Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Where lies despair

"Sorry that you feel that way, the only thing there is to say
Every silver lining's got a touch of grey."

Just a few days late and a few bucks shy, but I'll post my thoughts anyway.

Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain.

Seems like a good time to talk about suicide, no?

I admit I have conflicted feelings about the act of taking one's own life.

When Robin Williams died by his own hand, in 2014, I wrote a very angry post about how committing suicide is giving the ultimate finger to those who love you and are left behind.
I have compassion for his pain, but I feel angry about his action. He had kids. A wife. Friends. So many people who loved him. I can't help thinking that what he did was the ultimate eff-you to all of them.

I won't use labels like cowardice and selfishness, labels bandied about in the news stories about Williams' passing.

But in a way, what he did was akin to saying, my pain is greater than any pain I might cause you, my suffering is more untenable than any suffering my death might cause, my pain is the biggest, most important thing in the world.
I've softened in my views since then.

I think there are some exceptions to my rule.

The most understandable exception is the scenario where you have a debilitating illness, there is no possibility of cure, little quality of life, and only the certainty of decline, loss of control, loss of dignity. That is one circumstance where I can accept someone's choice to take the ending of their life into their own hands.

Having struggled with, and yes, suffered from depression at times in my life, in my estimation gives me some right to have an opinion on the topic at all.

It may also have made me less objective.

I mean, I toughed it out. I fought it with every weapon in my arsenal. I kept going, going to work, going to therapy, going through the motions.

Even at my most desperate points, I made the leap of faith that I would get better, that the black dog would stop dancing and sit pretty.

Ah faith. That's a hard one. How do you have faith when you simply don't? It's like believing in God. You believe or you don't and if you don't you can't just say you do and voila, instant faith.

Some would say that's all there is to it. Just do it, just believe. But it's not that simple. There were times I prayed for faith, but that didn't make me a believer.

Yet somehow I was able to believe that depression was a liar, that my life had worth, that given time life would feel good again.

I acknowledge that I am privileged. I had a job to go to. I had insurance to pay for therapy and medication, I had money to pay my bills, a roof over my head, family members who cared, people who loved me. I had kids who needed me, even if they didn't know it or show it all the time.

Not everyone has that, a network, a safety net. There really was no scenario that had me sleeping under a bridge.

I wonder though, how many people who commit suicide are truly bereft of resources to allow them to keep fighting for their own lives.

It's so sad really, when you think about all those people who died too soon, from illness or accident or in combat, people who wanted life but had it rudely ripped from them. It makes it the more tragic, the more sacrilegious, the more disrespectful, when someone chooses to give their life back.

Here's another name. Hannah Baker.

She's the fictional lead in the Netflix drama, 13 Reasons Why and she's dead.

It's the story of a girl depicted as bullied by her high school classmates, and it's not the sort of thing I usually watch, but I started it and was drawn in.

It's the train wreck you can't look away from.

Hannah is a pretty girl. She's a bit stocky, but fat shaming isn't among the ways she was portrayed as bullied.

And she has a lot going for her. Happily married parents who love her. A good friend who's a bit on the fringe of things, like she is, but both appear to have plenty of confidence and poise.

So what happens to Hannah? She has her picture taken in a couple of awkward moments, and the pictures go viral (in the limited cosmos of Liberty High), earning her an undeserved reputation as a slut. A fellow student circulates a list in which Hannah holds the distinction of "hottest ass." She suffers typical high school ups and downs, friends who let you down, friends who make fucked-up mistakes with tragic consequences. A friend publishes in a school paper (anonymously, and without permission) a dark but heartfelt poem that Hannah wrote.

The worst things that happened to Hannah (who tells her story in a series of audiotapes, dramatized in flashbacks) are that she witnessed the rape of a former girlfriend who drank too much and passed out at a party, and then Hannah herself is later raped by the same person.

In both scenarios, she had an opportunity to make a difference. She is hiding in the room during the first rape, but does nothing to stop it. When she is raped, she says no but doesn't fight or call out for help or struggle to resist. At that point she is already worn down with guilt and maybe at some level she thinks she deserves it as a twisted kind of penance for not intervening in the rape of her friend.

