We moved a few years ago, and I was thrilled. Not because of the great neighborhood (though it was great), not because the new house was nice and big (though it was nice and big), not even because it came with its very own trampoline (boing!).
No. It was the garage. More to the point, it was the garage ceiling.
See, in my old place, the garage had one of those ceilings with exposed rafters. You know the kind: perfect for shoving stuff that’s not quite nice enough to actually have out, but not quite nasty enough to throw away. Keepsakes and mementos from some birthday you half remember; boxes just in case you move again; kids’ toys that the next one in line will probably use.
The new place didn’t have the exposed rafters. Which meant no more extra storage. The boxes would stick out like a sore thumb, right in the middle of the new garage. The keepsakes and mementos would have to find new homes — or be thrown away outright. Old toys would be given away.
But I was happy. Because in the old garage I spent hours looking up at those rafters, wondering which one would be the right one, the heaviest one, the strongest one.
Which one would be the best one to hang myself from.
Now, in every important way I have a pretty great life. I have a wife who is better than I deserve. I have children who fill me with wonder, and who make me laugh. I have a job that most people would kill for. So it’s not like I should be trying to escape.
But I also suffer from major depressive disorder with psychotic breaks.
This last part sounds scary. But don’t worry: if you ever visit you don’t have to worry about me trying to make a wallet out of your face-skin or anything. It just means that sometimes I am utterly incapable of understanding my proper relationship to the rest of the world. I can’t conceive of a universe where I in any way belong. Of an existence that needs me, or where I have anything but a negative effect.
So I would go to the garage. Or maybe I would stand in a corner and slap myself, because some dim part of my brain hoped that the physical pain would drive out a small bit of the far greater mental and emotional torment.
The new garage doesn’t have those rafters. It’s just blank ceiling.
Although I suppose it doesn’t really matter. I still get that way sometimes. Sigh.
Chances are that anyone reading this either suffers from or knows someone who suffers from depression. What do you do to help someone like that? Someone who has forgotten this one basic truth: that we all have value. That we all are special. That in our humanity lies a kernel not just of greatness, but of inestimable beauty.
I will tell you what my wife does. She isn’t just my Dream Girl — I could never have dreamed up something like her. She’s my Better Than Dream Girl. And when I’m at my worst, this is what she does, this is her magic: she follows me.
She goes with me to the garage. She stands with me in my corner. She holds my hands firmly so I can’t hurt myself, but not so tightly it hurts in and of itself. She whispers how she loves me, how she can’t let me leave because that would be a wound to her and to the world. She says things she knows I cannot believe, but that I will look back on and remember — things that will build a reservoir of strength for the future.
She stands with me.
She eventually puts an arm around me and leads me to a couch or a bed. Still embracing me, she helps me to sit or to lay down. She holds me. Perhaps scratches my back in silence. The words are done. There is only the fact that she is there, that she is not going anywhere. The silent reminder that in this moment, in this small now… I am not alone.
The great tragedy of depression is a crippling loneliness. A conviction that we are not and never can be worthy of anything but isolation. That the world has cut us off from all human connection — and that that is a good thing, because any other person coming in contact with us would simply suffer.
What to do then?
Stay with us.
When we are ready, hold us.
And in so doing, show us that we have that spark of worth, that potential for beauty.
Depression will not allow us to believe in our value. It forbids us any hope.
But I have found that — with the right help, with the right friend — it will allow the hope of future hope. And in that we may walk away from the rafters. We may move to new, safer places, and find brighter paths.
It’s been quite a week.
The chronic pain ramped up. A lot. Like, curled up in pain and trying not to scream a number of times because it would freak out the kids.
Then I got sick.
Then the mental health stuff decided: Hey, looks like a party! I wasn’t invited! Time to crash that be-yatch!
It ended well, because I’m still here. And no, I don’t mean that as an expression or an exaggeration. There were a few times where my wife had the phone in hand, ready to call the men in white coats to take me away to keep me from doing harm to myself. Three things prevented it:
1) My wife. She is my first reason for sticking around. Sometimes I know she feels bad because she feels like I’m miserable and she must be doing a bad job because if she was doing a BETTER job I wouldn’t be so sad. Which (when I’m rational) I try to tell her isn’t the case. It’s the opposite: she keeps me alive. Literally. She’s a light in the dark, and one of the things I hold to when nothing else seems worth it.
