This is a post I’ve been putting off writing for years, mostly because I don’t see that is much more than sounding off about a subject that won’t bring a laugh to anyone. That’s the reason I write these, mostly. I’d like to think that it brings something positive to the few people that read these thoughts. But this has been heavy on my mind for a long time now, and I’m not sure that there really is a point. I’ve been thinking seriously about writing this since Robin Williams took his life last year. Maybe before that, when Tony Scott parked his car on the bridge in San Pedro and jumped in 2012. Or maybe when Richard Jeni shot himself. Or maybe when Michael Hutchence …
Every time I hear about someone that feels forced into that corner where they make a final choice, or fail to chose another option in lieu of that choice, is like taking a blow to my own heart. And it sticks with me for quite some time. Probably because I made that choice before, and have personally known others that have too. In my case it probably worked out in the best possible way in that it didn’t leave any signs that the choice had ever been made. I guess I finally decided to tell this story because I heard it’s suicide prevention month. Not much of an excuse, but I’ve been hoping I could do something to help for quite awhile.
When I was 17, before I’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and before I had ever really begun to look introspectively at all, I just thought everyone felt like I do. I wasn’t sure how anyone could stand it, and I felt weak because I wasn’t handling it well. I felt strange and alien and utterly alone, despite having just opened a chapter of my life that was filled with some of the most wonderful friends anyone could ever have. One Sunday morning I woke up and knew it was my last day on Earth. The effort of just breathing was too much and the idea of going on another day was unbearable.
I drove myself up to the Storm Mountain recreation area up Big Cottonwood Canyon, at the time one of my favorite places. I parked and crossed the reservoir and started climbing the sheer rock face, figuring I’d fall, and hoping I would get far enough to make it fatal. In a short time I’d gotten pretty far (for a novice with no gear or experience) and my arms were getting tired from clinging to the wall. I figured I was high enough that it was just time to be finished and as I got to a little ledge I decided to just turn around on it and dive. To this day thinking about that moment I can’t believe I was ever so committed to anything. I can still taste the decision and everything is so clear in my mind. I turned and leaned forward and I saw a young couple across the reservoir pointing up at me showing their toddler where the guy was climbing. I reversed my motion and leaned back on the wall. I just knew I didn’t want to be seen doing something so terrible, especially by someone so young. I also wanted there to be a large measure of doubt that it was intentional for my own family to spare them more anguish. I figured I’d wait for the ones watching me to move on before jumping.
As I stood on that ledge that was narrower than my shoes, the endorphins began to work on me, and I didn’t feel as bad as I had when I started the reckless climb up the face. More people began to show up, and I noticed how nice the day was going to be, and I decided not to jump. I felt like a coward and ashamed, not that I’d tried, but that I’d failed. Then I got really worried that I wasn’t going to be able to get down. It seemed silly that I was worrying that I might fall, now that I’d decided not to go through with my plan. But I surely wasn’t going to yell for a rescue. I traversed to a less hazardous area and made it down ok. I got back in my car, went back home, and buried this story. But I wasn’t able to bury it so deep that I haven’t dredged it up on a regular basis.
Now that I know what is going on, and I see the patterns of how the depression works it’s been somewhat easier to deal with, and as they say, things got better. Not so much better that it doesn’t cross my mind anymore, but enough that I know they’re just really black moods and the option isn’t on the table. It’s not that the release isn’t attractive, but I can look back at all the things I’ve been able to do, when I’ve been able to do them. But sometimes I can’t, and I have to find some way to keep putting one foot in front of the other until I get through to a point where I can again.
It was only a few years after that time when I found some hope in religion and, to my great surprise, found myself on a mission for the LDS church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Just after I got there, I met a young lady there that was very musically talented. A couple weeks after I met her she tried to take her life in an overdose, and it almost stopped me cold. She was in the hospital, saved I was told because her antidepressants said to not take with milk, and thinking that would make it worse, she drank a lot of milk. I barely knew her, but I wanted to go visit her in the hospital. I wanted to tell her I understood, and I wanted to try to help. I don’t think I ever voiced this to my companion. I was new and I thought it would look inappropriate. It was also out of our area, and we would need to get permission. I found so many reasons to not do anything, and at the time they all seemed valid. Within the year I heard in passing that she’d succeeded in another attempt. I can’t explain the loss I felt. It doesn’t seem to make any sense. This was a beautiful young girl with a great talent and ability in music, she seemed to have much more than me by way of potential, but I could only see what she was showing. From what I understand she had her demons, but all of us do. For some of us, though, it feels like we’re having to face them all alone in a world where nobody else can really help.
In reality it doesn’t make any sense, except to the person going through it. I don’t think it is understandable, from the outside. You can look at it logically and you can see some of the whys, but from inside all you can see are whys. And I suppose, like everything else, it’s not just black and white. From inside the blackness there seems to be very few choices that can be made.
I’ve been very fortunate. For the most of my life I’ve had people around who weren’t afraid to let me know they cared. People who made an effort, even though they couldn’t do much more for me than to say, “I hear you and I care”. My parents have always been there, and if I didn’t know they cared and if I hadn’t known that it would hurt them to lose me, I might have taken that step. And I almost took it anyway. There’s so much I can’t find the words to say. The fear, and the self-loathing; the anger and loneliness; the aching love that has no direction and a feeling not only that you’re never going to be happy again, but that you’ve never been happy at all. It’s so overwhelming.
And it’s getting to be autumn. My bad time. The last few years the impending doom of the shorter days has been less than it was when I was younger. Maybe because things are getting better, maybe just because I know from experience that it can be survived. Things have been bad this year, but I have people and I’ve learned that I can make it through with their support. I don’t feel as bad as I used to when I say to someone, “I’m not doing to well right now.” Sometimes I make the shorter statement, “I’m broken”. It’s easier to say.
But the whole reason for this exposure is I want people to know that I can be there for them, too. I understand these feelings very well, and while maybe I can’t make it better, I can listen, and maybe say “I understand” and maybe share the load. For me, it’s made all the difference possible. It’s made being possible. I wish I’d made the effort to see that girl in Minneapolis, to let her know that I kind of understood how it feels. Maybe I could have made a difference, but I’ll never know. Maybe I’m making a mistake by being this open, but I hope not. I hope in some way I can help.