A disease of the mind is a frustrating thing to cope with. There are no post-surgery scars. You can't wear a cast while waiting for a bone to set. The infection won't subside. Medically speaking, that's something you have to deal with the rest of your life.
Sometimes, I wish the wounds brought about by my mental condition were of the exterior kind. That way, I would be able to see the healing process. I'm in no way saying I prefer my mental problems to a broken leg. I'm also not saying that physical problems are easier to deal with. Simply put, I wish that I were able to see what it is that I am fighting. Instead, I've got these inner demons running loose in my brain, and they don't always slow down when I want them to.
Today, I thought about suicide - not in accompaniment with any thoughts or desires of self-harm - I merely thought about the concept. This week, in the wake of actor/comedian Robin Williams' death, a lot of words have been thrown around, especially once word got out that it was a suicide. "Depressed" and "selfish" and other words that I'm all too familiar with. Words that have been woven into my identity over the past few years, whether I like it or not.
A while ago, I posted some thoughts about Ned Vizzini's suicide - the author of It's Kind of a Funny Story. Ned basically dedicated his writing to those struggling with depression, detailing his own bouts with the condition in his works. After this week, I've been thinking a lot about the concept of suicide and what it takes to arrive at a place where it feels like permanently shutting off your brain and stopping your heart seems preferable to every other available option. We have two guys here - one who spent his life making others laugh, and one who championed the battle against mental disorders with his words. Both suffered from the same condition, and both took their own lives. What does that mean for the rest of us? What kind of odds are those for those of us who have been there before?
Depression works differently in everyone. I'll never have any idea what kind of demons plagued these two men. None of us will - it's not for us to judge when all we see is the result. I do know what it's like to be in a place where ending your life seems like the best way to go. After all this time, I forgot what that thought process is like, which is a good thing. But this has been a week for reminders.
Personally, it seems to me that several days out of the year, my depression chooses to ensnare me in its grasp, putting all of its weight on me at once. On those days, I want nothing to do with anybody. I have zero motivation to do anything. It's hard to eat and I only want to sleep, but even that doesn't come easy. My usual silly demeanor is buried beneath a heavy malaise, and I'm not myself to those around me. That's when it gets rough.
It's hard to maintain eye contact with your loved ones when you haven't gotten out of bed all day. It's hard to make a joke when you're constantly seconds from bursting into tears, for no reason and with no warning. On those days, doing anything is a burden, and I start thinking of what a waste of space I am. Today was one of those days.
I was feeling particularly miserable this evening, after a day of doing nothing but hiding inside from the typical grey Seattle skies and passing the time watching irreverent shows on Netflix. I found myself alone, thinking "So this is going to be one of those kind of days, huh?" Realizing this, I decided to put off going to my usual Thursday night Bible study. I go as much as I can, and I deeply enjoy the people there, but I wasn't feeling up to being around people. So, I grabbed my computer and headed off to the local bookstore, thinking that I could get some reading/writing done to calm me down.
Naturally, I found myself wandering through the science fiction/fantasy stuff. Browsing though the multitude of titles, I saw a little note that read "Free Brandon Sanderson samples." Thinking this was an excellent way to get into one of the genre's better writers, I thumbed through the offerings, looking for an easy place to start. A man who was also perusing books in the same aisle stopped near me, and with his eyes still scanning the shelves of novels, said "There are so many books here, you could get lost for hours!"
I mumbled a halfhearted, barely audible reply, not sure if his was one of those empty phrases people automatically utter when on an intercepting route with a stranger, or if it was an opening to a conversation. Thankfully, it was the latter. We got to talking about books and whatnot, before he eventually asked me where I was from and how I got here. I told him what you all well know by now and what is summarized in the title of this blog. Basically, I told him that I got in my car and drove here with very little resources. He listened attentively before opening up about himself.
His name was Thomas. He was raised in a racist part of Texas, with an alcoholic for a father and a mother who suffered from bipolar disorder. He used to work construction in San Francisco, but the earthquake in '89 undid all of his work in about 3 seconds, and left him with some substantial injuries as well. Now, he's homeless, looking for a place to stay every night. He's over 50 years old and just recently got a job, which was just about the only good part of his story. I told him I currently didn't have one and that I was very happy for him, because that's a huge step toward feeling accomplished.
He then mentioned that he didn't have a church, although he had visited a few in the area. Now, you have to understand something about me - I am terrified of asking people to come to church. I think I can count on one hand the number of people I've ever invited to church. It's not my gift. But I knew then and there that if I didn't, I'd be kicking myself later. After all, he opened up and shared his story with a stranger. He didn't know that it happened to be a stranger who was there to get away from people and the sickness in his head. So, I figured I'd share a part of my life with him.
We found our way to a table, where he gladly handed me his pen and a scrap of paper to write my church's address on. I also gave him my telephone number, telling him I'd be happy to give him a ride if he managed to get to a place I could pick him up from. We talked more about our past and our problems, before we parted ways - him back to the books and me to my car.
I was sort of dumbfounded. I had gone out of my way to avoid my regular schedule of interacting with others that day, seeking a place where I could channel my frustrations into some sort of creative or quiet activity. Instead, I was put directly in the path of a man who was in need of someone to talk to. It's not like he walked up to me and tugged at my arm. He didn't ask for money. He didn't smell bad. We just happened to be two nerds in one place at one time. And I could see the look of joy on his face as we got to talking, him saying that it's hard to talk to people in the Northwest, let alone connect with them on an emotional level.
As I left, my mind went back to Ned Vizzini and Robin Williams. They used whatever gifts were available to them to help people overcome their own problems. Yeah, they may have lost out to the darkness in the end, but they did good work before they went. I want to do good work before I go, and I intend to go the natural way.
You see, my disease put me in a place where I was able to help someone else. Not only that, but I was helped by my conversation with Thomas. I told him that I wasn't even supposed to be there, that I was avoiding my usual routine because I was feeling particularly depressed that night. And I'm glad that I was. I'd rather be somewhere in the open, struggling with my problems, instead of sitting at home entrenched in contentedness, if it meant that I could be helping someone and that they could in turn help me.
Suicide is something that I need to think about often, to remind myself that it's not the answer. It's a heavy concept that is no fun to talk about. I know I will never be as funny as Robin Williams, or as good a writer as Ned Vizzini, but if I can use what I've been given to help others steer clear of their inner darkness like these two did, then I will have considered that a success. And if it was necessary for me to try and take my own life twice for me to get to a place where I can help someone cope with their demons, then I don't mind all of the pain and suffering I've had to go through to get to that point. I can't say the same for my friends and family - they don't deserve that kind of burden.
I just hope that there is a Thomas out there for everyone. Someone who comes along and interrupts your self-pity and unwittingly drags you out of your despair by simply talking to you and genuinely listening to you. Someone who pays your plans no heed in their efforts to care about you, be they strangers or not. Because sometimes that's all it takes. My sickness put me in contact with another sick person - a different sort of sickness - and the two of us walked away feeling a little healthier.
If that's not a good way to spend an evening, I don't know what is.