If you are someone who cares for or cares about a person suffering from major depressive disorder/suicidal urges, don’t EVER blame yourself. It’s a disease. It’s like saying, “Boy, I must really be radioactive since he/she got lymphoma and still isn’t better!” Indeed, you are the equivalent of all those nifty drugs that keep the patient alive. Sometimes it’s just not enough. But do you stop taking them? Don’t be dumb. You keep us alive.
2) I managed to crawl out of bed and talk to someone. Just a little thing: a girl who wanted to be a writer wanted to talk to me because she had it in her head that I knew what I was doing. I could barely stand up, but I talked to her for about half an hour. I told her flat out what was going on, and that my ability to give good advice might not be at its all-time high. She took that in stride.
Lessons learned: people are willing to be there for you. And helping others is a huge help. I forgot myself for a few minutes. The pain – physical and mental – didn’t go away. But it shifted from front and center to… well, at least a bit toward the middle.
3) A belief system. I believe in God, I believe my family loves me, I believe I love my family, I believe things will get better. And even when those beliefs turn from active realities to just words that have nothing more than the basest meaning… sometimes I can cling to the memory of when they DID mean something. Sometimes it’s okay to lie to yourself. Because the lies you tell are the truth that matters.
4) Friends and family. Small kindnesses matter. If you have an email to send that just says, “Thought of you, you are a cool dude!” then SEND THAT MUTHA! You never know when it is going to someone hurting, someone struggling. Someone looking – sometimes desperately – for a reason to stick around. It doesn’t have to be long, it doesn’t have to drip with depth and meaning. Just “Hey, been a while. Hope you’re okay!” (You can even spell “you’re” wrong, that’s okay.)
Reach out. Be kind. Avoid the toxic crap that clutters so much of our online communications. Next time you think about clicking “publish” on a political post where you are going to point out some person’s douchiness in a fit of righteous rage, or are going to sarcastically show how dumb someone is on a social issue because you are the Champion of Right… don’t. Instead, find a post from someone you like. Drop into the conversation. Post something like, “You are a rockstar,” or “Your posts make me happy,” or…
“I think you are great. I love you.”
We all have bad days. Some worse than others.
We all need light. Some brighter than others.
We can all be the good. We can all be the light.
And I thank all those who have done just that.
Because I am still here.
I saw a man kill himself last night.
No, this is not a joke, and no, I will not provide details other than that it was incredibly tragic. And it led me to a thought or two.
Many of you know that I suffer from major depressive disorder. There are days where I just want to end it all, where I wonder why God put me on this earth and what possible good I can do for anyone. It’s a terrible disease, and one that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
And yet, at the same time… I sometimes think it is a gift. Because I have learned to live without hope, and sometimes that is a great ability. Only people with suicidal tendencies can truly understand hope, I think, because it is the promise of hope – not hope itself, that’s much too much to ask for when you’re looking at a rafter and wondering if it will hold your weight – that gets you through the darkness. The IDEA that one day things may improve. The lie that you whisper that, “One day this will change. One day this will get better. One day I’ll be… happy.”
And of course, it isn’t a lie. Things do change. Things do get better. Happiness is found if you go through enough doors and walk enough miles. You just have to go through some dark patches along the way.
So people who believe that hopelessness is their reality… we can lie to ourselves. We have a disease that keeps us from believing anything good will ever happen, but more often than not we keep on going. Why? Because we hope for hope. We don’t set our sights high, we hope not for feasts but for the scraps that fall from the table.
And that is enough. It has to be. Because if you can sustain yourself long enough on those scraps… again… things change. Things get better. Things become GOOD.
That’s a large part of why I write horror: because it’s a genre that allows me to explore the utmost terror… in order to find the greatest grace. Stories that permit me to continue lying to myself. “It’ll be better. It’ll change. I’ll be happy.” Because even in the horror, even in the darkness… there is light. There is goodness.
There is hope.
I don’t know why the man did what he did last night. My prayers go out to him and to his family and loved ones.
If you hurt. If you are ill. If you look at the rafters and think which one will support your weight… Hold on. Keep lying to yourself. Keep telling yourself that if you just keep moving forward, things WILL change, things WILL get better, you WILL be happy.
Because, as this storyteller will tell you, sometimes the greatest truths can be found when we tell ourselves wonderful lies. Of hope.
God bless. Hug your families. Be good to each other. Never hurt yourselves.