as fast as Bay Area weather.
The only way I’ve been able to resolve these issues in my mind have always been twofold: my connection with others and my personal experience from loss. I have very important people in my life, and I know they’ll always be there for me, which means that, even at my lowest, I can slow those thoughts to a state of inertia and allow myself to get to a place where no true, physical harm can be done. I have my wife, family and friends who have been there for me even in times where I wish they'd left me alone, making sure I couldn't forget I was loved. I recognize the great deal of fortune I have, being able to pool that love from necessary reserves. But even in a world where I didn't have access to that plentiful and abundant resource, I’m still sure I’d not be able to do it, and it has much more to do with the unexpected losses of people close to me, one from an overdose and another from suicide. In both instances, I was one of the last people to speak with them, and in both instances, I feel like I was placed at that crossroad for that reason, to help my friends in their most dire time of need.
Needless to say, I feel like I failed both of them.
And the weight I feel about their deaths, despite hundreds of hours of therapy with a doctor telling me and everyone I've talked to about it telling me the same thing: you can’t hold yourself responsible. And I don’t think I'm responsible as much as I was irresponsible in my inaction, which is different but not as different as I’d like it to be from just being responsible. But the memory of my inability to act, the paralysis I felt immediately after both deaths, the confusion and pain I felt. And the pain I felt for both I thought was spirit crushing- until I went to the funerals, and I got to see the pain and confusion I felt magnified on the faces of the parents, family and friends with way more history, knowledge and expectations than I'd ever had of them. The faces of their anguish are branded on my soul, and every time I ever think about death in any framing, I find myself working to make sure I never do that to someone, to leave them unexpectedly, with the pain expanded exponentially based on my choice to leave, for lack of a better word, willingly. Their memories, despite the pain they cause me, are always a driving force to keep moving forward, the best I can, and to remember the Maya Angelou quote:
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated.”
I think it’s important to note the person that told me that quote: my therapist. I need to state that because the only way I could have lived through a variety of experiences that would have broken me was with what would be described, at times, as pretty extensive therapy. Without support, I could have been easily broken by my issues: Valuable and important figures in my life dying, fighting a terminal disease and the psychological bumps and bruises faced throughout life.
Add to this that therapy is generally frowned upon in society, and the lack of access within the black community only magnifies these issues. There was also an issue with empathy: I had to go to multiple therapists to find one that didn’t dismiss my issues or frame them from an social location point inaccessible to me- finally finding one with whom I had common experiences with- she was Black too. It took me some time to find the right one, and it took me time to open up to her, but in a world where I’d been unwilling or unable to do that- I can’t guarantee what I would have done- but the violence would have been played out- just a matter of externally (me hurting others) or internally (me hurting myself). It took the combination of having people that care, my own desire to refrain from hurting them by leaving them with so many questions and therapy to get me to the point where I am now. It took the combination of having people that care about me, not wanting to hurt others because of the questions they’d have and therapy to get me to the point where I am now- where the ideation of suicide and the execution of suicide are not two sides of the same coin.