This is the truth about depression: we eventually succumb, or not, by our own volition.
Who the hell am I to make such a statement? I’m the guy who spent years making half-assed attempts at checking out before the “Screw-it!” meter in my head pegged over the redline and landed me in prison. The Oregon Department of Corrections will tell you that I suffer from mental illness. My wife will tell you I don’t seem to suffer from it so much as enjoy it.
I loved grunge. It spoke to me with grinding riffs and dreary lyrics that rivaled a Steinbeck novel for despair. So, naturally, when asked to put together a post about depression my mind went straight to Chris Cornell. Not Kurt Cobain, you ask? Well, I never met Kurt. I did, however, meet Mister Cornell on a drunken pub crawl through a neighborhood in Seattle. I don’t recall the bar, but Mother Love Bone had just finished a set when yards of jet-black hair, denim and flannel scraped a stool across the floor next to me. After the obligatory non-verbal grunts and, “Hey, guy” nods, he asked what I thought of his roommate’s band. I’d never heard anything like them, and added that I felt it quickly growing on me. The entire conversation lasted five minutes. I had no idea who he was, or would become, and never expected to have anything in common with someone so markedly different from myself—at least from the outside looking in. That epiphany came years later after I listened to “Outshined” ten times in a row. It wasn’t until the Superunknown Tour that I realized who he was. And, no, I don’t have a follow up anecdote to leave you warm and fuzzy about the Grand Cycle of the Cosmos. Like too many before him this great musician ended his own life with a noose braided by his own hand. And this was a man who knew how to express a great many things.
So, here’s the meat and potatoes: we know when we’re slipping over the edge. I’m talking to my fellow depressives now. PTSD, OCD, bi-polar, all of you realize when you’re starting to make plans. You know the point in time I’m talking about. You hit it when the morning feels just like the previous night, which felt just like the day before – over and over until every moment of your existence becomes that worthless, hopeless, if-they-only-knew-what-I-was-really-thinking, eternity. Unfortunately, that reality is being shaped by your own head. If you’re lucky, by the time you hit your early twenties you realize that everything north of your shoulders wants you dead. Getting a reality check is the best thing for us and the last thing we want. Why? Well, well-meaning family and friends, because we have tried that in the past and it usually doesn’t go too well for those involved.
When I was younger I would mention the occasional dark thought/impulse and be met with disbelief. Or worse, it was laughed off. Once I was grown, and more terrifying than anyone in my family, the issue was skirted and discussed in code using words like “sad” and “moody.” Family and friends begin making excuses and suddenly I just had issues.
By your mid-twenties, if the rollercoaster is still going, you may get to that screaming match where the one straight-shooter in your family finally tells you to just end it all for everyone’s sake. The anger from that conversation feels like it’s never going away. Oh yeah, anger is a great self-diagnostic for checking your proximity to the end of days. If you don’t feel like getting out of bed to butter your toast, and, you’re wishing you could play “loves me, loves me not” with the arms of the guy keeping you from the creamer at your favorite coffee shop, you need to tell somebody. Those of you that have gone through this know that ideation leads to fantasizing which leads to planning. Eventually, we gravitate and move toward that which we focus on. If you’re thinking about hurting someone, that’s what you will do; most of us forget that we also qualify as someone. If you coach yourself to talk to people, simply being mirrored by another human being can remind us that we, too, matter to someone. Hell, you may actually blurt out that you’re not really interested in home brewing. You just want some of the components for a hasty exit if you ever feel too far removed from those few individuals you do allow in your life.
You have to talk to people. It doesn’t take a village; usually it just takes another human heart.
Writing an article or doing that whisper cursing-thing while madly pacing in the garage doesn’t cut it. Chris and Kurt spoke to millions upon millions and, sadly, didn’t get what they needed in that final hour. You may have to push past the panicked horror you see reflected back at you to get what you need. I have experienced this with my own spouse but when it mattered, I saw that my being was more relevant to her than any fearful construct of my mind. You might have to move on to the next heart in line to avoid the eye roll, but we all know people that have within them that which we do not (chances are you avoid them like the plague in day to day life). If you have cried wolf a few times – we’ve all done it – tell somebody anyway. Make up a code word (Steinbeck comes to mind) and let people know what it means. Be direct. Don’t throw out some piece of art and expect people in your life to correctly interpret the shape and color contrast as a cry for help. These are tests I know all too well, as do the people that have chosen to leave me and my issues for easier roads. When that happens I get to be right about myself and the spiral begins again.
Our heads want us dead. We’re the only ones smart enough – convoluted enough – to match wits with that monster. For me, the tide turned when I admitted to my wife why I loved “Let Me Drown” (Kim Thayil’s guitar work notwithstanding that is). As I expounded upon my personal tastes from there, I found I had friends – actual people I already knew – that had varying versions of the Screw-It! meter installed. Suddenly I wasn’t a freak, or terminally unique, as someone once referred to me. I had fellows. I had peers. I had people to speak to about everything I thought made me too different to stick it out. It began with deciding I wouldn’t want my wife to find my dead body in the house. Pretty soon even the garage was off limits as I didn’t want to leave that association with something we had both worked so hard to acquire and keep. Pretty soon I was avoiding my walks through the cemetery during the winter. Why? Because you have to make a plan for winter, so when we get a long, nasty, no sun equals no hope season like 2017, you become an active participant in your own survival. That’s an Oregonian’s life in the clouds.
Need help? Call now: Oregon Suicide Prevention, Awareness, & Support
Want to help others living with depression and other mental illnesses? Come to a fundraiser for the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), the spectacular Party With a Purpose!