OK, so the culture is painted as clearly hostile, the school is owned by the athletes and popular kids, and anyone outside the pale is mocked and marginalized. In other words, it's every high school.

Yet Hannah is clearly a bright girl, bright enough to see that it is just that, high school, and that there's a whole world out there, waiting. She's smart enough to know how her self-inflicted death will devastate her parents. Still, in a graphic scene that I could only watch between my fingers, she slits her wrists in the bathtub and bleeds to death.

And that in my opinion is a complete waste of a life full of potential, a stupid short-term decision with eternal consequences. She felt so powerless to right the injustices in her small sphere that she decided to make everyone sorry by dying and leaving an oral history that may or may not condemn the guilty, redress the wrongs, or redeem the harmed.

We'll know more after we watch season two. Because yes, they made another series.

I posted this on Facebook and got some push back.

It seems like a no brainer to me, but I had to elaborate for some of my friends.
When I was dancing with the black dog back in 2001-2002, going to a party and cleaning the bathroom were equal. I was just as weary of happy, fun things as I was of drudgery. When you are in the pit, you are weary of life, bad and good, or at least I was. What saved me was knowing that depression lies and believing that I'd get well again.
My friend Jen commented, "So basically, just being weary.... " I responded.
Yes, but more than that. If you know what is causing your suffering, there is a reason, something to blame, something to fight. In The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath writes "If Mrs. Guinea had given me a ticket to Europe, or a round-the-world cruise, it wouldn't have made one scrap of difference to me, because wherever I sat – on the deck of a ship or at a street cafe in Paris or Bangkok – I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air."
My friend Wanda commented too.
Wow, it’s no wonder those who suffer from depression don’t share their stories. People can’t grasp the concept that it’s a chemical imbalance, the neurons are firing, but not connecting. It’s not about having no reason to be depressed. And it’s not about being selfish.
I responded again.
I'd never understand it if I hadn't been there. But even having been there, it's hard for me not to wonder why people give up. I try not to judge them, but part of me still sees it as selfish, especially when you have kids, or parents, or siblings, or even friends who love you.
Wanda then said this.
I’m no expert, but I would think that like any disease there’s a spectrum. The despondency Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain suffered must have been, well, obviously was, beyond my comprehension.
And finally, my daughter weighed in.
I have to agree with Wanda. We don't know what lies deeper in the woods until we ourselves go deeper in the woods. Though someone may try to describe it to you, and the descriptions become increasingly worse the deeper they've gone, it really is the most terrible example of having to "see for yourself" to fully understand. In that way, I don't view those who complete suicide as selfish, so much as I'm thankful that our journeys took us only so far into the woods that we were each able to find our ways back out again.
And that's where I left it, and that's where I am going to leave it now.

I concede that there is, indisputably, a level of despondency beyond my comprehension.

The fact that I'm still here makes that hypothesis undeniable.

It must be getting early, clocks are running late
Paint-by-number morning sky looks so phony
Dawn is breaking everywhere, light a candle, curse the glare
Draw the curtains, I don't care 'cause it's alright

I will get by
I will get by
I will get by
I will survive

I see you've got your list out, say your piece and get out
Guess I get the gist of it, but it's alright
Sorry that you feel that way, the only thing there is to say
Every silver lining's got a touch of grey

I will get by
I will get by
I will get by
I will survive

I know the rent is in arrears, the dog has not been fed in years
It's even worse than it appears, but it's alright
Cow is giving kerosene, kid can't read at seventeen
The words he knows are all obscene, but it's alright

I will get by
I will get by
I will get by
I will survive

The shoe is on the hand it fits, there's really nothing much to it
Whistle through your teeth and spit 'cause it's alright
Oh well, a touch of grey kinda suits you anyway
And that was all I had to say and it's alright

I will get by
I will get by
I will get by
I will survive

We will get by
We will get by
We will get by
We will survive.

(Jerome J. Garcia / Robert C. Hunter, © Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.)