I should be asleep. I should have been asleep an hour ago, but I fell down a winding hole of Robin Williams clips and Carson monologues and some random infomercials. I meant to be asleep, and I wanted to be, but I was also wrestling with the words you’re now reading. And I’m sorry if you’ve heard me talk about these things before, or if your evening was just a deluge of tweets and posts of all flavors and I understand if you’re tired of it and you just want me to go back to talking about commas or pacing or book blurbs or whatever. I promise I will soon, just please either be patient with me here, or come back next week. At least, I hope you come back. Hell, I hope I come back – there are loads of times I feel like I’m shouting in the Grand Canyon trying to get people to read what I say. It’s frustrating and scary, and at times I leave with more questions than I started with. But I keep doing it, because the alternatives are pretty lame.
A lot of what I’m about to say is going to be expanded on at GenCon, but I thought that something should be said now, because it’s late and I can’t sleep and I feel like someone’s kicked me in the heart.
At five minutes to midnight as I write this, it’s been 190 days since I tried to kill myself. Clearly, it didn’t work, but it’s been 190 days since I last thought that the pain of living was greater than the joy of living. Granted, 191 days ago, I could not have imagined any of the life I have now, since I didn’t have the relationship I have or the appreciation for how much can and has changed since then. That’s the funny thing about severe suicidal depression, it muffles and mutes any sense of appreciation or perspective or joy or interest. The naked pictures on the internet don’t arouse. The comfort food has no taste. The music seems too loud or too out of tune. The point of things seems dulled and worn down. What’s worse is that you know these things are supposed to be provocative, rousing your senses and urges and drives, but like trying to move through rising tidewaters, you just can’t seem to make the amount of headway you perceive you’re supposed to be making, or worse, you feel like you’re not making the headway you think other people are wanting you to be making.
This becomes pressure, and when you don’t feel like you’ve fallen into some morass of sharp needles and bleak colors, that pressure would probably push you to greatness by challenging some sense of who you are and who you could be. But down in that hole, the pressure seems like one more pair of hands suffocating you. Keeping you down. Holding the life from you until there’s nothing to do but surrender.
I’ve gone through a lot in the last 190 days, most of it I’ll start talking about way more openly post GenCon (that’s when many cats come out of many bags), and if I had to rank in some perverse Buzzfeed or Thought Catalog article the mental anguish and suffering, I’m putting suicidal depression as a lock in second place, with an easy shot at the title as number-one contender depending on factors as variable as the breeze, email subject lines or whether or not I have enough milk for Cocoa Krispies.
What I’m saying is that there’s this wellspring, this open fount of hurt, this constant sore that weeps lies and doubt to us, and there isn’t an easy fix. You can’t just “get happier” or “stop being depressed” or “focus on the power of the Universe” or whatever hokum gets said by the discompassionate or ill-informed. The toxicity of it might be a matter of chemicals, but those chemicals produce feelings and those feelings produce behaviors, and behaviors yield habits and habits beget personality and lifestyle. Yes, there are little pills I take every morning, and many doctors I see on a regular basis both to give me more little pills or just to listen to me navigate living while hurting.
That’s significant, the use of “while”. Life doesn’t get paused, work doesn’t stop, things don’t just wait while suffering rolls through like the evening bus to the big city. You can tell plenty of people “they have to understand” and request kindness and compassion, but outside of the tasks others ask of us, outside of what we seek to do professionally or socially or whatever-ly, those who suffer and hurt have to request kindness from themselves, for themselves. It might be easier to tell someone to walk the earth and meet every human on the planet within a calendar year.
Because in this era of narcissism and criticism and outrage and activism and -phobes and -ists and who knows what else, so many standards are erected, like crystalline frameworks across yawning chasms. As if spider silk lines can stand up in a hurricane of our own making. As if we can offset our own pain by turning the pointy bits outward, as if the spears aren’t double-sided. So many people say, “I feel like I should be doing something despite this mental illness.” or that “I need to be better than it.” It doesn’t know you’re competing. It is not winning some race ahead of you. It is as much the course as it is your fellow race runners. It’s so tempting and easy to judge yourself (or others) based on these moments of pain or limitation, to underestimate or belittle or compound situations. It’s not like people who hurt don’t know they’re hurting. It’s not like people who hurt don’t know that this state can confuse, scare, frustrate or anger others. It’s not like people signed up for this gleefully like they’re trying to get advance movie tickets. No one camps the box office to get front row seats to doubt, anxiety and a sense of pervasive failure.
The unreasonable countermeasures seem reasonable because the reasonable measures seem passive or insufficient. They’re not. Taking care of yourself when you’re hurting is one of the hardest things I can imagine, and something I frankly suck at. I skip meals. I get clingy and codependent. I get bored. Or grouchy. Or mopey. But taking care of myself is how I keep moving. It’s how I don’t let the things I want to do or am doing slip into some nebulous space of “one day I’ll get back to them”, instead of pushing myself, pressuring myself to show other people that I’m more than an illness or bad spell or a moment. It’s taken 190 days to realize that in order for me to show that, I don’t need to be Hercules, I just need to be me. No one is asking me to bear Everest on my back, they’re asking me to take on no more than I can comfortably. I interpret the request as some mandate to take on so much, but that’s a function of skewed perspective and having spent so long being gnawed hollow by hurting.
I get asked a lot, “Well, what hurts?” because I don’t have physical chronic pain and I suppose people are looking more for something obvious to indicate “Aha, yes, John is in fact hurting.” Or maybe it’s just a matter of being able to see the hurt, so that it can be bandaged or iced or Advil’ed. But what people see are the scars on my wrists and arms. What they see are my sad eyes. What they can’t see is how I feel at times like the good things – the sun, love, warmth, comfort, happiness, color, all those abstracts and concepts that make people smile – are in a constant countdown and that despite all my efforts to hoard or overdose, there will come a time when the inventory is gone, and I will be left with memories of months past. Memories in place of sensations. Good times will seem ages away, all ghosts and phantoms, as if you’re speaking about someone else. And that hurts. That leaves an ache and a weariness in some sick slug trail right through the core of me. (I’ve described it as having my sternum cored by a hot ice cream scoop while drowning and watching puppies suffer.)
What I do is talk about this. I talk about it a lot. I talk about it so that someone somewhere can read it or hear me say it and feel like they are not alone, even if just for a moment. I cannot think of anything better to offer someone other than the kindness of saying “You don’t suffer alone, you are not forgotten or overlooked. You are not worthless or useless. You matter, and though you hurt now, you don’t have to shout from the Grand Canyon and think no one has heard you.”
This hurt is real, and it is scary and it is a sorcerer of lies and tilted perceptions. I do not know if my voice cuts through any of this, if anything I say lets you know that it is possible to make it through one day and ten days and one hundred and ninety days. None of that is easy, even on the days when you can be kissed or have ice cream or get presents or see a friend. But you can do it. You can do it if want, and I sincerely hope you want to.
It is my hope that when the roles reverse, and I’m hurting again, that someone offers me a reminder that I am not alone, that I am hurting but help and love and care are available, that I need not think surrender and death are the only balms to pain. I have to keep that hope, because without it, the hurt flares like an angry volcano, and I’ll never get to relax. I have to keep the hope that there is love and care for me, and that my friends, and partner and colleagues and maybe even my detractors can recognize the value people have and that awareness of that value is so often what we seek, that we can matter and maybe that takes some fraction of some percent of the pain away for some sliver of a fraction of a second. I have to hope that I am loved for more than my deeds or credits or writing. I have to hope because the alternatives are lame.
I leave you with this: Help is available. It might be embarrassing or shameful or tough to endure, but you can get help. You are not alone, and you need not be silent. You’re not braver for staying quiet. You’re not a better person for handling this without assistance. Loving yourself might sound impossible, and I can swear to you that some days it feels like trying to make fish into camels, but you can do this. I believe in you.
See you at GenCon.